Publishing Your Research – History Lab Plus at the Social History Society

History Lab Plus is pleased to be sponsoring a lunchtime session at the Social History Society 40th Anniversary Conference in Lancaster this week. We are glad to have Emma Brennan (Manchester University Press) and Emily Russell (Palgrave) talking to us about publishing and we anticipate lots of questions!

You can find us on the programme for Monday 21st March (Day One), 1.15-2pm in CCA016.

Our incoming co-chair Kelly Spring will also be there to answer any questions you have about joining History Lab Plus and what we do. Do come and say hello!

Early-Career Life in 2015 – Christopher Phillips

Dr Christopher Phillips is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, having been awarded his PhD in History by the University of Leeds in April 2015. He is in the process of preparing his thesis for publication under the title Managing Armageddon: Transportation on the Western Front, 1914-1918, and is pursuing funding opportunities for a new research project to investigate the development of railway towns in England between 1870 and 1970. Here he reflects on 2015, his first post-PhD, and the uncertainty of 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DoctorCPhillips

The genesis of this blog was an, on reflection, somewhat bitter comment posted on Twitter in response to the History Lab Plus’ call for contributions on life as an early career researcher. It focused on the negatives which have largely dominated my professional life over the second half of 2015, and which ultimately overshadowed my experience of the year as a whole. Having been offered the chance to elaborate on the initial 140 character response, however, I realised that my knee-jerk reaction did not adequately reflect the range of experiences which I faced over the course of the year. What follows is not an attempt to right any of the perceived ‘wrongs’ of academia, or an attempt to comprehend why I find myself at the start of 2016 with only one task – the supervision of five dissertation students to completion in May – guaranteed to pay me an income for the foreseeable future. What it is, I hope, is an attempt to document what may (or may not) be a transitory period from PhD student to academic without the usual happy ending that other such discussions that I have read tend to conclude with.

2015 actually began rather well for me. I received broadly positive, constructive feedback on the full draft of my thesis which I’d submitted to my supervisors before Christmas, and news of the acceptance of a journal article (subject to a few wrangles over the title) within the first week of January. By the end of the month, a book review had also been accepted for publication in a highly respected journal in the field, and all 100,000 words of my thesis had been soft-bound and sent off to my examiners. In March I delivered a really well received seminar paper at my undergraduate university on a chapter of my thesis, was invited to speak at a public event at Leeds Industrial Museum in May, and despatched the final proofs for an article which had been finished almost two years before. In early April, two hours of viva examination resulted in the award of a PhD (subject to correcting a few spelling mistakes), and encouragement from both examiners to publish. In the same week as the Graduate Board confirmed my doctorate, I was invited to interview for a three-year research post.

And then the handbrake was applied. The interview did not lead to anything. Nor did any of the other thirty plus applications I submitted for various roles during the academic year 2014-15. I applied for permanent lectureships, three- and five-year research fellowships, teaching fellowships ranging from three months to two years, and a number of non-academic posts. I received no invitations to interview, and in many cases no response whatsoever. In no cases did I receive any feedback on my application, and on one specific occasion I remember the rejection email stating – in bold type no less – that no feedback would be given to ‘unsuccessful applicants’. I received only a handful of rejection emails, the majority of which were not even personalised but began ‘Dear applicant’. Some, of course, hurt more than others. The one for a permanent lectureship at a very prestigious institution which doubtless received a shedload of applicants was unsurprising. The one for a two-year fellowship where I’d done my PhD was utterly humiliating. Aside from not being deemed worthy of addressing by name, the rest of the content of these emails was equally discouraging, impersonal, and demotivating. There was nothing constructive upon which I could improve for future applications. Friends and former colleagues, including an incredibly supportive supervisor, could offer no further suggestions to improve my cover letters. Was my intended research deemed unimaginative and uninspiring? Was the relatively narrow band of teaching experience I gained during my thesis (not for the want of trying to gain more) what was holding me back? Was it the lack of a book contract that meant my applications were being consigned to the ‘no’ pile? I have no idea.

I have tried to rectify all of these, but without success. After four months of no contact whatsoever, my first choice of publisher for my ‘book of the thesis’ finally got in touch to essentially say ‘you should have proposed an entirely different book’. A second never responded to the proposal at all. I am currently awaiting the result of the latest attempt. Throughout the summer I emailed my CV to various Heads of Department to enquire about the availability of sessional teaching, without success (although, to my eternal gratitude, every single department I contacted in this matter responded quickly). The last attempt to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship with the research proposal I had developed during the final year of my PhD foundered when the academic I had contacted at a potential host simply stopped responding to my emails two weeks before the deadline.

In the middle of September, I got a job. Two weeks before the start of term I was offered the chance to teach a survey course on British History from the Roman Conquest to the Industrial Revolution, and to supervise a number of dissertations. Halfway through the term, I took over the delivery of another module – this time on US civil rights. I did not get this work through any application process, but as a result of being in the right place at the right time, and thanks to the recommendation of a former colleague who had originally been approached to do the job. Although the majority of that contract is now finished, I have been put on a database of potential teachers for another university (again at the recommendation of a former colleague) which may lead to some more teaching experience in the upcoming semester to add to my CV. I’ve also created a new potential research project which I have received encouraging feedback on prior to submission for funding through the Leverhulme Trust. Whether any of this work will lead to anything or not who knows. I am under no illusions as to the competitiveness of such schemes, but perhaps if unsuccessful on that avenue it will intrigue someone on a hiring committee for a job yet to be advertised for next year. Perhaps the extra teaching I have undertaken this term outside my area of expertise will shift me from one pile of applications to the other. Perhaps a publisher will take a chance on my thesis and offer me the chance to write the book, and that will be enough evidence to convince someone, somewhere, to offer me an interview.

In the meantime, I keep searching jobs.ac.uk and H-Net, and working on preparations for a two-day conference I am part of the organising committee for. The book is on the back burner, not least because the necessary research trips to London are too expensive, and the new research project is still in the process of conducting literature searches and scanning through what secondary material I can lay my hands on. What state either project will be in come 1 January 2017 is impossible to say right now.

 

Early-Career Life 2015: George Campbell Gosling

A year ago, we published a series of reflections from early-career historians at various stages of their post-PhD lives. You can read them here. George Campbell Gosling kicked us off last year and he’s kindly allowed us to cross-post his account of 2015, one in which he felt his ‘split academic personality came of age’. Over the next few weeks, we hope to add to these reflections not just with updates from those who wrote last year, but with new voices.  If you’d like to contribute, please tweet @cathfeely or email me at c.feely[at]derby.ac.uk. Over to George (again!):

Looking back on 2015, it’s been a mix of bedding in and big changes. But the changes haven’t always been the ones I might have expected.

At the end of the year, my work life looks in some ways very similar to it did at the beginning. I’m still in the same department, even if I’ve moved up the corridor into a shared office. I’m still working on the same book, now putting the finishing pre-publication touches to the manuscript that was still coming together a year ago. Blogging about history and the teaching of it is still one of my favourite pastimes, even though I’ve started on a new research project and I’m not doing any teaching.

Yet this academic year feels very different from the last, and I guess that’s inevitable. For one thing, the second year in any institution – even if in a different position – is less stressful. You know the people and the place, the oddities and the opportunities. It’s why my only real regret from my 4+ years now of post-PhD academic life is all the moving around and uncertainty. Without it I wouldn’t have met some wonderful people and taken on some interesting and unexpected jobs, but I’d also have fewer grey hairs.

Swapping full-time teaching for full-time research is also bound to be different. Worries about how much of a student’s grammar to correct replaced with trying (and failing) to remember receipts while on archive visits around the country. The constant stimulation of mastering new topics each week with the chance to immerse myself in one (set of) thing(s). Piles of marking are out and taking minutes of team meetings is in.

But I also feel very differently about myself as an academic. A year ago I was enjoying being a jobbing history teacher. Now I feel like an historian. My appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow and the warm (yet helpfully constructive) backing of anonymous peer reviewers for publishing my first book – they both feel like more of a vindication than passing my viva. I earned the right to call myself Dr then, now I feel like I have the opportunity to put that into practice.

Put it another way – I feel like an expert now. Of course, that old friend Imposter Syndrome makes regular appearances, but through the ups and downs I do feel more confident professionally. It’s been a decade since my nan asked me why there was no NHS when she was a child. And I’ve spent the years in between thinking about the answer – even while distracted by the job hunt and trying to repeatedly refashion everything I had to say on the topic, in keeping with the latest imagined future employment opportunity. By now I know this stuff. I am an expert.

I also think I’m seen more as an expert, but often not for my research. An odd split has emerged. I feel like an expert for what I’ve been given a chance now to do full-time: researching and writing history. But I also think I appear and am seen as an expert for something else: my blogging.

I sometimes blog about my research. When I do the audience is usually many of the same people who would read a fuller academic publication, especially if I used the blog to let them know about it. Sometimes that’s the audience I want to reach and that’s fine. But the audience this past year for my blogging about teaching and studying history has  been far, far larger.

This kicked off the year before with my History Essay Checklist. I was gobsmacked by the response to what I assumed was the sort of common sense advice given by history tutors (as well as those across the humanities and beyond) to university students struggling with essay writing. It seems not. I’ve had hits again with advice on writing source commentaries, how to read for essays and why, when and how to reference in essays amongst others.

None of this is based on a greater knowledge or understanding than most history tutors, but the way it’s presented seems to be useful. This is probably because I’m useless at learning by intuition or imitation. The fact I need to analyse and learn thoroughly myself means I’m well-equipped perhaps to relay this to others. My brain works differently from most and I’ve turned that to my advantage.

By the end of 2015, over one-third of universities in the UK have now directed people to my blog from their institutional websites. The traffic from my own Warwick Uni is rivalled by Huddersfield and both Leeds and Leeds Beckett, outdone by Hertfordshire and Kent and, out in front, Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. When I meet people for the first time in my academic life, it’s by far the most common thing they know about me. For most people who come across me, my expertise lies in blogging study skills advice to university students.

There have been a lot of changes in 2015 and there’s been lots of bedding in. But I think I’ll look back on this, above all else, as the year my split academic personality came of age.

You can read George’s very popular blog here.

History Lab Plus Events: More Dates for your Diaries!

We have a busy few months ahead at History Lab Plus, with events coming up left, right and centre all across the country. Here are a few details of upcoming events, a Call for Papers and some preliminary dates for your diary.

First of all, we are running an event on Teaching and Technology: Making Digital History‘ at Liverpool John Moores University on 14th March 2015. A stellar line-up of historians will share their experience of engaging history students with digital technologies and will help you to develop your own course ideas. You can read more details and book for this exciting event on our Eventbrite page.

Our very popular event ‘Life After the PhD’ will again be exploring a whole range of post-PhD careers, both academic and non-academic, on 21st April 2015 at Senate House, London. More details will follow very soon.

On June 12th, we’re pleased to be sponsoring a one-day symposium on ‘Teaching World History’ at the University of Derby. This Call for Papers invites proposals for 10-15 minute presentations about how to engage students on international topics. The deadline for proposals is 31st March 2015.

Also in June, we’ll also be running our annual joint event with the Royal Historical Society and this time we’re moving out of London! Watch this space for a announcement of date and brand new location very soon. In the meantime, here’s some of the excellent advice our professors gave last year to be going on with.

In July we’re also proud to be sponsoring early-career workshops at the ‘Rethinking Modern British Studies‘ conference at the University of Birmingham and the Leeds Medieval Congress.

There are also other events in the planning, including one on becoming a freelance historian or heritage professional. So there’s even more to come! Hard to believe, I know; we do our best for you …

Early Career Life in 2014 – Niamh NicGhabhann

In the final of our reflections on early career life in 2014 (for now), Niamh NicGhabhann writes about how her career has taken her in unforeseen directions this year and on the importance of finding focus. We hope you’ve enjoyed these first series of posts, and if you’ve written to us about doing a reflective blog, we’ll be in touch very soon as we hope to make this a regular feature of the blog. We’d especially like to hear from you if you feel like you’ve had a different experience to those we’ve had so far. Over to Niamh …

On 31 December, as I was working my way towards my 3pm New Year’s Eve essay-marking cut-off point, I saw a note on Twitter looking for ECRs to write about their life and experiences post-submission. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. Anything beats grading, after all. I was also motivated, however, by the fact the I’ve learned so much about academic life, the jobs market, publications and general good working practices from Twitter and from similar blogs, and would be delighted if my few experiences could be of any value to others in a similar way.

I completed my PhD in TRIARC: the Irish Art Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin (https://www.tcd.ie/History_of_Art/research/centres/triarc/) in 2011 and graduated in 2012. My thesis was on the preservation of medieval ecclesiastical buildings in Ireland, and was completed under the supervision of Professor Roger Stalley. My undergraduate degree had also been at Trinity College Dublin, following which I spent a year working as a tour guide, as an education intern in the National Gallery of Ireland, and finally as an administrator for the Irish Museums Association. Since my undergrad, and throughout my postgrad years, I was keenly aware of the fact that I would emerge from university in need of a job – this led me to take on a series of jobs and internships with festivals and contemporary art galleries. I did everything from writing essays for art books to sanding down gallery walls. I was lucky to have a funded doctoral position – on the IRC (Irish Research Council)-funded Reconstructions of the Gothic Past project, yet I knew that this would not last forever. The years of my PhD, therefore, were busy ones – I was working on my thesis, doing as much gallery and curatorial work as possible, and trying to attend and present at as many conferences as possible. The fact that I did my PhD within a larger funded project meant that I was more supported, with team meetings, regular working patterns, and a major conference and a publication at the end to showcase findings. A digital humanities component was also developed (www.gothicpast.com) , which I didn’t work on directly, but which did give me some insight into the world of DH. Was this strategy of busy multi-tasking successful in the end? I do worry that it made me more of a Jill of all trades, and sometimes wish that I had simply found the key to the ivory tower for those three years, hopped in and put my head down. However, when I graduated, I was glad to have had those experiences, as they stood me in good stead when it came to negotiating the jobs market.

On graduating, I found myself taking on too much. I was teaching in two universities, and got a job as a researcher on a new digital humanities project based on medieval buildings. I was afraid to let anything go, but ended up having to drop one set of teaching – I regret not being more aware of this earlier, and letting the university know in advance, as I fear I risked some of the goodwill which I had built up there. Working and teaching gave me time to recover from the final year of the PhD – I found myself being able to work from a US college for a period, which opened my eyes to that system. Around this time, I realized that I needed to give myself a bit of a kick in terms of ensuring that I was working on publications – I put a book proposal together and was accepted (http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2015/building-on-the-past/) . I also started several articles, finished a few, and had some rejected. I presented at different conferences, but did not find that this was a particularly good research period for me. Bad habits are slow to break, however, and I took on further gallery and curatorial work, and not only that, founded a company with three of my colleagues aimed at providing historical project management and research skills to a variety of clients. We were successful in our first tender bid for a large government project exploring the history of a former psychiatric hospital in Co. Monaghan. This experience was, like many others, was a positive one, but took up a lot of time and energy, and brought me into yet another career direction. In setting up the company, I was involved in innovation and enterprise training, and also ran a conference and established a research project (with some small funding) on the subject of Innovation and the Humanities (http://innovationandthehumanities.wordpress.com/).

(What you don’t see here, of course, are the worries, the crappy flats, the breakups, the incredibly supportive partner, family and friends, the exhaustion and self-doubt, but they are very much part of this picture too).

The world works in mysterious ways – despite feeling increasingly worried that these varied experiences would render me unemployable, I found myself applying for the position of Course Director for a new MA Programme in Festive Arts at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (http://chronicle.com/academicDestinationArticle/Festivals-are-on-the/233/) . This position allows me to combine my experiences and passion for curating, arts management and policy, innovation, together with my research expertise in the ritual and festive uses of post-medieval spaces and landscapes. The Irish World Academy is based at the University of Limerick, and I have taken full advantage of their research mentoring schemes – I have been advised to do what I have known all along – focus! Find one direction and work there! I have been in my new position for a year and a half now, and it has been extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. Putting a new course together, positioning the discipline, promoting the course to potential students and learning the ropes at a new university has had me jump through more hoops than I thought I could. I am now at the point where I am finishing a number of projects – I am stepping down from the company as entrepreneurship is a full-time job, and I simply don’t have time for two of those, I’m waiting for the first set of page proofs of my book, and I am tying up some final essays and projects which have been in the pipeline for a few years. I write a blog (http://niamhnicghabhann.tumblr.com/) , which I find is a useful place to put thoughts and ideas not for publication or other projects (although blog posts have often led to other opportunities).

My next stage is to consolidate my research, teaching and supervision, and to define a new direction that I feel combines my various research interests in a unified way, and to work in a focused way in that area. I’ve also started mentoring undergraduate students within TCD’s GradLink scheme. I want to cull some of the more eclectic jobs that I had accumulated in my very-ECR years, and to give myself more recreation time. The things that I have learned – go for opportunities (even if they seem beyond you at the time), take your own place at the table (speak up, get used to the sound of your own voice), and take time off (you can do anything, but only if you stop often enough).

Early Career Life in 2014 – Daryl Leeworthy

In the latest in our posts about early career life in 2014, Daryl Leeworthy, who was an excellent contributor to our ‘History, Heritage and the Media’ event at Leicester, reflects on a transitional year …

Academics, unlike miserly old Victorians, don’t sit up at night on Christmas Eve awaiting the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, to show them the error of their ways; rather, they lie awake thinking of the ups and downs of the past twelve months, hoping that, whatever has happened, a peak rather than a trough is just around the corner. At times early academic careers can appear much like the Dickensian signalman: full of life, very real, and then suddenly vanished without a trace leaving only the memorial echoes of the good times in a seminar room or in the pub after work.

I must confess that 2014 has been a transition year in a lot of ways. From January to July I was still employed as a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. I had a brilliant group of students, many of whom did extraordinarily well in their end of year exams, and a fantastic set of colleagues. Loathe as I am to draw attention to just a few, I do want to say a special thank you to Rebecca Gill, who has been the best academic partner-in-crime that you could ask for, to Barry Doyle for being a kind of guru to me, and to Jonathan Gledhill, Janette Martin, and Paul Atkinson for making life in the North so enjoyable.

I’d also like to thank my 4th grade cat, my 1st grade hamster, and my goldfish Jack who so tragically died before my picture was released.

Oh, wait…wrong blog!

Finding a new job after Huddersfield was always going to be tough. I had several interviews – only one of which was for a permanent job. All of them were in the South of England. Travelling to this part of the world was more profound a culture shock than living in Canada or spending a lot of time in Ireland. Perhaps it was having grown so accustomed to life in the North, but a big part of me was glad whenever the institution sent the email that goes “we regret to inform you”. I didn’t think this way at the time – I was too focused on the ‘now what?’ – but I’m actually quite glad I didn’t end up moving to the South of England.

Instead I moved home, to Wales, and started writing. After three months, I’ve put down nearly 150,000 words of two books and three new articles. Two articles were finished and accepted for publication just as I was leaving, too. Looking back, the time in Yorkshire enabled me to think more carefully about what I wanted to say about the South Walian Labour Movement and how it came to be (all will be revealed in the book), and long discussions with colleagues in North America (particularly Colin Howell, Lucia Trimbur and Andy Holman) have propelled my long planned, but little actioned, book called Playing on the Border into existence. Added to the book that Rebecca and I are writing and I think this ‘unpaid sabbatical’ has been enormously productive. But it’s not a job, obviously.

Then, out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from Chris Williams saying that Cardiff needed someone to teach some seminars over the forthcoming Hilary Term. It is as if my luck has turned: I had been approaching 2015 with a little bit of uncertainty, but now I can move forward with some teaching and ensuring my research is maintained at its current level. It may not mean that I can move out of my teenage bedroom any time soon, but it does mean that the new year begins with a clear sense of purpose which was not there in 2013 or (being completely honest) in 2014. For that I’m truly grateful, as I am for the means of staying in Wales for a while.

And so to end on a remarkably positive note (I’m not sure I would have a few months ago), I want to reflect on the role of social media over the course of the year. It used to be said that academic research in the humanities was a very lonely experience (obviously by historians who forgot about archivists and librarians who fill the day with such enthusiasm!). I don’t think that’s true anymore. Just the other day, Cath Feely and I shared oodles of tweets back and forth blending the joins of our overlapping research; through the last few months I’ve had scores of emails and tweets from Alun Burge all about co-operatives and the labour movement; and at every moment of despair the academic community on twitter has rallied to support. Thank you never quite covers the debt. It can sometimes seem that we’re all in competition with each other – true enough when it comes to those ever diminishing jobs, I suppose – but I like to think that we support each other because our eyes are open to new possibilities, and because we can see a different way towards the future. As we move forward into 2015, perhaps it’ll be closer to our grasp.

Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi gyd!

Daryl writes an excellent blog at History on the Dole. You should make reading it one of your New Year’s Resolutions! More early-career reflections and plans for 2015 to come next week.

Early Career Life in 2014 – Cath Feely

Continuing our reflections on life in 2014, co-chair Cath Feely shares her early career experience and her New Year’s resolution to stop worrying so much and enjoy her job …

On New Year’s Day 2014, I was packing. I can’t remember much of last Christmas as most of it was spent in a whirl of picking up house keys, surviving the hell of IKEA Nottingham and worrying about starting a new (and permanent, as much as any job is permanent) job at the University of Derby. Anyone reading this who knows me will know that worrying is, or at least seems to be, my default mode. My boss tells me that in the first few weeks he would occasionally see me from afar in the University Atrium and that my face always looked worried. A few weeks in, I had to explain to him that my worried face was just my ‘resting face’. He laughed at me (not for the last time) and I realised how ridiculous that sounded. Why was I expending so much energy worrying?

office view

The view from here. Taken out of the window of our office at the University of Derby, January 2014.

Part of it was, I think, a hangover from the previous year. Just before Christmas 2012, I had got a temporary job at the University of Sheffield, a job that required me to take over a third year Special Subject and dissertations half way through. That the group of students I inherited were the best bunch that I could have ever imagined didn’t take away the stress of the task, especially getting my head around someone else’s course based on their own research area and preparing students for an exam not set by me. At the same time, I was also in the middle of teaching my own module at the University of Durham, and so, for the first six months of 2013, my natural home was the Transpennine Express, as I commuted between my home in Manchester and Sheffield and Durham. This took a heavy toll on my health (so many station Burger Kings) and my personal life. My husband will never know just how grateful I am that he got up every morning at 6am to drive me to Manchester Piccadilly.

All of this was incredible experience, and I got excellent advice along the way, especially from my Head of Department at Sheffield. But it was always going to be temporary and, sure enough, in June 2013, I found myself at the edge of the early-career abyss. For the first time since graduating in 2011, I had absolutely nothing lined up for September, not even the odd seminar group here or there. I seriously thought this was the end of the road. I was, therefore, very relieved to get a ten month lectureship at the University of Manchester starting in September 2013. As this was the place where I had done my PhD, there was an outpouring of glee on social media from my peers and I couldn’t have been happier. But it was still temporary and I still kept on applying for permanent jobs.
When I got one, it was a bit of a shock. I had never been to Derby, I didn’t know any of my interviewers, and I hadn’t (because the interview was the week before term started at Manchester) had the time I would have liked to prepare. But I think this helped. Neither they nor I had any preconceived ideas; what they saw was what they got (so they only have themselves to blame!)

I won’t say that this last year hasn’t been hard at times. There have been significant personal compromises, and it has taken me time to adjust to a different environment and expectations. In my teaching, I have felt challenged and, as any student knows, this isn’t always a comfortable feeling. Time-management has not always been as perfect as it could (or should) be. But, overall, I think that I have grown as a teacher and scholar. I have had to go back to basics and recognise that what worked in one context, or in a 50-minute seminar, for years doesn’t necessarily work in a four hour workshop. I have learned that teaching in a team of six is very different to teaching in a team of thirty five, and that it can be as awesome as it is hard work. I have never laughed as much as I have in the last year and for that I have both my colleagues and students to thank.

In terms of research, this year has been frustrating but in a really odd way. I did far too many conference and seminar papers than was both sustainable and desirable, considering it was my first year on the job. I think I was still doing the desperate-for-a-job-say-yes-to-everything act, not quite realising that it was no longer necessary. In the coming months, I am going to say no to things that distract me from what I really want to do. I guess all I need to do now is figure out exactly what that is.

But, actually, I think that I do know what that is, and co-teaching a third year course on Material Culture with my incredible colleague Ruth Larsen has had more of an impact than she and our students know. But it has also shown me how far our scholarship is bound up in our teaching. There is a lot of talk about research-led teaching but from where I’m standing it’s all about teaching-led research. Teaching this year has stretched and forced me to clarify my ideas in an extremely productive manner. It’s not just the teaching itself that has had an impact on the way I think as a scholar, but being part of a little intellectual community where we challenge our students to do the best that they can. And, my gosh, we challenge them and they rise to meet that challenge. I will never forget the Public History conference in May, when our second year students stood up in front of 250 people and gave astonishingly good and original papers about the First World War, all of them publishable. They were incredible and made me realise just how lucky I am.

MuseomixScans049 - Cath cropped

Me, looking worried and out of my comfort zone, at the Museomix event at Derby Silk Mill, November 2014. This awesome picture was drawn by the artist in residence Sally Jane Thompson. See more of her work here: http://www.sallyjanethompson.co.uk/

So this coming year I want to follow our students and try to be the best that I can be. But that means doing a bit more adjusting and a lot less worrying. It means focusing my time and energy on the things that matter both to me as an individual and to our team, and learning to say no occasionally. It means having high expectations but realistic ones. It means not getting overwhelmed and just f***ing doing it. And, perhaps most of all, it means looking after myself and allowing myself to enjoy a job where I go to work laughing, spend most of the day laughing and come home laughing.