It’s no secret that I love this time of year. For those of us who have taken jobs away from our families, it is a great joy to be able to spend proper time at home, and for your metrics focus to be on Quality Street consumed. I’ve been horrendously festive, force-feeding my students cookies and singing Darlene Love in the corridor without hitting any of the high notes. I have much respect for my students who turned out in different seasonal garb (elves, a reindeer hoodie and an impressive light up jumper) for last week’s lecture and tutorial. Being in the School of Arts and Media there is always a performance or three at this time of year.
Thoughts do, however, turn to 2016. For those of us in #IrishStudies it’s a big year of events in the UK and Ireland for various anniversaries and my calendar is already getting booked out far ahead, which is exciting but also alerted me to the need to keep my priorities in order as another busy academic year is in store. If I was writing this for a women’s magazine I suppose I would be duty bound to tell you that resolutions are usually broken by February as gym memberships lapse and loaves re-appear in the cupboard. But, I think, it’s worth taking stock and asking ourselves to reflect on our academic practice and, for want of a better word, citizenship.
Here I will set out my own priorities for 2016, none of which involve juice cleansing or bikram yoga.
Be Honest with Students…
…about writing, reading and all the other hard graft that goes into academic work. This year I’m going to do my best to show students how difficult the whole process can be and make sure they know that nearly every single person goes through hard graft to make a readable draft. We don’t see how the sausage is made, or the track changes that look like a bloodbath. We don’t see the articles that weren’t accepted on the CV, and our students from undergrads to PhDs can be intimidated reading polished work and feel they can’t intervene in the conversation. But, some of my best chats about Northern Irish culture this year were from my third years, bursting with ideas even when faced with material they’d never come close to reading before. I’m very lucky to be at an institution which offers all students a nuts-and-bolts masterclass in writing (I’d LOVE to take it) but we don’t always convey the work of writing and the process and rewards of working ideas out and really thinking.
Avoid half-on half-off time
Blog, ‘Cruel Summer’: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/language-and-literature/2015/06/24/cruel-summer/
Guilty as charged. I’m a wild woman for this. A quick spin through twitter on a train home and I’m primed for thinking about the latest REF/TEF developments, or I shuffle through a clickbait-y article in the trade blogs. But that doesn’t feel like either work or relaxation, and while social media can give a great sense of academic community it can also be anxiety-provoking. So my resolution is to avoid those things which are neither fish nor flesh i.e. neither work nor play. It can be especially hard when you write about contemporary culture to carve out switching-off time, but I just bought an armful of pleasure books and took the twitter app off my phone for a few weeks. I wish you long country walks, and the knowledge that Die Hard > Love Actually.
Be mindful of ECR issues
Blog, ‘Money, Money, Money’: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/language-and-literature/2015/06/30/money-money-money/
The relief of getting a permanent job is palpable in all aspects of life. You can plan research, grants and new modules (and holidays, obviously). You get to sob for joy when your beloved friends get ‘their’ jobs and actually think about maybe staying in one place for a while. But, I confess I’ve been guilty of not doing enough for ECRs and the precariously employed while I got on my feet in my job. Our Unions must do more for them, we must keep fighting for a fairer deal with employers and, as Module Convenors, we must do all in our power to make this difficult stage easier. Our events should have low costs so more can participate, and we must not forget this now we have institutional support. It’s easy to try and forget a stage that can be bruising personally and professionally but we should do our best to help the new voices in our subject.
Say the difficult things
Blog, ‘Fitting In’: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/language-and-literature/2015/05/25/the-problem-of-fitting-in/
Ug, this one is hard. Sticking your head above the parapet constantly is boring, tiresome and can often lead to the most vitriolic personal abuse. We also have to be prepared that nothing might change and we might squander precious energies and relationships calling people out. In my own discipline, I am inspired by those before me and after me who rally against tiring, hegemonic ideas that would keep us ossified in an imagined past. If we want to be in vital subject areas, we must be prepared to sometimes say the difficult things. We must advocate for our fields and for Higher Education, online and off, through these challenging times. We must know our worth.
Focus on quality not quantity
Blog, ‘Getting Your Writing Back’: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/language-and-literature/2015/02/15/getting-your-writing-back/
This is my own personal resolution, and you all must give me a stern look if you see me breaking it. Sometimes when you get a permanent job people suddenly realise you exist. You’ve been saying controversial things for so long you’ve become mainstream. Once you get over the shock of being basic, the offers come in to write things and speak at things at a rate previously unheard of. This is such a welcome development you do it all and then you have to lie down in a cupboard. So, my own focus this year is to do far less but really shine up some gems and, above all, to enjoy writing again. When you write commissioned things, you tend to write to a collection brief, but there’s nothing as exciting as gnawing on a new idea. So, this year, my focus is on what I want to say rather than volume of publications and I think it might just lead me down some interesting roads.
So, I wish you a relaxing and peaceful holiday season. It’s been a tough 2015 for the world and for our sector, so here’s hoping 2016 is a bobby dazzler!