How To… Survive in academia until you secure a position (some personal reflections)

In this week’s post, Jatinder Mann offers some personal reflections on his journey to secure an ongoing position in academia. He talks candidly about the personal and financial impact of staying in academia until he was offered a position at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He also gives insights into his experience studying Australian history as someone who is not from Australia and discusses the lack of diversity at conferences in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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I am currently an Assistant Professor in History at the Hong Kong Baptist University (and my teaching portfolio includes a course on the History of Australia). I did my Ph.D. at the University of Sydney in Australia and had two postdocs before I secured myself a tenure-track position in Hong Kong. I was previously a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow (the Canadian equivalent of a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) at the University of Alberta in Canada. I also undertook a postdoc as a part of a collaborative team project at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. I believe it is becoming the norm to have at least one postdoc before hopefully securing a long-term position in academia. It is certainly very rare for someone to go straight into a lectureship after being awarded their Ph.D. And this is for one main reason I think: the increasing number of history Ph.D.s and so many more people applying for the academic positions advertised, leading to increasing competitiveness.

Although on the surface it may seem that I had a fairly logical career progression, in between the two postdocs and between my Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship and my current tenure-track position, I had unpaid fellowships at King’s College London. I was certainly grateful for these as they provided me with an important institutional affiliation and office space and resources to continue my research. But the fact that they were unpaid meant I had to primarily rely on savings or pick up some part-time paid work where I could. Although this took some time away from my research and publishing, the need to support myself obviously took precedence. Pursuing a career in academia can be extremely precarious and you may very well find (as I did on several occasions) that you are in unpaid positions. If you can, try to save money when you are in a paid position, for those difficult periods.

As I was thinking about what to write for this blog post I was reminded of an informal Graduate Student Workshop that I gave at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada last year. The main advice I gave at that, and would like to repeat here for ECRs, is to publish as much of your research as you can (I recall an academic friend and former colleague of mine saying to me soon after being awarded my Ph.D. to ‘publish, publish, publish!’). As mentioned above, the academic field is becoming increasingly competitive and so you need to be able to distinguish yourself from the rest of the many other applicants. It is also important to present your work at as many conferences and seminar venues as you can (although I am not sure I would suggest becoming a conference junkie as I have!). Not only will you receive valuable feedback on your research, but it will also provide you with an opportunity to let people know that you exist – raise your profile, and could even lead to potential collaborations. And get teaching experience where you can. In my experience as long as you can demonstrate that you have the ability to teach, that is sufficient.

My career has been very international, doing my Ph.D. in Australia, a postdoc in the UK, another postdoc in Canada, and now working in Hong Kong. The fact that I had worked in several countries before arriving in Hong Kong I believe certainly contributed towards me getting the position, as universities like to increase their internationalisation. On a practical note, the far wider you cast your net in terms of places that you are willing to work in, will only increase your chances of securing an academic position. My net was pretty much the whole world when I was applying for positions! I know that this might not be possible for everyone, as you might be tied down to a particular place, due to family or financial reasons. But the larger the geographical area in which you look for opportunities, the more positions you can apply for.

I have lived in four different countries over the course of my academic career so far. Although I found it extremely exciting and I have made some amazing friends all over the world, it can also be quite tiring. I loved my two years in Canada (during which I also got to spend several months in New Zealand carrying out research) but towards the end of it and knowing that I would need to leave again and rebuild a life for myself back home in the UK, before possibly moving on to who knew where, I did decide that it was the last time I would do this. It takes a lot out of you moving to a new place, making a life for yourself (including making friends) only to have to leave after a few years, if that, and start all over again. And I did this several times. It also took a real toll on my personal relationships as it is difficult to be able to maintain a long-term relationship with someone when you do not know how long you will be in a particular place. So, I am extremely pleased that my current tenure-track position in Hong Kong has also enabled me to pursue a long-term relationship and give it a real go 🙂

When it comes to applying for academic jobs you should be mentally prepared for a lot of rejections. Although, from my own experience it is very difficult not to take it personally, try to not let it get you down. During my last period of applying for jobs (so the period including my application for my current position) I believe I applied for approximately 100 different positions. I do not miss having to work on job applications every week (Sundays used to be my application days). But I am glad that I stuck in there, and maintained my self-belief (although it was not always easy). As several people said to me when I was applying for positions, you only need the one! I was also personally very inspired when academic friends of mine secured positions as it gave me hope that if it could happen for them, it could hopefully happen for me. Taking into account all of the above if a Ph.D. student asked me whether I would recommend pursuing a career in academia to them, I would say that if that is what they had a passion for, then they certainly should, but they should be prepared for a bumpy journey and a lot of rejections along the way. But my experience will hopefully inspire you that it is possible 🙂

I wanted to end with some perspectives from my experience of being someone who researches and teaches on Australian History who is not Australian or from Australia, and being a person of colour in an academic field that is overwhelmingly white. I recall someone asking me at one of the first Australian Studies conferences that I attended, why I did not study my own history? I assumed they were talking about British History (as I am British and was born and raised there), but it turned out that they were actually talking about Indian History (I am Indian in terms of ethnicity). I was quite taken aback by this to say the least. I have always thought that not being Australian, provides me with a unique perspective, especially as I focus on questions of national identity, and so I have not grown up with dominant national myths or tropes about this, and perhaps can approach the subject with more distance and objectivity. So, I would certainly encourage those interested in studying Australian History who are not from the country to do so, as the perspective of an outsider can sometimes be very beneficial.

One thing I always notice when I go to Australian Studies, or even Canadian Studies, and to some extent even New Zealand Studies conferences, is just how overwhelmingly white they are. As a person of colour I frankly tend to stand out like a sore thumb in all of these settings. I find it especially interesting as much of my research has focused on multiculturalism and so I certainly do not find the conferences that I usually attend great examples of multicultural Australia or Canada for that matter. However, I think this is even more reason for people of colour to come to these conferences, as although it may unfortunately take some time, together we can increase the diversity of those participating at a lot of these academic associations. So, again I would encourage fellow people of colour to pursue their research interests in Australian History, if that is what they enjoy doing, and I personally look forward to welcoming you at future conferences!

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Q&A with Mark McKenna

In this Q&A, Professor Mark McKenna from the University of Sydney describes his varied professional career before taking up academic history, the importance of form as well as substance in conveying a message, and his desire to communicate to a broad audience.

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How To… Survive in academia without permanency (a story from the humanities)

Casual and contract employment pervade the academy, as they do many parts of the contemporary labour force. In this week’s blog post, prolific blogger and tweeter and Research Fellow at Flinders University, Dr Evan Smith, gives us his tips about how to survive being a non-tenured historian.

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Emerging Historians – Dr James Findlay

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Dr James Findlay – AHA member since 2012

My name is James Findlay and I’m a historian with interests in media history, convict history, and settler colonialism in Australia.  I was awarded my PhD at the University of Sydney a few months ago.  Before returning to study I worked extensively in film and television production for companies and broadcasters including Beyond Television, Screenworld, Film Australia and the BBC in London. I’m currently sessional teaching with the History Department at USYD. Continue reading

Q&A with Jenny Gregory

In this week’s Q&A, Emeritus Professor Jenny Gregory explains how she discovered her love of history through a happy accident (a timetabling clash!), her desire to research Western Australian history to find out more about the place she lives and the challenges of writing history in Australia’s west. She talks about the importance of mentors, but also of forging your own path, and she encourages ECRs to seize opportunities and do what we love.

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Emerging Historians – Dr John Doyle

 

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Dr John Doyle – AHA member since 2013

I gained my PhD (on the political history of Australian telecommunications reform) from La Trobe University a few days before last Christmas, which was a rather pleasing way to round out the year. I was very fortunate at La Trobe to receive invaluable guidance and support from my supervisor, Professor Judith Brett, and many other colleagues. During my candidature, I tutored in Australian history and politics, coordinated a parliamentary internship program and also took some time off to consult to the telecommunications industry association, Communications Alliance. I’ve recently became an associate of the Contemporary Histories Research Group at Deakin University.  Continue reading

Q&A with Professor Trevor Burnard

Our Q&A series with senior Australian historians is back with this piece from Professor Trevor Burnard. Trevor talks about the joys and frustrations of academic history and explains how his research is inspired by a desire to explore the ways power operated in the past. He also has some interesting insights into what he terms Early Career Researchers’ “institutionalized privileged insecurity” and reminds ECRs to take advantage of the boom that history is experiencing in public, if not in the academy. And if you want to read more from Trevor, check out his blog!

How To… Use Social Media To Boost Your Research Profile

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to pimp your research profile, then this post is for you! In our first piece of 2018 we have a special guest post from the wonderful Tseen Khoo of The Research Whisperer blog (check it out if you haven’t already, it’s fantastic!). Here Tseen explains the do’s and don’t’s of social media etiquette and how to make the most out of your social media presence.

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Emerging Historians – Dr Ana Stevenson

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Dr Ana Stevenson – AHA member since 2012

My name is Ana Stevenson and I completed my Ph.D. at The University of Queensland in 2015.  Between 2014 and 2015, I held the honorary position of Visiting Scholar in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Since January 2016, I have been a postdoctoral research fellow in the International Studies Group at the University of the Free State, South Africa.  I now live in Bloemfontein, a city I had never heard of before moving here. Continue reading

How To… Be a Teacher Historian

We’re often told that there are options to practice history beyond the academy, but what are they and are they viable? In this wonderfully generous post, Dr Michael Molkentin shares with us his personal experience as a teacher historian and the challenges and highlights of following this career path. He discusses the way having a PhD has influenced his teaching, how teaching has allowed him to broaden his knowledge of the discipline, and the genuine thrill of introducing students to studying the past.

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Q&A with Richard Bosworth

In this week’s Q&A, Professor Richard Bosworth reflects on a long and distinguished career as an historian of Italy, which has taken him from Sydney University to Jesus College, Oxford, via UWA and Reading University. He muses on the ‘great man’ view of the past and the value of history, and delivers a scathing assessment of the state of Australian historiography. On a brighter note, he reminds ECRs to enjoy teaching when it arises and to aim for the world.

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Emerging Historians – Dr Andonis Piperoglou

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Dr Andonis Piperoglou – AHA member since 2011

I am Andonis Piperoglou (some people call me Andoni/Αντώνη – it translates to Anthony in Greek). Please don’t confuse me with ‘Adonis’, for I am no modern day representation of classical antiquity. I’m twenty-nine years old, currently live in Canberra, and joined the AHA in 2011. This time last year I was anxiously waiting on my examiners reports, which, lucky for me, arrived in my inbox with a box ticked ‘without amendment or further examination’. I couldn’t believe it – in some ways I still can’t. I completed my dissertation at La Trobe University and was fortunate to have been mentored by a progressive group of La Trobeian historians. This year I have been teaching history at the Australian Catholic University in Strathfield, a cosy campus in Sydney’s inner west. Since graduating I have attended four conferences, engaged with a simulating cohort of Sydney-based historians, and submitted numerous job-applications and journal articles. I have also begun turning my thesis into a book – an exciting process! This is my, slightly politically charged, contribution to the AHA emerging historian series. Continue reading

Q&A with John Maynard

In this week’s Q&A we talk with Professor John Maynard about what inspired his love of history, who he writes for, and the future of academia. He has some fantastic advice for ECRs, reminding us to read widely, work hard and with passion, and to never be afraid to listen and take advice.

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Q&A with Douglas Wilkie

In this Q&A we talk with Dr Douglas Wilkie about his love of solving history puzzles and the difference between writing as a freelance and academic historian. He encourages all of us to do what we love, to research meticulously, and to tell a good story.

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Emerging Historians – Dr Claire Higgins

 

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Dr Claire Higgins – AHA member since 2014

I completed my DPhil in History January 2014 at the University of Oxford. I am now a Senior Research Associate at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW. Continue reading

Q&A with Joy Damousi

This month we interview the Australian Historical Association’s Vice President, Joy Damousi, Professor of History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Here she discusses what inspires her to write and teach history, encourages Early Career Researchers to give back where they can and reminds us to create and seize opportunities to research history.

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Emerging Historians – Dr Gemmia Burden

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Dr Gemmia Burden – AHA member since 2011

My name is Gemmia Burden (most of the people in my life call me Gemma). I started a PhD at the University of Queensland in 2010 and after 7 years (finally) finished earlier this year. I’m currently working two jobs, full time as a cultural heritage consultant at Australian Heritage Specialists, and as a casual research assistant for Associate Professor Anna Johnston at UQ’s Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities. Continue reading

How To… Navigate the World of History: Some personal reflections and advice

In the latest post in our How To Series, Dr Lyndon Megarrity draws on his own extensive experience to give great tips to Early Career Researchers about how to navigate the world of academic history. Most importantly he advises us to keep the passion alive and be true to ourselves and what we want to achieve as historians.

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Q&A with David Lowe

In this month’s Q&A Professor David Lowe talks about his continuing love of history, why history matters and the intellectual heroes and mentors who have inspired him. He has some fantastic advice for ECRs, encouraging us to publish at both ends of the spectrum and to follow our passion, which he argues is crucial for sustaining our enthusiasm in the long run!

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Emerging Historians – Dr André Brett

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Dr André Brett – AHA member since April 2012

I am André Brett, a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong. I was offered the fellowship in November 2016 and commenced in June 2017 after finishing my employment at the University of Melbourne, where I received my PhD in August 2014. Continue reading

How To… Approach a Job Interview

In Part 2 of how to land your dream job, Associate Professor Martin Crotty talks about the do’s and don’t’s of job interviews. He explains what interviewers are looking for (and what will turn them off!) and gives some fantastic tips on how to make sure you shine in any interview.

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How To… Write a Successful Job Application

For many Early Career Researchers this time of year is job hunting season so we’ve lined up a two part special on how to land your dream job. In Part 1 Professor Kate Darian-Smith takes us through the key steps of writing a successful job application. She advises us to research the position, address the selection criteria clearly and to proof read everything!

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