New verb required: apply here

I’m convinced that there is the necessity for a new verb to be developed. Of course, that’s not difficult – the English Language is constantly developing and growing and new words are being developed and being accepted all the time (the OED brings out a quarterly list that usually makes the papers, for example). And indeed, such new words have recently been the focus of discussion between one of my teachers and me. I keep creating new words like ‘churchwardenate’ (a noun, when discussing the churchwarden’s position as a whole, in the generic, in the way that you might use ‘teacher’ or ‘soldier’). While he admitted that the word ‘sounded’ right, it wasn’t in the OED and therefore I shouldn’t use it. “Stick to the OED”, I was advised. “You can subvert the language after you’ve got your certificate!”. And I’ve grudgingly come to admit that he’s quite right too.

But in this case, I really think that a new verb is required. Not for me to use in my thesis either. It’s to do with the practice of writing articles. Most people know now that for an academic, writing is critical. “Publish, or Perish!” is frequently heard, and according to the Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, was first used back in 1927. Indeed, it is even more critical in British academia with the advent and pervasive demands of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Publishing is therefore constantly on the would-be academic’s mind. If they do a good piece of work, how best to publish it? How many articles CAN they realistically get out of it (the practice of salami-slicing being much maligned)?

And that’s where my would-be verb would come in. I was thinking about this yesterday: I was notified that a revised version of my MA dissertation, which I had submitted for a prize, had won said prize. YAY! BUT, so my immediate next bit of thinking went, ‘if it’s good enough to win a prize, surely it’s good enough to publish’? (In the great Job Hunt as an early career researcher, having publishing credits really, really helps.) Hence the need for the verb. A word that describes the practice of turning an essay or dissertation or parts of a thesis into an article. Articlearise? Articlearite? Neither of those will do. Suggesions? Maybe you feel that no ‘new’ verb would be needed at all. But I just keep wanting to say… “I’ve got to [verb] this”.

Hmmmmm.

Regardless of the verb, however, what is undeniable, is that this does need to be published. And, as I learned to my cost soon after I graduated with my BA, a dissertation does not an article make. I have also learned, too, of the different ways that one can relate and explain what is otherwise the same story (I am adding an eighth to that list, soon, as I will be giving a talk on the same subject to another local history society in April).  My MA Dissertation, entitled “‘Be kindly affectioned to one another’: love and parish politics in Stanton Lacy, Shropshire”is about the Robert Foulkes case, using the documents from that case to examine how different kinds of love impacts on politics in a parish over a very short time period. At 20,000 words, it’s far too big to simply be translated entirely into article form, and will need to be cut somehow (although whether I can [verb] the rest remains to be seen). The dissertation examines four different kinds of love, so it may be possible to split them – two for one article, two for another. Although that’s a bit obvious. Maybe too obvious. Mmmmm. This bears thinking about.

The other thing to consider with the whole process of [verb] (see just how useful my new verb would be?) is that of identifying which journal to submit for. Any Arts and Humanities academic (and possibly a STEM one too, although I’m not so sure about that as I’m not a STEM scholar, obviously) will tell you that a major part of getting an article accepted is to ensure that you write an article FOR that journal. It seems obvious, right? There’d be no point in sending an article about matchsticks to a fashion magazine (unless it was about a dress made of matchsticks, I suppose). But no – it’s a common mistake to make (I made it myself), to write an article and then look around to see who will take it. It should be the other way around. So, I have to consider who I want to submit it to – and that isn’t a straight-forward question either. I have a good working relationship with the editor of one journal and I think they’d be very happy to take it, BUT, would that necessarily be the right thing for my career? There’s several local history journals that I could also approach, but again, the question is: are either of them the right journal for my career? As an academic, its my job, so to speak, to get my article published in the ‘best’ journal that I possibly can – as it would be for any academic. For a STEM academic, the top journal might be Nature. For my kind of historian, Past and Present or the Journal of Social History might be the ones to consider (this Times Higher Education article has a list of top 20 journals in history). However, am I realistically likely to get my article into something like that? Those kinds of questions abound, and are realistically best discussed with one’s supervisors (as I will be doing, when the time comes).

So, no real conclusions here (other than that my new verb is most definitely required, and I really would welcome suggestions. Maybe there is an existing verb out there that would work?). Not yet, anyway. I do need to ruminate over this – bounce the ideas from that dissertation around in my head. I’ll be doing that in any case, as I’ve a talk and possibly 2 papers to deliver on the subject, so that will all help in terms of exploring the ‘how’ of telling the story. And somewhere, probably when I’m driving (I do all my best thinking when I’m driving, these days), I shall have a eureka moment. And then it’s just about putting the hard work in. What was it Thomas Edison said? Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? Sounds about right – and I think it certainly applies to writing as well.

But as for the article… watch this space. Although it may be a while coming. [Verb] doesn’t happen fast. The publishing process is even slower (I think last time around it was 8 months, and that was relatively quick). Eventually though, hopefully, there’ll be another document out there with my name on, which will be very nice to see. And if you have a suggestion for [verb], please do leave it in the comments or something… it really is driving me up the wall!

green towers of academia

I spent a little time on campus the other day. This isn’t usual for me – most of my work is done from home, but every so often, about once a week or so, I go in – to speak to people or to use the library or other facilities. And when I go in in term time, it’s a case of go in, do what I need to, and get out, as I’m continually dodging people. Finding a place to study in the library becomes difficult at times, and its often easier to just pick up what’s needed and go home, study there.

In term time, campus is busy. Different types of busy at different times of year. Fresher’s week is imbued with hope. Not just from the squeaky new undergrads wandering around with wide eyes, but with those starting a new course, a new year, the hope that this year will be the year they nail the subject, do better, join that slightly-daring club they wanted to do last year but didn’t quite have the guts to, a certain determination to change things, to be someone different. Like new year’s, freshers has that hope, that sense of new beginnings. The weather is still often warm, the dying days of summer. By Christmas, the weather of course is darker. Colder. Not so on the inside; people scurry, looking forward to the break, to celebrating. Lecturers resign themselves to empty seminars, lecture theatres on the last day of term. During the break the staff and the dedicated continue to come in, to use the library, but its quieter. A muted quiet, a deep breath. And when the undergraduates return, its to the groans & panic of revision amidst the cold depth of winter untempered by Christmas joy. The glass-fronted library shines brightly all night as students attempt to cram. By the time of the second exams, after Easter, the weather has turned yet again; spring rain sees people scurrying to avoid getting wet, and early spring sun sees students lying on blankets in the park, trying to get an early tan while still revising.

But it never feels so different as during the depths of summer. Each time I’ve been on campus at this time it strikes me anew. The quietness, not just in terms of noise, but the calm. No one hurries. There’s an easy pace, those that use the library cafe lounge on seats, reading, but not the determinated cramming of earlier in the year. This is an easy reading, enjoyed with cold drinks. People sit outside again, chatting idly. On the park, the walk from Granville Road to campus is relatively deserted. The odd cyclist, skater, dog walker. A single postgraduate carrying a small bundle of books. The trees shimmer with sunlight. Although it’s in the middle of a city, it doesn’t feel it. Traffic noises are low, easy to miss. It’s easy to sit on a park bench, a picnic bench, to read and make notes, to allow the soul to breathe.

When the phrase ‘the ivory towers of academia’ is used, it’s usually in a negative sense; of academics refusing to engage with the world or to take account of it. It brings to mind the image of the fusty old professor in his office full of books, a relic of the Victorian period, studying something that has no relevance to the vast majority of people. Many universities try very hard to get away from this image – Leicester, for example, has the phrase ‘Elite, without being elitist’. But for me, being on campus at that time, the quietness of the summer period, is the ‘ivory tower’ – or perhaps a better phrase would be ‘the green tower’. I count myself very fortunate in being able to be there, to have been given that opportunity, to enjoy the walk from campus to my car, to allow my soul to breathe. To think. To have respite from the world. And that, I think should be the modern, positive meaning behind the term ‘ivory towers’ – respite from the world. Studying requires thinking, which requires stillness – not of the body, necessarily, but in terms of allowing the brain to think uninterrupted. That’s something precious, something to be cherished. And I think that’s what summer on campus really enscapsulates for me – that precious serene stillness, almost cloistered quietitude.

Post-conference come down

Having had a look around the internet this morning, this doesn’t seem to be discussed anywhere [feel free to correct me if I’m wrong]. But I think it’s an important thing that has to be dealt with – the thing being the post-conference come down, for those who presented a paper at a conference. If you’ve only attended conferences, then this isn’t for you, or if you’re a seasoned conference speaker, then maybe you don’t need to worry about this so much. But for people like me, finding their feet, their speaking style, their research methodology and topics … basically, their confidence in who they are as academics and speakers, this is certainly something that needs to be discussed.

What is post-conference come down? In the period immediately after the conference, there may be some jubiliation, a high, if you feel as though you’ve done well, a sense of relief, perhaps. There may not be, and that’s okay. This isn’t meant to be prescriptive, a “you must feel these things after the conference” list. Everyone feels things differently. But after the high, and perhaps if you didn’t have a high, and certainly if you struggle with imposters syndrome, the doubt and the questioning can start to set in. ‘I only got one question!’ … you might think. ‘I ran over by a few minutes, had to drop a couple of slides’. ‘I didn’t explain that bit very well..’. The exact words & phrases will of course differ, but the underlying emotional tones are the same: self-doubt, questioning, and if you did have a high, that drop from the high to the self-doubt and questioning is horrible. Really, and truly emotionally horrible, and it can be enough to really badly knock you off your path as an academic. It can come out in a number of ways: being grumpy, being teary, lethargic, not wanting to do any work, right through to feeling really low, down, and perhaps even depressed and wanting to quit.

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