Some ECR chat

It is a year and a day since I last posted. I had just begun working as a Teaching Fellow in the University of Aberdeen. What a year 2013 turned out to be. I designed and coordinated an Honours course on Cinema and the American Avant-garde, and taught on the Introduction to Visual Culture and Cinema and Revolution courses. There were personal and professional difficulties, but I made the most incredible friends anyone could hope for, and learned so much about teaching, learning, and life. The six months flew in all too quickly, and I moved back to Belfast at the end of June (just in time for marching season, of course). I'd have liked to have travelled a bit, but Aberdeen is an expensive city to live in and I knew I wouldn't have income again until November as I had been offered a similar full-time fixed term position at Queen's, so back to my ma's it was.

What a summer. I had decided to save my earnings and eke them out until I was working again rather than sign on. I spent the summer putting together job applications, slogging it out with publications, and generally making a nuisance of myself in Belfast's art galleries, libraries, and cafes (and the odd pub). I got involved with the Learning Experiment at Platform Arts as an instructor and learner, the FIX 13 performance art biennial as a volunteer performer and workshop facilitator, and the Bbeyond performance art collective as a kind of friend, researcher, and increasingly, a performer. Over the three months I worked on article corrections and the edit of my book manuscript. It was such as great feeling when my summer labours bore fruit and in October I finally became REF-returnable with the publication of two peer-reviewed articles in international journals, one of which had been three and a half years in the making (longer than my PhD).

Autumn came and I faced a huge decision. I had received the contract for the book project almost a year before, and had extended the deadline once already. My aim to complete it by the end of September 2013 was much too ambitious. After so many years of constantly being pushed to its limits, my brain declared 'no more' when the spring teaching finished. It took a while to recover, and rest was paramount over the summer too. The full-time teaching refined my critical eye significantly, and I was unhappy with my PhD thesis. To me it needed much more work than people insisted it needed, including my ever-supportive supervisor. If it was going out into the world, then it had to be bloody good. Yes, it's my first book and I'm a young pup yet in this game of academia, but it is part of me and I want to be proud of it no matter what. The reality was, the REF cycle was ending, I might be in with a better chance of landing a job when this visiting lectureship at Queen's ends in January, and I'm sick of my CV saying 'contract secured' instead of 'at press'. In September I was preparing to take on all of the teaching duties for three modules, including an MA module on Film Aesthetics. A lot of work. In what can only be described as a moment of determined madness, I set my new deadline for the manuscript as 30 November, and you know what? I nailed it. At the time I was as happy as I could be with it, and within the constraints there is nothing more I can do. It is not set in stone, I'm waiting to hear back from my commissioning editor about the review of the manuscript, but all being well it will be out in the late spring/early summer. I have never yearned for a break at Christmas more in my life. This year, I finally had one.

Right now I'm working on job applications, mainly research fellowships for now as the market is lean, and I'm finding it odd how you have to repackage yourself and your research each time to meet the criteria. I've lost count of how many projects I've drummed up, become excited about, then lost to the ether of countless rejection emails. It must be said, it is a useful experience, and a good way of revving that engine of the mind, but it has made me think about how much we can be shaped by external forces beyond our control. I'm not clever enough or in the right subject area to write a successful application for a project I am burning to embark on, so my evolving specialisms will likely be dictated by whatever institution is willing to give me a go next. I'm adaptable, always looking for new challenges, and my research is cross-disciplinary, so in a sense this suits me very well. However, I feel like I'm losing sight of my own identity as a researcher too. If things had been different when I was schooling, I think I would have wanted to study medicine and become a 'proper doctor' wielding a scalpel instead of a laptop. I'm still tempted to run away and become a palaeontologist. Lately I've been seeing more and more how twofold my work is. On one hand I'm working with the legacies of the Troubles, surface and buried, and on the other hand, I'm identifying how issues stemming from the conflict experienced by my home region become more like detached objects seen in different framings that are to be critically analysed. I'm not sure how I feel about that, or if it makes sense. Something tells me that this confusion is part of larger tendencies in visual culture, and indicative of that growing tension between how we remember and how we archive representations of what we remember. And in a way, this blog post only serves to perpetrate the implications that arise from the process of archiving memories.


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