Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life After the PhD

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Getting Grants: Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life after PhD was organised by History Lab Plus at the Institute of Historic Research in London on the 15th of July 2016 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

As I near the end of the third year of my PhD, what comes after is starting to loom increasingly large on my mind. As a result, I signed up for an event organised by History Lab Plus about life after the PhD. Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life after the PhD took place on the 15th of July at the Institute of Historical Research in London, and I found it very helpful. There was a workshop about our post-PhD hopes and fears, and four panel-based sessions on making the transition, getting funding grants, getting published, and jobs outside academia/impact/public history.

The thing about advice is that it is personal; you can only really talk from your own experience, and it quickly became obvious that the post-PhD period is just as varied as the PhD itself. For example, it is very hard to get an academic job without a publication, but almost everyone seems to know at least one person who managed it. Any career is an individual experience, and people can only really give advice from their own personal experiences, which may not be relevant to yours for any number of reasons. This is something I always try to remember when given advice.

One piece of advice that does seem to be universally applicable is to spend time thinking about what you want to do after your PhD. Do you want an academic career? Do you want to turn your thesis into a book? Do you want to focus more on teaching or research? Think about what you want to achieve, and then decide which jobs/opportunities/ experiences will help you to get there. Also think about what skills you have, what you can offer to a potential employer. What are you interested in, and what are you good at? I spend a lot of time thinking about life after the PhD, but before this event it hadn’t occurred to me to try and think in these practical, concrete terms that might actually be helpful instead of just terrifying.

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There were four panels covering multiple different aspects of life after the PhD (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There were other bits of advice that I think would be useful for everyone; for example Emily Russell, an editor at Palgrave Macmillan, gave a talk about the process of converting a thesis into a book, but I think the aspect of the day that I found most helpful was the sense that we are all the same boat here. There must have been around 30 people sitting in that room, all of whom are coming close to finishing their PhD, or just recently had, who all had very similar questions about what comes next. As a PhD student, I am constantly being made aware of how difficult it is to get an academic job, how competitive it is (the ‘CV arms race’ is an analogy I like). As a result, I often find it hard to be happy for my contemporaries when they achieve something that might give them an advantage over me if we applied for the same job. My first reaction is frequently jealously, or despair that I haven’t managed to achieve the same thing yet, and I hate it. Life After the PhD was a reminder that we are all in the same boat. We are all dealing with the pressure, we are all getting frustrated about the structural systems that make academia so tough in the first place, and we are all worrying about how we are going to pay rent and feed ourselves when our funding runs out (those of use who were lucky enough to get funding in the first place). So we need to look out for one another. This can take the form of joining a union or a campaign like FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Academia), or simply being nice to one another- one of my favourite pieces of advice from the day came from Dr. Will Pooley and is a favourite saying of comedian Adam Hills: “Don’t be a dick!” Will posted the text of his talk on his blog.

I am scared about what is going to happen when I finish my PhD- this is the first time in my life when I don’t know what I’m going to do next, where I don’t have a solid, concrete plan that I know is going to work out. However, events like Life After the PhD  help me to put it into perspective. As well as providing advice, the day was an opportunity to discuss my fears, and my ambitions, with others who are going through the same thing, which I found helpful.

I would like to thank History Lab Plus for organising the event, particularly Kelly Spring and Jessica Hammett.

Book Review: This is London- Life and Death in the World City

Front cover- This is London.jpg

This is London by Ben Judah.

Ben Judah. This is London: Life and Death in the World City London: Picador, 2016. £18.99 

This is London: Life and Death in the World City is the latest in a long line of books that try to say something new about one of the most written about cities in the world. Ben Judah does this by trying to get to know London’s immigrants, the people who make up almost half of the city’s population, but who only ever get talked about with scaremongering statistics and dehumanising metaphors. It takes all sorts to make a city, and Judah talks to all kinds of people in this book; the wife of a Russian oligarch, a Nigerian policeman, a Polish builder, Filipina maids, a Polish registrar, Afghani shopkeepers, a Nigerian teacher.

I was born in London but I no longer recognize this city. I don’t know if I love the new London or if it frightens me: a city where at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 per cent are living illegally in the shadows. I have no idea who these Londoners are. Or even what their London really is.

(Judah, 2016; p.3)

This is London starts in the same place that many European migrants arrive in London; Victoria Coach Station- “our miserable Ellis Island” (Judah, 2016; p.1). It ends where some of the city’s one million Muslim inhabitants (according to the 2011 census) end their lives; the mortuary of a mosque in Leyton. It covers a large number of major life events and experiences in between; marriage, birth, employment, illness, faith, and recreation. The book has no introduction or conclusion, which I think is fitting. This is not a story with a nice neat beginning and ending, it is not even a single story. When I review books about London, I try to find a quote in which the author summarises London. I couldn’t find one in This is London. London is complex, multiple, and heterogeneous, it is almost impossible to sum it up. Ben Judah doesn’t offer any solutions or grand plans, he tells stories, and allows the reader to interpret them.

Unfortunately, I have some serious issues with This is London. The biggest is Judah’s ethics and attitudes towards his interviewees. On several occasions he lied to the people he was talking to about who he was, covering up the fact he is a journalist. When he visits Harlesdon Road to try and talk to some of the customers of London’s 1773 betting shops, he has little success until he pretends to be conducting a survey for William Hill (Judah, 2016; p.294). As an academic, I am horrified by the prospect that some people were trusting Judah with their stories, some of them highly personal and traumatic, without knowing what he was going to do with them. Maybe journalists don’t care about informed consent, but I do.

There are other points where Judah seems to relish his power over his interviewees in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. In the first chapter he follows three recently arrived Roma women from Victoria Coach Station all the way to Hyde Park because he wanted to talk to them. He continued to follow them even once they realised they were being followed. Judah eventually forces a Romanian busker to talk to him, saying “I know he wants to leave but I won’t let him. I have power over him for a few seconds. And I want him to speak” (Judah, 2016; p.8). Later on, he talks to some prostitutes in Ilford Lane, paying them to talk to him. They sit in his car, as one woman, Diana, talks about another woman who was murdered there. He seems to enjoy forcing the second woman to talk; “I know she does not want to talk about this. That she would rather I just fucked them both- or hit them, the way some of the men enjoy doing- than ask about what happened to Mariana. But I don’t care. And I gesture. I want you to talk now” (Judah, 2016; p.370). He exploited the women’s vulnerability in a way that I find completely unacceptable.

I have conflicted feelings about This is London.I really enjoyed the stories the book tells, and reading about parts of London that are completely unfamiliar to me. However, I cannot condone Judah’s methods in obtaining some of these stories; he was unethical, insensitive, and exploitative. Because of this, I think there are other books out there that do similar things to This is London, better. For example, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor (London: Granta, 2012), provides snapshots of what it’s like to live and work in London without making me feel deeply uncomfortable. I would recommend it much more highly than This is London.

Turbulent Londoners: Mary Prince, 1788-?

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. This post is about Mary Prince, a woman who escaped slavery to become a key figure in the campaign to abolish slavery.


Mary Prince Plaque

There are no surviving images of Mary Prince, but this plaque, on Senate House in Bloomsbury, commemorates her (Source: sgwarnog2010).

In 1807, the Abolition Act abolished the slave trade, marking a great victory for abolitionists. They had won a significant battle, but had not yet won the war; the slave trade was gone, but slavery itself was not. Slaves, and any children they had, remained indentured. Women were over a century away from winning the vote in Britain, but they found other ways to influence politics and were key to the success of the abolition movement. As the main food purchasers, they were ideally placed to organise boycotts of slave-grown sugar in the 1790s, 1820s, and 1830s. Mary Prince was both a slave and a woman, significant disadvantages in the early nineteenth century. However it was these characteristics that made her such a powerful tool for the abolition movement.

Prince was born to an enslaved family in Bermuda in 1788. She was passed between owners and suffered from awful treatment. In 1815 she was bought by the Wood family, her last owners, for $300. In December 1826, Prince was in Antigua when she married Daniel James, a former slave who had bought his freedom. She did not seek permission from the Wood family, and they badly beat her as punishment.

Despite a deteriorating relationship with the Woods, they took Prince with them when they travelled to England in 1828. She ran away, but was legally only free in England. The Woods refused to emancipate or sell her, so if she returned to her husband in Antigua the Woods would have been able to claim her as their property once again. She petitioned Parliament to grant her freedom, but this too failed.

History of Mary Prince Title Page

The title page of Mary’s biography (Source: Yale Center for British Art).

Prince got a job with Thomas Pringle, an abolitionist writer and Secretary of the Anti-slavery Society. With the help of the Society, she published an autobiography entitled The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave (1831). It was the first account of a black woman’s life published in Great Britain. The book went through three printings in its first year; Mary’s personal story helped to raise awareness of how bad conditions still were for those in slavery.

Nobody knows what happened to Prince after her book was published. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, which banned slavery in the British Empire. Colonies were given time to allow their economies to adapt, so slavery was abolished in Bermuda in 1834 and the West Indies in 1838. If she was still alive, Prince could have gone back to her place of birth or to her husband.

Mary Prince was not seen as a campaigner in her own right, not even by her supporters; as a black, working class woman her social status was about as low as it could get. Nevertheless, her powerful and shocking narrative played an important role in maintaining the momentum of the abolition movement. Sarah Salih, who edited a recent edition of Prince’s book, argues that Mary was a defiant woman; her illicit marriage, and her tendency to defend herself and others both verbally and physically, hinted at a rebellious streak that culminated with the publication of her History. Mary may not have been respected in her lifetime, but she certainly deserves our respect now.

Sources and Further Reading

100 Great Black Britons. “Mary Prince.” No date, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at  http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/mary_prince.html

Abolition Project, The. “Mary Prince (1788-c.1833): The First Woman to Present a Petition to Parliament.” No date, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at  http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/19/race.historybooks

Hochschild, Adam. “The Unsung Heroes of Abolition: Mary Prince.” BBC History. Last modified 17th February 2011, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/abolition/abolitionists_gallery_04.shtml

Simkin, John. “Mary Prince.” Sparacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/SprinceM.htm

Wajid, Sara. “‘They Bought Me as a Butcher Would a Calf or Lamb.'” The Guardian. Last modified 19th October 2007, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at   http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/oct/19/race.historybooks

Wikipedia. “Mary Prince.” Last modified 11th May 2016, accessed 25th May 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Prince

 

London’s Protest Stickers: Anarchism

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Stickers of all kinds are ubiquitous on street furniture in London, like this post box in Brick Lane (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 07/06/15).

Along with anti-fascists, anarchists are some of the most prolific stickerers I’ve come across in London. The Anarchist Federation (AFed) are particularly keen on stickers as a method of protest. At its simplest, anarchism is the belief in a society based on voluntary, cooperative institutions. Force, compulsion and government are not required. Anarchists believe that this is the only way to achieve a fair and just society. The Anarchist Federation is a working class organisation that works towards achieving that.

As anarchist communists we fight for a world without leaders, where power is shared equally amongst communities, and people are free to reach their full potential. We do this by supporting working class resistance to exploitation and oppression, organise alongside our neighbours and workmates, host informative events, and produce publications that help make sense of the world around us.

(Anarchist Federation, no date.)

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This is the most recognisable style of stickers that AFed make. The colours, logo, and web address remain the same, but the content changes. This photo was taken on 20/05/15 in Upper Street, Islington (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is another variation of  the classic AFed sticker. The group advocates direct action for achieving their goals (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 12/01/16).

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This sticker is part of another series that the AFed produce featuring prominent figures in anarchist history. This is Buenaventura Durruti, a Spaniard who was very active in the run up to the Spanish Civil War, as well as the War itself. He was killed by a sniper in November 1936 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/04/15).

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Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was, and still is, well known for her anarchist writing and speeches. Born in present-day Lithuania, she moved to America when she was 16, and was significant in the development of anarchist philosophy in the US (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Byng Place, 12/05/15).

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This is one of the best known quotes attributed to Emma Goldman. I don’t know who made this sticker, but it is a sentiment I have seen in other AFed stickers. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Regent’s Canal Tow Path, 20/05/15).

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This sticker is one of my favourites. It is made by Active Distribution, which makes and sells all things anarchic. I come across their stickers quite often (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Heygate Road, 04/06/15).

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AFed have also been known to use references to popular culture in their stickers. This sticker features Finn and Jake, the main characters of an animated TV series called Adventure Time. It is made for children, but has developed a large adult following (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 25/06/15).

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And who doesn’t love a good yoda impression?! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Station, 27/02/15).

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AFed stickers can often be funny. This is a relatively new sticker (I think!), and is particularly pertinent in the context of the Islamaphobia that our society is currently struggling with (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/16)

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This is another one by Active Distribution; you can just make out the web address in the top right corner. I found this sticker on the Ayslebury Estate during the occupation that took place there last year (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Ayslebury Estate, 05/05/15).

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This sticker echoes the sentiments of the Emma Goldman quote above. It looks like someone objected to the message however, as the sticker has been quite badly torn. It reads “never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 19/05/15).

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My French is rusty, but I know enough to identify this as an anarchist sticker! I think that it roughly translates to “The elections…are you still having fun?  Abstention” Revolution! Self Management!” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 17/04/15).

You can see where I found these stickers on the Turbulent London map.