Stock Take VI: the work, the job, the life?

This is the sort of post that is more use to me than to you, most like, so tune out as soon as you feel ready. You might just remember that in May of 2010, I was professionally required to write a report on my academic year, which was actually quite encouraging. Some time before that, too, I’d done a set of four posts here about the various pieces of work I had in process, mainly in an effort to shame me into doing something about their ridiculous number. When I came across that May stock-take whilst looking for a link a year later, it struck me this would be worth doing again, just to see how I’ve done. This has actually taken some time, because it meant trying to squash the four posts into one, which is of course huge and which I have therefore mounted elsewhere, for any real stalkers or procrastinators, as a hidden page under a password (that being `goonthen’) here. I’m not sure why you should really want to read it, but it will remain thus accessible till this post drops off the front page just in case. For the normal people, though, I’ll do a summary here and then add some brief notes on the year’s employment and maybe something about life more widely. I reserve my options on that last though, because I’ve been sleeping badly for a while and so everything is currently coloured grim, whether it is really or not. Anyway, here we go.

Works, publishable or not

The four posts of 2009 didn’t cover books, so the obvious advance here is that now I have one; on the other hand, that had been finished in 2007 and I haven’t advanced any of my ideas for others at all yet. They are listed on that page, but I need to think about how I’m going to achieve any of them at this rate.

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

What the posts did list was article-length things, and at that time there were five in press. Now, one still is (page proofs arrived two days ago), one has had to be abandoned for now and the other three all came out. I have two more in press now, one completely new since 2009, but the other one of them (then under ‘ready to go’) is probably a false pregnancy, as it were, so more needs to be done here. I actually have two more under review, but they’re both on blogging, which is not really my best scholarship, and according to some might not look well on a CV. So, as I say, more needs to be done.

The 2009 posts also listed five that were complete but unsubmitted. One of them is now in print, in fact; one of them is the dubious in-press item, and the other three are still stuck, one for reasons out of my control, one for reasons beyond my comprehension that I am about to sidestep, and one just out of my discouragement, which should be overcome. This category shouldn’t really exist, these are things that are ready for press and aren’t for some reason being pressed, so it’s probably as well I don’t have anything to add to it.

I do on the other hand have a rather worrying new category, conference trash. This is things that I did for a session somewhere or to publicise my work that will, unless I am missing something (feel free to have a look), not go anywhere further. I’ve generated four of these since 2009, and one was on the previous ‘needs actual research’ list, and I don’t think any of them will become publications. These were probably part wasted effort, therefore, and I must stop agreeing to present stuff so readily.

Then there’s the two categories I had last time, “nearly there” and “needs actual work”. There were three in the first category in 2009, two of which are now stalled (one of these being the Casserres paper awaited eagerly by at least one person; more on that anon., but it is not just my fault it’s not ready, honest) and the last of which is my current top priority because I’ve set myself a 1st December deadline for it, as some readers well know. In the second category there were four that needed serious research, and well, they’re all still there, though I have projects in conception which will pull two of them together at least. Unfortunately I’ve also added two more new ones and two more have wound up here from other categories, so this is actually going backwards.

So in 2009 I had fourteen unpublished papers in some kind of existence, of which four were in press, five ready to go out, three nearly there, and two (plus another two which only existed as reading lists) needing real work. Now I have three in press, two under review, three more-or-less complete of which two need others to move first or me to tread on toes, nine that need actual work to finish them (of which two, still, are just reading lists) and five that are basically carrion. Total, fifteen in process and five dead sticks. So things have actually got a lot worse since 2009! Crap. Against that, I also have four more published pieces and a book as well, you know, but I’m generating more than I’m getting into print and much more of it is now useless. I don’t like how that bodes.

So, OK, some resolves again perhaps? How am I going to tackle this? Well, first, I’m not going to offer conference papers for a while unless they actually form part of a project that it will help me to advance and that I will be able to read for. This may mean only the Pictish stuff, at least until that’s done. I will also focus on particular papers and try and get a next book started, and the order of priority should probably be as follows:

  1. Edits to ““Popular History, the Academy and the Internet: Blogging History for New and Old Audiences” ASAP.
  2. “Uncertain Origins: comparing the earliest documentary culture in Carolingian Catalonia” by December 1st.
  3. My share of the Introduction and Conclusion to its host volume by Christmas.
  4. Actually I have a review due about here that I haven’t mentioned above but it ought to be on the list.
  5. “Legends in their Own Lifetime? The Late Carolingians and Catalonia”, rebuild and submit somewhere nicer, as soon after that as I can.
  6. Actually there’s another review to do that I didn’t know about when I first drafted this post last week but which is due nearly at the same time as the first one…
  7. “Pictlands: rethinking the composition of the Pictish polity”, reading for it already ongoing so final write-up for presentation, road-testing, feedback and so on by, say, Easter?
  8. How will “On Stone and Skin: inscription of a community at Sant Pere de Casserres” look by now? Will the problems have gone away? If so, read the relevant charters, edit and submit. If not, sigh and move on.
  9. Next, “Bishop and Brother: kindred and Church in an early medieval noble family”: get it out there again with its historiographical face all shiny and nice.
  10. By now, I should have ordered and obtained the volumes I need most for the actual next book project, The Rise and Fall of Sant Joan de Ripoll: charters of an early medieval Catalan nunnery, which can proceed in dribs and drabs thereafter.
  11. Can I do anything with “Critical diplomatic: a tool for analysing early medieval societies” at this point? If not, start focussing on it properly.
  12. By now, also, it’s probably time to knock “The Continuation of Carolingian Expansion” into a new, shorter and final shape and kiss it goodbye.

And actually that looks like enough! So what about other things?

Work, paid

Well, this really needs the Bonzo Dog Band to do it justice!

The crucial line there is, as I’m sure you realised, “I used to be a four-stone apology; now, I am two separate gorillas!” because, in May 2010 I was working in para-academia, in a job I liked very much but which had no prospects and was on endangered soft money, renewable annually. Such teaching as I was doing was coming to me from a different city and I was struggling to take any part in the academic world of my home university. Now, in September 2011, I am three separate lecturers (or something like that) in a very similar university but with a larger history faculty, several of whose members have interests exactly allied to things I work on, and I have all the teaching I can handle, including some graduates, which, so far, is like teaching undergraduates who did the reading, but then, many of the undergraduates here do. In fact, seven of the twelve undergraduates I was directly concerned with last year (lecture audiences not included) did best of all in the subjects I taught them, so either I or the early Middle Ages are doing right by these kids and possibly both. I also get paid to read. Most of all, I have two more years of this if I need them and already have a book and four papers for the Research Excellence Framework when it comes, which will be in the first year into the next job, whatever it may be. The market is still looking likely to be rubbish but I could not be better positioned for it, so there’s hope of a sort there.

Also, y’know, I don’t want to wax too idealistic, but, intellectual fulfilment? I believe this may be it. I am doing what I love, more or less all the time. Sure, it comes with a hefty attached admin. load (mostly not even related to the actual work of the job, but to claiming money or helping the university answer government demands for organisational information) and a screaming INBOX that never goes quiet but even that, even that I tell you, I had down to zero over the summer. I am not yet sure that I am doing this as well as I should be—and at the moment I haven’t yet heard that I’ve passed probation, though quite a few courses here are in trouble if I haven’t—but I believe I am doing it adequately, perhaps even well, and will get better.1

A heavily-graffitied bus shelter in Vallfogona

A heavily-graffitied bus shelter in Vallfogona

Also, para-academically, I’ve presented in eight different places since May 2010, three of them in foreign countries, in all of which I’ve met really cool people and had a good time; I also finally made it out to Catalonia again and got lots done despite being on my own and without wheels; I managed to stay sort of regular at the Institute of Historical Research seminars that have sustained me so long as well; and, not least, this blog has managed to continue, even if ever more behind. I could probably do more about the various backlogs of writing here and elsewhere if I was slightly less of the international jet-set showboat, and that will probably have to be cut back this year, but that is not to say that in such terms, this year now gone hasn’t been excellent, because it has.

Work-life balance?

On the other hand… On the other hand, I am a damn sight busier than I was and also, functionally, poorer, though that is because of having raised my living standard considerably; I no longer share a house, basically, so everything I gained by the move in pay-rise and more goes on rent and bills. It’s worth it, by a long way, but I am seeing fewer people because of it, and I have not made many new friends in this new town, and even fewer with any free time. Even the friends I had here already have largely become mostly unavailable for socialising for one reason or another (not me, I’m reasonably sure) and some have left. Most of all, I’m away from my son and his family, who are my extended family, which we knew would happen but which is all a shame anyway and more of a source of expense and difficulty than it should be. So, though fulfilled in brain I am probably rather less happy, and as I say the sleep problem I currently have is not making this any better.

But! I am often gloomy, I have been called a pessimist, and indeed, since a few years ago I haven’t really been expecting happiness to be possible at all in the short- to mid-term; I’m not optimistic about the long-term either, to be honest.2 But this is nothing to do with the usual topics of the blog. So I will stick my chin up, stiffen my upper lip and tell you all that that was never the point, or at least not since before the blog was started. It is important that the fact that the academic life’s not all good is recorded, and that every progress comes with sacrifices, but all the rest of my version of it means that this would be a damn silly time to stop feeling good about the good stuff. I shall just hope that next year’s stock take will have a more broad-based range of things to feel good about. And that, friends and other readers, is most definitely enough.


1. It occurs to me that in fact I have a kind of official report like last year’s for the probation committee, too, but I probably shouldn’t post that here as yet and I’m not sure anyone really needs it now…

2. Let me put it this way: I have guilt attacks, here and there, that I didn’t throw in the career and dedicate myself to environmental campaigning, or found a new political party operating on principles of honesty and openness to try and restore worth to British democracy, because it means I didn’t try as hard as I could to save the world for my son. Of course I would probably not have been any good at those things, I doubt I could have achieved anything, but it’s because almost everybody thought the same and left those things to someone else that the world is out of joint, innit? This song more or less covers my feelings on the matter.

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13 responses to “Stock Take VI: the work, the job, the life?

  1. We may be quite different in our work habits, but if I were you I would put a bunch of those unfinished projects in the deep freeze and see if they demand to be let out. But surely a couple dozen people have already said this.

    • Thankyou for turning your mind to this! Not yet, would be my answer to the last bit, because there is so much whirling here that until I collect this kind of data, I’m not sure anyone around me really knows what I’m working on. I want to keep things moving into the print queue, though, because I can’t really afford a long drought. The trick then would seem to be to balance the necessary apparent productivity with actually getting some big work done.

  2. I’m not a traditional academic so maybe my thoughts are not very helpful but I’ll throw them out there anyway.

    Focus on what you really want to work on and don’t let the number of things that get thrown away worry you. Sometimes scrapping an idea or a line of research is the right or best thing to do. You can spin your wheels trying to make something work that isn’t worth it. Knowing where to draw the line is the trick and I sure can’t say that I’ve learned it.

    I look at conference papers as experiments. They might work or they might not. No great loss or gain either way. Networking and hearing other people’s thoughts are the gain of the conference. I don’t think people necessarily think every conference paper should turn into a publication. Its a place to try out a topic. Besides, a conference paper is a scholarly contribution that should count on your CV even if it doesn’t convert into a paper or a book. (Not that your reviewers will know your topic well enough to know whether these conference papers are part of a book or paper anyway…)

    I’m not saying that you should lower your publication goals. Just focus and don’t worry about the blind alleys.

    • It’s sound advice! I think possibly “don’t worry” is the bit I’m having the most difficulty with these days (which might be why Michelle is the second person to say it to me in 24 hours…).

  3. I second Michelle. And don’t worry about having less papers published this year – the book represents the same amount of work, if not more.

    I had the same problem with (lack of) social life when I moved to Oxford, as the town is so student oriented. Any alternatives to clubbing and pubbing seemed mostly to be found within the various student origanisations. I started social dancing a few years ago, and it keeps me in touch with people on a regular basis as well as helping me counter my sedentary life. Perhaps you can find something similar that interests you and get more of a social life that way?

    • Weirdly, a new dance club dropped a flyer through my door but a few days ago, but that would be a big step out of my comfort zone. I have no objection to either clubbing or pubbing, but I’d prefer to have some people to do it with. But I’m finding problems, not trying solutions, which is no good. Thankyou for the input!

      Less sure about the book though. I submitted that text in 2007. It may represent the same amount of work but that work did not happen recently…

      • I think publications really only count when they are final and out. So the book was done this year, not in 2007. Reviewers know everything is tentative until is it ‘published’ (whether e-publication or print). The book is a big deal and worth many papers (and a decade of conference papers). Believe me, I’ve seen scholars present material that will eventually appear in a book (or had already appeared in a book) for nearly a decade. I don’t go to most of their talks anymore because I know I’ll have heard it two or three times already.

        • Good points there, but the chronology is still the wrong way round I think. If I’d been producing nothing, and then suddenly, blam, book! that would make sense, but as it I was apparently producing nothing, then, sudden flush of papers, book and now nothing again (though I say that with two papers in press, so not nothing). What is worrying me is the patch after those two papers come out. It’s because I had a four-year drought beforehand that I fear the lack of forthcoming stuff; it’s almost never possible to get something out quickly so there needs to be stuff in the queue from early on…

          On the other hand if at the end of that drought there were another book, then yes, that would probably be OK, and I’d quite like that… but I’d also like some of these hanging concerns despatched, and given the queue necessity it looks as if it should be simple to do.

          Focus, Jarrett. Item one off that list is about to go, and item two is setting up nicely. It’s all in hand except the teaching prep. (You didn’t see that, students).

      • Own up Jarrett. You can burn up the dance floor when you want to!

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