Thursday, May 28, 2015

Big News

My PhD is finally done! Today I received leave to supplicate and permission to book my graduation ceremony. My institution is a funny place, so my graduation ceremony may not actually happen until next year because they book out so quickly!! But, nevertheless, it is done! I'm a doctor!

As readers of this blog are aware, the journey from submission - viva - corrections - resubmission was a bit of an ordeal and looked like this:

My corrections were approved a few weeks ago, but I couldn't announce it until the faculty formally approved by examiners recommendations. But it feels so good to be able to say it now! Now all I have to do is print out the thesis, get it hardbound, and deposit it in the library! 

But right now this is how I feel!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

For most graduate students, early career researchers, and academics more broadly, is a staple tool in the arsenal of academics to forge connections, upload papers, and maintain an academic presence. But while there are undoubtedly many positives from utilising, two potential issues or questions have come to the forefront of my mind.

The first was prompted by the continuation of a discussion on Twitter about the problems facing early career researchers and post-PhD students taking jobs in non-ac/alt-ac roles but wishing to keep one foot in academia. Personally, keeping one foot in door is about keeping that window of opportunity alive should I wish to return to academia.

The 'edit-page' of and its academic affiliation choices was recently brought to my attention, so I had to check it out (thanks @SLevelt)! My previous post discussed some of the problems about maintaining an academic affiliation beyond the doctorate. You can read that post here:

My point rested on the fact that many post-PhD students are unhappy with the label of independent scholar or independent researcher being foisted on them by circumstances rather than choice. What I did not want to suggest is that there is anything wrong with being an independent scholar, and I hope that no one thought I was layering some pejorative connotations onto the title! (It was pointed out to me by a friend that an eminent scholar successfully spent almost two decades under the title of 'private scholar', with a massive research output, and returned happily to an academic position after that period).

However, the 'edit profile' choices of propagates that lack of choice, and therefore, if you do not have any academic affiliation, the only option is 'independent researcher'. More than that, the emphasis on academic affiliation is clear from the range of choices available, and the single, lonely box for 'independent researcher'.

Shameless self-promotion, eh?! 

I think this is unfair for a number of reasons. Firstly, it creates a two-tier system where those with academic affiliation are judged and valued higher than 'independent researcher', which is false. With only 20% of humanities PhDs in an academic job, there are far more of us still looking for that academic job than have one. Having it does not mean one person is better than another, just that one had more success and frankly more luck! Secondly, many would believe (wrongly in my view, but perhaps with good reason) that the title 'independent researcher' may hinder their future chances. For those with anxiety over the title, it would be better for to add more choice, or even the choice just to opt out entirely from an affiliation/title. Finally, this may negatively impact alternative academic careers, such as those working in museums, curation, publishing, departmental administration, etc.

My second issue (or perhaps it is more of a query), is that of uploading papers. is a fantastic venue for disseminating articles and papers. With the academic publishing market what it is, and the long peer review process for journals, represents a welcome alternative and quick publishing venue. However, more and more I noticed that full PhD theses are being uploaded. I completely understand wanting to share your hard-earned thesis with more than just your supervisor/s, friends and families, especially when getting it published as a monograph is increasingly difficult. Yet, what about uploading a PhD that has already been published as a monograph? I am curious about the motivation behind this. Is it to do with:
  • greater dissemination of your research?
  • low book sales?
  • that the monograph is significantly different to the thesis, that it is worthwhile putting the 'original' version online?
  • something else....
I do wonder whether publishers are aware when a thesis (which has been published as a monograph) gets uploaded onto 4+ years later, and what they think about that (if indeed it even crosses their radar!).

This is not in any meant as an indictment against those who upload papers/theses on I am more curious than anything as to the reasons people upload, and what they have gotten out of doing so, positive or negative!

Personally, I have only really used as an online presence and to document those who stalk me (joking, not joking!!).

But perhaps I have missed a trick. I would love to hear how others have generally used and any benefits or negatives from being active on it! 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Academic Affiliation

I asked Twitter for some advice about maintaining academic affiliation when you leave academia to work in a non-academic or alternative-academic job. This is particularly relevant for me, as I will be starting an alt-ac job at my current university, but also have a publication and conference plan in place for the next 1-2 years. This is part of my "one-foot-in" plan in case I want to return to academia in the near future.

The responses I received were very helpful. In particular I was advised to ask my department about an honorary research associate or academic visitor title and get my supervisor to also help out. 

However, there was also a concern that I was denigrating the status of independent scholars. 

Independent scholars are hugely important, but are too often ignored by the 'traditional' academic community. One Twitter user commented that having the title 'independent scholar' on a conference badge could be the kiss of death for social interactions at conferences. This is completely unfair and yet too often true.

With the market saturation for PhDs at a record high and jobs scarce, more and more PhD students will be forced to find alternative jobs and careers, if even for the first couple of years post-PhD. Academic affiliation is massively important in allowing post-PhDs to maintain academic visibility and output so that they can work towards that academic job.

Perhaps it comes down to a personal choice. Many are content and happy with their status as an independent scholar, but for the moment I am not. And unfortunately, the humanities PhD market is such that, for a while at least, I won't have an academic job and consequently the status of independent scholar is forced upon me. 

Fingers crossed my department will be able to provide some help with this!

However, what I will not do is "fake" affiliation!

Recently, there has been a Twitter-storm over an open letter from a group called Historians for Britain (see #HistoriansforBritain). On the list of supporters, one name stuck out to me and other Twitter users, and a point was raised about the misuse of academic affiliation:

Now, I understand that David Starkey is too often an easy target but bear with me here! David Starkey gained his doctorate from the University of Cambridge, fair enough. He then went on to teach at LSE until he quit in 1998 ( 

At the moment, he has no academic affiliation (as far as I am aware of, happy to be corrected),*** yet when I read that list above it appears as though he does! In reality it should probably just say "David Starkey, DPhil (Cantab.)". 

If I don't end up gaining academic affiliation while I am at my alt-ac job, I will embrace the status of independent scholar. I would rather that, than pawn myself off with a dubious affiliation and unscrupulously pretend to be among the ranks of professors, associate professors, postdocs, etc.

But maybe that's just because I was raised with ethics......

***edit: David Starkey is an Honorary Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. However, it has been pointed out that there does not appear to be teaching/research output stemming from the honorary position.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Publishing Monographs

As readers of this blog may know, I am beginning a job in academic management in September. However, despite moving into an Alt-Ac role, I want to keep my foot in the door of academia. One way I am going to do this is my continuing to maintain my research output through publications. I already have an article published, and a collaborative book chapter forthcoming, but this summer the goal is to write my monograph proposal to turn my thesis into a book!

My university is great about organising workshops dealing with a wide range of academic publishing. I managed to dig up my notes from a workshop on publishing monographs, and thought it would be good to share what I took from that.

[*note: if your institution offers similar workshops, do attend. They can be invaluable!]

One of the first decisions to face is whether to even publish the monograph, and whether the thesis was better served as multiple articles/

Ultimately, the decision came down to question:

Is the whole greater than the sum of its part?

In my case, I firmly believe that it is important for the thesis to eventually transform into a monograph as it is the first comprehensive survey of an early courtesy text which has never been translated. The thesis simply would not work if divided into multiple parts.

The choice of publisher is obviously an incredibly important one, and one which should be carefully considered. The workshop had this gem of advice:

Stop selling what you have, start selling what they need!

I think this is massively important. You need to know which publishers would be amenable to your thesis and whether it would fit into their publication profile.

The title is also hugely important, as it gives the first impression of your work. Here was some advice I was given on how to rewrite a thesis title:

  1. Less is more
  2. Feelgood factor - upbeat
  3. Situate your work clearly
  4. Macro not micro - be broad in your title
  5. Avoid technical and specialized language
  6. Title: Subtitle -if you do this, know that the subtitle is often dropped by librarians! So think of it as Title [subject area]: Subtitle [this is what I am doing with it]
Other useful things to consider were:
  1. What does your work do that others don't?
  2. Statement about comparable and competing books - know your competition!
  3. What is the unique selling point of this book?
  4. Is there a demand for it?
  5. The importance of the conclusion to give the reader a sense of what it all adds up to and how it will change your field.
Below sums up some of the larger issues about the differences between the thesis and the monograph in terms of content and readership. 

The main thing that I took away from thinking about monograph publishing is that you are NOT SIMPLY publishing your thesis! Significant rethinking of content in relation to audience, as well as being judicious in choice of publisher, is key to success!