Well, friends, it’s been a heck of a year. I started the year on a good professional note, attending the Gender and Medieval Studies conference in Winchester, but my career prospects were in question. As I’d explained in a post last July, I’m an early career academic (my PhD graduation will have been five years ago come January 2015, eep!), and like many EC types, I was in a temporary post. I was very lucky to have a full-time three year contract at the University of Oxford; many of my friends had one year or even the dreaded (and I think somewhat despicable) nine month posts. In that time, I published my first book, got a whole lot more teaching experience (and, y’know, did some other stuff like get married). My CV was looking good. But early 2014 was not a time of enormous optimism. Jobs were thin on the ground, and my contract was due to expire at the end of September. I applied for whatever came up, but I didn’t get a single interview. Many of the universities to which I applied didn’t even bother sending a rejection email!
And then salvation came in the form of the Leverhulme Trust. As I explained here, I was awarded an Early Career Fellowship, so I could spend the next three years researching and writing my new project Beyond Between Men: The Medieval Homosocial Imagination. I feel extremely lucky to have been awarded this prestigious award. I do think I deserve it – but I also think a whole bunch of other people deserve them too. The early career academic job market is a bit of a crapshoot, as I discussed here. I wrote then:
it is a very tough market, and pretty much all the junior academics I know have accepted that if they want to make it in this business, they may have to move anywhere, to work at any institution, potentially uprooting their family, leaving friends behind. And that if tenured/permanent jobs aren’t forthcoming, they may be repeating this every 1-3 years for up to a decade. Many of us do this willingly: but let’s not insult early career academics by pretending that if we’d just tried a little harder, been a little more flexible and open-minded, we’d have a cosy permanent job somewhere nice. That’s not how this market works.
As well as writing about the struggles facing ECRs, this year I also blogged quite a bit on the problems of being a woman in academia. For instance, I discussed disparities in maternity pay here. An illuminating discussion on twitter also led to a blog post about academic dress here. In “real life” (as if the people we connect with online aren’t real!), these interests were reflected in my co-organising of Gender Equality Now!, a day intended to galvanise us into creating a manifesto for change in the academy. In the sense of actually producing a document, it didn’t quite pan out – but in terms of opening up discussion and making connections between women academics at different stages of their careers I think it did very well. My major quibble with the day was that I felt afterward that we could have done a lot more to represent the interests of LGBT and BME (PoC) colleagues. Given recent events, I think if you’re a white person, and you end 2014 not feeling like you should examine your own complicity in a racist system, then maybe now would be a good time for some self-reflection.
The intersections of my political identity, my personal interest in female representation in academia, and my research is most clearly shown in my blog post Chaucer’s Funny Rape, which is far and away my most popular ever blog post, and resulted in me quadrupling my follower count in a matter of days! That was surprising but gratifying – less because I think what I said was so great (I am going to give it a serious polish in order to develop it into a conference paper at Historicising Rape next year!) but more because it seemed to resonate with a wide range of people: teachers, wondering how one responsibly teaches about sexual violence, misogyny and patriarchy; academics who like me think we need to have the courage to call out our heroes; and – most humbling – survivors of sexual assault. Of course those groups intersect. Rape is never just an “academic” interest, in the sense of being detached from the real world. As I argued earlier this year, I’m pretty much over the idea of academic objectivity. Give me messy intimacy instead.
Overall, this year I blogged 31 times – which isn’t prolific, but it’s not too bad. I probably won’t have time to blog again this year; Christmas always seems to suck up a lot of time, and we are (please cross your fingers!) in the process of buying a house, which has made me even more short of free time to sit down and think about blogging. When in October I set out some of my objectives for this academic year, I said I wanted to write one substantive blog post a month. Do prod me if I seem to slack off next year! I know some people still see blogging as an indulgence, but I really love this space. I like that I can connect with people all across the world. I’ve shared ideas with people I’ve never met in person but whose opinions I value and respect. And as someone who is really pretty slow at producing academic writing, I find this space really helpful in letting me free of the constraints of strictly-academic writing and just talking to people about ideas I find interesting. It’s been an intellectually stimulating year for me here on WordPress, talking to all of you. Here’s to 2015!