2021 Academic Job Boot Camp

Academic Job Boot Camp – Monday 6th September 2021, online event.

History UK is pleased to be running the Academic Job Boot Camp again this year, following a forced hiatus in 2020. All early career historians are encouraged to apply, with preference being given to those who have already completed or submitted their PhDs.

  • Are you thinking about applying for your first lectureship in history?
  • Submitting applications and never hearing back?
  • Wishing you could have a ‘test run’ for job applications and interviews?

The Academic Job Boot Camp is a free half-day event for early career historians, sponsored by History UK and supported by History Lab Plus. It will help you to structure your academic CV, hone your cover letter, rehearse your job presentation, and undergo a mock interview, as well as demystifying some of the processes around academic recruitment. The experience, feedback, and advice that you receive at the event is intended to improve your chances the next time you apply for an academic job.

How will the boot camp work?

This event simulates all stages of the job application process, up to and including being interviewed as a shortlisted candidate. You will be interviewed by experienced academics drawn from universities nationwide. You will also deliver a job presentation to other early career historians.

You will receive feedback on your academic CV and cover letter, interview, and presentation. You will also have the opportunity to observe how others approach the job application process, providing peer feedback and support. The event will end with a roundtable discussion, offering the chance to ask questions of academics who have been involved in university recruitment – as well as chatting and networking with others in similar positions to you.

Due to the pandemic, in 2021 this event will take place entirely online. However, many universities were already moving towards introducing online elements to the job application process before the pandemic, so experience with this kind of format is likely to be useful in the future.

You can read posts about the job boot camps from previous years here, here, here and here.

 

Outline Itinerary (all events to take place online, exact timings TBC):

1-1.15: Welcome.

An introduction to the event and History UK from Simon Peplow, Early Career Researcher representative for History UK.

1.15-3.45: Presentation or Job Interviews. 

During the afternoon you will be asked to participate in four activities:

  1. a 30-minute interview; you will be informed of the exact time of your interview on the day.
  2. observe a 30-minute interview; the time of this will also be made clear to you on the day.
  3. give a 5-minute presentation, followed by 3-4 minutes of questions; led by an experienced academic in front of other early career historians who will provide written feedback.
  4. observe presentations from other attendees, ask questions and provide written feedback.

3.45-4.00: Break.

(As an online event, the obligatory tea/coffee break will unfortunately have to be self-catered!)

4.00-5.00: Roundtable discussion and advice for navigating the academic job market.

 

This online event is free and sponsored by History UK and History Lab Plus.

To participate, you will need to apply for an imaginary lectureship in a real history programme. Please read the job advert for the Imaginary Lectureship in History here https://bit.ly/3iqVhWn, then submit a letter of application and academic CV to Simon Peplow (Simon.Peplow@warwick.ac.uk). Please also contact Simon if you have any questions.

The deadline for your application is noon on Friday 20th August 2021.
The online event will take place on Monday 6th September 2021.

 

Research Resilience – Call for Contributions

History UK and The National Archives’ Higher Education Archive Programme (HEAP) are teaming up to explore how archivists and historians have adapted their research projects and ways of working as a result of closures and restrictions on access. We are currently inviting expressions of interest in contributing case studies and more general reflections:

Research Resilience

Panel discussion and networking: Wednesday 21 April 2021, 2-4pm (online)

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS

Photo of researcher at The National Archives, following social distancing measures
© The National Archives

The circumstances of 2020-1 have exacerbated pre-existing challenges across our sectors, particularly in terms of access to archive and library materials. Yet it’s also shown us innovation, resilience, and the importance of mutual learning by archivists and historians alike.

History UK and The National Archives’ Higher Education Archive Programme (HEAP) are inviting reflections on the ways archivists and historians have adapted research projects and practices as a result of closures and social distancing. The aim is to explore how changes made for COVID-19 can and should be used to address longstanding issues of accessibility and equity, and to provide practical guidance for those needing to reframe or rethink their research. We want to hear about your personal experiences, as well as creative solutions and thoughts on how to make them sustainable.

We plan to compile a series of blog posts and videos of experiences to help us and our communities explore and build on what we have learned about a blended approach to research and collections access. These will be shared online in advance of a Research Resilience event, in which we will come together to discuss, network, and learn from each other.

We are inviting expressions of interest in writing a short blog post or video on your experiences of having to rethink research and/or access to collections. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • approaches to reframing research projects, whether as a result of COVID-19, or because of caring responsibilities, disability, or structural barriers
  • practical and sustainable ways of making archive and/or library materials more accessible
  • ideas for breaking down barriers between researchers and archivists

No need to be an expert, just able to capture your experience and try to join us at the event itself for questions and discussion.

Send a brief (c.100 words) overview of the experience you’d like to share to historyuk2020@gmail.com by 5pm on Friday 29 January. If this deadline is too soon, let us know – we can be flexible.

Please note that we may have to review the timing of the event if pandemic measures seem likely to compromise attendance levels or our ability to run it effectively.

History UK Pandemic Pedagogy fellowship

At the beginning of June, History UK launched a ‘Pandemic Pedagogy’ initiative to help support historians move out of the ‘emergency’ phase of online teaching and start planning for a remote and socially-distanced campus in the Autumn. The aim is to produce short, user-friendly, and practical guides than can inform planning, including:

  • An overview of tools for online teaching – an annotated list introducing various digital tools people may have heard of but not used
  • An introduction to various ways of staging digital small-group interactions
  • A page on tools and strategies for collaborative close ‘reading’ and annotation of ‘texts’

History UK is seeking a postgraduate student for a fixed-term fellowship to support the initiative. The History UK fellow will conduct desk-based searches of websites, blog posts, and social media for relevant case studies, reports, and other practical guides. They will write clear and concise summaries of their findings to help inform the resources that History UK will produce and curate, and attend virtual team meetings. They will be encouraged to write a blog post for the History UK website on a topic of their choosing (relevant to the initiative), and may also be required to assist in the organisation of an online ‘Pandemic Pedagogy’ roundtable.

The fellow will be expected to work flexibly for 50 hours in total over four weeks, starting on Wednesday 17 June, or soon after. All work needs to be completed by Wednesday 15 July. The renumeration for the fellowship is fixed at £750.

Person specification:

  • A postgraduate student (MA or PhD) in History, or a related subject, based at a higher education institution in the UK
  • Strong research skills
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and with minimal supervision
  • Excellent organisation, project management skills, and attention to detail
  • Expertise and interest in pedagogy (preferable)
  • Experience of writing for the web (preferable)

To apply:

Send a CV of up to two pages and a one-page cover letter to pandemicpedagogy2020@gmail.com. In the cover letter you should explain why you are interested in the role, how you meet the person specification, and what you will bring to the initiative.

The deadline for applications is Thursday 11 June at 2pm.

Applications will be reviewed by the team working on the Pandemic Pedagogy initiative: www.history-uk.ac.uk/2020/06/03/history-uks-pandemic-pedagogy-initiative-starts-today and the successful candidate notified by the end of Monday 15 June.

Mental health and wellbeing in the history and heritage PhD community – three of three

In my previous post, the second in this series, I showcased some research into how social media is used by emerging and established academics, and used my own experiences to highlight how it does, or could, enhance the accessibility, for PhD students with a mental health issue, of some typical research activities. In this final post I’ll explore the other side of this coin by asking: What are some of the obstacles to using social media for this purpose? I’ll also share my parting thoughts about what we might do, as active participants in the HE community, to move towards a more inclusive environment for PhD students experiencing mental illness. 

Barriers to Inclusivity 

Although my own experiences of using social media during my PhD have had largely positive impacts on my mental wellness, I have also encountered some barriers to inclusivity. The first involved a Twitter exchange, where I had asked if it would be possible to speak at a subject-specific PGR forum by video-link. On that occasion the group didn’t feel confident to accommodate the request, which highlights a barrier also referred to by several of the scholars I have drawn on in my previous posts.  

“We don’t know how to do that…” 

Nandez and Borrego, Rowlands, and Boté all point to skills being a barrier to social media use among academics. Rowlands et al in particular provide evidence that social media use is greatest among those who identify as being an ‘innovator’, or ‘early adopter’ of new technologies. As a self-professed geek I would certainly put myself into one of these two categories, which is why I felt confident to set up the live stream of my original conference paper on this topic. But I recognise that not everyone shares this confidence, and that, in the face of the range of social media available, the desire to develop skills may well be tempered by feelings of being overwhelmed.  

Rowlands’ study also shows, though, that academics tend to be selective in the platforms they use (with almost two-thirds using only one or two tools) – suggesting perhaps that we don’t need proficiency in all platforms, but rather an awareness of the ones which are (to borrow a phrase) ‘trending’. 

“We don’t feel comfortable doing that…” 

I’ve already touched on this in my earlier comments about Bennett and Folley’s work on managing a hybridised digital identity, and my own insecurities about sharing too much about works in progress online – even to would-be collaborators. But, again, Rowlands’ work is pertinent here in highlighting that a lack of clarity about the benefits of social media constitutes a barrier to employing it for research purposes, in some cases.  

Like me, Bennett and Folley self-censored their digital selves to ‘fit’ their ideas of how others perceived them. They too were anxious about revealing their weaknesses or gaps in their knowledge, and fearful of receiving a critical reception. This aligns with Pantic’s findings on social networking and mental health, which suggest that inaccurate perceptions of others online (part of what we might call ‘Imposter Syndrome’) can contribute to reduced self-esteem in those who are predisposed to psychiatric illness. 

“We don’t have time for that…” 

Time to acquire skills and build familiarity with tools, and time to integrate social media into the research workflow are both highlighted as issues in studies of social media use among academics. Nandez and Borrego’s work on Academia.edu in particular demonstrates that academics’ intended use of the platform was greater than their actual use; suggesting perhaps that it seemed like a good idea at the time but was demanding to put into practice. The comments on their survey confirmed that this was in part due to respondents being ‘time poor’.  

As I mentioned in my earlier post, juggling ‘work’ and ‘social’ uses of social media can also be seen as a challenge. This has also been linked with time management by Leon and Pigg, who observe that “[digital multitasking can] evoke strong affective responses”, including guilt and shame, among graduate students. Such feelings can, of course, be indicators of mental unwellness.  

What can we do? 

So, what can we do to move towards a more inclusive environment for emerging academics, in which digital technologies play a part? 

I think that what my experiences, and the research that I have presented in this blog series shows is that social media are not simply tools for socialising among digital natives’ or sharing photographs of one’s dinner. They impact upon a broader range of research practices than I had appreciated before I began reflecting on my experiences, and in more nuanced ways. Likewise, I hope that I’ve been able to show mental health in a more nuanced light – not only a “crisis” affecting PhD students and HE institutions, but also a way of life, day-to-day for a significant section of the research community, whose needs might (in some cases) be addressed simply, by subtle extensions to existing practice, and by seeing social media and ‘traditional’ research practices as complementary bedfellows, rather than options to choose between. If I could offer any advice on what might be done to effect change then, it would, humbly, be this: 

  • Seek to understand the nuances of social media in heritage and other humanities PhD research; their potential, and their potential pitfalls 
  • Resist seeing social media and ‘traditional’ research practices as an either/or situation requiring a polarised choice; take an holistic view which values each for its own contribution to the academy 
  • Prioritise development of social media competencies and understanding around social media/mental health relationships (both positive and negative) within organisational strategy, in order to ensure that the mental health challenges of the present lead to a healthier, more inclusive research environment in the future. 

Above all though, I think that a lot can be achieved – in digital literacy and in mental health – by advocating for three things: 

Understanding the needs and potential for growth. 

Daring to talk. 

And challenging existing practices, to bring about change. 

Mental health and wellbeing in the history and heritage PhD community – two of three

Following on from my previous post, which summarised some of the scholarly work on the relationships between academia, social media, and mental health, in this post I’d like to look a little more at how emerging academics like myself might use social media in the research workflow. I’ll also use illustrative examples from my own experiences to highlight some of the pros and cons of social media to a PhD student with a mental illness, in order to address the questions: What are some of the challenges to inclusivity for PHD students with a mental illness? And how do social media intersect with this?  

Social media and research 

‘Social media are used at all points of the research cycle, from identifying research opportunities to disseminating research results.’ Nández and Borrego (2013)  

As the above quotation makes clear, social media are used broadly by researchers, at all stages of the research cycle. Here I’ll highlight six areas of the research workflow which tally most closely with my own experiences. 

Information seeking 

Accessibility of sources is obviously crucial to research. Studies on information seeking and libraries science suggest that this access is being increasingly strengthened as publishers invest in digital solutions. According to Tenopir et al, e-journals are now the most common source for reading articles – with “even 42% of historians” using them most days, according to one paper. The reader must interpret that quotation as they will! 

Likewise, the growth in digital archive collections (such as that of the International Bomber Command Centre), and in digitised object collections facilitated by 3D recording technologies (particularly where these are open-source) enhances accessibility of cultural heritage, and encourages a more inclusive mode of collaboration between those who study it.  

E-journals and digital archives – where the interaction can be one-way – might not be considered truly social media (whose defining feature is two-way communication between peers), but with e-reading platforms now facilitating mark-up directly through the publisher’s website, and learning technologies such as Talis Elevate encouraging collaboration with others at the point of reading sources, I think an argument can be made for interaction with e-content as a social media activity. 

Networking and collaboration 

Nandez and Borrego found in their 2013 study that researchers signing up to academic social media platform Academia.edu did so to connect with other researchers in 67% of cases. This is supported by Rowlands et al in relation to a broader range of social media platforms, the most popular of which were those to facilitate collaborative authoring, conferencing, and scheduling meetings – i.e. tools to allow researchers to connect with one another. 

But while Rowlands observes that “social media tools allow [researchers] to listen to ‘different voices’”, the drawbacks of having a limited social media presence, of working in a niche field, and the risks of operating in what we might call an academic echo chamber also need to be considered. Despite the statistics quoted in my previous post about the level of social media use among arts and humanities researchers, my impression of the PhD community on Twitter, at least, is that researchers engaged with that platform predominantly align with STEM subjects. As a history and heritage researcher, I sometimes feel in a minority.  

To relate this to my own experiences of inclusivity: The recently new phenomenon of the Twitter conference is one of the things that inspired me to investigate my life as an anxious, social media active researcher. As I find it challenging to attend large social events, particularly where they involve a lot of travelling, Twitter conferences like that organised in 2017 by Institute of Conservation member Pieta Greaves (search on Twitter for #IconTC, but also #PresTC and #PATC for other examples) allow me to engage specifically with scholars and research in my fields of interest at reduced anxiety levels, and reduced cost. The permanence of material means that I can re-visit it at a pace that suits my state of health, and I find that I feel more confident approaching people that I consider ‘experts’, or more senior researchers, online than I would in person. 

Similarly, efforts by organisations or groups (such as the University of Lincoln’s Doctoral School and most recently the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) to set up webinars, recordings, or live video streams of content such as conferences, CPD or professional forums, are valuable in enabling me to participate in development opportunities, or to be heard alongside my peers. 

Dissemination 

Although the traditional dissemination pathways of journals, conferences and so on remain valuable to academics, social media are expanding as complementary channels according to Rowlands et al. Rowlands and others, though, point to some implications and challenges arising from these alternative forms of dissemination, including the knock-on effects that might be felt by publishers or librarians from social media channels being arguably less formal and, for example, less easily archivable.  

From a personal point of view, though, I find that I want to share my work online, and I want to use that to invite feedback and collaboration, but also that I have some unanswered questions. If I chat with other researchers at a conference the interaction is transient; if I do so online there is a permanence, and a lack of control over how my words and ideas are archived or shared, which makes me uncomfortable about what – and to what level – I disseminate works in progress especially. I feel that I don’t understand issues of intellectual property enough, as they apply to social media, to have confidence in making my work more visible in the public sphere. 

Career Trajectory 

In sharing their own experiences of social media use as PhD students, Liz Bennett and Sue Folley have written that a student’s digital identity “is entwined with their potential to gain employment”. This is supported by Boté, in a recently published book on library practice for graduate students, and by Nandez and Borrego, who found that a “higher proportion of students [and] postdocs used the service [Academia.edu]” to disseminate their curriculum vitae, compared to established academics. 

Building and maintaining a digital reputation is seen as important in developing employability, and while Van Zyl points to the benefits of social networking in doing this (for example, public recognition and reward for contributions through likes and shares), Bennett and Folley highlight the hybridised nature of their digital identities – part student, part teaching professional / part novice, part expert – and how this left them feeling conflicted about what content to share online. As an Associate Lecturer in my subject area, as well as a PhD student, this heightened sense of having the ‘right’ digital identity is certainly something I can empathise with. 

Peer Support 

Even though they don’t focus on their mental wellbeing specifically, the work of Bennett and Folley is rich with key words relating to mental health issues – anxiety, stress, fear, imposter syndrome, and so onsuggesting that even where a mental health problem has not been diagnosed, the sensations can nevertheless be part of the PhD student experience. 

While psychiatrists are conflicted about whether social media use increases or decreases isolation, some recent studies have found that reaching out online leads to “feelings of group belonging” among those with mental illness. And Inger Mewburn, an authority on the research student experience, advocates for ‘troubles talk’ (communication exchanges “where one or more people gather to tell stories of situations that have caused some kind of discomfort or disruption”) as being effective in helping “PhD students to negotiate and manage the precarious process of ‘becoming academic’”.  

Likewise, Garrison, Anderson, and Archer – although writing in 2000, before the advent of many social media platforms – point to the most successful educational experiences arising from connecting with others socially, as well as cognitively. Although, according to Leon and Pigg (2011) students can “struggle with the tension” between using social media for ‘pleasure’ and ‘work’, this evidence perhaps suggests defining our boundaries more fluidly, and recognising the palliative value of talking about things other than our PhDs. Let’s be honest: how many of us start conversations at PGR networking events with “So what are you studying?” rather than “Have you travelled far today?” or even good old How do you do?”? Perhaps we should be more mindful. 

In my own experience, interacting with others on Twitter particularly (e.g. following and contributing to the hashtags #AcademicChatter and #PhDChat) has brought me into contact with others with whom to share my triumphant, and not-so-triumphant moments, and has allowed me to extend the reach of my profile as a researcher beyond the confines of the University. Something which is otherwise a challenge, given my mental health triggers and symptoms. 

 

While this post has focused on the potential for inclusivity afforded by social media, and the mostly positive impacts that I have felt from its role in my own PhD research, there are nevertheless barriers to using social media for enhanced inclusivity that must also be considered. My third, and final post will draw out a few of these, before suggesting what we might do to move towards a more inclusive environment for PhD students experiencing mental health difficulties.