Posted by September Blue Friday, 27 March 2009 0 comments

I managed to last until half-past one before getting bored and doing some research. Although 'research' in this case involves watching flash demos of other people's software, so it's not exactly taxing on my cold-addled brain.

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Off work with an unpleasant cold, and counting down the hours until I get bored enough to start reading work-related papers anyway. That's what you get for spending a weekend in the bracing sea air, you see? Ill.

My parents have been on holiday here, or at least not too far away from here, for the past week or so. Their hyperactive collie puppy is five months old now. She loved the empty beach, the fact that she could dig big holes in the empty beach, and most especially the fact that she could sometimes find dead hares this way, which is absolutely the best thing a puppy could ever find, and how cruel were we for not letting her keep any of them?

She's not too keen on water that got deeper than she was expecting, though:



The puppy is absolutely their favourite child at the moment. (Second is my boyfriend for fixing their DVD player. Joint third, me and my brothers, who have indeed lost all patience for fixing technological things without a litany of 'DAD, stop MESSING with this! What did you DO?' a long long time ago, but have never to my knowledge dug up a dead hare from a beach and then rolled in it.) Previous dogs have not been allowed on the settee; this dog is not only allowed to sleep there whenever she wishes, but actually has cushions rearranged under her head to keep her comfortable and make sure she doesn't fall off.

Anyway, now I'm home and ill, and catching up on all the unread blog posts that have been stacking up in my reader for the past couple of months, which was what I wanted to talk about in the first place. Most especially, this latest from Rate Your Students about how humanities PhDs should just stop complaining so much, are you people in this for the money or something? I have about five thousand things to say about this insidious annoyance, but for the sake of brevity will cut them down a little.

The argument goes like this:
1. Academic jobs should only go to people who are both very clever and very devoted to their subject.
2. People who are very clever would already know that the academic job market in the humanities is bad.
3. People who are devoted to their subject would enjoy the work in and of itself without needing a payoff in the form of financial security or a guaranteed academic job.
4. Therefore, people who complain about the trials of PhD and post-PhD life as if a) the job market came as a surprise to them and b) 'the hours [they] spend discussing ideas with [their] students, peers, and mentors' weren't rewarding enough to make the whole thing worthwhile shouldn't even be here in the first place.

Okay. No.

1. Academic jobs 'should' go to the people who can do the job. While being relatively bright and interested in the work you're doing are obviously going to be a bit part of that, 'I love my subject!' is never going to outweigh, say, publications on the job market. ("So you've never taught any classes at all?" "No, but I really love talking about literature to everyone else in my office!" Yeah, good luck with that.) Loving your subject - really, truly loving your subject - only seems to be the most important thing in the discussion when the discussion is about telling new academics to just put up with whatever it is they're complaining about. Funny, that.

2. People don't know the job market is this bad. Partly because it's not obvious unless you're looking: senior professors don't know the job market is this bad, for crying out loud. (Before I got the job I'm doing now, I had more than one very smart, very well-established scholar tell me that yes, it was a real shame about the job market, and maybe I should try applying for 1-year posts, as if when I said 'There are no jobs' I didn't actually mean 'There are no jobs.') PhD students? The same PhD students whose only job advice from the people who should know - the academics who are convincing them to stay on for PhDs in the first place - has been 'It's difficult, but if you really love your subject it's worth doing anyway, and the only people complaining are the ones who shouldn't be here in the first place'? Oh, come on. When they find out, it'll be by accident.

3. Hell, yes! Who needs food when you can read Derrida? You philistine mercenaries, with all this talk about 'job security' and 'I can't pay my rent' and 'something is seriously wrong when I'm working 80-hour weeks for below minimum wage and being told that objecting to another pay cut makes me ungrateful'. Tsch. You're in this for love, not money!

4. Therefore, shut up.

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Two things non-conducive to getting work done:

Posted by September Blue Thursday, 19 March 2009 2 comments

1. Google Street View UK going up.
2. Sunshine.

We managed to stay indoors and in front of computers for most of the day - unlike most of the undergraduates in the university, who from half-past eleven were sprawled out on every square foot of grass the campus and surrounding areas had to offer, soaking up sunshine like there wouldn't be any more until August. Which there probably won't, so good for them. And given that half of our morning was spent inching our way around the city as it appears on Street View, there will be no preaching about the virtues of work here. (Best Street View sighting of the day: the arm of our Masters student, playing Guitar Hero in his new flat.)

Some amount of work did get done, most of it involving dealing with the hundred headaches of a badly-OCRed 18th-century religious text. On the one hand, a painfully slow and fiddly proofreading process and transcription, taking hours per document. On the other hand, 'Christ has power to execute the lame.'

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This is depressing

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 17 March 2009 0 comments

Today, me and my office-mate became The People Who Send The Masters Student To Do The Dishes.

He was bored! He doesn't mind! He offered! (Yes, I'm a little disappointed in me as well.)

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You betrayed me, Ikea!

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 15 March 2009 1 comments

Ikea sells stuff which is reasonably cheap when you buy one of it. Not so much when you get a carful. Especially since you have to walk through the whole shop before getting to the checkout (well, you don't have to, but: it's Ikea! it's funky minimalist laminate chic! You have to), so you go in for pillowcases and a draining rack and come out with five hundred plastic things called Skorkopp, which is not so cheap at all.

Still. It's Ikea. It's worth it.

I've also helped to cut down a tree today, to a given value of 'helped' (carrying a saw and then leaning on a dead branch). This took about a minute and a half, to what I'm hoping is the pleased surprise of my boyfriend's grandpa, who gave us a pretty dubious look when we were heading to the tree with the saw. My boyfriend's grandpa - 97, with strong opinions on brandy in coffee and the superiority of the Muppets over this Wallace-and-Gromit nonsense - is brilliant, and not least because he does a fantastic line in well-timed theatrical eye-rolling, something which fortunately appears to be genetic judging by my boyfriend's baby photos. It's kind of wonderful to see a smirk-and-perfectly-raised-eyebrow combination perfected as early as 18 months.

Also, it's strange how simultaneously fascinating and weird it is to see photos of people you love from before you knew them. I've seen old film of my boyfriend as a toddler, trying to drive a bus, which was sweet until the toddler I didn't know looked at me with the same half-sheepish, half-amused expression that I know belongs to someone I've only ever known as an adult. Carol Ann Duffy said it best, to an old photograph of her mother as a teenager; these are other people, almost, not quite.

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Posted by September Blue Friday, 13 March 2009 2 comments

When you first get contact lenses, everyone is very keen to reassure you that you can't actually lose them in the back of your eye.

This is true. But it turns out that you can certainly misplace them for a little while.

Ick. And ouch. And ick.

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Posted by September Blue Thursday, 12 March 2009 1 comments

All right! I should update this more often. And in honour of that, here's a several-years-belated introduction.

I'm 28. I have a PhD in Victorian literature, earned through blood, sweat, toil, tears, and a conveyor belt of first-year essays to mark. There's a conversation happening across a few academic blogs at the moment regarding the number of people who get the PhD in a fairly pleasant environment with nothing to concentrate on but their own research and the occasional class to teach, and that wasn't my experience, by a long way. There was one year I had four jobs plus the PhD, and I earned £10500 and gave the university £3000 of it for tuition... we're not going to dwell on that, but it's fair to say those weren't the absolute best days of my life in many ways, although they were great in others.

At the moment, I'm a postdoc in a field which both is and isn't within shouting distance of my own. I love my job, my new department, the fact that for the first time in five years I can get all the sleep I need (which turns out to be about six hours when I'm not working the job-juggling schedule from the jaws of hell), and to a growing extent, the city I've moved to, which is huge and confusing and seems to be lacking in hills and woods and wildlife but has some things going for it all the same. And I am determined to learn to love this place.

I live in a little flat with a spiral staircase in an old Victorian school; my bedroom was once the headmaster's office. My much-loved tropical fish live with me, and I am not at all joking when I say that the best way I've ever found to motivate myself to get research done in the past is by thinking of the big reef aquarium I'm going to get when I can afford it. My boyfriend is a scientist, although disappointingly this seems to be all done on computers these days with nary a lab-coat nor a test tube to be seen.

For the first time in four years, I'm not teaching. I can't decide whether I miss it or not.

In non-academic parts of my life, which I am hoping will get a bit more headspace now, I like cameras and horses and sci-fi and far-away places and the idea that the thylacine isn't extinct after all. (I do not like long walks on the beach, because it is hot and there is sand.) And music, and fossils, and Macs. My work schedule for the past few years killed off all my hobbies; I'm hoping to fix that in the future.

Also, my blood group is O+. I find this rather disappointing.

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So! How was your Saturday night?

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 1 March 2009 2 comments

Mine started off with macaroni cheese and ended up with my small, shivering hands clinging to iron railings outside a hotel in the rain, while my boyfriend and my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend steadied my arms on either side so that I could hop away from the wailing siren of a fire alarm.

Macaroni cheese, people: just say no.

No, to tell the truth, the story behind that isn't anywhere near as interesting as it should be. I did have to sit down with my foot up for an hour watching other people dance (not right, this), but I was allowed to be the only Arts person at a tableful of scientists with only a couple of jokes about loud alarms going 'AWOOGA!', and the ankle managed to lay off most of the stabbingly stabbing pain until the end of the evening, which was a long, slow walk to a taxi rank in the style of Touching the Void.

Anyway! Work. In a segue that I'm sure would be a lot neater if I took a moment to do this properly, the lengthy agonising hobble to get to a taxi queue where there were fifty people and no goddamn taxis reminded me of the whole advising-students-(not-)to-do-PhDs-in-Arts-subjects thing. I was speaking to an MA student at work the other day who can't wait to start his PhD, can't wait to be called doctor, and really really can't wait to be a lecturer, especially because his girlfriend's doing a PhD too and they've already started looking at which universities they could work in to be close together without having to work 'anywhere crap'. Now, he's very smart and the job market in his field is slightly less awful than in mine, but... it's a PhD in the Arts. You'd think somebody would have said something.

I stayed guardedly positive while sharing a few things about the job market that he probably needed to know, so I feel like I've sort of done my duty by being the first person to say that things are really not great. But, honestly? I've heard a lot of people recommend that the advice to such students should be to tell them absolutely not to go into academia unless they're really, really, absolutely dedicated to the point of not even being able to imagine ever being happy doing anything else with their lives, and... I'm fairly sure that bright, keen students like this one wouldn't be at all put off. This student had already been told that, in fact, and was even more determined to be tough enough anyway, and this is because it's effectively useless advice, given to bright twenty-one-year-olds who are already in love with academia. 'Don't do this unless you're prepared to be the best of the best of the best!' 'Don't do this unless you love academia more than all the other students you know!' Come on. How do you think they're going to respond to that?

Forgive me for my pessimism, here, but I don't think that students who believe that they only deserve to be in academia if they're prepared to jump right into it regardless of what horror stories they hear about the job market are going to make the best-thought-out decisions.

These students don't need to be told to prove they're worthy. They need to be given the facts about the job market, preferably in terms of numbers - numbers of candidates, of jobs, of number of applications typically made before one works out, of months/years they can expect to spend doing casual hours of part-time teaching to keep some kind of department affiliation in the meantime, of average monthly income they can expect to have during that time - and then left to make their own mind up based on that. It's just a job! We're not training them to be Jedi, for Christ's sake.

And with that said, me and my ankle are going to watch TV.

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