Introducing your new Early Career Researcher representatives

As we—Chelsea, Joel, and Anna—begin our term as joint ECR representatives for the AHA Executive Committee for 2020–2022, our first move is of course to say a large and resounding thanks to our predecessor, André Brett, for his hard work and exemplary representation over the past two years. André has been a consistent voice for early career and precarious scholars in academia, and he has carried the ECRs portfolio singlehandedly over his term. In addition to being the AHA ECR rep, André’s contribution to managing the Emergency Fund for Precarious Historians is both indicative of his advocacy for ECRs and other vulnerable scholars and a sure sign he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon! We hope that we can follow in his very able footsteps. 

The most obvious change that comes with this handover is that there are now three people sharing this role. The three of us have accepted the shared responsibilities of the position with the hope that our respective geographical positions (Joel and Chelsea are in Sydney, Joel is formerly of Melbourne, and Anna is in Brisbane) can help to capture a broader range of the ECR experience (while still acknowledging that this does replicate the emphasis on the east coast). We are all also at different points of the ECR stage: Chelsea graduated in April 2016, Joel in December 2017, and Anna had her PhD conferred in March 2020 (a COVID-delayed graduation ceremony is forthcoming!). We also hope that this range in experience can help to ensure that we are hearing and meeting the needs of all ECRs, no matter which stage they are at. 

We all came to this role with different aims and goals in mind, but the similarities in our agendas speak to the broader state of the current ECR climate. We hope to build community among early career scholars, to platform the voices and experiences of our marginalised cohort—those with disabilities, carer responsibilities, and from regional institutions—and promote an atmosphere of honesty and comradery with our peers. We are all deeply concerned about the impact of employment and social precarity on ECRs, having all experienced first-hand how insecurity negatively affects mental health, research productivity, and teaching quality. We hope also to work with the Postgraduate Representative, Joshua Black, and strengthen connections with the postgraduate community within the AHA, recognising the many overlaps between postgraduate and ECR experiences and scope for mutual support.

We take up this mantle at one of the most difficult times for the discipline of history, and for higher education generally, in recent history. The announcement in June 2020 from the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, that the Morrison government would seek to overhaul the federal funding of university courses to focus on so-called “job-relevant” fields of study, would see the cost to students of humanities courses more than double, making them more expensive than courses in medicine and veterinary science. The government’s efforts to “pick winners” in more strictly vocational fields is not supported by the data on employment outcomes, which shows slightly better rates of employment for arts and humanities graduates than for those in science, mathematics, computing and IT. The proposal overlooks that the arts and culture sector is an economic force in Australia, contributing 6.4% of GDP in 2016/17 (agriculture, in comparison, contributed 2.7% in 2018/19). The government’s plans are not just an attack on the arts and humanities, but more generally represent a retrenchment of public funding to universities, with the government contribution to teaching costs to be reduced from 58% to 48%. For the first time in decades, universities would be reliant on revenue from student fees to cover the majority of teaching expenses. These cuts and the challenges they pose to our discipline come at a time when the sector is already in crisis from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Large-scale job losses at a number of institutions (including at UNSW, Monash, Deakin, La Trobe, RMIT, CQU and Southern Cross) are a distressing reminder that academic job security remains elusive in the current environment. We are likely to be dealing the economic fallout of the pandemic and the consequences of the political response to it for a number of years. We fully support the last AHA executive’s call for the Minister to rethink the proposed changes.

We stand as a team ready to hear your feedback, suggestions and concerns. This blog will of course remain as a resource; we aim to add new posts on an at least monthly basis, and want to address your needs and desires, so if there’s something you’d like discussed in this forum, please let us know. The AHA ECR Facebook group will kick back into action, so if you’re active on that platform we encourage you to join and engage in conversation with your representatives and colleagues. And the AHA ECR Twitter account will continue to be active, sharing resources, asking questions, offering answers. We have also established a centralised ECRs email address, aha.ecr@gmail.com, so please feel free to get in touch with us there, too. 

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Get to know your new ECR representatives!

Dr Chelsea Barnett

I am a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. I completed my PhD at Macquarie University, for which I studied the representation of masculinity in Australian films in the fifties, and which became a book in 2019 (buy it, if you feel so inclined!). Right now, I am working on a cultural history of single men in Australian popular culture. 

Twitter: @chelseambarnett

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A not-too-hot day spent lazily wandering around Sydney Harbour, with good people and stopping for good food, is hard to beat. The day my football team last won the premiership, all the way back in 2003, was also close to perfect (go the Panthers!). 

  1. What is your greatest extravagance?

Clothes! I love fashion and can pretty much justify any purchase. 

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

In my academic writing, it’s “indeed.” 

  1. Where would you most like to live?

I do love living in Sydney! If I had to pick another city outside Australia, though, it’d be London. 

  1. What is your motto?

When I was doing my HSC years ago, a particularly apt horoscope said the following: “Wishing on stars is wonderful, but there’s also nothing like a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach to daunting tasks.” I still refer to it today. (The shorter version is Amelia Earhart’s line, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”)

Dr Joel Barnes

I am a Research Associate and tutor in the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. I’m currently working on a project examining the history of humanities institutions in Australia since 1945; my part of the larger project involves looking at the history of universities, at the types of humanities knowledge they have supported and fostered. I’m generally interested in histories of ideas, knowledge and institutions. I completed my undergraduate studies at Monash (longer ago than I care to recall!), and my PhD at Melbourne in 2017.

Twitter: @joelgbarnes

  1. Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d like to be much better at languages than I am. I’m always impressed by those who had good language training at a young age, and so can pick up new ones seemingly effortlessly.

  1. Where would you most like to live?

I grew up in Melbourne and have lived in London, Wellington and now Sydney. Still figuring that out, I guess.

  1. What is your most treasured possession?

I still have world globe that my parents bought me when I was about four. It’s now quite a period piece, with Germany divided, and the USSR and Yugoslavia still intact.

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I think we’ve all got weird writing tics. One of mine is to overuse “particular” and “particularly”. I’m in a constant process of training myself out of that.

  1. On what occasion do you lie? 

Never. *Raises eyebrows*

Dr Anna Temby

I’m a terrified, recent graduate from the University of Queensland, currently running the gauntlet of casual teaching/catching up on all the things I “should have” done/published during my PhD (to varying degrees of success), and trying desperately not to cry whilst comparing myself to all my amazing peers. I am an urban historian with a particular interest in municipalism, public space, and the nebulous concept of “public order.” I’m also expecting my first kid in December and have really enjoyed the rollercoaster of advice from “you’re destroying your career” to “well you weren’t going to get work in this climate anyway, so good timing!”

Twitter: @AnnaTemby

  1. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

My absolute inability to accept praise. 

  1. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Productivity. We’ve somehow managed to conflate productivity with “usefulness” in a way that is damaging to us all. Having a “work ethic” shouldn’t mean never putting your wellbeing first. 

  1. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Just quietly.” “Not gonna lie.” “I don’t accept the premise.” “Uggggghhhhhhhh.”

  1. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

My cat, for sure. No bills, no job…she sleeps the sleep of the unoppressed—deeply. 

  1. What is your motto?

You do you, boo. 

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