Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Being an academic on the outside

So, I had not realised that a new academic volume was already out that contained a new essay from me. It was by chance that I googled it to see that it was already on Amazon that I realised people were buying it. People had already bought it at the recent International Medieval Congress! And all the while, I am waiting for my copy to arrive in the post!

The volume is called The Elite Household in England, 1100-1500. Proceedings of the 2016 Harlaxton Symposium, and my essay is entitled: 'Administering the Household, 1180-1250 - from Daniel of Beccles to Robert Grosseteste'. You can see more here

This is particularly pleasing for me as the publication process can take so long that it takes time to see a project to fruition. This is even more true for me at the moment as I am in the final throes of completing my manuscript for my second book! I have written before about the challenges of pursuing academic research outside of the academy. It takes dedication, sacrifice (both of your personal time and time with loved ones), and pretty robust motivational skills to keep at it when you are tired from your 9-5 job.

Just thinking about motivation for a moment, I do sometimes ask myself why am I doing this. Why, if I don't want an academic job, am I putting all this time and effort into academic publishing? Perhaps there is a subconscious side of me that wants to keep that door ajar just in case I change my mind. But I doubt it. Rather, I think that I just haven't finished with my PhD yet! By that I mean, there is so much more output from my PhD research than fit in the thesis. My PhD proposal was the product of an Master's essay where I hit on a topic which didn't fit 2,500. So I did a PhD on it and tried to fit it into 100,000 words. And it still didn't fit! So I guess I want to continue to work on and increase the scholarship and visibility of it. 

But I won't sugar-coat it and say that it is easy. It's not. My Harlaxton essay was the product of networking, relationship-building, and kind colleagues who could point me to resources. I was invited to Harlaxton to present and as I was no longer a student and had no academic position, I had little means to cover the costs of travelling and attending the conference. Luckily I was signposted to and then awarded a scholarship which was open to both PhDs and researchers who worked outside of academia - incredibly invaluable for people in my situation. From that conference, I may have a second collaborative article in the pipeline.

Impostor-syndrome is something that people discuss a lot in academia, and it is an issue that academics who work outside the traditional bounds of academia face. Raised eyebrows when you say you don't have a postdoc or lectureship. Even higher raised eyebrows when you say you work in administration. The label 'independent scholar' is wrongly tabooed. You are constantly made to feel like a second class of academic where opportunities are not open to you (such as the BBC New Generation Thinkers Scheme). So it is incredibly validating and affirming to read the blurb on Amazon for this Harlaxton volume. It describes all the contributors as 'leading scholars' and it has taken me some time to accept that label. It is important to remember that it is not your job title that confers your expertise but your research, however you choose to undertake it. We are all more than our job titles.

Yes, my day job may be in university administration but I am still a subject expert, a leading scholar in my field, and that can never be taken away from me. 

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