In this final section of my three-part series looking at life immediately following the PhD, I want to discuss research. Not revising your thesis for publication (covered in post one), but starting a new, postdoctoral research project (or a few of them). Some may find the suggestion to conduct new research controversial, and would instead advise sticking to revising the thesis for publication. This is certainly a valid position to take, but not one that would have worked for me. Working on new research has been amongst the most important my post-PhD endeavours, affirming my love of research, ensuring that I had a viable second project when applying for jobs and postdocs, and providing much needed distance from the PhD. When not teaching (i.e. when the entirety of my spare time is focused on working on my monograph) I dedicate at least one day a week to my postdoctoral research project (an exploration of the relationship between assemblage and identity between 1780 and 1914). A central part in developing this project has been applying for fellowships, as discussed below.
There’s an old adage that success breeds success. While cliche, in terms of the academic job market, it’s certainly true that short-term fellowships at well respected research institutions will make you a more competitive candidate. I spent a good part of December and January of 2015-16 crafting applications for such fellowships, and received a travel grant to visit Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library, a Visiting Scholar Award at Yale Center for British Art, and a Short-Term Research Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Though a lengthy and often disappointing process (I think I applied for around 15 fellowships in total), revising and refining your research proposal for each of the applications is a great way of developing your ideas for your second major research project. As many note, hiring departments aren’t as interested in what you have done, but what you will do, that is how your dissertation translates into a REFable published work, and that you have an dynamic and engaging idea for a second research project, which will similarly garner publications and funding. As many fellowships require you to work closely with the host institution’s collections, the application process allows you to compile a list of sources to consult during your project, thereby allowing you to develop a fairly specific picture of what your project will look like even at an early stage in its gestation. Furthermore, receiving a fellowship for your project, demonstrates both its viability under peer review, and more importantly, the fact that your work is fundable, something of immense importance to any hiring committee concerned with choosing a candidate who will continue to attract funding once in the job.
My final piece of advice is to track what you do. When you’re managing several projects and teaching concurrently, days, weeks, and months can slip by without any real sense of accomplishment, although this is often an erroneous perception. I like to keep a monthly list of my ‘achievements’ to demonstrate to myself that whilst I have been busy, I’ve also been productive. This is also useful at a broader scale – when I ask myself what have I done in the year since submission, I can list the following: successfully defended my PhD thesis, taught three courses & contributed to the Sutton Trust Summer School, organised a bimonthly research seminar series, ran a panel at AAH, given four conference papers, had two job interviews, received four travel grants and two research fellowships, submitted several book reviews and an article for review, became a peer reviewer for a journal, conducted archival research for my new research project, and just yesterday, I submitted my book proposal (minus sample chapters) to a publisher for feedback. And I still feel disappointed not to be further ahead. I list these achievements not to boast, but to show that the period ‘between’ is a busy, stressful, and productive one, when you’re expected to balance many divergent demands. I’m not sure there’s any way around this, but talking more about the realities of being at this stage, and strategies to deal with this difficult time period, can only be a good thing.
The CFP for next year’s incarnation of Edinburgh’s Eighteenth Century Research Seminar Series is now live. Read it on the ECRS website or below.
The Eighteenth-Century Research Seminar (ECRS) series invites proposals for twenty-minute papers from postgraduate and early-career researchers addressing any aspect of eighteenth-century history, culture, literature, education, art, music, geography, religion, science, and philosophy. The seminar series seeks to provide a regular inter-disciplinary forum for postgraduate and early-career researchers working on the eighteenth century to meet and discuss their research.
ECRS will take place at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) in Edinburgh on a fortnightly basis from January to April 2017. Each seminar will consist of two papers, one from a University of Edinburgh-based researcher and one from a researcher based in another higher education institution, followed by a drinks reception. Non-University of Edinburgh speakers’ travel expenses will be reimbursed up to £100.
Abstracts of up to 300 words along with a brief biography and institutional affiliation should be submitted in the body of an email to:firstname.lastname@example.org
The closing date for submissions is Monday 21 November 2016.
For more information please see our website: http://edinburgh18thcentury.weebly.com/
ECRS is supported by the Eighteenth-Century and Enlightenment Studies Network (ECENS) of the University of Edinburgh.
More information about ECENS can be found at: http://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/ecens/
This week my twitter feed has been full of historical valentines and love themed art objects, such as this ‘Lobster in Love’ valentine’s card from the Museum of London, and these digitised images from Arthur Freeling’s Flowers, Their Use and Beauty, Language and Sentiment (1857). Follow the hashtags #valentinesday #paintedlovers and #victorianvalentines to see more.
Other things that caught my eye this week:
Alun Whitley & Jennifer Evans’ call for chapters for their edited volume Framing the Face: New Perspectives on the History of Facial Hair.
This blog post on wallpaper studies, complete with introductory bibliography.
Matt Lodder’s new article ‘Things of the sea’: iconographic continuities between tattooing and handicrafts in Georgian-era maritime culture‘.
The Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection exhibition.
Stephen Etheridge’s thoughtful post on whether you can be a ‘post-doctoral researcher’ without having an official post-doctoral position.
CFP for a special issue on Gothic Studies on the ‘Nautical Gothic’.
Mary Beard muses on why more women historians aren’t best-selling authors.
This talk and pop-up exhibition on The Rise of the Literary Annual, Powerful Femininity, and Beautiful Books.
This conference on Chinese Wallpaper: Trade, Technique and Taste.
Frank Trentmann’s new book Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First.
The programme for LGBT History Month at the National Maritime Museum.
The National Archives’ creative workshop Out of the Archives: A zine workshop on 20th century women’s movements.
On 25 February I’ll be presenting research developed from my doctoral thesis on the relationship between needlework, painting and print culture as part of the University of Edinburgh’s History of Art Research Seminar Series. The title of the paper is ‘The Sister Arts: Needlework between Thread, Paint, and Print in Eighteenth-century Britain’, and further details can be found here.
The programme for the series as a whole can be found here.
I’m excited to announce that I passed my viva with minor corrections on Thursday. Despite several sleepless nights and countless hours of worrying, the event itself was fine. In fact, it was an enjoyable and conversational discussion of my research, during which I benefitted from the keen critique and probing questions of my two examiners.
However, the process wouldn’t have been nearly as smooth had I not received advice from a number of colleagues and friends. Particular thanks must go to my two supervisors, as well as Dr. Natalie Lussey, Dr. Isabella Streffen, Dr. Ellie Mackin, Heather Carroll, Elisabeth Gernerd, Dr. Sally Holloway, and Vicky Holmes, each of whom shared links and sage words prior to the event. In that spirit, I wanted to write a quick post documenting the blog posts, podcasts, and videos that I used as part of my own preparations, in the hope that others might find them similarly useful.
I consulted several such lists whilst preparing for my viva. Whilst not many of these questions actually came up, preparing and practicing the answers I would give to them, provided my viva prep with a focus, encouraged me to think critically about my thesis, and helped to soothe my nerves.
Vicky Holmes recommended Tara Brabazon’s excellent PhD Surgery video series to me. Prof. Brabazon is deeply invested in postgraduate development, and has written and made a number of informative podcasts, videos, and articles on the topic of the viva. Her podcast, ‘Ten Tips for a PhD oral examination’ is here, and her ‘Practice Questions for a PhD oral examination’ is available here.
The final source I’m going to recommend is the Viva Survivors podcast, which is run by Nathan Ryder, and asks people ‘about their research, their PhD, what they did […] how they prepared for their viva and what happened on the day’. The podcasts record the range of experiences that the viva can encompass, providing essential nuance to a narrative that is often dominated by horror stories. The podcast archive is available here.
Stand out words of advice from various sources were to relax, to breathe, and to write down the questions posed by your examiners before answering, as well as to ask to take a break if you feel it to be necessary. Perhaps the most useful advice I received, however, was not to over-prepare. Despite the temptation to prepare set answers to a set list of questions, it’s important to answer the question you’ve been asked, not what you wish you’d been asked.
With a mind to my post from earlier this month then, you might be wondering how my AcWriMo is going. Whilst I am definitely behind in terms of ‘academic writing’ in the strictest sense, preparing for my viva encouraged reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of my thesis, its key contributions, and its central argument, whilst the viva itself was an exercise that helped to crystallise plans and strategies for turning the thesis into ‘the book’. Whilst AcWriMo stresses the importance of writing, preparing for my viva has emphasised the equivalent importance of prolonged periods of thinking, a strategy I will take forward into the final stages of the month of November and into ‘DecWriMo’.