I'm a big fan of the reflexive journal, and find it particularly useful for facilitating students to digest the information from classes and from the assigned readings. On a more practical note, having students write down (or type up) what are normally assigned as thinking tasks, and then bring that work to class means they have something they can refer to during discussion - they aren't just relying on their memory of the readings. I also find it quite successful in making sure they actually do the reading!
I've just typed up my brief list of reflexive journal tasks for a third year class called Sparta in the Greek World, so I thought it was a good time to share it. Please feel free to use this as a template to design your own reflexive journal tasks. There is only one thing I will say: these work better if the students understand that they are private and where they are checked but not assessed.
Please let me know what you think, and if you use reflexive journals how does your system compare to mine?
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.
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.
Recently, I had cause to stop and think about what the humanities actually was to me. I realised that my ideas about The Humanities primarily (and perhaps understandably) revolved around what I thought the place of classics and ancient history were in a wider humanities context. But, that’s not actually where my humanities journey began, so over the years my ideas about the humanities have been honed down as my specialisation honed down. But actually, I am a huge believer in Liberal Arts education and allowing students to roam around the humanities as they wish. I think it’s probably a good thing for students to take subjects outside their major, but I say this as a person who has a pass degree with three majors and a minor: classics, archaeology and philosophy, and a modern history minor.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about The Humanities that I realised that this multidisciplinary foundation actually encouraged me to think in different ways that if I had done the kind of degree programme that I teach on. The quantity of metaphysics (which I loved) and epistemology (which I decidedly did not love) that I took in during my degree has changed the way I think, even though now I cannot remember the brilliant* mathematical formula I created to explain David Lewis’s Truth in Fiction theory [paywall].
As I am pretty keen on doing, when I began to think I also began to write, and I produced this brain map of what The Humanities is, to me:
The HUMANities: It’s about thinking through what it means to be HUMAN, now. And at every other point in time: past and future.
So, all in all. The Humanities gives us a chance to look at the world and to be better and do better. And that’s everything.
*I think there is a direct correlation between how much of this I remember and how brilliant I think it was, so keep that in mind!
Yesterday, I read a Chronicle ProfHacker article on Productivity through Accountability, and it could almost have been written by me. I am incredibly motivated by numbers - whether that's seeing a word count creep up (or down!), or seeing the reading pile get smaller and smaller, or filling notebooks with ideas and notes. Incidentally, it's also why I have a Garmin Vivosmart, and why I don't mind running laps or doing an out-and-back.
Earlier this year, I decided (following the advice of the wonderful Dr Marple) that this year I'd work on monthly goals (rather than a yearly resolution). And, well - I've failed to do so all but one month. So, I've decided to revive the monthly goals!
Goals for June
That's probably enough to be getting on with for now. In the spirit of accountability, I guess I will also come back and update this list and things move on!
How do you keep track of your monthly or yearly goals? How do you define deadlines for them (this is something I'm kind of struggling with!)? I'd be really interested to hear about your goal-setting!
I'm happy to say that my pilot project is getting some wings! I'll be presenting some of it next month at the Athena: Sharing Current Research conference at Roehampton on June 3rd. You can book here to attend the whole day, and see a list of speakers here.
The abstract for my paper is below, if you have any thoughts, comments, or interesting connections please do leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.
Weaving Athena: An object-focused study of girls and women approaching Athena as a poliadic deity
This paper will present an ethnographic study of the lives of the girls and women who were involved in the annual adornment of Athena Polias at the Panathenaia. This will include both those who wove the peplos and members of the wider Athenian community who participated in the festival. Therefore, this study will include the young arrhephoroi, the Ergastinai (‘weavers’) who were maidens of marriageable age, the Priestess of Athena Polias, and the Athenian and metic girls who participated in the procession – in other words, a representation of every female belonging to the Athenian population. Through this study, I will discuss what the physical act of worship (the production of a specific object and the act of processing) can tell us about how individuals approached Athena as the goddess of their city, and how this was expressed specifically for women and girls. This study will articulate the specific influence that Athena had, both as a ‘female god’ and a poliadic divinity, in the lives of the individual females who were involved in her worship. Thus, it will comment on Athena as a living goddess to her worshipers.
It was a huge privilege to be in the room last Monday, as scores of hands were raised and the Women’s Classical Committee was voted into existence. I’m really pleased that I got to be a part of such a wonderful day, and I wanted to put down a few thoughts about the day before I forget too much of what happened – much of the day was live tweeted (#wcclaunch), so I am relying a bit on my tweets from the day as well.
To begin with there was such a wonderful atmosphere right from the start of the day. Women from every level of higher education were represented – from undergraduate to professor – as well as school teachers, and ‘alt-ac’ classicists. It was really great to meet so many people, including many amazing women I’ve been chatting with on Twitter for the last year and now can put more-than-a-profile-picture to names!
We began with an introduction, from Liz Gloyn, about what we were doing there (in short, she said, ‘it’s all my fault’). They set out the aims for the WCC to be as inclusive as possible. Then Victoria Leonard and Irene Salvo went through the results of the survey that the WCC had done (we are told that these will be released at some point, so I will update this post when that happens), and the overall picture was kind of depressing. Common themes included issues with the casualization of higher education, inability to plan for the future, lack of support for parenting and other caring, women not being taken as seriously and being paid less (and the ever-present ‘Miss’ instead of ‘Dr’ thing…), and a huge number of respondents reported mental health issues.
We then broke into four groups: mental health and disability (which I joined), parenting and caring, PhDs and ECRs, and Implicit Bias. I do rather a lot of talking about being an early career academic (even in public, see my post on the label ECR on jobs.ac.uk, for instance!) and about being a parent and my role in academia, so while I would have probably been able to contribute to those discussions I thought I would rather be involved in a dialogue I don’t normally have. Our group was able to go into a more private area, and so we did have a very personal conversation as a result, and because of the nature of the topic I obviously won’t go into any detail about it, but we did come up with some things to report back to the group about the need for increased support for both mental health and physical disability, and decided that we wanted to completely reform the landscape of higher education (starting with the PhD) so that it is more mental health friendly. I think these are really good starting points, and I’m sure I don’t need to comment on the prevalence of mental health concerns in HE).
The other groups came up with equally urgent issues to address, including the over-casualisation of higher education and the precarious position of newly-finished PhDs and ECRs on temporary (often teaching only) contracts. They suggested that the WCC could mediate some kind of institutional affiliation for those who are in the post-PhD limbo, which I think is a wonderful suggestion (after all, I have gained much from my post-PhD institutional affiliation as a research associate at the Institute of Classical Studies). The Implicit Bias group waded through the depressing ideas of promoting self-awareness and the way that we (all!) think about women (and other minorities in the academy), and suggested that being reflective actually benefits everyone (this was a huge theme of the day, actually!). The parenting/caring group suggested the establishment of a database of good practice guidelines for institutions, which is a phenomenally good idea, and touched on the vast possible differences between institutions, and between career positions (having caring duties as an ECR is significantly different to having those same duties as a professor!)
We moved on to the spotlight talks (which, for reasons of space, I am not going to go through here). It was really great to hear talks about current research being done with feminist perspectives, though, and it made me think about how great a format the short-and-snappy talk is.
The next part of the day was a roundtable, where we heard from Rebecca Langlands, Stella Sanford (of the Society for Women in Philosophy), Susan Deacy, Fiona Macintosh, and Alison Sharrock. It was inspiring and humbling to hear these women talk about their own perspectives, progressions, and careers, and I wish I could do their views justice. The big take away from this whole section was that we need to figure out what it is we want the WCC to be and do, and how we (as the membership, and the WCC as the executive) envision the WCC working and advocating.
The biggest thing that I personally took away from the day is that Classics (broadly defined) is a diverse and wonderful subject, and we need to stand up and say ‘I’m a Classicist, and this is what we are like!’ otherwise the ‘traditional’ old-white-man-elite is going to prevail. And as a discipline we’re so much more than that.
I got home and felt so uplifted, like something truly wonderful had occurred. And, I felt like it was a special thing to be there and to be involved, and a privilege to watch the WCC be born.
If you like what I do here, and on YouTube and Twitter, you can buy me a pinch of fairy dust.