Scotty, Beam Him Up

Growing up I was a Star Wars fan. If you were a kid in the late-80s/early-90s and liked sci-fi/fantasy, you were either a Star Wars adherent or a Star Trek fan; there was none of this modern nerdy ‘coexist’ stuff.


I knew of Trek, of course. I had caught the occasional episode of The Next Generation (TNG) or Deep Space Nine (DS9), but never made it a point to tune in on a regular basis. At least not until Voyager (I know, I know… hey, it was the show that was on when I was finally old enough to appreciate Trek). It was during this time in secondary school when I really drifted away from the fantasy of the Force to the slightly more science-based fiction of the Federation (George Lucas had a lot to do with that, as well, of course. So far as I’m concerned, there are currently only three Star Wars films, with a fourth being released soon-ish. And Han Shot first!) Anyway, by the time I entered university as an undergraduate, I was starting down the Trekkie path.

I had caught some of the original-cast films either in reruns or in the theatre — I distinctly remember going to see Generations on the big screen and think it was probably my first Trek film at the cinema. I had seen any of The Original Series (TOS) or, honestly, liked the cast much when I was younger. I knew who Kirk, Spock, Scotty and Bones were, of course, but I had no real connection with them. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I even watched TOS at all, so I was struck by my emotional resonance at the death of Leonard Nimoy last week.

Now, I’ve never met him. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s met him. He’s had no real direct impact on my life. Yet somehow he was always just there. Whether it was the idea of Spock that permeated all the sci-fi that I later read, or his other acting, voice-acting or directing work, or his writings that I almost invariably saw during my time working at a book store, somehow Leonard Nimoy was always around. Or maybe it was the influence that Star Trek as a whole had on society, from inspiring people to get into space exploration and the sciences in general (see this NASA picture from the launch of Enterprise) to helping us humans believe a better future was possible. Indeed, in my final year of secondary school I used the Klingon idea of Sto-vo-kor in a talk about the afterlife, and at uni I was arguing the idea of the Federation as the ideal Communist society, living together in peace and harmony working for the greater good. Somehow, without me ever realising it, Spock — and Nimoy — gave me comfort. Now that he’s gone, I’m truly saddened.

My life was enhanced just by him being in the world. I guess that’s the mark of a true icon. He did truly live long and proper. I can only hope to do him the honour of trying to follow a similar life. Perhaps Kirk actually said it best in Wrath of Khan, ‘Of my friend I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels his was the most human’. In the meantime, I found this JoBlo tribute video a touching summary. Leonard Nimoy, you will certainly be missed.

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Top Albums 2014 Edition

Apologies for the long delay in writing. There has been a lot of pop culture news that I considered writing about — new seasons of TV shows, film releases (though, honestly, I haven’t seen anything in a while), lots of new music. But I wasn’t feeling inspired. Part of that is because my academic plans this year fell through. I’m not teaching as I expected and, since I submitted my dissertation, haven’t done much academic work, leading to my lack of inspiration.

All that changed when I read this ridiculous Rolling Stone article, at which point I felt my thoughts on the best albums of the year became important. I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, but no way was High Hopes the second best album of the year. Hell, it’s not even Springsteen’s second best album in the past five years. Don’t even get me started on their top choice…

As much as I’d like to listen to every new album released, I just don’t have the time, so this list is culled from what I’ve actually heard. There’s probably some albums I should have listened to but never got around to doing, and some that I like more than other critics. I am a product of my own musical preferences, that’s for sure. There was quite a bit of good music this year (particularly country), so narrowing down to ten was actually a bit tough. I don’t have a clear favourite this year, so these are presented in no particular order.

jenny lewis voyager

Jenny Lewis — The Voyager

The indie-rock maven and former lead singer of Rilo Kiley returns with her first solo album in six years. Fueled by a two-year bout of insomnia, the album tells tales both personal, ‘Just One of the Guys’, about aging and being a childless woman, and metaphorical, ‘Aloha & the Three Johns’. With contributions from First Aid Kit and Beck, as well as production from Ryan Adams (who also released an album of strong material this year after his own long hiatus), the album ranges from surf-inspired jams to New Wave sounds. An excellent addition to Lewis’ already stellar records.

ocms remedy

Old Crow Medicine Show — Remedy

The Virginia-based old-timey band turns in their strongest album since 2006’s Big Iron World. The songs are catchy, soulful, exuberant and vibrant. The album sounds like it could trace its way through the sounds of American history. Due to the band’s superb musicianship and boundless enthusiasm, the raunchy ‘Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer’ and breakneck pace of ‘8 Dogs 8 Banjos’ somehow manage to sound at home next to the to lamentations for dead soldiers and friends (both ‘Dearly Departed Friend’ and ‘Brave Boys’). A decade after the band turned a Bob Dylan sketch, ‘Wagon Wheel’, into a hit, they again collaborated with him on the new tune ‘Sweet Amarillo’. It sounds just as in place as their previous pairing.

eric church outsiders

Eric Church — The Outsiders

Like most country artists, this new country outlaw draws inspiration from every day life and the music around him. But unlike traditionalists, his influences range from the rock power-chords of Nirvana and the Clash to rap, which all show through in the Chief’s fourth full-length album. Church is by turns both melancholy and menacing, but also soulful and pop friendly. The contrasts of the album wouldn’t fit on almost any other country-rocker, but Church plays the hometown outlaw card so well it all adds to the mystique. You can tell Church loves his wife, NASCAR, beer, rock ‘n’ roll and his hometown. He’s not quite the outsider he pretends to be; just another good ol’ boy.

george ezra wanted on voyageGeorge Ezra — Wanted On Voyage

If you didn’t know this deep-voiced bluesy belter was a 21-year-old Bristol-based kid, you would swear he were a wizened old Southern soul, because, as the common phrase says, he has a ‘voice beyond his years’. Catchy tunes mix with weary-eyed wanderings to make this one of the best albums of the year. He’s a new musician to watch, with his debut album having already reached number 1 in the UK charts. His infectious wailing on songs like ‘Blame It On Me’ and ‘Cassy O’ belies a darker tone; ‘Lucifer’s inside’, he warns in ‘Did You Hear the Rain?’.

matthew ryan boxersMatthew Ryan — Boxers

The Pennsylvania-born raspy-voiced rocker delivers another soulful blend of brooding and hope in his latest outing. As the official bio for the record reads, it is an album that is a ‘growling missive in the modern wilderness, a defiant howl against complacency, despair and greed’. Furthermore, all the proceeds from the first single, ‘An Anthem For the Broken’, went to help his friend John Anderson fight ALS. The live recording, with minimal overdubs, can be felt in the energy and passion involved. With contributions from, among others, Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon on guitars, the album is drenched with a sonic ambiance that demands playing loud.

gaslight anthem get hurtGaslight Anthem — Get Hurt

In addition to helping his friend (and tour partner) Matthew Ryan record an album, Brian Fallon was busy with his own stellar collection of material. The new work reflected a career-shift of sorts for the band, in part inspired by Fallon’s divorce. The New Jersey-based rockers turned to Nashville for its new sound, with a few country touches mutely included in the overall sound. Though it doesn’t quite have quite the anthemic songs like ’59 Sound’ or ‘Handwritten’, it still delivers passion and a solid bunch of music.

dierks bentley riserDierks Bentley — Riser

Fun, loss, drinking, introspection; just some of the words that describe songs from Bentley’s seventh album. A mishmash of themes fill the collection, from wondering why all the ‘Bourbon in Kentucky’ can’t make him forget, so he takes a solo honeymoon and gets ‘Drunk On A Plane’ to remembrances of the trips he and his dad took in an old beat up truck. He also has fun in back porch parties with ‘good ol’ boys pickin’ six strings’. It’s not quite the ‘bro-country’ that tended to dominate the genre this year, though there are touches of the style tinged throughout. Bentley has grown as a musician since his early records, and this album shows his maturity and growth.

lydia loveless somewhere elseLydia Loveless — Somewhere Else

No one expects a 23 year-old to name-check, let alone write a song about, French symbolic poet Paul Verlaine (oddly, Eric Church also invoked him in a poem he recites on his album), but Lydia Loveless does so twice on her third album. With its songs inspired by feelings of love (‘Chris Isaak’), lust (‘Head’), anger and pain (‘Verlaine Shot Rimbaud’), Loveless shows her writing chops have only improved with each passing record. The depth and complexity of alt-country continues to show the genre has not yet reached its heights, with Loveless helping to lead the charge.

angaleena presley american middle classAngaleena Presley — American Middle Class

The final member of the critically acclaimed country group Pistol Annies to release an album, Angaleena Presley shows that the trio (whose members also include Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) is indeed a supergroup in the best sense. In her debut, Presley paints tales of truth of the American Middle Class. It deals with everyday problems in a new way, detailing the dangers of prescription drug abuse (in both ‘Pain Pills’ and ‘Dry County Blues’) as well as longing and regret (‘Grocery Store’, ‘Better Off Red’). Whilst the themes are well tread in country, Presley’s honest take removes the clichés.

laura cantrell no where there from hereLaura Cantrell — No Way There From Here

Her first album of original material in nine years, Cantrell delivers a beautiful one. The New York-based sometimes DJ sings songs that are deceptively deep, not just pretty. It’s a personal album but not-quite autobiographical, deep and textured but filled with lovely sounds. Indeed, as the opening track suggests ‘All the Girls Are Complicated’, a sentiment that rings true throughout the album. With songs that mix tempo, from hymnal to country ballad to almost flat-out rock, the music is interesting enough to keep the listener satisfied and coming back for more; perhaps enough to catch many of the deeper truths casual listeners won’t notice at first glance.

Honourable Mentions

tweedy sukieraeTweedy — Sukierae

I’m a huge Wilco fan. Their lead singer, Jeff Tweedy, released a ‘solo’ album, created along with his drummer son, Spencer, entitled Sukierae. Its twenty tracks, spread over two discs, is laconic, menacing, jazzy, avant-garde, precious and precocious. Rolling Stone described the album as ‘psychedelic folk’, as apt as any title. It takes a different path than would a ‘normal’ Wilco record (whatever that means from a band that constantly reinvents its sound), further proving that Tweedy is one of the best (and most under-appreciated) writers of his era.

wilco ahfWilco — Alpha Mike Foxtrot

Speaking of Wilco, they’ve now been around for an amazing twenty years. Though there were numerous personnel changes over the first ten years, for the past decade the band has had a solid lineup. In response to two decades together, they released both a ‘greatest hits’ double album, What’s Your 20, (though many tracks that weren’t included would be contested amongst Wilco enthusiasts) as well as a four-disc ‘alternative history’ of the band, as seen through demos, alternate versions, B-sides and live tracks, this Alpha Mike Foxtrot. Though almost everything on the compilation has been released on something (and I actually have almost all of it on various discs), this one collection is a boon nonetheless. It includes a rich 64-page set of liner notes detailing every song by Tweedy, with notes from band members and extended professional family. Since it’s not, strictly speaking, new material, I didn’t include it in my ‘best of’ list, though I will certainly enjoy it nonetheless.

gotg awesome mixGuardians of the Galaxy — Awesome Mix, Vol. 1

Also not technically a new album, this infectious soundtrack is still part of the honourable mentions because it’s so darn good. As great as the movie was, it would have suffered without the fantastic mix of songs presented here. I’m very much looking forward to what will be included in the Awesome Mix, Vol. 2 in the next installment of the movie.


Walk the Moon — ‘Shut Up + Dance’

It’s not an album, but this song has got to be one of the catchiest tunes of the year. I just can’t seem to get it out of my head. The video is a lot of fun, too. Enjoy.


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At the Dark End of the Street

I’m done!  Mostly.  I think…

I’ve completed a full revised draft of the entire thesis.  It’s even under the maximum word limit.  Mostly it’s good, with some very strong sections.  I have sent it off to my advisor for last comments.


This will be the second time my advisor has seen the complete draft.  He gave me some excellent feedback last week, which I incorporated into this latest revision.  I hope he doesn’t come back with anything more, as I would really like to submit soon.  Ideally Friday.

I’m mostly happy with everything.  Part of me wants to re-write a chapter completely, but that would take another few days or weeks (possibly months since term starts soon).  It’s not that it’s a bad chapter, as I do make the argument fairly well.  It’s just that it was the first chapter I wrote, back in year one.  It’s of course been revised, since my writing has improved since then, as has the specific focus of the dissertation.  It’s not out of place, it could just use some polishing.  The good news is I think that’s the worst thing that can really be said about the chapter.

I’m sure once the viva comes around there will be plenty of other issues that my particular writing style.  I can start worrying about that soon enough, though.  In the meantime I have classes to start teaching.

Next Monday is the start of term.    My first class is Tuesday.  It’s the introductory lecture so I don’t necessarily need the full hour-long content, but I want more than just a five-minute overview.  I’ll work up something between now and then (right?).  I’ve found the first term to be the hardest in terms of teaching.  Part of that is because everyone is readjusting from the summer break, getting used to new people and (for first years) living away from parental security and making the most of the university experience.  I’m sure there are other things, too; the point being, teaching in term one seems harder than the rest of the year.

I can, if necessarily, take up to another whole year to submit my PhD.  Apparently I’m actually registered through 2015, and my current visa lets me stay until some time in 2016.  My fellowship doesn’t require me to submit by the start of term, nor do I have to pay more tuition fees if I take a bit of extra time.  It’s more a personal issue.  I want to be done with this so I can focus on the next task.  Yes, I know I won’t be done with it completely until there’s a book published (heck, maybe not even then!) from it, but I’m ready for this aspect to be done.  There are a lot of offshoots from the thesis that I want to start exploring.  There are a bunch of new, unrelated topics that I would love to start researching.  I’m ready to move on.

I see the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter every day.  I know there’s plenty of other work to do to keep me busy, but those are other tunnels.  I’m getting to the end of this one.  I think.  Hopefully my advisor thinks everything is all right and ready to submit.  That would be great.  I might even dance.

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Reflections On Me

As you may remember from my last post a few weeks ago (sorry for the long wait) I had a few interviews last week.  After I wrote that post I got invited to another interview, as well, so I had three interviews in a three-day period.  I have to admit, I was a little nervous and excited at the same time.  I was also rather chuffed to even be getting these interviews without having submitted my PhD yet.


The good news is one of them turned into a job for next year! It’s only a part-time, one year (well, nine months) post, but it’s better than just running seminars for another year.  This helps improve the CV, gives me experience running my own course, giving lectures and actually writing/marking exams.  It’s also based at my current home institution, so I already know most of the staff and how things work should I run into any difficulties.  I also really like the subject area, which makes everything even better.  Of the three positions for which I interviewed it probably was the best suited to my current situation.

Which isn’t to say the other two posts wouldn’t have been good had I been offered them, but they would have entailed entirely different sorts of challenges.  My second interview was for a different, full-time position at my home university.  It would have been lecturing on two first-year core modules, one that will be going into its third year and is still working out all of the kinks.  Seeing as how I haven’t taught on either of the modules previously I would have had a lot of catching up to do.  They’re also large survey courses, covering concepts from early modern to contemporary history.  That’s a rather broad range to have a good grasp on.  The third interview was for a full-time lectureship at a university in Scotland, also based around my historical speciality in terms of time frame.  Had I been offered the position it would have, of course, entailed moving up to Scotland, only a year removed from moving to my current home.  It would have been a big adjustment.

Looking back on the entire process, though, I’m glad I had a chance to go through it.  Each interview was slightly different and asked different things of me.  They all asked about my teaching philosophy and style, whilst the first focused on how to deal with problematic students in class and what I could add to an existing course.  The second entailed defining a few key terms (which I don’t think I did very well) and how I would handle researching along with a full teaching load.

The third was perhaps the most informative, though.  As it was for a permanent post, not just a one-year fellowship, it was the most intensive.  I had to give a presentation about my current and future research and about courses I would bring to the institution.  That was in front of the departmental staff, so about eight to ten people.  After a few hours break where I got to walk around campus I then interviewed in front of a panel of six people, two of whom were from outside of the department and one who was the ‘moderator’.  They asked many of the ‘standard’ academic questions — why is my research important? what does it add to the field? what sort of impact can my research have? how would I fit into the university?, etc.  Some I answered well (I think), others I didn’t.  As I didn’t get the post I obviously didn’t answer enough of them well, which is fine.  I’m sure whoever did get the post will do a great job.  The feedback the department head gave me afterwards was quite useful, too.  He said that I didn’t do anything ‘wrong’, but at the interview stage it’s more about finding who is ‘most right’ for the university.  And he gave me some tips on how I can make the next interview even better.  I thought that was very nice.

I went into that interview not really knowing what to expect.  I hadn’t had an academic interview for a permanent post before, I didn’t know much about the school or the people and I wasn’t sure what I would get asked.  Having now gone through the experience, I can prepare for the next interview (hopefully for next year).  I’m guessing I shouldn’t say things like this comic.



In the meantime, I have a PhD to write and then lectures to prepare.  As such, I probably won’t be blogging much in the next few weeks.  Thanks for reading, and I’ll hopefully see you all again once term starts and I’ve submitted!

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We Have A Few Questions For You

I’ve been lucky enough (skilled enough? able to sell myself enough?) to be called in to interview for a few fellowships next week.  One is a full-time position teaching a few core first-year modules, the other is a half-time teaching an optional second-year module.  Both require giving lectures and running seminars, writing and marking exam scripts and other administrative duties.  Both would obviously be a good first step towards achieving a permanent position somewhere as they would help boost the CV.  They would also be good experiences in general, as I’ve run seminars and gave one guest lecture, but not run a course on my own.

I think my chances for either are good — I’m already in the department, I know a lot of the material in all the modules being offered and I have teaching experience.  My expertise lies more with the second-year optional module, but I’d like to think I know enough about the core modules that I could still take that position (should it be offered) with no problems. It’s just a matter of making it through the interview.



I’ve had interviews before; I’ve even given interviews as a manager at an old company.   But it’s been a while since I’ve been interviewed.  I technically had one for a part-time holiday position, but that was very informal and it felt more like a conversation than ‘interview’.  The store manager wasn’t even the one interviewing me, just two of the assistant managers.  The last proper interview I had was about four years ago when I got promoted to that manager position.  That’s a long time to go without practising those skills.  And yes, interviewing is a skill that needs practice.  Also, I’ve never had an academic interview, so I don’t know how different it is (or will be) to the corporate world.  I suppose the upgrade process was kind of an interview, though I don’t think it’s quite the same process.

In my first two years of my PhD my department hired new staff for permanent positions, and they all had to give 30 minute presentations about their past and future teaching/research goals.  I went to some of those, and they were very informative in terms of what to do (and not to do) in highlighting certain achievements.  After the presentation there was a brief Q&A session where the applicants fielded questions from the audience —  I suppose that’s a bit similar to conference questions.  But then they also had closed-door interviews, which I think made the biggest impression on the Head of Department (and anyone else in the interview).  I don’t have to give the 30 minute presentation, as the fellowships are one year contracts, but I do have to be in the interview.

I do know I have to talk about my teaching style and philosophy, but other than that I’m not sure what to expect.  I’m not even sure how many people will be conducting the interview, to be honest.  I don’t think I’ll be asked about my research goals over the next few years (hello, finish my PhD and try to get it published, maybe an article or two out of it!) as these are strictly teaching positions, but you never know.  Even if I am asked, I do have a few research goals in mind so I won’t be left completely stuck.

It’s exciting to get to this stage.  It’s also a bit terrifying, as so much is unknown.  I know there are lots of interview tips out there, and I’ll be sure to read many of them.  I might even ask my partner to help with a mock interview so I get used to answering questions again.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity and hope I can get one of the positions.  It’d be nice to be offered both then have to decide, but I don’t want to get my hopes/expectations up too much.

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Write like the wind (of conference papers)

Well, I’m off to another conference later this week.  I’ve written before about things to do and avoid at conferences but realised those were mostly about attending.  Now comes the post about writing and presenting a paper.

There are plenty of tips available online about writing conference papers.  My advice parallels with what has already been said, but hopefully adds something new, though it is mostly from my point of view.

I spent most of last week writing this paper.  It doesn’t normally take me more than a day or two to actually write and edit a paper, but for some reason I was struggling with this one.  Maybe it was because I have been more focused on finishing this PhD and finding something for next year that I just couldn’t focus.  Maybe it’s been the fantastic weather, and all I really wanted to do was go outside and enjoy the sunshine.  Maybe I subconsciously just don’t want to go to this conference.  I don’t know, all I do know is that I was struggling.  But that can be okay, actually.  A paper written in a day may not actually be as well thought or coherent as one that took a week.  It may have the rushed or lazy feel to it (almost as if it were an undergraduate essay written the day before it’s due whilst hung over).

I think the reason I was struggling with this paper was that I was having trouble finding the proper narrative story for it.  Sure, I had my abstract to go from, and I’ve done work on similar work in PhD chapters and other conference papers, but I was working on a new idea.  I just couldn’t figure out what that new idea actually was.  I like to picture conference papers as little stories.  They’re basically self-contained units that don’t require further referencing or any previous knowledge.  That doesn’t mean they can’t be well researched and have a good theoretical and methodological framework, it just means your audience doesn’t necessarily have to be well-versed in the intricacies of Kantian philosophy (for example) to understand the paper.  I was struggling with how to fit all the requisite theories and research into a coherent narrative that was interesting.  I think I finally managed it, but it was tougher than it normally is.

After my first draft I wanted to make sure it actually made sense from a different perspective.  Having someone else read it, therefore, is essential.  Ideally someone who either isn’t that familiar with your work (and therefore your assumptions) or your advisor; or both.  My partner read this draft.  She has read some previous papers/chapters, but is not an academic.  Nor does she have the in-depth musical knowledge that I have at my fingertips (stored in my synapses?), so if she understood all the references then I knew I was in good shape.  Thankfully it required very little editing in that sense.  But having her read it was important because I’m not completely sure it would have made sense to outsiders otherwise.

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham

I created a PowerPoint for this paper, which I don’t always do.  Don’t feel obliged to make one if it doesn’t really add to the paper.  The main reason I did was because I can play some of those music clips that are probably familiar but add just a bit more depth.  I do have to be wary about this, though, as I don’t want to go over my allotted time.

Which means I need to practice it.  Not only reading the paper checking for errors and whatnot, but reading it out loud to get the cadence and pronunciation right.  Also using the PowerPoint so that I’m not fumbling around going back and forth through different slides. I’ve found it useful to write SLIDE or SONG into the paper, knowing I won’t say it but to switch to the next slide.  You could also use numbers or extra paragraph breaks or some other form of reference.  This practising will also help with keeping to time.  Something I have found I do is use my hands a lot.  Not necessarily for emphasis or anything so useful as that, more that I swing them around.  Knowing this can help me keep track of them. Some people know they speak faster or slower, mumble or have their hands shake.  All of that comes from practising, too.

Now, hopefully this conference will be as fun as the others I’ve been to, and as informative. I guess I’ll find out this week, won’t I?

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To infinity, and beyond (next year!)

Ten weeks from now.  Ten!  That’s when I’m expecting to submit my PhD.  I’m terrified (rightfully, I think).  Not because I don’t think it’s very good, but because I’m worried about next year.

Like any good PhD student I’ve been applying for loads of positions for next year.  I’ve sent in my fair share of applications for postdocs, fellowships and bona fide full-time teaching positions.  My biggest issue, I think, with these lecturing positions for which I am applying is my actual lack of PhD yet.  It’s all well and good to say I’ll be submitting soon, but until I actually do I could just as well be lying.  So why would universities want to take a chance that I may or may not be completed by the start of term when one of the conditions of the job is having a PhD.  I understand the logic behind it, it makes perfect sense.  I just don’t like it.

Teaching Cat

It has left me worrying about what I will be doing next year. At least for the past three years I’ve known what to expect — work on my PhD, including researching, writing and revising.  For the past two years I’ve also been teaching a few seminars.  It’s great to have the experience (and the little bit of money it pays).  I’ve realised I quite enjoy teaching; and I think I’m fairly good at it.  But for all the great things teaching seminars have done, it has not led to a position next year.

Ideally I’ll find a full-time one year (well, more than one year ideally) postdoc or lectureship post at a different university (to help boost the CV) that actually pays decently. Worse case scenario is I teach a bunch of seminars at my current university on the typical temporary contract I’ve been working on recently and have absolutely nothing else.  Even that ‘worst case’ wouldn’t necessarily be that bad as some of the seminars are on a different course, so would diversify my teaching portfolio.  The biggest issue with that, of course, would be the amount of work required.  Not that I object to hard work, I quite like it.  But since I don’t live especially near my university, I would try to cram everything I need to do into one or two days on campus.  So six to eight hours worth of seminars, office hours, essay feedback (when appropriate), possibly other sorts of meetings, maybe going to workshops or other academic talks and getting whatever materials I would need from the library.  That doesn’t include the journey to or from campus, which, depending on which buses/trains I manage to catch, can take anywhere from two to four hours.

That doesn’t even include the time required for lesson planning, reading the literature for class, obtaining the required materials for handouts or presentations or marking.  If I have six classes, say, with an average of twelve students, that would be seventy-two essays to grade and, knowing my luck, all at the same time.  Or perhaps it would be six to eight weeks of continually marking twenty to thirty essays.  That might be worse, who knows.  Hopefully I’d have some time to do some of my own research/writing, too, whether that’s for articles or adapting my PhD into a book or something else completely.

I’ve got numerous applications out there and I’ve mostly heard ‘no’ from them so far.  There’s a few where I haven’t heard anything yet.  That not knowing, for me, is actually worse than hearing no.  The limbo of the unknown is filled with anxiety.  Do I get my hopes up about my chances?  Do I even think about it?  Do I start preparing for interviews?  How long do I wait until I email somebody about something?  There’s a few positions that are still open and accepting applications, so I’m not even really thinking about those (yet).

Obviously no one can predict the future or actually know what tomorrow can hold.  But I like to at least have an idea of what to expect.  If I have to do a bunch of reading for teaching six or more seminars, I’d like to know so I can read some of the material beforehand.  If I get a lectureship, at least I’d know something about the position.  If there’s a postdoc, that’d be great, too, because then I could focus on that project.  Not having any idea about any of them at the moment has left me a little scared.  Anyone have any advice or similar experiences?  Am I overreacting?  Am I under-reacting?  Am I just totally stupid and should instead focus on finishing this PhD to the best of my ability?  Well, yes, but that’s not the point…  It would be nice if I had some idea of how to plan for my future, that’s all I’m saying.

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Out of the door and down on the streets all alone

I had an interesting week last week.  My partner was away visiting her family, so I was alone for just over a week (well, alone with the cats).  It made me realise a few things about myself, working on a PhD and the struggles it involves.

My partner had gone away before during my PhD tenure, so that wasn’t necessarily new.  What was new, however, was that I had an office with which to work from home, there was great sporting events on and we weren’t based in Coventry where I could go to my office on campus.  This led to an interesting combination of probably watching too much sport and not necessarily getting enough writing/revising/editing done.

One of those reasons for not getting enough writing done was that I did actually go to campus one day during the week.  I had left some research and draft copies of old chapters back in the office and felt like I needed all the notes I had made to properly revise this current chapter.  So I went back pretty much just to collect that stuff.  I had one or two other minor things to do whilst in Coventry, but for the most part that was it.  I usually try to coincide my trips with something else — teaching, a supervision, a research seminar, etc. — so that I don’t feel like I’m spending most of the train traveling in vain, but the timing for any of that didn’t work out.  So I was pretty much on campus just to pick up those small things.  Thankfully I ran into a friend who shares my office, so at least I got to see a friend.

Back when I was living in Coventry and in the office every day, I saw him three or four times a week for a year.  Now I see him once or twice a month, if I’m lucky.  Probably even less now that teaching is over.  I miss the camaraderie we had, the constant discussion of music — he’s also a big fan, and writing his own thesis in a different aspect of music — and the constant tea outings.  It was a similar relationship with many of the others who shared the office with us.  When working there on a regular basis I might not have always got the most work done because of the tea and jokes in the office, but it was a very friendly atmosphere and we all supported each other.  We were all genuinely excited by the others getting accepted to conferences, finishing drafts, obtaining funding for a project or all the other things we do as PhD students.  Now, though, I’m hardly ever in that office, so almost never see any of them.  It’s not really the same atmosphere working in the local library or even my home office.  I might see a lot of the same people, but I’ve not had conversations with any of them.  It’s a lot more lonely now.  I’m also more easily distracted, checking email and Facebook and things because I think they might have posted something (they haven’t).

With my partner gone for over a week, this loneliness intensified and my work habits shifted time frames.  Usually I would make sure I’m awake and ready to arrive at the library when it opens, putting in a full day there, then coming home to spend time with her. Last week, though, I slept later, went to the library later, worked at home later and stayed up watching the sporting events (I was gutted with that US loss in the World Cup; it was a well-fought match.  Also, horrible news about Brazil’s Neymar.  I was also rooting for Federer in the Wimbledon tennis, who managed a good comeback but in the end couldn’t pull it out.  Alas.)  Not having to fit my schedule around someone else’s meant I could do what I wanted, when wanted.  There were numerous days when I started working just a bit later than normal, took a longer-than-normal break for lunch, watch a bit of the sport that was on, then continued working well into the evening; where on normal days I would have come home or left the office long before.

In some ways it’s nice working to a more flexible schedule; in others, not so much.  Mostly because I would convince myself that I would do it later, and whilst later always came, the work I promised myself I would do never did.  Having that other person around to help drive home mental deadlines was wonderful for me.  Whether it was the people in the office or my partner at home, having someone to work with or around is important for me.  Not that I can’t or won’t motivate myself to work when necessary, but it’s nice to have something to look forward to when coming home.  A full day’s work is more satisfying when someone at home shares in the success (or wallows in the misery, if necessary).  It was similar with office mates because we would encourage and challenge each other (well, I would be by them — ‘oh, you finished a chapter, I’ll do my own then!’ I would think).

Having friends outside of the PhD is great and necessary, too.  It’s not quite the same as a partner at home or people in an office (or even just the department) because they don’t quite understand the intricacies of PhD work, so don’t offer quite the same levels of encouragement (or rivalry), but they do offer something else vital.  Time away from the PhD.  Having a hobby outside of academia is fantastic, I highly recommend it.  Having one that involves other people (playing a sport, a member of a club of some sort, being in a band, volunteering at some event, whatever) is even better.  We all need people in our lives.  I’m lucky to share mine with a partner at home on a regular basis.  Those office mates weren’t so bad either.

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My Week In Entertainment

It’s been a busy week for me in terms of popular culture.  With the end of season four of Game of Thrones (don’t forget to read my review from last week) I’ve had to find other ways to keep myself entertained.  Thankfully there has been plenty over the past week to keep me busy!


The World Cup has been in full swing, so that’s many evenings sorted.  Admittedly, I’m not the biggest football fan in the world.  I really only watch during the World Cup, actually.  Which didn’t stop me from joining a pool betting on the winner.  Unfortunately, I drew Spain, so was pretty much out in the first few days when they were demolished by the Netherlands.  That was a game I had mixed feelings about.  Though I drew Spain in my pool, I was actually rooting for the Netherlands, as that was the first country where I lived abroad.  That experience was over ten years ago now (wow, I suddenly feel old!) but I have fond memories of the time.  I even went on holiday last year to visit old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since living there.  The point, of course, is that I’m happy the Netherlands won the match, though it did put me out a pound for the pool (big spenders, this pool group).  Of course, now with England out of the tournament I’m even more inclined to root for the Netherlands.  I do have a lot of friends and family in the US, so have some affinity for them, but I don’t expect them to get very far.  Did anyone watch that US-Portugal game a few nights ago?  They had one job during stoppage time, ONE JOB — don’t let Portugal score!  Good job, guys, you may have cost yourselves a chance to advance during that last-second slip.

In other sporting news, Wimbledon started this week.  There have been a few upsets already, as is typical, but nothing too major yet.  I don’t get much chance to listen/watch, actually, as I spend most days working on my PhD or related things (job applications, book reviews, etc.)  But I do read the recaps and keep up to date with the live scores.  On the men’s side I’m rooting, as always, for Roger Federer.  He may be on the down end of his career and not have the fear factor he had at his peak, but still can play some brilliant tennis.  I don’t expect him to win another Grand Slam, though, what with the level of competition over the past few years.  Novak Djokovic has been consistent at most of the majors recently, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he wins Wimbledon again.  The same goes for Rafael Nadal.  I don’t particularly like Nadal’s style of play and almost always root against him, but he definitely is a fantastic player whom you can never count out until he’s actually lost.  And he’s already shown that he’s not merely a clay court specialist, having completed the career Grand Slam, though he will always be remembered for his phenomenal success at Roland Garros.  How is losing only one match ever there possible?!  I do wonder if Andy Murray will be able to repeat last year’s triumph.  I doubt it as he hasn’t been playing particularly well recently.  On the women’s side, honestly I don’t care who wins as long as it’s not one of the Williams sisters.  I’ve never liked either of them so will always root against them.  I’m not supporting anyone in particular, though, as it’s hard to get attached to any player because there’s been so many different Major winners over the past few years.  The women’s tournament is always wide open, so I just sit and enjoy watching.


When not watching the wonderful summer sports, I managed to finally see a movie in the theatre, X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Overall I’ve had mixed feelings about the X-Men series.  I really enjoyed the first two films, didn’t like the third one at all, didn’t care to see any of the Wolverine films, and thought First Class was decent but not great.  This new film reunited the original cast with Bryan Singer — who directed the first two films — so I thought it had a good chance of being good.  And I did quite enjoy it.  Like with any comic book movie there were major plot holes and sometimes an over-reliance on special effects, but overall it was rather enjoyable.  It had the right mix of action, humour, adventure and characterisation.  I liked the contrast between how James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart played Professor Xavier; one being a surly punk, the other a reserved teacher.  I also really enjoyed the scenes with Quicksilver, showing how his powers seem to other people.  He’s basically a Marvel version of the Flash with the ability to move at almost supersonic speeds, so the super power isn’t that unknown in the comic book world, but it was fun to see on-screen.  Still, despite how much Wolverine was supposed to be the key to the film (and previews for it), Magneto and Mystique were the main players.  I’ve always found Magneto’s relationship with the world — and particularly Charles Xavier — to be fascinating.  Plus, I love his mutant power.  My biggest problem with the film, as it is with most time travel films, is that it basically reset the entire series.  Because Wolverine changed the past all that happened after it didn’t actually happen.  In some senses it seems a bit of a cop-out to effectively say the previous films are now null and void.  Ignoring that, however, the film was quite well done.


Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy

Finally, I’ve also been listening to a lot of music.  I’m progressing right along in my musical playlist (I’m now on K), and listening to new music via NPR’s ‘First Listen’ programme.  This week I’ve been enjoying Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album, Remedy.  Their blend of bluegrass, folk and country music has inspired many newer bands of a similar style (especially some of my current favourites like the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons).  This new album is probably their best since 2006’s Big Iron World.  It starts off strong with a few high energy songs, includes some slower ballads and brilliantly combines country and rock.  It’s a great album and I only wish they would tour the UK so I’d have a chance to see them.

In other music news, Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco, will be releasing a ‘solo’ album called Sukierae in September that I am really looking forward to hearing (you can stream ‘I’ll Sing It’ from the new album already).  His son, Spencer, plays drums on the album and they will playing at least one show in the UK in the autumn that I will hopefully be able to attend.

There’s plenty to keep me busy for the next few weeks this summer.  I’ve been enjoying listening to and watching the summer sporting events and thankful, as always, for new music.  It’s nice to have a few distractions from revising my PhD chapters (and applying for jobs).  Now, back to the revisions!


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Think of the Children! Game of Thrones Season Four

Yet another season of Game of Thrones has ended.  One of the most engaging shows on television has, for another year, left me wanting even more.  And, for the first time since the show began, I’m left wondering exactly what to expect.

Valar Morghulis

Having been a fan of the books for well over a decade, I’ve read all five books and waited (rather impatiently) for the next in the series to be released multiple times.  I’m now doing the same thing with the show, but it’s slightly different this time.

*Note, there will be some book spoilers below*

The show-runners have changed the events considerably from the books.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as sometimes the books were a bit bloated (I’m looking at you, Dance With Dragons!), but in doing things they have dropped numerous plots and characters.  They’ve also, of course, added some things that weren’t in the books at all.  In the season finale, for example, Brienne fought the Hound in a thrilling, awesome battle.  So far as I can remember in the books, Brienne never met the Hound, let alone fought him. Arya did still leave him broken and dying, but the situation was different.  Some of the changes the show has made, though, have been either to advance the chronology of the books or slow down some of the plot lines.

Most of Daenerys’ arc in series four of the show took place in book five (though there is still plenty left to tell next season), as did Bran’s.  In fact, the show pretty much left Bran in the same situation as the end of book five, so what will happen with him and the Children is a mystery to me.  I’m just thinking of how the Children will be incorporated further into the books and the show (see what I did there?).  On the other hand, there are still things from book three left for Arya and Jon Snow and the rest of the Night’s Watch.  There’s also a whole plot with Thoros of Myr that has been dropped from the show that happened it the later books.  With all the scrutiny and rumours about casting and the actors on the show, however, I can’t see this particular story appearing in the show, at least not with Catelyn Stark reappearing as she did in the books (see, I told you there’d be spoilers!).


What all this has left me wondering, then, is where is the show heading?  With the show posting record numbers of viewers (and illegal downloads), it has now officially become HBO’s most popular show ever.  Deservedly so, I think, since it has been fantastic.  The creators have also talked about how they want the show to last seven seasons (see these two Entertainment Weekly interviews, here and here that detail the end of season four and future possibilities for the show).  Seeing as how there are supposed to be seven books, two of which haven’t been written and released yet, the show is rapidly coming to the point where it overtakes the books as source material.  It has already done so with Bran, so in some respects I’m starting to feel like the people who can only react to the show (YouTube has some videos of people’s reactions to the Red Wedding and Viper and Mountain scenes which are hilarious).  I kind of like that feeling — exploring the unknown, awaiting each new episodes for its secrets rather than adaptation qualities and following these characters into uncharted regions (wow, that sounded a bit like Star Trek to me, but then again, I am a Trekkie, too).  I don’t think I’ll ever be as awestruck as the people in YouTube, though.  If you haven’t figured out yet that people — and often a favourite character — die off at a prodigious rate, you haven’t been paying attention.  Everyone dies, it’s just a matter of how George R R Martin does it.

There’s a excerpt from book six, Winds of Winter, available on Martin’s website.  Obviously there is more to the book, which I’ve heard rumoured won’t be published until at least 2015, but it can possibly satiate those of you who are eager for more.  I’m going to wait until the book is released to read it, though, for I want the context of where it fits into the story.  Of course, whether that makes it into season five (or maybe six) of Game of Thrones remains to be seen.  But I’m excited for all of it.


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