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Posts Tagged ‘academia’

Everybody Needs Somebody

I have had one of those Thoughts, which, in the absence of an effective brain-scrubber, can be dealt with only by forcing other people to share it: how about an academic version of Love in the Countryside? For those who haven’t encountered this yet, it’s a new BBC2 series – echoing if not actively ripping off a rather sweet German series that I’ve seen occasionally, Bauer sucht Frau, which according to Chris Dickenson on the Twitter (@cpdickenson) originated with a 1983 Swiss programme – in which an assortment of farming types post dating profiles and select a few of the respondents to spend some time with them out in the countryside, ‘cos it’s difficult to form or sustain a relationship when you spend your days slogging away in isolation at unsocial hours for very little money. Not a huge step away from the university…

Well, no, I don’t get a lot of practice in talking to other people in a social context. I talk to my students, of course, but it’s not what you’d call a real conversation. It’s not the sort of life that’s for everyone. I’m not necessarily looking for a research assistant, but I do need someone who’ll put up with the long hours and understand that those articles aren’t going to write themselves, and obviously they have to be okay with a bit of mess and dust and books everywhere. It’s a pretty quiet life, and I know some non-academics might think that I’m incredibly dull, so maybe it would help if they came from the same sort of background, but then Richard Dawkins married one of Doctor Who’s glamorous assistants so that’s the kind of thing I have in mind…

In subsequent episodes, the lucky respondents have to amuse themselves in Glasgow for two days in February with only £15 while the academic is in a conference, survive a departmental picnic, look after three homesick overseas students, and cope with the meltdown when a funding application is rejected. I’m sure my wife will be able to think of other amusing and dramatic scenarios…

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BE MORE CAT

C5E35E6F-49BA-48C8-9154-53C7777EF683I’ve always been much more of a cat person than a dog person; no offence to the memory of dear old Bailey the neurotic greyhound, or to the various dogs of family members and neighbours, but it’s cats that I can’t imagine living without. (more…)

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The most interesting and provocative comment on Rachel Moss’s wonderful blog post last month on Choosing Not To Giveon the sacrifices that women are expected to make in academic culture, was from Lucy Northenra: “How many women are remembered for their ability to never miss a school run compared to those who manage against all the odds to publish enough to be made professors?” Rachel’s response was equally passionate: “I may well only have one child, and during the week I see her for an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening. Perhaps I might somehow write an extra 4* publication if I gave up one of those hours each day. For me, the cost isn’t worth it.”

Do you want to be remembered as a great scholar but a lousy parent – or not remembered at all except by your nearest and dearest? Why are you mucking about with plasticine instead of changing the world? Why are you wasting time on an article that five people will read with limited attention when you could be making a real difference to one or two individuals who completely depend on you? Such dilemmas go to the heart of academic ambitions and self-image.* Who do I think I really am, who do I want to be, and what to do about all the things that threaten to get in the way? (more…)

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A couple of weeks ago, someone on Facebook raised the question of whether, as an early career researcher with no permanent position, you should accept an invitation to speak somewhere that wasn’t going to pay your travel expenses. The majority of responses were horror-struck that any academic department would even suggest such a thing, with a certain amount of O tempora, o mores lamentation as a counterpoint;  yes, we academics do regularly give our time without compensation, as part of our normal activities (reviewing proposals, writing references and tenure reports and so forth), but incurring actual expenditure is something else – especially for those who don’t have a regular income or access to travel funds. However, there was one dissenter: of course you should, the response ran; you’re being given a chance to develop your skills, hone your arguments and raise your profile, just like The Who got good only as a result of playing every gig they could in the early years, paid or unpaid. Actually you should probably pay *them* for providing you with an audience who have to endure your amateurish strummings. (more…)

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I’m Backing Britain!

One of the things I have always found rather weird and off-putting about German academia is the way that some professors include a section in their CVs about the Rufe – the offers of chairs at other universities – they have turned down. I understand, intellectually, why this happens: in many cases, especially in the past, a professor stayed at the salary level at which they were originally appointed, unless they could wave an offer from somewhere else at the university management and negotiate a better deal, so it was only rational to apply elsewhere on a regular basis – and clearly it continues to be a means of arguing for more support staff, more research money and the like, as well as a recognised indicator of social capital. Further, if everyone knows that every job will attract applications from a load of high-powered established professors who don’t really want it but will take at least six months to play this possible future university off against their current university before declining the offer – which is why, from a UK perspective, German appointment processes take a staggeringly long time – then the people who actually end up taking the jobs, two years later, won’t feel at all embarrassed that it’s all out in public: you weren’t competing on a level playing field, so winning by default, so to speak, isn’t an issue. (more…)

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The Berliner Antike-Kolleg has recently put out a call for volunteers, both for participants and for organisers, for an Altertumswissenschaft-Slam! (or, as they more prosaically put it, an altertumswissenschaftlichen Science Slam. Why is there always this science envy..?). Sounds great fun – though probably something more for Young People, or at least more extrovertedly enthusiastic people, or at any rate people who remember to include the occasional joke in their presentations – and it did lead me to wonder about other possible competitive academic events, not least because today I was doing the ‘impromptu 10-minute response to three conference papers not previously seen’ thing at the European Social Science History Conference in Valencia. Freshly-squeezed Valencia oranges, superb seafood, the wackiest craft beer you will find (Beer with rosemary and rosemary honey! Beer with sea water!), and a lot of ancient Roman network theory; wish you were here… (more…)

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One of the interesting side-effects of spending a reasonable amount of time on Twitter is the sense it gives you of the rhythms of global activity. Of course one gets an inkling of this from the way that the internet gets unmistakably slower from mid-afternoon in the UK, when the bulk of the US East Coast has woken up, and almost unusable by the time California logs on, but it’s far more noticeable when you follow a decent number of people and can get a sense of the timing of their bursts of activity. I’m sure there must be exciting ways of rendering my Twitter feed in graphical form (albeit well beyond my technical capabilities), so I could see shifting colours and patterns as the twittering line follows the dawn westwards, with new voices waking up and then fading away fourteen hours or so later – until the dead hours, around 5 am, when most of the US people I follow have gone to bed and the Europeans haven’t got started yet. Which is really a sign that I need to start following more people in Australasia and Asia, to keep the feed ticking over and give me something to read once I’ve finished catching up on the Yanks – any recommendations?

Of course, the dead hours are not wholly dead in the UK; they’re roamed by those whom I decided some time around 6.30 this morning, two hours after giving up on trying to sleep, to name the insomniacademics (more…)

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