Welcome back to ‘Voices of Early Career Researchers’, a monthly feature on the French History Network blog. Each month we’ll post a short interview with an Early Career Researcher of French History, giving you an insight of the different paths that ECRs are following after their PhDs in and outside of academia: what do the lives of recently appointed lecturers, teaching assistants, post-doctoral researchers or teaching fellows etc. look like? How does one transition from PhD to the post-doctoral years? We invite our interviewees to share their experiences and we hope that the conversation carries on in universities, conferences and social media.
Stacie Allan completed a PhD (2016) and MAs in European Literatures and Translation at the University of Bristol, and a BA in French at the University of Liverpool. She has previously taught at the universities of Bristol and Westminster. Stacie currently works in university administration at the University of Oxford, but is still actively engaged in research and applying for academic jobs. Her first monograph Writing the Self, Writing the Nation: Romantic Subjectivity in the Works of Germaine de Staël and Claire de Duras will be published by Peter Lang in 2018. Stacie tweets @thissideof25 and occasionally blogs on her personal website.
Could you tell us a little about your PhD?
My doctoral research asked three key questions: what did it mean to be French after the Revolution? How did it differ for men and women? And how did writers capture these evolving definitions of gender and nationhood? My analysis focused on the literary and political writings of two early nineteenth-century authors, Germaine de Staël and Claire de Duras. I argued that Staël and Duras translate their experiences of exile, alienation from France’s new regime and disconnection from their past lives by writing the self through agents and sites of otherness. This research had a broad thematic reach, extending beyond the two authors’ significant yet hitherto unexplored intertextual relationship to examine narrative and its relationship to nation-building; spaces of and strategies for female political engagement; and transnational cultural and historical exchanges. I submitted my thesis in August 2016, had my viva the following month, and then started my current role in university administration in October 2016.
Could you tell us about your current position(s) and how you are finding it so far?
I consider myself a blended academic who wears a few different professional hats whilst keeping up my research. My main job at the moment is Staff Development Officer at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford. The role has two main focuses: leading on the preparations for the department’s forthcoming Athena SWAN application and organising new provisions to aid staff’s and student’s personal and professional development. I have a long-standing interest in equality issues in higher education, having worked extensively on widening participation and fair access schemes throughout my studies, so I was initially attracted to the Athena SWAN side of the role. After spending the four years of my PhD thinking about gender, it is great to be able to put some of those critical perspectives into practical application. The job was a new role, so I have been able to shape it myself, incorporating some of my own interests and drawing on the experiences that I’d built up over the course of my PhD, like events management, outreach, and running academic skills sessions. I host regular writing groups and I am organising some public engagement events on challenging myths about gender and the brain for this year’s International Women’s Day. Some aspects of the role have been particularly rewarding: I set up a fund to help staff offset the costs of paying for extra care when attending professional development events and conferences.
Alongside this role, I picked up some part-time teaching last year, and I work as a freelance translator, occasionally for academic clients and regularly for Amazon. Life is often a bit of balancing act! The Amazon work consists of translating product descriptions — everything from mobile phone covers, lawn mowers, and ukuleles, which means some of the vocabulary can be quite technical. I have some great examples of tricky translation problems if I do get an academic job and need to teach French language!
How have you managed to keep publishing while working in teaching and administration roles?
When I realised that I wasn’t going to secure an academic job straight after my PhD, I decided to look for part-time administrative roles, so I could strengthen my publishing profile whilst developing professionally and gaining some (much-needed) financial stability. I was lucky to find a 0.6 role (three days a week), fixed term for two years. This meant I could dedicate two days to my research (I tend to do my translation work in the evenings) and delay making any firm decisions about my career.
Working in university administration, I still have access to libraries and other online resources, which has been a huge help for converting my PhD into a book and building towards a postdoctoral project. I take advantage of the university’s flexible working policies and I can switch around my days in the office if I want to attend a conference. I am also more at liberty to take annual leave when I need to than I would be in an academic role. For example, in the lead up to the deadline for the manuscript of my monograph, I took a couple of days off to focus on the submission. Nevertheless, to make the most of my research days, I need to be really focused and not use the time for life admin. I allocate my time carefully, planning my work in twelve-week blocks and setting monthly and weekly goals.
Using annual leave for or spending evenings and weekends on research that I’m not being paid for is a personal decision. Lately, I have started to question why I am doing it and for how long I want to carry on if I don’t secure an academic post. For the time being though, I am still finding my research intellectually nourishing and it is allowing me to keep my career options open.
What advice can you give to ECRs looking for research and teaching jobs?
Research and teaching job applications and interviews are exhausting: having to deal with online systems that often don’t adapt well to academic posts; reformulating your material over and over to suit the specifics of the job description and different application formats; and investing the necessary time and energy into thinking about how your interests would fit into existing teaching programmes, who you would have research links with, and which academic groups you’d like to be involved with. Not to mention day-long interviews with those awkward lunches in the middle! Learning how to pitch yourself is really important. Think about it from the two sides: how can you fit in with the department and what it requires from the role and what can you uniquely contribute in terms of research, teaching, and citizenship?
I would also recommend reaching out to people when you need specific advice. For example, in preparation for a job interview last year, I emailed four different academics, two of whom I’d never met, out of the blue to ask questions about teaching a particular text for my presentation. Everyone kindly replied with lots of helpful comments.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
From talking to friends in a variety of positions, the years after a PhD are undoubtedly hard for everyone: hard for those who are struggling to get jobs; hard for those who have heavy teaching loads in short-term posts; and hard for those who manage to secure the much-coveted lectureships. It’s important to build up a strong support network while you’re a student, especially as institutional connections and resources can often disappear at short notice once you’ve graduated. Look beyond your university and find people with similar research interests who can provide an informed and critical eye and a sympathetic ear.