I may have taken December off from my extra-curricular/academic work, but I wasn’t completely idle. Belatedly, here’s a post I wrote for the folks at Medieval Bodies Ignored: Politics, Culture and Flesh (an innovative project run by postgraduates at the University of Leeds) reporting on an excursion taken to York in late November last year (featuring a public talk by yours truly!):
And so, into 2018. I took December off. Not in an employment sense – actually, I’ve changed jobs and so am now getting up to speed in a new role (and it’s awesome!) – but from my research, my ‘extra-curricular’ work, as I’ve taken to calling it; you also might know it as alt-academia. The second half of 2017 was a busy few months, and after I gave a public talk at the end of November, I decided that it was time for a little break and a regrouping of what comes next (another public talk at the end of this month, and some exciting writing/publication plans for the year ahead).
This is all rather a contrast to how my working days were being played out this time last year. I completed a full draft of my thesis for Christmas Eve 2016, but in the run-up – all of November and December – I was doing fourteen or sixteen-hour days, including weekends, and the only time I was officially taking off was Sunday mornings (I wasn’t quite bad enough to take my laptop to church with me…!) Long weekends were spent at the University library, long evenings tapping away at home. It was an amazing period of productivity. Never before have I been able to just sit down at my laptop and work. I wasn’t inclined to procrastinate, my concentration levels were amazing, my writing flowed, and the thesis just came into being. Reading this over, it sounds very positive and like I was in a transcendental state of perfect working. I really wasn’t – I was a total mess! – but I can’t deny that something magical happened to my writing.
And now here I am beating a path to an alternative form of academia as 2018 rolls around and the anniversary of my submission approaches. I’m not the only historian doing this – far from it – but my expectations of myself are still based on the more straightforward academic routes (teaching fellowships, post-docs, and such). I feel a certain amount of pressure – entirely self-imposed, I must emphasise – to produce work at a certain rate, to go to a certain number of conferences, and to turn my thesis into a monograph in a certain time period. I can’t help but look at the activities of ECRs who are in academic jobs and take that as a model. This is probably exacerbated because I still work in a university, and I’m not really outside the academic system, just a bit parallel to it. But then I take a step back and think “what’s the rush? What do I have to prove to anyone other than myself?” That’s a reassuring thought. I just need to take more notice of it sometimes!
Happy new year, everyone.