Academic Job Interviews: Collected Resources

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Job interviews can be intimidating, but  being well-prepared can help counter those nerves (Source: The Job Network).

I recently got my first academic job interview, after several months of silence and rejection emails. Unfortunately I wasn’t offered the job, but it was still good experience for me, and it was a huge step in the right direction in terms of getting an academic job. Whilst I was preparing for the interview, I spent time reading blog posts and webpages with advice about interviews, and other people’s experiences of interviews. Below are links to the ones I found particularly helpful.

Vitae: Academic Job Interviews provides advice about how to prepare for a job interview, what kind of research to do beforehand, what kind of questions to expect (the questions are assuming that the job is research-based though, there are no questions about teaching), and giving presentations.

Guardian Higher Education Network: Written by Steve Joy, How to Shine in an Academic Interview has some helpful tips on how to prepare for interviews, including sharing experiences with others, and orally practising your responses to typical questions.

Jobs.ac.uk: In Succeeding in Academic Interviews, Neil Harris  has some good general tips about interviews, including body language.

The University of Edinburgh Careers Service: Academic Interviews has a link to a comprehensive list of typical questions.

Dr. Nadine Muller: Academic Job Interviews is a detailed blog post written by Dr. Caroline Edwards, who has experience from both sides of the interview process.  It has typical questions, as well advice for all stages of an interview day, including lunch, which you might be expected to eat with the other candidates and members of the department. An Academic Interview recounts an interview that Dr. Muller went to, at which she was ultimately successful. At this point she had only recently finished her PhD, so the post is particularly helpful for those at a similar stage.

If you are currently looking for an academic job then I wish you luck, and remember that you are not alone!

The Book of Erebus: Archives in Blade

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There is an anecdote in my family that my parents once tried to rent Blade Runner (1982). Instead of Ridley Scott’s epic visual masterpiece they ended up with Blade (1998), an over-the-top vampire film starring Wesley Snipes. Also a good film, but very different. We will probably never know if the mistake was my parents’ or Blockbusters’, but my Mum still thinks Blade Runner is about a leather-clad vampire hunter.

I recently rewatched Blade, and apart from being shocked by the dodgy CGI, I was interested by the film’s representation of archives. Archives, libraries, and other repositories of knowledge are often used in films as a method of exposition, or of revealing some information that moves the plot along, and Blade is no different. Blade and his plucky but naive companion Dr. Karen Jenson fight their way through a club to find a vampire archive, the entrance to which is hidden in an industrial fridge.

Inside, they find futuristic data banks and a grossly overweight and flatulent archivist, who reveals to Blade and Dr. Jensen the plans of the film’s baddie, evil vampire Deacon Frost. Frost has been using the archive to translate the the Book of Erebus, the vampire bible whose meaning had been long since forgotten. Frost was trying to enact a prophecy he found in the Bible, which would give him enough power to take over the world and bring an end to humans. Blade the sets out to try and stop Frost. The archive is the means through which the good guy finds out what the bad guy is up to, thus progressing the story.

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The archivist in Blade is not a particularly flattering depiction of researchers (Blade, 1998).

I would say that there are two main stereotypes of archives in popular culture. The first is old, dusty stacks of books and scrolls, stacked floor to ceiling in a dark, dingy room. The other is much more modern, even futuristic, with high-tech data banks, in large, sparse rooms. The archive in Blade falls into the latter category, as the images below demonstrate (the Empire’s archives on Scarif in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) are another example of this type). I think the archives are a reflection of the vampire community in Blade as a whole; they are very old, but they have changed and developed to keep up with the times, blending in with human society. So much so, that the ability to translate the Book of Erebus has been lost, as has much of the vampires’ history and lore.

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The archives in Blade are stored on large, white data banks in otherwise empty rooms (Blade, 1998).

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The Book of Erebus, the vampire’s bible, is hidden within the vampire archive. Even though the pages themselves are old and yellowed, the way they are stored is modern (Blade, 1998).

Archives and libraries are represented frequently in popular culture, often as a source of exposition or plot progression. These representations shape the way that non-researchers understand and perceive of archives, and as such I think it is important for academics to spend time analysing them, and thinking about what impact they might have. The archive is Blade is modern and hi-tech, much more so than any real archive currently is. The archivist is also much more unpleasant than any archivist I’ve ever met!

23rd Practising Historical Geography Conference

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The 2017 Practising Historical Geography Conference was held in Manchester (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last week, I went to Manchester Metropolitan University for the 23rd annual Practising Historical Geography Conference, organised by the Historical Geography Research Group (HGRG).  It was my fifth time attending the conference (I wrote about the last one I attended, in 2015, here), but my first time presenting. As always, I thought it was a great day, well organised, with really interesting speakers.

The day involves: two keynote speakers; two methodological workshops; a Postgraduate Voices presentation by a recently completed PhD student; and a paper by the HGRG undergraduate dissertation prize winner. This year, I gave the Postgraduate Voices talk. It meant a lot to be asked, as the Practising Historical Geography conferences have been a really important part of my PhD. I have valued the time spent with other enthusiastic researchers who have been unfailingly supportive over the last five years. Because of how much I have gotten out of these conferences, I decided to use my Postgraduate Voices presentation to talk about my place in the academic communities that played such an important role in my PhD. Doing a PhD can be a lonely experience, so I think it’s really important to take a bit of time and effort to participate in academic networks when you get the chance.

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The Royal Holloway contingent at the 23rd Practising Historical Geography conference. Left to right: Ben Newman, myself, and Ed Armstron-Sheret (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In her introduction to the conference, President of the HGRG Dr. Briony McDonagh said that the field of historical geography was in “rude health.” By the end of the day, I couldn’t help but agree. The keynote lectures, given by Professor Jon Stobbart and Dr. Kimberly Peters, were both fantastic, and they highlighted the diversity of research being conducted in the field. Professor Stobbart discussed the construction of ‘comfortable’ homes in Georgian England using material objects, whilst Dr. Peters talked about the development of maritime ‘motorways,’ shipping lanes designed to minimise the chance of large container ships colliding head-on. I never thought that I would find maritime trade so interesting!

The two workshops were also excellent. The first, organised by Dr. Sarah Mills, was about the ethics of archival research. I must admit I generally fall into the trap of assuming that I don’t need to think too much about ethics because I research the past, but the workshop made me realise it was something I should pay more attention to. The second workshop, run by Dr. James Kneale, was about the merits and challenges of time capsules for historical research. During the recent demolition of the Temperance Hospital in London, two time capsules were found, and Dr. Kneale was asked to consult on their contents. Whilst it seems unlikely that many historical geographers will find themselves in a similar situation during their careers, we had some great discussions about the nature, meaning, purpose, and use of time capsules.

Practising Historical Geography is always a brilliant event, and this year was no different. I drove home feeling energised, with a renewed enthusiasm for my own research. I would like to say thank you to the HGRG committee, particularly Dr. Cheryl McGeachan and Dr. Hannah Neate, for organising such a wonderful event.

Turbulent Londoners: Harriet Taylor Mill, 1807-1858

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. The next Turbulent Londoner is Harriet Taylor Mill, a radical thinker who made a significant contribution to the work of John Stuart Mill.


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Harriet Taylor Mill, around 1834 (Source: National Portrait Gallery).

The well-known phrase ‘Behind every man is a great woman’ could have been invented for the philosopher John Stuart Mill. His wife Harriet Taylor Mill was hugely significant to his work, and, whilst we may never know the full extent of her contribution, she may well have co-authored substantial amounts of the writing attributed to him. She was also a radical thinker and writer in her own right.

Harriet Hardy was born in Walworth, south London on the 8th of October 1807. The daughter of a surgeon, she was educated at home. Her relationship with John Stuart  Mill was unconventional, even by modern standards. In 1826 Harriet married he first husband, the merchant John Taylor. They had three children. Four years into their marriage, Harriet became active in the Unitarian church community in London, and was introduced to John Stuart Mill. The two became close friends, exchanging essays on marriage and women’s rights. Mill was the first man to treat Harriet as an intellectual equal. Harriet was the more radical of the two, criticising the degrading effects of women’s economic dependence on men. She believed the situation could only be changed by the drastic reform of marriage laws.

By 1833, Harriet was living apart from John Taylor with her daughter, Helen. She spent six weeks in Paris with John Stuart Mill, and despite claiming they did not have a sexual relationship, they caused a scandal that left them both socially isolated. Harriet lived in a house in Walton-on-Thames, and Mill visited her at the weekends. John Taylor eventually accepted Harriet’s relationship with Mill, on the condition that she move back in with him.

John Taylor died in 1849, and Harriet married Mill two years later. The same year, 1851, ‘The Enfranchisement of Women’ was published by The Westminster Review. It is one of the few pieces of writing that can be solely attributed to Harriet, but at the time it was published in Mill’s name. Mill would build on Harriet’s arguments in The Subjection of Women (1869), although his arguments were less radical than Harriet’s.

Harriet published little of her own work, but contributed extensively to Mill’s. It is hard to know exactly the extent of this contribution though. At least, Harriet commented on all of Mill’s writing. In his autobiography, he claimed that she co-authored most of his work. In 1832, Early Essays on Marriage on divorce was published, co-authored by Harriet and Mill. It is unclear why Harriet might have been reluctant to take credit for her work– perhaps she was worried it would affect how the ideas were received. What was clear, however, was that Mill valued Harriet’s contribution; he dedicated On Liberty (1859) to her.

In her later years, Harriet traveled a lot due to ill health. She died in Avignon on the 3rd of November 1858. Mill bought a villa near Avignon, and spent most of the rest of the life there. Harriet’s daughter Helen helped Mill finish The Subjection of Women.

Even if Harriet Taylor Mill wasn’t a significant contributor to the work of John Stuart Mill, I think she would be worthy of admiration for to bravery she showed in pursuing happiness in her personal life in the face of social ostracism. Although the extent of her abilities will probably never be know for sure, she was also an accomplished thinker and writer. She deserves recognition.

Sources and Further Reading

Anschutz, Richard Paul. “John Stuart Mill.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica. Last modified June 15, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017. Available at  https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Stuart-Mill.

Miller, Dale E. “Harriet Taylor Mill.’ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Last modified October 5, 2015, accessed November 9, 2017. Available at  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/harriet-mill/#EnfWom

Simkin, John. “Harriet Mill.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed November 9, 2017. Available at http://spartacus-educational.com/Wtaylor.htm

Wikipedia, “Harriet Taylor Mill.” Last modified August 22 2017, accessed September 28, 2017. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Taylor_Mill

Protest Stickers: Haywards Heath

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Haywards Heath in Sussex wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the train station (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A common side effect of academia can be moving around a lot. For the first 2 years of my PhD I lived in London, and I am now back in my home town of Brighton, but for a year in between that I lived in Haywards Heath, a semi-rural commuter town on the London-Brighton train line in Sussex. Like Egham in Surrey, it is not the sort of town where you would expect to find protest stickers. It is not the sort of place where you expect to find any alternative politics, to be honest. Nevertheless, I did find protest stickers, although  not all of them promoted the left-wing, progressive politics that I normally expect to find.

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Like many towns south of London, the commuters have Haywards Heath have suffered as a result of the dispute between Southern Rail and the RMT Union. The conflict has been dragging on for some time now, but I was surprised when I realised I took this photo more than two years ago; no wonder patience is running out on all sides. I found this sticker in the Haywards Heath train station (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/12/15).

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This sticker is on the back of a traffic sign on the outskirts of Haywards Heath. It is referring to the fox hunting ban, which was introduced in 2005, so there’s a possibility that this sticker is quite old. Haywards Heath is surrounded by small, rural villages, so there is a lot of support for fox hunting in the area (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 05/07/16).

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This is the detail of the logo from the above sticker. It is hard to make out the words because the sticker has been scratched, but I think it says “Felix says keep hunting.” The web address no longer works, further evidence that the sticker is old (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 05/07/16).

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This was placed on  the entrance sign on one of the numerous office blocks that line one of the main roads in Haywards Heath. Needless to say, it was removed quite quickly. I was surprised to find such radical sentiment expressed in Haywards Heath (Photo: 06/08/16).

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This sticker is produced by Active Distribution, who make quite a lot of the protest stickers I come across (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 07/12/15).

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This sticker was trying to persuade people to vote Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum for the sake of the environment. Haywards Heath did vote to remain in the European Union, by a small margin (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/10/16).

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Most protest stickers are left wing, but I do come across some supporting right wing groups and policies. This small sticker was advertising the British National Party, a far right political party which has been in decline over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/01/16).

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The National Front is another small far-right party. It advocates a form of racist nationalism, seeing anyone who isn’t white British as a threat, hence the demand this sticker makes (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 22/12/15).

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Sadly, I found a higher proportion of right wing and racist stickers in Haywards Heath than I have done in other cities.  Overall, the town is quite conservative politically, and I guess that results in a relatively large proportion of people with far-right beliefs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 06/01/16)

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I have seen this sticker in a few cities around the country, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure it counts as a protest sticker. There are some people who still beleive that the world is flat, but I’m not sure if that’s what this sticker is really about (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 11/01/16).

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I know this isn’t a protest sticker, but I wanted to finish on a positive note! (Photo, Hannah Awcock, 06/01/16).