Month: September 2016

Between. Reflections on a year post submission (part 2).

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This is the second part of my series on life after the PhD. This week, I’m discussing the importance of an institutional affiliation, and what that means for how you’ll spend your time post-completion.

The Institutional Affiliation

Before I begin, I should say that this advice is in no way meant to deride the significance and contribution of independent scholars, many of whom produce important, innovative work whilst unaffiliated with a particular academic institution. Given the current state of the job market, alt-ac routes are becoming an increasing – and often exciting – reality for many, offering valuable alternatives to the traditional academic route I’m discussing here. For the time being however, I want to draw attention to a few of the benefits of maintaining your affiliation following your postgraduate degree.

Affiliation means having an institutional email address, access to on-campus facilities (e.g. teaching and research rooms, common staff areas, the library, university special collections), and often a healthy printing budget, the benefits of each of which should be self-evident. If teaching at a local institution is not an option, enquire as to the possibility of a non-stipendiary fellowship in your awarding institution/department.


Teaching, which will provide you with said affiliation, a viable way of supporting your research whilst simultaneously adding lines to your CV. Many of you will have taught during your PhD, and if possible, I’d recommend keeping that going, as your familiarity with the courses you’re teaching on will really help you to limit the time you devote to preparing. Beyond this, (time permitting) I’d also recommend seeking out teaching in other departments in your PhD’s host institution – I ended up teaching on courses in four departments and three schools, which, although challenging, has been an unparalleled source of income and pedagogical development. You might also want to think about local alt-ac teaching opportunities – for art history this might include ventures such as The New School of Art – as well as tutoring on subjects related to your discipline.

Organising Events 

Being part of a HEI can also provide crucial access to the funds and venues necessary for organising all manner of events, something that can be important both in terms of contributing to current debate in your field, or simply as a way of fostering a continued sense of belonging (which can be particularly significant in the period post submission). The possibilities of what you could organise vary wildly, but between organising a conference relating to your postdoctoral research, a panel at a disciplinary conference, a public engagement event, a seminar series, a reading group, or a postgraduate or early career researcher focused event, there’s bound to be something to suit your needs and the specific demands on your time. I organised a research seminar series – Edinburgh’s Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar Series, which is about to go into its second year – as well as a panel at this year’s Association of Art Historian’s Annual Conference. Organising the seminar series was beneficial in a number of ways: it allowed me not only to meet emerging scholars in my field, but to engage meaningfully with their ideas; it improved my skills in applying for and securing funding; and it encouraged me to build relationships with the Series’ host institution, Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities.

Perhaps more significantly, organising our AAH panel allowed me to think through some key ideas for my postdoctoral research, the development of which I’ll discuss in my next post in this series, which will examine starting your second major research project.


Week in Review – 11 September

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mw66053.jpgSarah Forbes Bonetta (Sarah Davies) by Camille Silvy. Albumen print, 15 September 1862
3 1/4 in. x 2 1/4 in. (83 mm x 56 mm), National Portrait Gallery, London.

My object of the week is this albumen portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, which was used to illustrate the National Portrait Gallery’s event In Conversation: Portraits of the Past: Researching Black Lives in the Archives. Dr Caroline Bressey and Dr Gemma Romain will discuss their experiences of researching images of black lives in archives, before reflecting upon the position of black historical research in Britain today.

This week, Goldsmiths, University of London announced that is was launching the world’s first postgraduate degree in Queer History, beginning in 2017. Perhaps even more excitingly for those of us working on queer culture, the university is also in discussions about the creation of a National Queer Archive.

I was excited to read about the Public Domain Review’s new Conjectures Series, a forum for ‘experiments with historical form and method’. Just like Storying the Past before it, such vehicles provoke important reflection on the discipline of history and what we as historians ‘do’. The first post in the series is Easter McCraney’s discussion of longing and the objects of history, which the editor describes as a ‘history poem’.

Also from the Public Domain Review, Ryan Feigenbaum’s essay Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany provides a compelling consideration of the cultural import of a single species of algae: Conferva fontinalis

I greatly enjoyed reading the fascinating special issue of the open access Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture (15:2), on The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers: A Transatlantic Object, edited by Martina Droth & Michael Hatt. The issue discusses Powers’s sculpture in unparalleled detail, while simultaneously locating it within a number of its cultural contexts, thereby skilfully interweaving the sculpture’s micro and macro histories. I was also excited to see the CFP for the next issue of  MDCCC 1800 – the international online journal of nineteenth-century culture – on the ‘Arts on display: the 19th century international expositions‘. Each of these ventures serve to emphasise just how exciting publishing on nineteenth-century art is at the moment.

Other CFPs, conferences, journal special issues and articles that caught my eye this week included:

The CFP for the Heritages of Migration: Moving Stories, Objects and Home conference.

The programme for the Paul Mellon Centre’s upcoming conference Art in the British Country House: Collecting and Display.

The Auricular Style: Frames conference, which brings together research in fine & decorative art histories in order to shed light on the neglected Auricular style. The conference programme is available here.

The CFP for the Refiguring Romanticisms: Cross-Temporal Translations and Gothic Transgressions seminar.

The CFP for a forthcoming special issue of Eighteenth-Century Studies on ‘Empires’.

The William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place MOOC, run by Lancaster University in collaboration with Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home between 1799 to 1808.

The Storify for BAVS 2016 conference, Consuming (the) Victorians. 

Between. Reflections on a year post submission (part 1).

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I submitted my PhD thesis for examination just over a year ago, on 12 August 2015. Since then, I’ve taught on several courses, completed more job and fellowship applications than I can count, submitted work for publication and organised several events. Yet the period between ‘finishing’ the PhD and getting a postdoctoral or permanent position is an awkward one, and the best way forward is often unclear.

Whilst advice abounds on how to do the PhD itself, and there’s plenty of articles, blogs, and even books on how to land a postdoc or job, the tough bridge between PhD student and a full-time postdoctoral researcher or member of faculty, remains comparatively neglected. Today’s blog post is the first in a series of three in which I’ll discuss my experiences of being between’, and how I’ve dealt with what can be an exhausting and difficult time. I’m starting with a general discussion of the importance of ‘keeping busy’, before turning to how I’ve developed my publication plan.

Keeping Busy

I personally enjoy being busy. I’m most productive when working on several projects at once, and I was worried that on finishing the PhD I’d fall into an abyss of having nothing to do. I was accordingly proactive. Going into the 2015-16 academic year, I signed up for teaching, I submitted abstracts for conferences, and I organised several events – a disciplinary conference and a research seminar series – each of which served to give structure and purpose for the upcoming year. I also maintained a master ‘plan of action’, which I used (and continue to use) as a reference point for what I wanted to achieve each month, thereby avoiding the procrastination that comes with deciding what to do next once one thing is finished. For those of you interested in creating this kind of document, Dr Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In has written several posts on how to draft a five year plan. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t engage in so many activities that you feel overwhelmed, and that you ensure that you still have plenty of time for what I’ll discuss next: publishing.


Needless to say, publishing your research is one of the most important tasks you’ll undertake as a researcher of any position, but particularly as an early career researcher for whom publications are crucial for landing a job. It’s partly these pressures that can make the post-PhD period so overwhelming, so my advice would be to set yourself achievable goals that you can approach in manageable chunks, as opposed to conceiving of your publications as a monolithic body of books and journal articles. Perhaps the most difficult thing to manage at this stage is juggling working on publications with teaching commitments, and there’s no easy way around this. Writing requires the monetary support that teaching (or any other paid employment) provides, yet the preparation required for teaching detracts from the time that could be spent writing. Maintaining the balance is what’s important. Some more general tips for working on publications are as follows:

  • meet with your supervisor or your academic mentor to draft a detailed, realistic publishing strategy – this can be helpfully tied in with the five year plan discussed above.
  • use tools that actively provide structure to your suddenly structure-less academic life, such as Wendy Belcher’s wonderful book, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks
  • look out for relevant call for articles from journals – this can be a useful foot in the door for getting something published, as you’re not approaching editors ‘cold’ with the topic of your research, but instead responding to something they’re already looking for.
  • focus upon the REF and on producing REFable research. It’s important to make the most of your precious time by producing written content with the highest REF impact, meaning books and articles published in high quality journals.
  • ask colleagues to look at a book proposal, and to share their own – I’ve been incredibly lucky in that many colleagues and friends have commented on my book proposal, which I’ve just submitted for review with a press. Although there are many excellent articles on how to write the book proposal available, in my experience nothing beat reading actual proposal examples.
  • keep a rolling list of potential publishing venues, including potential presses that would suit your monograph, as well as journals where your shorter articles might be placed.

Next week, I’ll look at the importance of an institutional affiliation, with reference to acquiring continued teaching experience and organising events, both of which have been crucial aspects of my post-PhD life.