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.

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 Historians and the REF

By our Academic Uncles, Glen O’Hara and Andrew Dilley

In our last blog we gave a few pieces of hopefully timely advice for those seeking an academic post in the run up to the REF2014 submission date, which fell last December. In this as our next blog, we offer a broader overview of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) for those seeking academic jobs in the UK over the next few years. The REF plays a major role in shaping patterns of research and the recruitment of researcher-active staff in the UK, and a working knowledge of the REF is therefore an asset when seeking an academic job.

What is the REF?
For several decades public funding for research in the United Kingdom has been distributed through two mechanisms. First, grants for individual programmes of research are awarded by bodies such as the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) or the ESRC (Economics and Social Science Research Council). Secondly, ‘Quality Related’ (QR) funding is distributed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Research Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland.

QR funding is allocated on the basis of the Research Excellent Framework (formally Research Assessment Exercise or RAE). HEFCE runs the REF on behalf of all UK funding councils—so what follows applies across the UK, at least for now. Disciplines (or ‘units of assessment’) are judged on the quality of their research, along with several other elements (‘impact’, research environment and the like), during defined assessment periods. These results then determine the funding allocation in the next period: the REF is intended to reward and sustain established pools of research excellence, while providing a stable ‘baseline’ of funding that is not subject to the chance and variation involved in constant bidding for individual awards.

The last assessment period ran from 2008 to the end of 2013, and this present one began on 1 Jan 2014 and will probably end at some point in 2019 or 2020. At the end of each assessment period, units submit four publications (or ‘outputs’) published within the period produced by each full-time researcher. Each institution can choose whether or not to include a particular researcher in their submission. Four expert panels are responsible for grading the submissions and each panel has slightly different rules. Each panel is, in turn, divided into subject-based sub-panels—History, taken with History of Art, has its own sub-panel. Each output is assessed by a member of the sub-panels of graded on a scale of 1*-4* (where 1* is ‘nationally recognised’ and 4* is ‘world leading’). The individual grades are anonymised. They are then combined with the results for impact and research environment (also graded by the sub-panels) to produce a ‘quality profile’: a score intended to reflect the overall calibre of the discipline or department within each university.

Why does the REF matter to me?

It matters for two reasons. First, it generates a sizable and relatively stable source of funding. The quality profile is used to distribute QR funding, and most historical research is currently supported by QR funding. Only research judged to be of 3* or 4* quality attracts funds and this is true across the UK. Second, the REF results generate status within and for universities keen to boast of their panoply of top-rated units.

Many universities are very keen to play the system to maximise both status and income. They put in place complex strategies to maximise their results, in particular to ensure they only submit staff whose research will generate a decent proportion of 3*s or 4*s. Many of the most important ramifications for Early Career Researchers are the result of this selectivity.

Quite simply, if you are employed in a UK university to conduct research, you will be expected to deliver a ‘REF Hand’. That means not just four publications between 1 January 2014 and 2019/20 (and possibly/preferably well before), but also four publications that the institution wishes to submit. Every selection panel will have at least one member who understands the REF (or thinks they do) and your research plans and job application have to show how you will meet REF criteria.

Listen carefully 007: Some important details and their implications

There are a few details that it is worth being aware of:

  1. Are all publications equal?
    In principle all publications (that means anything in the public domain, including on a website) are judged equally. In practice many institutions (and a not inconsiderable number of historians) are very wary about non-traditional publications – particularly those that aren’t peer reviewed. Bear this in mind when planning research and constructing a CV.
  2. Do books count for two?
    No. Some ‘outputs’ can count double in the REF if they take more ‘effort’ to produce than a standard output (for which, read: a journal article). For History and other related disciplines on Panel D (Arts and Humanities), a book submitted with a case for double weighting could be submitted with an ‘insurance piece’ in case the case for double weighting was rejected. So a book can count for two (and History sub-panels, appreciating the value of the book for the subject, have been supporters of double weighting), but it is not guaranteed. Equally, an apparently much shorter output (a database, for instance) could count for two if it took considerable effort to produce. All of these things are judged on a case by case basis after submission.
  3. What is overlap and how is it treated?
    Overlap occurs where one output includes elements of another output. Classically in the case of someone early in their career, this might include an article that later appears (perhaps in adapted form) in a book. The rules of the last REF stated that where overlap occurred, the larger item would be assessed disregarding materials in the smaller items (so you only get credit for the same work once). Many institutions, however, resisted submitting any overlapping items at all, considering the rules ambiguous, or finding it hard to predict the grades that overlapping items would receive, leading to the oft-heard question: ‘how good is Blogg’s book without Chapter Five?’.
  4. What about Open Access?
    There is a tremendous policy drive now to make publications (especially journal articles) freely available to the public, who, after all, funded much of the research work involved in the first place. This can be achieved either by making them available on the web at the point of publication (so-called ‘gold’ open access, often with the researcher or their institution paying a charge to publishers) or with a delay through an institutional repository (known as ‘green’ open access). This area is too complex to enter into here in detail (stay tuned for an upcoming post by History Lab Plus Chairs Kimm Currran and Cath Feeley), though a great deal has recently become clearer about how this will work in practice. The REF will probably require all journal articles and conference publications to be made available through an institutional repository. Open access requirements will not apply to monographs or book chapters. The ‘green’ route (where a version of the article is made available with a delay) is permitted without further payment to the journal as copyright holder. Certain crucial details have not been finalised, especially the length of the delay, or embargo, permitted under the green route. It will not be less than 12 months, and probably no longer than 24 months. The best advice at this stage is for those seeking jobs to keep an eye out for the announcement of the finalised rules and check that any journals you submit to comply with the ‘green’ open access rules. Non-UK journals may need to be prompted or asked to reveal their own policies and attitudes. Needless to say, you won’t be alone in finding this a puzzle: a lot of scholars are delaying submitting articles to journals until this is clear.
  5. Aren’t there dispensations for Early Careers Researchers?
    Yes, but they may not help you now. Basically the REF considers your research career to start when you get an academic job with research in your contract. For the first (approximately) four years of your career you are permitted to make a smaller submission based on the number of years you have been employed to conduct research at the point of submission. So, if on that date you are one or two years in, you submit one output, three years in, two outputs, four years in, three outputs. So only those who get academic jobs after August 2015 will get any relief from the REF in 2019/20. As an aside, there are other dispensations. In particular, part-time staff are only required to make a reduced submission, and those going on maternity leave are allowed one fewer outputs. If you have special circumstances it would be worth checking how the REF treats them (see the links below).
  6. Do I have to have Impact (whatever that is)?
    No. ‘Impact’ is assessed in the REF, and seeks to gauge the benefits generated by research findings in a unit of assessment for non-academic audiences (although some ‘impacts’ in universities also count). Each unit submits a certain number of case studies (two for the first 15 full time staff members and a further one for each 10 thereafter). Impact must be based on research published by researchers in the unit in the 20 years preceding the census date (1999 for the next REF). What this means is that not every researcher has to have impact – only a selection of those returned by the institution. The assessment of impact is new, and how this will work in practice is very unclear. It is more likely that the potential future impact of work as yet unpublished will be of interest to prospective employers (since this would count under the byzantine rules). If you might publish work once they give you a job that may go on to benefit academic audiences, that’s great. If you are not about to inspire a TV documentary, revamp a museum, or advise the UN, don’t worry too much. Emphasise the quality of your publications, but just also make sure that you think about how your work might benefit non-academic audiences in case you are asked about this in any interview.

So what can I do to maximise my chances of a job?

The first step is to realise that when applying for jobs, or at least permanent jobs, you will be judged by a panel which will be looking for four decent publications by the end of 2019 (and preferably a lot earlier), unless you are likely to be an Early Career Researcher—i.e. you get your first research job after August 2015. You need to plan your possible publications and make sure that they are clear on your C.V. The classic history ‘REF Hand’ is a book plus three articles/book chapters. If you have unconventional but substantial outputs (content-rich websites or databases, for instance) make sure that these are clearly explained on your CV and in your application. Make sure your outputs don’t overlap too much. Finally, be ambitious with your publications. Aim for good journals, substantial sounding book chapters, and decent monograph publishers. Don’t waste time with too many conference proceedings. Avoid large publications that are not peer reviewed. All of this will reassure a selection panel of that your work is good. Only publications after 1 Jan 2014 will count to the next REF. A track record will help, but clear future plans are essential. Keep an eye on the evolving rules on Open Access for journals, and make sure you tap reliable sources (subject associations, HEFCE’s website, etc) and not the blogosphere. There is a lot of misinformation out there.

Bear in mind that everything we have written is based on the rules for REF2014. They may change but until they do, selection panels will work on the same assumptions. Again, keep an eye out for any changes.

Before getting too disheartened, bear in mind that much of this would have been necessary anyway. A clear ambitious research agenda is the key to getting an academic job in any case. But more than anything, the REF makes it necessary to tie this to a clear set of planned publications.

I still think this all sounds byzantine, why doesn’t anyone try to change it?

Actually, they do. Organisations such as the Royal Historical Society, the British Academy, HistoryUK, indeed History Lab Plus, as well as individual universities and academics, try to shape the rules to make them more helpful – both to historians, and humanities scholars more broadly. This does sometimes make them even more complex, as officials try to juggle different demands, but also means that the rules on (for example) the dispensations for ECRs, maternity, and the like have been more generous than in RAE2008.

That said, those seeking academic jobs tend to be at the sharp end of the REF. It is far easier for someone with a permanent job to defy its requirements than for those without that elusive permanent contract, though threatening noises are often heard, in many different types of institution, about the consequences of non-submission even for very senior members of staff. But colleagues further on in their career arcs can usually point to a track record of prior success. Rightly or wrongly, it is hard to launch a career without convincing a prospective employer that you will ‘deliver’ for the REF. Forewarned is forearmed!

Further Information

Further Information: The rules of the last REF are available in two documents, Assessment framework and guidance on submissions (REF 02.2011) and Panel criteria and working methods (REF 01.2012). The latest from HEFCE on Open Access can be found here [http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/year/2013/201316/]. The rules of REF2020 may well change.

Keeping the Faith: Researching as a Part-time Teacher or Teaching Fellow

By M. H. Beals

For many early careerists, the first step up the post-doctorate ladder is working as an associate lecturer or teaching fellow. The precise nature of these posts can vary widely. Some contracts are paid on an hourly basis—literally or virtually including hours for preparation and marking—while others are contracted as a percentage of a full-time equivalent position, or FTE. The latter Is more likely to include a clearly defined number of preparation and administration hours, but, like the former, these may or may not remotely resemble the amount of time you actually spend. Nor can all FTE contracts be considered full-time positions. In recent years, I have seen them range from 0.1 FTE (or a half a day) to 1.0 (or a 35 nominal hours a week) and everything in between. Moreover, as teaching staff, you will only be paid during term-time and usually not more than ten months out of a year.

In the end, whichever arrangement you and your employer reach, a teaching position is just that—teaching. Any research activities you undertake will be done without direct recompense or—in most cases—any form of financial support. If you intend to continue your research, and most certainly intend to do so, choices have to be made about how you spend your time. Many will simply put their research on hold until term breaks while others will forgo those eight daily hours they used to waste on sleep. But while a teaching fellowship can cause bone-shattering exhaustion, it does not need to. There are some choices you can make to keep your research alive, without becoming the walking dead yourself. Continue reading