Each year I try (and usually fail) to participate in #AcWriMo, and write a corresponding post on this blog. You can read 2014’s and 2015’s posts here and here. This year, I had a vague #AcWriMo plan. As ever, I wanted to write more, but I didn’t have specific goals and I wasn’t at a point in my research process where I could spend a full month writing many thousands of words. What I did end up doing this year however, ended up being even more important than my previous frustrated attempts at participation. Inspired by a twitter conversation with @LucieWhitmore we set up a weekly writing group, something that has completely changed my attitude towards writing.
I’ve written before about being a habitual binge writer. Someone who spends vast chunks of time writing and revising in advance of an ever-looming deadline. I don’t write daily. There’s always a valid reason: too much teaching prep, too many emails, too many job applications to do instead. And this term has been no exception – I’ve been teaching five classes a week on two different courses, and have fired off numerous job and fellowship applications since October. What has made the difference however, is the writing group, which has made writing a non-negotiable part of my week. Like teaching, writing is now deliberately and specifically factored in to my week. I can’t not attend, as I’ll be letting my fellow group members down. I can’t do anything else whilst there but write, thanks to the gentle peer-pressure that attendance exerts. It’s this non-negotiability that is so important. Writing was always the first thing to go, but now (thanks to twice weekly sessions) I know I have dedicated writing time each week.
The group roughly employs the format from TORCH’s own Academic Writing Group, which you can find more information about here. There’s a lot of great literature on starting you own academic writing group available online, but this post on Pat Thomson’s blog Patter is an excellent starting point.
For me, our little Writing Group has fixed an issue that I was long trying to achieve via my participation in #AcWriMo – establishing better writing routines. And while I’m not quite at the point of maintaining a daily writing practice, this seems more achievable than ever before.
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.
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.
Like many researchers, I’m both interested and invested in the idea of productivity and the varying methods used to increase it. So it was with enthusiasm that I read Erin Furtak’s recent article My Writing Productivity Pipeline in which she outlined her system for documenting her manuscripts as they progressed from initial idea to published document. The article is well worth reading for Furtak’s encouragingly frank and positive viewpoint alone (e.g. ‘I always view a rejection as a revise-and-resubmit, but to another journal’), but the pipeline itself has the potential to be a real productivity hack.
Quickly implementable in either paper or digital formats [see my version above], the pipeline has a number of compelling features:
- Preservation. I often want to record both ongoing and new projects in something other than a list format – the pipeline offers a cohesive archive of ideas either to be immediately developed further or to be followed up at a later date.
- Encouragement. The pipeline functions as a compelling visual prompt and reminder that a. you have exciting ideas that you really should take the time to develop for publication, and b. you have A LOT of exciting ideas. Better be getting on with those then.
- Customisation. Furtak’s own pipeline is merely a guideline, and in fact the pipeline’s various stages can be customised for both the kind of research you do, and the level of complexity necessary to get each idea worked up for publication. If you thrive on the feeling that you’re making constant progress, break the stages up into smaller levels of implementation, e.g. between ‘Manuscripts in Draft Form’ and ‘Almost Ready for Submission’, add extra stages such as ‘First Draft Edited’ or ‘References Checked’. Likewise, if you’re an art historian you might want to add a stage for ‘Image Permissions Acquired’.
- Identification. As Furtak herself notes, one of the key functions of the pipeline is to show where there are blockages. Tellingly for myself, (as I’m sure it is for many) this is between the ‘Manuscripts in Draft Form’ and the ‘Submitted’ stages [see below], which suggests to me that I have a good amount of manuscript drafts that I simply need to spend the time editing. Similarly, I have a blockage between ‘Draft Proposals’ and ‘Proposals Under Review’, which likewise tells me that whilst I have a number of solid ideas, they’re not yet developed enough to be submitted to a funding body. Moving forward from this, I can try to understand the root causes of these blockages, and to schedule time and energy accordingly to ensure their reduction.
I haven’t yet spent enough time with my pipeline to assess whether it has improved my rate of productivity, although what I have noticed is that I’m suddenly very aware of what I’m project I’m currently working on and getting that project moving along through the next stages of the pipeline. It also removes a lot of the procrastination that’s tied to deciding what to work on next, as you have a clear guide of what needs doing to any project at any given point in its gestation. I’ll post an update to this blog post in a few months, by which point I will hopefully be able to see a tangible improvement in my rate of productivity. In the mean time, I strongly recommend reading Furtak’s original article, and trying out your own writing pipeline.
I’m thrilled to have received a Design History Society Research Travel & Conference Grant for my project, From House to Home: Gender, Identity & Emotion in British Domestic Space, 1750-1830. The project develops research from my PhD thesis for publication as a monograph, and explores the complex relationship between the production and consumption of domestic space and issues of identity, affection, gender, and sexuality.
Specifically, the Research Travel and Conference Grant will facilitate the completion of crucial primary research for this project, to be conducted at a number of repositories including the British Library, where I will consult the papers, journals, and correspondence of Caroline Lybbe Powys, Anne Seymour Damer, Mary Berry, and John Wilkes; as well as the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Wellcome Library, where I’ll view further correspondence from Mary Berry.
Stay tuned for more posts on my monograph project as it develops.
Gertrude Menough, Clematis Lodge Collage Album, c. 1895. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been awarded a Short-Term Research Fellowship from the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, which I’ll be taking in August 2017. The award will facilitate research for my postdoctoral research project, which is provisionally titled, Crafting the Self: Assemblage & Identity, 1770-1900. As I’ve noted previously, the project will provide a history of ‘assemblage’ produced in Britain, North America, and British India between 1770 and 1900, highlighting its pervasiveness across an array of artistic, literary, and cultural practices, and its enactment in disparate geographic locations. The project will accordingly examine a broad variety of assemblages made by men, women, and children across the Atlantic world and Britain’s colonies in order to understand the universality of assemblage during this period.
Primarily, the Winterthur Short-Term Research Fellowship will facilitate research on the Winterthur’s collection of ‘collage albums’. Also known as ‘scrapbook houses’, collage albums comprise imagined interior spaces arranged from carefully clipped images of interior furnishings. My research will examine the collage albums in relation to women’s self-fashioning in the mid-late nineteenth century, arguing that their production both expressed and reflected women’s creative and domestic identities during this period.
As the project develops, I’ll post more information about my motivations, methodologies, and the specifics of what I’ll be examining in each of my six case studies. For now, however, I’m concentrating on revising my doctoral thesis for publication, a process that I’m also keen to write about on the blog. Stay tuned for posts on going from PhD to published, and if there are specifics of this journey that you’d like me to discuss, get in touch with me via my twitter handle, @Freya_Gowrley.