Marking (Your Own) Time: Carrying On Post-PhD

4449_98983101457_7986272_nNRN friend/ex-Committee member Nora Williams reflects on a year of being an ECR and how to plan for the future. Nora is an independent scholar and theatre-maker currently based in the United States. She is working on her first monograph–Shakespeare, Social Media, and the Archive–and a large-scale practice-as-research project called Measure (Still) for Measure. More information about the latter can be found at http://measurestill.wordpress.com.

Let me start with a story:

A year ago, I was on top of the world. I had just graduated with my PhD, and I had a job offer in hand. Not just any offer: a three-year postdoc in my field with a research allowance. That’s like winning the academic lottery.

But very shortly after I accepted the position, problems began to crop up. I needed approval for a visa in order to take up the post. I know now that I should’ve been a better advocate for myself; at the time, I trusted the university’s HR department to take care of my visa application. They do it all the time, right? But problems began piling up and, four months later, I learned that I didn’t have a job after all.

Since then, I have had six different “day jobs”. But I’ve also finished my book proposal, presented at two conferences, and had an article accepted for publication. My practice-as-research project has taken off and now has interest from some major partners.

Have I been as productive, academically and creatively, as I was during my PhD? Probably not. But given the circumstances, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. So I’m sharing my story not as a pity party, but (hopefully) as an opportunity to help some of my fellow postdocs “on the market” navigate those first months out on your own.

Here are my tips for staying productive and continuing to write when you’re an independent scholar.

1. Be Strategic.

Not all jobs are created equal. If and when you can, think carefully about the kind of work that is going to allow you the time and space to meet your academic goals.

When I started working at a chippy last summer, I was also writing up the corrections on my thesis. The work was physical: I was on my feet, beating batter, slinging chips, and hauling stock up and down a flight of stairs. I was physically exhausted at the end of my shift, but I found writing and research easier than expected. My mind was still sharp, even though my body was tired.

In contrast, when I worked in an admin role this past spring, I found writing so difficult. I was sitting at a computer all day, and even though the job wasn’t intellectually taxing, I just couldn’t convince myself to sit at a computer for several more hours after work. I actually started reading on a low-speed treadmill in the evenings, just to be on my feet a little. It wasn’t a sustainable situation for me.

Everyone’s needs are different. Sometimes, you just need to take the first job that comes along. If that means taking a writing break, too, there’s absolutely no shame in that. But if you want to keep researching and writing alongside your “day job”, then think strategically about what kinds of jobs are going to make that possible for you and target them.

2. Make a plan; change the plan.

Both parts of this tip are equally important.

You’ve got to make a plan. Even if you’re not a planner. Even if you’re not really sure what your job / home / goals will be in six months. Even if you think you don’t need one. Make a plan and write it down.

If you’re applying for postdocs and grants, they’ll want a written plan of action detailing what you’ll be doing during each of the months in which you want their money. Trust me when I say that this is a lot easier to do if you’ve thought about it before you sit down to write the application.

But more importantly, a plan helps to give you a sense that you’re heading towards something, which is absolutely crucial in the first year after you’ve worn your floppy hat and insisted that everyone call you “Doctor”. You had one major goal for a long time, and no doubt you worked doggedly to achieve it. Give yourself some new goals, or you’ll want to tear your hair out.

This brings us to the second part of this tip: change the plan.

Your first plan will most likely be a pie-in-the-sky, everything-goes-right kind of plan. That’s okay—you need those, too. But every time you change the plan, you’ll make it more achievable.

Do not marry yourself to the idea that you’ll get your second article published and your book proposal finished and your giant grant application done within three months of graduation while also working another job. It’s great to be ambitious, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t complete everything at the speed you’d hoped.

Make a plan, then make another one, and another one. Never be without a plan, but always be ready for the plan to change.

3. Find your people and be nice to them.

You’ve seen how brutal the market is: you are almost certainly not the only one in this position, making these choices, or climbing these hurdles. Find the others, and embrace them.

Read their stuff and give them good feedback. Not “good” as in uncritically positive; “good” as in thoughtful, generous, and genuine (see this previous NRN Blog post for some advice on that front). Ask for their feedback on your stuff, too. Receive their critiques generously. Build a cohort of people who rely on each other for quality peer reviewing. Create lovely intellectual communities together. You’re going to need each other for the road ahead.

To put it bluntly: there’s no point in being nasty and competitive with your peers. It doesn’t help anyone, and it will make you miserable. Be kind and cultivate great relationships with them instead.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is a tip that I’m still working on myself.

I am very lucky in that I have good friends who were willing to help out in those four months of precarity between graduation and visa decision, and in the six months since. I also lived with my parents for a while, and I’m lucky that I have parents who are financially able to help in that way.

If I’m honest, I sort of resent that I needed that much help.

But I also recognise that asking for help when you need it is really important. This applies across the board: financial help, emotional support, a place to crash while you figure things out, or even just a PDF link to that article you’ve been wanting to read. Everyone needs help sometimes, even the most fiercely independent among us. There’s no shame in leaning on the people who genuinely offer assistance. Besides, the world turns ’round: you may have an opportunity to help them, someday, too.

While we’re here, there’s no shame in reaching out for professional help, either. We know that the rates of mental illness among academics are scarily high, and being in a precarious job situation certainly doesn’t help if you’re prone to depression or anxiety. Needing help is not the same as failing.

5. Investigate your local resources.

I recently checked out a book of Walter Benjamin’s essays from my local public library. A quick Google search hooked me up with the alumni library access programme at my former institution. On Twitter, #icanhazpdf can work wonders if you’re struggling to get your hands on an academic publication. Most academic libraries have some kind of access scheme for “the public” and/or their alumni available. There are resources out there to help independent scholars if you go looking for them.

Losing library access is the worst, but it isn’t a death sentence for your research. You’ll just have to hunt a little harder. Investigate what’s available locally, take advantage of your networks, and keep trucking.

Finally…

remember that choosing a different career isn’t a failure, either. If there’s something else you want to try, and you’re just plain sick of the academic market, go for it! You can always come back, and no one decent will think any less of you for it.

Good luck!

The schedule for Marking Time is here!

We are so excited to share the provisional schedule for #NRNMarkingTime! Please note that this may be subject to change.  In any case, we cannot wait to see you all on 21 June! Don’t forget that you can still register here.

NRN Marking Time: Schedule

Time Parallel Session A Parallel Session B
10:00-10:15 REGISTRATION
10:15-10:30 Welcome: Ella Hawkins and Rachael Nicholas
10:30-11:30 Plenary

 

Professor Elizabeth Schafer: ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’: Adventures in Marking Time

11:30-11:45 COFFEE BREAK
11:45-12:45 Re-telling historical stories through 21st-century practice

Chair: Ella Hawkins

  • Naomi Paxton: Making room, finding space: explorations of the work of women theatre professionals in WW1
  • Matthew Schlerf: Activating the discourse of An Adventure, 1789-2017
New methodologies

Chair: Chris Dingwall-Jones

  • Ysabel Clare: Timelines as a research tool: spatial sorting and temporal sequences
  • Rachael Nicholas: New Media, Unfamiliar Methodologies: Understanding the Online Reception of Theatre Broadcasts Through Audience Research
12:45-13:45 LUNCH
13:45-15:15 Time, experience, and performance

Chair: Rachael Nicholas

  • Alessandra Montagner: Temporality, Experience and The Event: Time marking us
  • Maiada Aboud: Title TBC
  • Nik Wakefield: Some Time-specificities of Performance
Time in literature

Chair: Robbie Hand

  • Martin Young: Stage Managing Wasted Time: As You Like It and Theatre’s Industrial Temporality
  • Jennifer Hardy: The womb of time: Untimely Birth in Shakespeare’s Richard III
  • Carlo Vareschi: The Reluctant Anarchist: wage labour, capital and time in Tom Stoppard’s Albert’s Bridge and If You’re Glad I’ll Be Frank
15:15-15:30 COFFEE BREAK
15:30-17:00 Time and identity

Chair: Claire Read

  • Chris Dingwall-Jones: Seven times a day will I praise You: Christian liturgy and the temporal performance of identity
  • Corinne Furness: ‘I knowed all Hamlet by heart’: Fracturing time and identity in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s community plays
  • Simon Bell: Retrogardism: Re-mythologising the European Traumatic Historical in the Present
Shakespeare’s time as source material

Chair: Rachael Nicholas

  • Robbie Hand: ‘Why is everybody so obsessed with text?’: Emma Rice, the Globe, and theatre history in practice
  • Ella Hawkins: Negotiating the gap of time: developments in Jacobethanism through the history of stage and costume design for Shakespeare
  • Robin Craig: AIDs, Section 28 and Queer Futurity
17:00-17:45 Closing discussion

REGISTRATION IS OPEN! And Elizabeth Schafer’s plenary title and abstract!

Happy Monday, everyone! We’re delighted to announce that registration for #NRNMarkingTime is now OPEN!

You can register here via Eventbrite.

Attendance at the symposium is free. Lunch can be provided for attendees for a fee of £4.50, payable on the day of the event. Please indicate on the registration form if you would like us to provide lunch for you, and if you have any dietary requirements!

We’re also delighted to share Professor Elizabeth Schafer’s plenary title and abstract ahead of #NRNMarkingTime. See below, and get excited!

‘Slipping Through My Fingers’: Adventures in Marking Time

In 1999 Mamma Mia repositioned ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ – Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson’s lament for the passing of time – and brought that song to new audiences. The potential layering of time in this song’s new manifestation(s) will be explored alongside the impact of Mamma Mia in enabling Phyllida Lloyd’s anachronistic, all women Shakespeares. Early modern theatre practices that attempt to mitigate against time ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ such as Caroline playwright Richard Brome scoring his play texts for readers; Ben Jonson’s invention of – ; contrast with the creative anachronism of Shakespeare’s Romans who wear doublets (or women’s prison boilersuits) and who demonstrate some of the pleasures of historically intercultural performance.

Stay tuned for more details about the symposium soon…

Elizabeth Schafer confirmed as plenary speaker for #NRNMarkingTime!

We’re absolutely delighted to confirm that Professor Elizabeth Schafer will be our plenary speaker for Marking Time next month.

Elizabeth Schafer is Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London, and has published widely on ideas surrounding the impact of culture on the meaning of drama – particularly in relation to Shakespeare. You can read more about her extensive work here.

We’re thrilled that she’ll be joining us at Roehampton in June. And we also encourage you to submit an abstract sharpish — our deadline closes today!

CFP: 4th Annual NRN Symposium, ‘Marking Time’

The Society for Theatre Research

New Researchers’ Network

Fourth Annual Symposium

Marking Time

21st June 2017

University of Roehampton 

The Society for Theatre Research’s (STR) New Researchers’ Network (NRN) is delighted to announce their fourth annual symposium, which will centre on the theme of Marking Time within performance, research, and our lives.

Time is a significant factor in everything we do. We organise our lives by dividing time into measurable units (seconds, minutes, hours, days, years), and remain constantly aware of its passing as we grow older. The societal desire to mark time also results in a culture of commemoration: prominent events and figures from the past are memorialised through anniversaries, and many organisations exist to further historical legacies.

How is time represented in contemporary and/or historical performance, and how does an awareness of time’s passing impact upon research methodologies? To what extent does our real and imagined relationship with the past impact upon contemporary culture?

Areas of interest might include (but are not limited to):

  • The significance of anniversaries and commemoration culture (i.e. Shakespeare 400, the Easter Rising centenary, and the ongoing commemoration of WWI)
  • The marking of time through space, movement, and live art
  • Popular performance and construction of legacies (i.e. Hamilton)
  • Constructing the passage of time in performance
  • Issues of marking time in methodologies in theatre and performance studies
  • Histories of theatre companies, theatre buildings, and theatre collectives
  • Genealogies of performance
  • Period dress and reconstruction; the desire to replicate obsolete theatrical and cultural practices
  • Constructing (and performing) the theatre archive
  • Time as a social construct; how we perform notions of time in our everyday lives
  • Performance that responds to critical moments in national/international history and culture (i.e. Brexit, the recent US election, the Iraq War, the Leveson Inquiry)

The NRN welcomes abstracts (maximum 250 words) for 20-minute conference presentations or creative responses that relate to the symposium theme. Abstract submissions should be directed to the NRN Committee at nrn@str.org.uk; the deadline for submissions is 23:59 GMT on Monday 22nd May. Applicants will be notified of the results by Friday 26th May. For any further details, please don’t hesitate to contact the NRN via email: nrn@str.org.uk

Apply for a STR Research Award!

STR Research Awards

Deadline: 17th March 2017

Every year the Society of Theatre Research awards pots of money to support continuing research into all aspects of British theatre. Find out more about the awards below and make sure you apply if you are eligible!

Who can apply?

Anyone who is engaging in a research project that is substantially concerned with the history, historiography, art, or practice of British theatre can apply. Previous award winners have included PhD students, early career researchers, researchers unaffiliated with a university, professors, and groups of researchers working on a larger project. There are no restrictions imposed on the status or nationality of applicants, or on the location of the proposed research. Awards are not given for MA study, but if the project is unrelated to the degree then it may be considered.

In which subject areas?

The topic of the research must be concerned with an aspect of British theatre, but the society is interested in all forms such as music hall, opera, dance, circus, pantomime and other forms and crafts of performance. Previous awards have been given for a diverse variety of topics from a study of Scottish medieval theatre, to a study of disabled circus aerialists in Canada, to research into ethnic minority actors in Shakespeare. In the past, awards have also contributed towards research that involves a practical or performance element, as well as to research projects that investigate theatre’s relationship to other media.

For what, and how much?

A sum in the region of £5000 will be available in total. This will comprise of one or two awards of up to £1000 named after benefactors to the society as well as smaller awards in the range of £100-£500.

In your application you will need to specify the intended purpose for the award. In the past, awards have been given for research trips and their associated costs, for digitisation projects, for costs related to translation or transcription, for the creation of video installations, and for setting up and running research seminars. Awards have also been given for costs related to the dissemination of research such as for publisher’s subvention, for production costs for practice-led research, and for the development of an online database of performance. You will need to provide an itemised budget in the application form (even if it is estimated).

What do I need to do to apply?

To read more about the specific awards and to download the application form visit the STR website [http://www.str.org.uk/research/awards/index.html]. The application form [which you can also access here: awards_2017 (1)] will ask you to describe your project, the purpose of the award within the project, your qualifications, circumstances (including other sources of funding), and the details of two referees. Send this form to awards@str.org.uk before the 17th March 2017. Good luck!

A part time PhD: With a little help from my (full time) friends …

clairereadClose NRN friend, Claire Read, tells us about her experience of feeling more at home as a part-time PhD student. Claire (Roehampton) is concerned with the use of technology, specifically live streaming, as altering the relationship between performance and documentation. Her research looks at the media work of Katie Mitchell as well as the development of NT Live. Claire has published with the International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media and has contributed a co-authored chapter in Documenting Performance: The Context and Processes of Digital Curation and Archiving, Ed. Toni Sant (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama – forthcoming). She is a member of TaPRA and was a committee member for the STR’s New Researcher’s Network between 2014-2016. Claire is currently an Associate at the University of Surrey.

I’m not saying I speak for everyone, but I find it weird thing going to a conference and speaking with others who work full time on their thesis. I feel out of it, like an imposter who attends and ‘plays’ at being an academic for a weekend. Upon leaving the conference, any thoughts or inspirations are soon extinguished as I return to my day job, envious of those who can pounce on new found ideas and keep the conversations going. It’s even more peculiar attending events as a lone student – being part time and working I’m rarely on campus and so don’t really have a group of ‘PhD friends’. So trying to integrate with not just another researcher, but a circle of researchers and established friends, makes the task of meeting all the more difficult. Over the years I have had to force myself to ‘network’: an expression and concept I hate, probably because I feel so out of any network that I’m ashamed that I’m trying to gatecrash.

A few things happened over the last few years to help. (As a part time researcher another thing that makes my work separate to others is that the project is on a very slow burn. The amount of people I have seen start and finish their PhD in the time I’ve taken to write a few chapters is astonishing; inevitable, but astonishing. So yes, it has been years). Joining SCUDD seemed like such a simple thing to do but really helped. Getting emails from academics makes me feel part of the world even when I’ve been tying karate belts for the last hour (one of my day jobs). There are other mailing lists as well pertinent to my research that hone the sometimes random calls from SCUDD. Joining TaPRA and the mailing list for my working group was another great move and was the first time I made ‘PhD friends’. When the call for an interim event came I gladly applied. As the TaPRA interim events are usually only a day its easier to finance with no funding (that’s why I’m part time, after all). They’re also quite intimate, and a good place to foster relationships ahead of the annual conference.

The other thing that really helped was joining the NRN, and being part of the committee (although it must sound like a shameful plug, as I’m now blogging for them, the following is absolutely true). Live streaming lectures for the STR forced me to talk to established academics and I was previously very scared to do this, mainly as I had so little experience. (I once responded to a question about my ‘area’ with ‘Bracknell’. I am the walking facepalm emoji). Joining also had the advantage of ‘ready made friends’ – even last week I started talking to a friend of a committee member. Finding a way in to talking takes away the apprehension of starting a conversation and makes networking feel like friend making, and that’s what I really miss as a part time postgrad.

There are good things that come with part time study. Even though your time is precious in balancing research around other jobs (at one point last year I had four occupations and not enough boxes to list them all on my tax form), I get time to consider my research and see it grow. I can also afford time to be a committee member, in addition to joining a network. I can be a member of SCUDD rather than a SCUDD digester. In a way this sets me up for a life in academia. From what I can gather there isn’t always room for collegiality in the working environment due to time constraints and being pulled at from every direction. Maybe in this way being part time and having to juggle responsibilities is a nice dress rehearsal.

I don’t think there’s a magic way to get through a PhD regardless of whether you engage as a full time or part time student. I am still a little jealous of the full time (and funded students) as the collegiality seems built right in, although perhaps this is just me thinking that the grass is always greener. I know that the stress levels are right up there. But these are elevated by good working relationships, so if you are lucky enough to have ‘academic friends’, or people who now you just call your ‘friends’, cherish them. They may be your colleagues in future, helping you out with form filling and admin tasks or even co-authoring chapters and books, but they’ve been through something with you and more than that, they made your path a bit easier. And please remember that if you see a random person at a conference they will appreciate you taking the time to speak with them and make them feel less lonely. It was lovely people like that who made this part time student a full time friend. (They’ll disown me for being so sickly sweet though, I’m sure).


Do you think your experience of making your research work might be helpful to others? Take a look at our CFP and get in touch.