Honestly, what better day than Friday the 13th to hold a workshop on CVs and job applications! Below you will find the (slightly abbreviated) slides from the workshop I am running for current PhD candidates in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. I hope they're useful. This is information and advice I have personally been given and which has worked for me in the past in getting shortlisted for jobs, and building my CV. I hope they can be useful beyond just SAAH but please remember that the advice presented here is not the only way to do things - it's just a suggestion!
(the giant picture of a tweet is a link, by the by!)
Today is World Mental Health Day, which is fitting, since two days ago I ran a half-marathon, raising over £800 for Mind, the mental health charity. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who sponsored me - I feel very humbled by your generosity and very also pretty proud of myself for having done it. There's still time to donate, if you wish: here.
Last World Mental Health Day I publicly posted for the first time about having type 1 bipolar, and I wanted to take the opportunity again to be open, honest, and giving about my illness in a way that I hope will inspire and help others.
I do a fair bit to keep myself healthy - I take my medications everyday. In fact, I take meds three times a day, because that's what works best for me. I run, and I meditate sometimes (but do neither as much as I should do, really). But I also do a fair bit that isn't very healthy, which is mainly out of circumstance, rather than desire. For instance - I love my job, and what I do, but sometimes I really do buy into the workaholic-academic myth. And my commute doesn't do much good for me either, because the time I have with my family I spend with them, and don't always take as much time for myself as I should (see the point about not running or meditating as much as I should).
Over the last year, my anxiety has got worse as well, and a part of this is residual trauma that I've associated with certain spaces, particularly in and around London. I'm also struggling to shake the inherent anxiety of precarity, which I got so used to feeling. Sometimes I have to sit myself down and remind myself I actually do have a full time job now.
I've become - and continue to become - better at recognising myself, and when I might be at risk. And with that recognition has come the ability to catch moods or panic early and do some quick restorative work.
Despite everything that has held me back - not just bipolar and anxiety, but the parenting, and general self-care - I think I've done really well this last year. Which is to say, I'm doing my best, and it turns out - my best is pretty damn good.
I love you all. Thank you for your support and kindness.
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?
It's the start of a new academic year and that means the time to get our your planners and start setting goals! But, it's also a good time to remind yourself that you can say no.
I'm talking to you PhD candidates and early career academics!
This year, I'm saying no to things because I want to maximise my time, and put myself in the best possible position to get a permanent job.
That is to say: a permanent academic job is my ultimate goal, and everything that I do this year will need to fall into one of three categories:
1. Things that will directly help me achieve my ultimate goal.
2. Things that might indirectly help me achieve my ultimate goal, but that I will enjoy, or think are important.
3. Things that probably won't help me achieve my ultimate goal, but which I really want to do and am happy to take the time hit over.
And, in addition to that, I have set myself the requirement of articulating exactly why each Thing will help me (either in terms of the ultimate goal or in another way), and also and very importantly of thinking about how things will positively impact my life more generally. Does Thing fall into category 1, but will probably make me miserable? Then sorry - I'm going to say no.
So there you have it. I'm going to be saying no a lot more this year. And I'm hoping that it will lead to some good results both in terms of achieving goals, but also in terms of being happier, healthier, and a better colleague, friend, family member, mother, wife, and person. (But, like, no pressure!)
Are you saying NO this year? What are you categories, rules, or checklist items? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!
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.
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