Enforced optimism about 2009

I am a pessimist, unless I try very hard. Mostly I assume that my pessimism is just realism but every now and then I am reminded, usually by frustrated loved ones, that I am not in the habit of seeing the good side of things. Recently I was reminded of this by my spontaneous reaction to a post of Dr Virago’s at Quod She that ended with the question, “So what were your most gratifying moments of 2009?” To which, before I even thought about it, my reaction was “huh, well there weren’t any really were there?” Which can’t be true, not even semantically. So I thought it was probably worth a struggle to recall them.

An obvious one: receiving the book contract in the post. Not signing it, so much, just having it, and therefore the option to sign, or not if I didn’t want, was a source of gratification for some time, and probably delayed my actual signing and sending it back. It was of course hard immediately to recall that because it’s been about four months since I heard anything about the book and I now don’t think it can come out by Leeds, but nonetheless, that moment was there.

Being asked to teach at Queen Mary, after a while of teaching drought, was also a good one. Subsequently I found out that I’d been recommended to them at third hand (and I still owe people beers for that, sorry) but being able to ask what the course was and then say, “yes, I can do that” was a shot in the arm; apparently I could be a paid medievalist after all!

Similarly, being asked, able and willing to participate in the conference for Rosamond McKitterick, a chance to say thanks for a great many favours and to remind my peers (and indeed supervisor) I was still scholarly active. I enjoyed the whole thing and the idea that it was probably helping me and that it meant a sort of recognition was part of that.

Being in a department had the access from the minute they were released to the publicity documents about the Staffordshire Hoard was pretty cool, reminding me that though my current post is not front-line academia it is still connected to it and by a fairly live wire. (We didn’t have any access that the public didn’t have, but once the news was officially out many people made sure we had it straight away.)

Of course, teaching, though I didn’t enjoy it very much this year it must be said, paid back a bit during essay tutorials and seeing close-up who has really clicked with the stuff, and also people coming good against the odds; this is always heartening, though I am used to getting more of it than I have this semester just gone. Working on that. But the enthusiasm of the interested, or the moment of revelation when you give them the detail that makes it all click into place, that’s still good and I hope always will be. Had a few of those.

And also, I’ve met some good people this year and been to some good places, caught up with almost all my old contacts and drunk many a drink with the learned and never had cause not to feel like one of them. It’s just that I was hoping at least to publish something in 2009, any of the four papers I’d made final revisions on in 2008 for example, the book, anything (though there was of course this booklet, which still doesn’t really feel like me). I was hoping to be able to stop promising future achievements to my referees and report some present ones. I was hoping to get to Catalonia again and sort some stuff out, but I only managed the former. I was hoping one of the projects I was on at work would produce something people could see inside the year, but they haven’t. And I was probably hoping somewhere to get one of the jobs I’d applied for, and that hasn’t (yet) worked either. My pessimism, you see, works on this basis: if it doesn’t lead anywhere, it wasn’t really that great. I need to work on that: some of this stuff was fairly great in and of itself.

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13 responses to “Enforced optimism about 2009

  1. Speaking of books, do I owe you anything yet?

  2. I think that the ‘grass does indeed always look greener on the other side’. But many people I know would kill for a proper museum job in a great University town with the opportunity to remain active as an academic as well.

    • Oh yes! I am very grateful for what I have, but it cannot be relied on to endure. (My funding is annually renewed, and so far always has been. But… ) And more than anything else, by now, I want to be able to plan on the basis of knowing where I will live next year and I haven’t been able to say that any time in the last, er, twelve years. The current situation makes that problem about as comfortable as it can be made, but does not remove it.

  3. Trying to measure research achievement on a 1 year cycle is something of a mug’s game, because it’s too short a span. There’s a reason that the RAE/REF works on 7 year cycles, and that Dr Virago’s research achievement for the year was getting positive reviews of existing research. When it takes several years for a completed piece to get published and a friend of mine has just got a contract to deliver a book in 2014, a 1 year look is really just an arbitrary slice. At the moment, what matters in a UK context is research achievements/potential for 2008-2014 (the REF framework time) and I’d have thought you’re still on track for that.

    As for long-term job uncertainty, which is undoubtedly wearing (I’ve had one permanent job since 1996 and that ended with voluntary redundancy), I think it’s just the way the university sector is going. I have friends of my age (mid-40s) in STM subjects who have never had permanent jobs. And even for lecturers who do get the shrinking core of permanent jobs, there’s the problem of whole departments being vulnerable if they don’t bring in enough money.

    But I don’t know that universities are necessarily worse than many other professional sectors – the one time I worked in the private sector, it was routine for there to be a round of redundancies across the firm every 2-3 years. If you really want job security and an academic environment, I suspect the best thing may be a job in some variant of academic support (libraries, IT, departmental backup etc) in a rich university like Cambridge, which can weather financial storms better than most. Or somehow get into the US system at the liberal arts college level (which seems to be where most opportunities are).

    • Yeah, I have been trying that, and with more success than the UK end, but, again, not actual success. The REF point is a good one, though, and somewhat comforting. Thankyou.

  4. I can understand your frustration at all those things not quite coming to fruition yet, but that looks like a pretty solid year to me. Also, what Magistra said.

  5. The REF timescale as I understand it is shorter than the RAE and due to be completed in 2013, but everything is pretty much up in the air until after the election anyway.

    Concentrate on the things you can control: from that perspective, you’ve done more than ok :-)

    • Well: I could have done more. I could have submitted something new, for starters, though I have two that will be submitted just as soon as I defeat all the job applications.

      The trouble is there of course that just because there are as many posts open as I can plausibly find time to apply for doesn’t mean that there are anything like enough for someone so far off the golden path to actually get one… which is why the results matter more than the efforts.

  6. Pingback: Stock Take V: annual report « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  7. Pingback: Stock Take VI: the work, the job, the life? « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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