Hello 2019! It’s good to meet you on this very frosty morning. Coffee in hand (a favourite Fixie blend from Monsoon Estates), flavoured with a generous dollop of leftover extra thick brandy cream, it’s time to map what’s ahead (from Monday!). What’s my next chapter (realising this could easily be misunderstood in academia as actual book chapters)? Where in the world will it take me? Which city will be my next “home”? Answers are plural, as you are about to find out. Cue “you wait ages for a bus” analogy…
At the end of last year, I was finding it difficult to see my path after graduating from such monumental qualifications (PhD and MEd) and completing my second fixed term contract at the University of Melbourne. I’d arrived at a crossroads, trying to work out whether to stay in academia, based on my career trajectory to date, or step away into roles in the arts and cultural industries. Historically, I’ve always balanced the two side-by-side but this felt like a different moment in time, as academic jobs have become harder and harder to secure, shown by my personal set of statistics below. In my opinion, this is a true reflection of the current hyper-competitive environment for Early Career Researchers/Academics (globally).
In the last decade, I’ve worked at 6 universities/HEI’s in 3 countries (UK, China and Australia), all on zero hour or short, fixed term contracts (some running back-to-back) – always happy with the opportunity and experience, but not the insecurity and precarity (the latter rarely acknowledged by the institution). This was alongside further study and continuing professional development, and doesn’t include endless guest lecturing. Does this sound like a familiar story to any readers? In the last year alone, I’ve completed 20 job applications (across Higher Education and arts and culture) from which I’ve been invited for 5 interviews (that’s a 25% success rate on interviews for 2018, which I think it pretty good!). When submitting the last application, I’d begun to acknowledge the (emotional) labour exerted – exhausting and self-questioning – and was ready for a break. The applications took investment – time, research, planning and, most importantly, strength and resilience (much like being in academia/the academe itself) – all squeezed in around work commitments. [I’ll write a blog post with my job application tips soon.] I said to myself, this would be the last application I’d submit for a while, where a six-month break lingered in the back of my mind to just let the world guide me. However, the funny thing is, this (final) application got me an interview and the interview got me THE job (when I say “THE” I mean the right role in my field – part-time and permanent). So, is a decade the average timescale to get a permanent position? [Surely, research on this must exist in the world?]
I am pleased to say I have accepted a part-time, permanent role as Lecturer in Practice-based Research at the University of the Arts London (UAL). I will be teaching across subjects including ‘Research through Practice’ and ‘Introduction to Practice as Research’ along with research project supervision on the MA Academic Practice in Art, Design and Communication as part of UAL’s Teaching and Learning Exchange, working with staff and students from across UAL’s six colleges. So if any of you work (have worked) or study (have studied) there, please get in touch! I’d love to hear about your experiences over coffee (or drink of choice). ManaXi made me wear a ceramic “thumbs up” badge to promote positivity in my interview, given to me as a thank you gift by one of my students whom I supervised through her thesis at the University of Melbourne (thanks Christa!). I’m not sure if the interview panel picked up on this?! Also, I’m pointing out it says “Women on Top” in the background of the photograph I took on my interview day (where no question mark is needed afterwards).
This is the first job to which I have fully disclosed my hidden health condition (HHC) from the get-go – this is me, HSD, Amoy tiger tummy and all – where UAL have been fantastically supportive. When filling in the application, specifically the equal opportunities section, I did think it had the potential to be a good institutional fit when seeing they champion the “social model of disability”. Beyond my job role and on-going research, I hope there is scope to examine chronic/hidden health conditions and academia/the academe – it’s always sat at the back of my mind to research, so 2019 might be the right opportunity. [I have briefly discussed this in the public domain through an anonymous article I wrote for the Guardian’s education column ‘Academics Anonymous’ column, but I’m not quite ready to share those words under my name.]
In addition, to the above Lecturer role, I have been offered a freelance contract as Associate Curator for the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry (as part of Culture Coventry) to curate their summer exhibition opening at the end of June. It’s going to be immersive, digital, installations, new commissions, family friendly and more – details to come in time. I am so pleased for this opportunity to be back in a creative role alongside academia. Really…I have no idea how this all came together and at the right time!
What else? In terms of travel, 2019 will take me to Brussels (Belgium) to co-present “Gender Scars” research with (soon to be Dr) Linda Pittwood at the China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE) biennial conference on ‘Re-envisioning Gender in China’; New York (USA) for Honeymoon Part 1 (Part 2 is in Asia in 2020), and China Residencies ‘Found Sound Fundraiser Concert’ on 3 March 2019 as I am on their Governing Board (I’ve somehow not been back to NYC since I lived and worked there in 2008!); and Venice (Italy) for the 2019 Biennale Arte (it’s here again) after a manaXi family holiday in the Dolomites (Italy). Of course, there will be interludes in-between these trips to get on mountains and hillsides…already in planning, including this weekend. Usually, I am never this meticulous in organising my social life as work (in recent years, largely due to PhD) took priority. As I find a new freedom post-PhD, it seems I want to fill every second with a renewed work-life balance (let’s see how long this lasts) whilst making up for the last two years spent on the other side of the world in Australia. One thing is a constant, 2019 will be no different from any other year in that there’s a lot of words to get out into the world…with writing book and book chapters and proposals, articles to edit for final submission, commissioned blog posts and more. If it all comes through, it could be quite a fruitful year, certainly in terms of research outputs. Most recently, my review for SOURCE Photographic Review of two photobooks by Pixy Liao and Yingguang Guo was published (read here) in their newly re-designed magazine launched Winter 2018.
From time to time, I read my horoscope (yes, I read horoscopes) to seek wordic serendipitous parallels to reassure my life path and choices (even though it’s complete B-S). This is actually more of a personal ritual at the start of Chinese New Year over lucky numbers, colours and objects. Strangely, though not surprisingly (as horoscopes are so generalised to make sure there’s a personal connections), my 2019 prediction for Taurus states “you should better check that your passport’s not about to expire and that you’ve got someone reliable primed to look after the dog, cat, budgie, terrapin, whatever, because 2019 is the year that you’re gonna either be covering a lot more ground or breaking new ground. Or you’ll bin the exercise bike (aka clothes hanger) and get a real bike and maybe a pair of hiking boots – it’s all very ‘val-deri, val-dera’ because we picture you as a lot more thigh-slappingly outdoorsy and in need of fresh vistas.” For anyone who knows me, and knows me well, this is Wordgirl every single year, not just in 2019!
As I embark on becoming a part-time Londoner and commuter (very used to the latter), whilst prepping for tomorrow’s first day at UAL, what advice have you been given when you’ve started a new job?