Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016

Dear readers,


As today is my last day in work before the Christmas break and I wholeheartedly plan to do nothing over the holidays (including blogging), I thought I would end the year with a summary of what 2016 has meant to me.


2016 has been a rough year for everyone with Brexit, Trump, the refugee crisis, and much more leading to uncertainty, fear, and sadness. But, there have been highlights too, so here is my round up:


The start of the year began with me finishing my first placement as a graduate trainee on the Higher Education Management Scheme (@AmbitiousF - applications open to January 2017) and embarking on a 4-month secondment to University College London. This was a real highlight for me, as I had spent the past 5 years studying and working at the University of Oxford, and the opportunity to return to the place of my M.A. degree (and one of the best years of my life where I made lifelong friends - even if they are an ocean away).


The beginning of the year also marked the formal acceptance of my book proposal and the beginnings of the revisions to my thesis for publication in January 2017 with Routledge (The Making of Morals and Manners in Twelfth-Century England: The Book of the Civilised Man). This was important as it was a mark of my continued connection with academia. As a result of continuing to keep my foot in the academic door, I have presented at three conferences this year, and from that have two essays en route to publication over the forthcoming year.


Teaching was another highlight, as I taught a tutorial series on Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Europe for the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. And while teaching is always rewarding for me, working with American students during the end of the US election process brought home the anxiety and uncertainty my students face from a Trump presidency in 2017. Add to that the Brexit referendum, and the future is definitely unknown and definitely perilous.


2016 also saw my graduation from my doctorate, which was a wonderful occasion to celebrate with my family. This was shortly followed by the loss of my grandfather, an incredible and kind man whose outlook on life and people is one I will always keep with me.


And finally, 2016 saw me complete my graduate trainee scheme and accept a permanent job working in Student Welfare at the University of Oxford. I have written before about my desire to work in alternative academia, in roles which support the student body more broadly then just those students I have the opportunity to teach.


I am looking forward to what 2017 has to offer - while personally, it has been very good to me, politically is has been a disaster. 2017 can't be worse than 2016, right?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Teaching

As much as I convince myself that I do not want to pursue an academic career, academia has a sneaky way of making me question that choice. Now, I should say that I am very happy in my current career and fully intend to try to make an impact in Higher Education administration. But every now and again, the thought of academia creeps back into my brain. Sometimes it is when I give the odd seminar paper that goes down well, or the invitation to contribute to a volume. But all that I can reasonably and happily do in my spare time (albeit not without some sacrifices and caveating that not all ECRs have such a luxury. And I derive contentment from doing that, from feeling that I still have a toe in the water.

But if I am being truthful (and that it the whole point of this blog) one of the main drivers for not wanting to pursue academia full-time is a self-consciousness about my own abilities as a teacher. It is imposter syndrome - not that someone will discover my research is awful, but that my students will somehow expose some awful inadequacies in my knowledge.

Yet, that is unfounded. I have received detailed and positive feedback from secondary school students who I taught on summer programs for 4 years. But experience from teaching university students at Oxford can often feel like you are flying blind. The one-to-one tutorial system leaves little in the way of concrete feedback so you do your best and hope that your students succeed. 

I have often wondered if my students are as nervous as I sometimes am when I walk in the room.

Surely their other tutors are vastly more superior to me!

And so I go through swings and roundabouts. I get offered a term's tutorial series (I usually only teach one student a term because that is all I can manage with a full-time alt-ac job). I accept it because I want experience (just in case) and because it is additional income. And then the nerves start, the anxious lesson planning, the fear that the student will expose my ignorances. And then I get through the tutorial series, find out the student really enjoyed it or find out that they got the top marks in an externally graded paper, and I think "hey, I can't be all that bad at this". Maybe I could do more of this. Then I have a break, get offered another student, and it all starts again...

I guess what I am trying to say is that imposter syndrome is frequently equated with a fear that your research is going to be pulled apart, that the academic community will expose you for the fraud you really are. I have rarely (and correct me if I am wrong) seen a discussion in the context of teaching undergraduates and I think that those feelings of being an imposter in the classroom may resonate with many people. 

But for now, I received some amazing feedback, and I'm going to revel in my Sally Field Oscars moment before the self-doubt returns.

Image result for sally field like me