I have been thinking recently about how much of myself I should be giving away in job and grant applications. This has come because I am working on an ERC Starting Grant application. I have no idea if I am good enough for one, but this is the first year I'm eligible and the last year that the UK might be able to apply. And honestly, I think the experience of writing a huge grant proposal will be good for me. But, the thing is... I don't think I've quite done as much as I might have done regarding being excellent.
I finished my PhD as a single parent, in the middle of a serious manic episode. I struggled to get my bipolar and anxiety under control. I've struggled with the side effects of medication. In the midst of that I published an article in a pretty good journal. I got two book contracts. I've submitted another article. I am by no means prolific, but... that's not too bad.
Here's why I struggle with this.
1. In my life, this is normal. This is my normal. I have done everything I could do, within reason. For instance, I would have loved to go to Fondation Hardt, like many of my PhD cohort (and my now-husband) did. But, I had a kid that relied on me to be in London. How much of that should I get a pass for? I did other things, that were closer to home. Like chairing a year-long seminar series in London. At home.
2. I don't want to make a 'benchmark' for good, or decent, or excellent for people who have stuff going on. 'Oh, well X also has acute anxiety and has produced two more articles than Y', 'Z also had a child and finished their PhD 3 months before X'. I hope you see where I am going with this. But then, by not declaring, aren't we saying that the benchmark for everyone is the same? When it shouldn't necessarily be. X might have a parent who suddenly needs significant care, and it falls to X to take that on. How do we compare near 24hr care of a parent for 6 months (for argument sake), to the small-bits-a-day of self-care required of someone who has a schizoaffective disorder? Or myalgic encephalomyelitis (also called chronic fatigue syndrome)? We can't have two benchmarks (i.e. one for 'normal' people and one for (what?) all other people). We can't just have one benchmark, because some people have overcome significant things to achieve. I obviously don't have an answer.
3. As much as I would like to think that saying all this in a job or grant application would be taken in the spirit it is meant (i.e. here's what I've done, and here is the context of my life) it might be taken as a mark against me ('this person might have another serious manic episode' 'this person might have another child' 'this person might develop serious side effects and require sick leave'). I would never have a way of knowing, but it's a scary proposition.
The Pros List (I think the cons are obvious)
Anything I can do to destigmatize mental illness is a good thing. Calling my mental illness a chronic invisible illness demonstrates (I hope) that I treat it as a serious, but manageable (and managed) illness that would be like managing any other non-life-threatening illness. It also says (again, I hope) that I am not ashamed of having bipolar.
So. I don't have an answer. I suppose I will probably end up writing two versions of the statement and see which one passes though the research office.
Future job applications - again, totally undecided.
What an unsatisfying end.
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At the moment I am a master juggler. It's true, I have so many balls in the air and so far all of them are still in the air. But, not for long, I fear, as something will inevitably fall.
Last week I tweeted that I had submitted a job application ten days early, but what I didn't say is that I wanted to ensure that it wasn't a ball that fell. That application is important - really important. Doing it early meant I could give it the time and love it deserved. Like the article I submitted a few days later. The article is still out, but the notice that I'd not been shortlisted for the job came this morning.*
But now I am starting to feel the overwhelming enormity of all the things - a sample:
*Let's talk about rejection for a moment: it happens to all of us, there are job rejections, and papers that get turned down, and articles that you eventually retire into the 'Come Back to this Later' folder (last opened the day after you created it). I won't lie about this - I am really gutted that I wasn't shortlisted for this job, but I also know that I did everything I could do to make my application strong. And I have to remember that I'm a pretty strong candidate for my career stage, realistically. I shouldn't be surprised, because this job was probably two steps up from where I am now. So there you go - I won't be leaving Leicester yet (which, in itself, makes me quite happy!).
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Next week I am once again taking over the @wethehumanities rotation curation Twitter account! It's going to be a busy week for me, so I thought I'd lay out a loose plan of what I'll be talking about over the week. I've tried to give each day a theme, that I'll discuss from a research-perspective and from an ECR/academic/life perspective.
I'll start the week talking about what I'm currently writing - which is a sensory approach to necromancy in the ancient Greek world. In the short term, this is a paper I'm giving on Wednesday at Leicester and, in the medium term, it's work that will fit into the book I'm writing this summer, on Hades.
Tenuously connected (that is, I'm starting the week by ignoring my 'themed' days idea...), I'm going to talk about balancing life (teaching and admin, but will also be relevant to non-academic world) and research.
Today's theme is feelings. I'm going to chat about emotive and sensory approaches (which I am slightly less at home with than I could be) and how Sensoriality fits with Materialism. So, we'll be chatting about how things make you feel, and about how life makes you feel.
Today's theme is moving around! I'll be heading to Leicester today, and will be talking about what my commute from London is like. I'll also talk about my 'journey' so far - from school to now, and what I hope my career will look like (and why that's connected to feelings).
In research, I'll talk about how my PhD research (on Underworld gods) is related to my new research (on religious embeddedness) and how I feel about moving around within my sub-discipline.
Today's theme is marginality. I'll talk a bit about ancient Greek Underworld gods, and about being a marginal person in the world and in the academy - I'll also be doing some signal-boosting today!
It's an #ECRchat day as well, so I'll be tying my time at We the Humanities in to the topic for ECR chat, which is about being an early career academic in an unstable political climate.
Today's theme is family. I want to chat about having a family and a career, and being away from your family and setting up in a new place. We'll touch on research families, and divine families (that is how so-called 'chthonic' gods fit in with so-called 'Olympic' gods).
Today's theme is constructed families. I'll be at a wedding! I want to talk about downtime, how we make our own families, friends, support and touch on mental illness.
The last day will be my HUGE #ScholarSunday list (please feel free to send in nominations for anyone you want me to shout out to!). I'll also be talking about setting future research and teaching plans, how I plan, and intersectionality in the academy. It's also Kiddo's ballet show, so there might be some more family-related fun!
I hope you'll join me for a huge, busy, and (hopefully!) great week of chatting and Underworld gods!
I originally wrote this post for jobs.ac.uk, but I decided it might be better here. I also am wary about posting another rejection-based blog post (anywhere!), but I think it's the right time for this one in particular.
Rejection is built into the fabric of academia, but rarely does it hit so many early career academics at it does the day that Leverhulme ECF decisions come out. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t submit an application this year, but I remember the pain of last year’s rejection so vividly. ‘We’re sorry to tell you that your application was not successful. However, your proposal made it to the final shortlist, and this is clear evidence that the panel thinks your research project is very promising’. Egh. This was my second Leverhulme rejection, and add that to two British Academy postdoc rejections I felt like I knew the lay of the land. But that one hurt. A lot.
So, today feels like a day where a lot of people could use some encouragement. So here it is. My career story.
I graduated from my PhD in 2015.
For the 2015/16 academic year I applied for twelve jobs. I got one interview. I ended up doing hourly-paid teaching at my PhD institution. I ‘invented’ a non-stipendiary postdoctoral fellowship for myself at a research institute. I worked on my book (that’s another post for another day), and I worked on an article. I applied for and got Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
For the 2016/17 academic year I applied for fifteen jobs, and I had three interviews (for four jobs). I didn’t get any of them. I made the final shortlist for the Leverhulme ECFs. I kept my non-stipendiary position at the research institute. I continued working on my book. I had my first article published in a major journal. I did a term of hourly-paid teaching at my PhD institution. I gave up. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I love teaching, and I absolutely love my research. Being an academic is part of the fabric of my being. But I realised that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how much I wanted it.
A teaching fellowship was advertised in the ‘off season’ to start in January of the 2016/17 academic year, that was for 12 months. Meaning, I would be tossed back out onto the job market in the off-season again. I applied. I got an interview. I went, I was 100% myself, with no feeling of intense desperation. I didn’t feel like I had to make it. I got the job.
I signed a book contract but not for my PhD book. I hope that will come in the next month or two (I’ve done the required revisions to the proposal and sent it back recently).
I have applied for three jobs so far since getting my job – two permanent jobs, one two-year research fellowship. I got an interview for the first permanent job, but I didn’t get it. I think my presentation went well, but my interview was awful – I think because by that stage I was pretty sure that I wasn’t the candidate they wanted, and that got to my head. I was long-listed for the second permanent job, and am waiting to hear further details about the interview. I’m still waiting to hear about the research fellowship. This second - the one I've been long-listed for, at least - is the one I want to get, and I'm trying not to get too weird and over excited about it.
I’m still in a precarious position, but much less than in the 18 months since submitting my PhD. I have been privileged enough to be able to play the waiting game. But this isn’t that article. This isn’t the ‘just wait it out and you’ll succeed’ article because frankly, that’s terrible advice.
I also don’t want to advise you to ‘just be yourself’, because that’s terrible advice too. The times I have tried hardest to BE MYSELF are the times I have come across as the most desperate and over-enthusiastic.
I don’t know what my advice. I suppose I don’t have any. There are people who have applied for more or fewer jobs than I have, who have been luckier or unluckier, who have had an easier time of publishing their PhD book, and who have had a harder time.
Right now, I’m trying to find a permanent job. I’m going through the round-about again. When (if) I get there, I will go through it again with grants, and books, and articles, and it just doesn’t stop. I’m okay with that. I think you have to be okay with that.
But this story isn’t about me. It’s about the fact that every person who has a story of the academy has a different story. Maybe you weren’t meant to get the Leverhulme. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. I adore my department now. I’ve been interviewed for a permanent job in what would have been the first year of my Leverhulme. We’re all different.
And, we all experience rejection. That’s what binds us together as academics (whether we have institutional positions or not!). We need to be there for each other in those times. Because we all know rejection is the worst part of this game.
Occasionally I will post questions that have been asked on my Curious Cat page (where you can ask me all kinds of questions anonymously). These will be exactly as they appear on the Curious Cat page, but I may expand on my answers slightly in separate posts, or below the original answer.
Where do you think the field of Greek religon is moving after polis religion?
This is a very loaded question, and you will get as many different answers as scholars of ancient Greek religion.
The first thing to say is there are a lot of good things about the polis religion model, and it has helped us over the last 25 years advance the study of Greek religion immensely. It has become, and I think will continue to be, a starting point for new scholars of Greek religion - certainly until there is a new model as widely accepted and used as polis-religion.
To my mind, polis religion has two major flaws: it doesn't account for 'marginal' personal religious practices (this has been really well-explored by scholars like Esther Eidinow and Julia Kindt), and it doesn't account for personal religious experiences: the simple fact that people are different, experience things differently, think about things, believe things all differently.
That's why I think the future of the field (and my own work) will lay in materialism as a theoretical framework (in fact, I am planning to write an article about this very thing, and how it can be used in ancient history!).
Materialism is closely linked to sensory studies, but not quite the same (though they are highly complementary!). It can allow us to conduct ethnographic studies through 'lived' experience, objects, practices, traditions, and spaces in a place where we cannot conduct direct ethnography. When applied to the study of religion, this means that we look at how people encounter in their ‘everyday world’, as well as the sensations and feelings of everyday life, focused through the lens of religious practice. It can be focused through other lenses, and even in the study of religion, it's important to take civic, political, social, and economic lenses into account (this is another question, about religious embeddedness!).
I want to be very clear that this is not THE way forward. The future of the study of Greek religion will be, I think, a patchwork of interweaving and overlapping methodological and theoretical frameworks for which my part will, I hope, be the introduction of Materialism. There is already wonderful work being done in and through sensory studies and cognitive approaches (Jenifer Larson's recent Understanding Greek Religion is an excellent introduction to this).
And, I think that it will be quite a while before we can move on from polis religion and the influence of Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood.
I have Type 1 Bipolar. I ‘outed’ myself last October on World Mental Health Day. Since then, I have spoken candidly about various aspects of having bipolar and a panic disorder, but these have usually been fleeting bursts on Twitter. Until now I have not committed anything to the permanence of this site, partly because being open in a post that can be called and recalled by anyone, at any time, is scary and worrying. I am on the market for a permanent academic job, and I am obviously concerned that this will negatively affect that endeavour.
I am worried about the stigma of having a chronic mental illness. Will I be able to be ‘open’ about my diagnosis until the stigma is gone? No. Will the stigma be lifted unless people, like me, are ‘open’ about their diagnoses? No. It’s a vicious cycle. To break it, I have to step forward and be open. This is the small thing I can do to help.
Living with bipolar isn’t easy. Twice a day I take my medications, I will take these for the rest of my life. Perhaps not these exact ones, because that’s the thing about medication for chronic illnesses (of all kinds, not just mental illness) – sometimes they stop working the way you want them to work. Everything I do is a balancing act. If I do x, I will feel like a. That means that I might not be able to do y later on. It’s Spoon Theory. Do I need to go to the supermarket with my 5-year-old? That will take four spoons. If I can go on my own, it will be two. Do I have to take the 6:55am train to Leicester to make a meeting with a student? That will be one additional spoon than taking the 8:56. If Kiddo doesn’t sleep well tonight I will need an extra five spoons, so do I want to keep three in reserve – that means it will only cost two of tomorrow’s spoons. You get the point.
Even though I take meds, I still experience the fluctuations of my mood disorder. They obviously aren’t as pronounced as if I wasn’t taking medication. I have learned to match my work to these – when I am ‘up’ I produce new research and do as much teaching preparation as I can. When I am ‘down’ I edit – I am brutal and mean, and the comments I leave on my own work are sometimes heartbreaking. When I am ‘even’, I submit work. If I can help it I never push ‘submit’ while I am up or down, because even though these are very mild versions of mania and depression I am still not as measured as I would like to be when I do the final checks of a manuscript or abstract.
This is not a glorification of bipolar. Yes, I did write tens of thousands of words in a manic frenzy during my PhD, but I also completely neglected my own health and let my marriage crumble around me. I have – like anyone who faces a chronic illness – learned how to work with myself, rather than fighting against myself.
It doesn’t always work, and I am particularly bad at preventative ‘self-care’. My ability to recognise when I need to break out of my bubble is dulled and broken. Fighting this is something I will be doing forever.
I am not bipolar. I have bipolar. That’s an important distinction. And over the last six months, I have forced myself to come to terms with having a lifelong invisible illness, a disability. It has made it easier to be open. But it will always be an uphill battle, and I will always be fighting a war against myself – I just hope for more, longer, periods of peace.
Late last year I ran an Academic Kindness Gift Circle (you can read about it here). It was, by and large, successful, but the timing was slightly problematic. I thought I would - for the more permanent (and possibly annual) AKGC have it earlier in the year, with a sending window, so that gifts will arrive all around the same time (and for us in the UK, will come around exam-marking time!)
The other concern was that a limit of £15- did exclude a number of people who just couldn't justify the expense. The purpose of this is to spread community and support throughout the academy, so I am conscious to this. Therefore...
1. Gifts should cost no more than £5/€6/$6USD/$8AUD/$8CAD/the closest whole value that comes up when you compare with £5 on xe.com. This is excluding postage.
2. Gifts can be whatever you like within this range including handmade or purchased. They should be accompanied by a personal letter addressed to your giftee. The entire value may be spent on paper or card to carry this message (that is to say, the entire gift may be the letter itself).
3. Gifts must be anonymous.
4. Gifts must be posted in the week beginning Monday May 22nd, 2017. Gifters must email me to confirm that gifts have been posted.
Sign up will be open from 19/3/17 to 20/4/17.
To keep postage costs down, there will be regional pools. Last time this was UK and EU, North America, Rest of the World. The regional breakdown will depend on signups.
To maintain anonymity there will be a designated return address for each region. If you are happy to act as the regional return person, please indicate this on the sign up form. This involves having your address marked as the return address on all gifts in your region. If any gifts go astray they will then be 'returned' to you and we can try and get them to their intended recipient. I will be the designated return for UK (and perhaps Europe).
If you cannot afford to participate the please get in touch with me by email and I will arrange for funds to be sent you to. If you can afford to sponsor another gift, please donate via PayPal (this does not need to be in increments of £5- you are free to donate however much you wish). All unused funds at the end of the gifting period will be donated to Arts Emergency. The only money coming in to this PayPal account at this point are related to AKGC. If you do not want to donate via PayPay please email me.
Exciting news when I got into the office this morning! My offering to Routledge's God and Heroes of the Ancient World series is being contracted! It will surprise no one to hear that my contribution is on Hades, the shadowy god of the Underworld.
In line with the rest of the series, this book will cover the mythology and cult representation of Hades in the ancient world and look at what happens to the god after antiquity.
Update: Below you can see the original proposal that I sent - there are a few changes that were made (reflected in the table of contents above) after review, but no major changes were made to the content.
Another “CV of Failure” has (inevitably) appeared. These make me feel uncomfortable. It’s not that they don’t represent a conversation that we need to have. It’s that - no matter how well-meaning the writers are - the pieces themselves are tone deaf. They are written from a place of figurative and literal privilege: permanent positions and lofty offices. No doubt many people find these ‘Shadow CVs’ uplifting and hope-giving, they also alienate people whose plans haven’t exactly… gone to plan. They are the academic equivalent of ‘White Saviour syndrome’. The impetus to write this came from seeing this tweet, which perfectly summed up my feelings:
But I can let you in on a secret: these days we've all been rejected from jobs and fellowships and had papers rejected and not been admitted to every one of the seventeen graduate programmes we applied to. Here’s another secret: most of us still haven’t ended up with tenure-track positions at Princeton. And, for your sins, here’s a third secret: those of us who haven't ended up with such coveted positions work just as hard and have just as many stories of woe. Many of us are also being systemically discriminated against because of our gender, sexuality, skin colour, age, accent, socio-economic background, the ability of our bodies or minds to work “properly”, or some combination of these factors.
So, I could (and have) written about jobs I've failed to get: on the jobs.ac.uk Post-PhD blog and YouTube. I've also written about a “failed” publication – but that article is currently in press at an excellent journal in large part because of that initial “failure” and the reports I received from it.
I could also tell you how at the end of my PhD my marriage failed. Or how around the same time my health failed. Or how I have failed at work-life balance. Or about the times I had to choose between failing at some aspect of my work or failing as a parent. I could, and have, been open and explicit about all kinds of failure. And that’s something we need to talk about. But it’s not done best in the context of ‘Here Are All The Times I Didn't Get What I Wanted But I Have Succeeded Now And So Can You!’.
Here’s why: there are as many ways of measuring success as there are people on the planet. Probably more. I might love a tenure-track position at Princeton, but when I sit down and think about what I’d have to give up for that… that doesn't look like success to me anymore.
So – let's continue to talk about failure in academia. But we should be doing it in an ongoing, constructive, and open way. We should be letting people who have experience of being failed by the academy talk. You shouldn't need to have a faculty position to say: hey, I've failed too. Because guess what: every single person in academia has “failed”. But that doesn't make us failures. So I want to encourage everyone: adjuncts, PhD candidates, those who have lived on a string of fixed-term contracts, those who have landed tenure track positions, and everyone in the middle, to talk about failure. But not in the format of the “CV of Failures” - in everyday conversations. We should be trying to normalise failure in the academy, but a genre built to hide the humble-brag isn't the way to do it.
Huge thanks to Joe Fruscione, who read an early draft of this piece. His comments helped me articulate my ideas in, frankly, a much clearer way.
I'm currently working on an essay about survivor guilt in early career academics, and want to hear about experiances of guilt or anxiety directly related to your personal successes in academia. These can be things like publication or conferences acceptances, successful fellowship or grant applications, getting jobs or funding, and also feelings brought up when others either have career related setbacks or don't perform to their own expectations. ALL responses uses in the essay will be anonymous, but if you wish you can leave a contact details for follow-ups.
If you do not currently identify as an early career academic, please feel free to still contribute, but limit your responses to times you did identify as early career.
I am leaving the definition of 'early career' deliberately open.
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