Being a scholar | editor, 2014-17

The Huntington Garden of Flowing Fragrance (Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園), August 2017, author’s photo.

As I sit in California, in the studious quiet, warm wood fittings and comfortable indirect lighting of the Huntington Library’s Rothenberg Reading Room, I can feel the space for thought expanding. The last few years have been a time of juggling – work with scholarship, life with other bits of life, contemplation with action – and this is the first time that I have had for a long time to devote myself to pure academic reflection. The years since the end of my PhD have brought a great deal of joy – celebration, travel, marriage, life shared with others – but has also had its absences – largely in comparison to doctoral research, both positive and negative. It is nice to take some time to reflect.

How did I get to where I am now? I am not in an academic role – temporary or permanent – and yet I have done a lot of academic things (workshops, summer schools, conferences). I have not “left” academia, but try (and admittedly often fail) not to lurk on the threshold. And you know what? I like being me.

One point of difference has given me pause for contemplation. Unlike many other ECRs I do not teach/have not taught, not because I do not enjoy teaching (I love it, and have a reasonable amount of experience), but because it did not offer me what I needed, when I needed it. I could claim that this was some kind of principled rebellion against the exploitative nature of casual/adjunct university teaching, its contempt for basic dignities such as reasonable pay and job security, but it was not wholly so. I fell into freelance editing because it was there and my skillset was a fit, but stayed because it offered me the flexibility that I had become accustomed to during my doctorate, coupled with the social bonds of a workplace. The staff where I worked as an in-house editor and online tester were all very friendly, and went out of their way to include freelancers in social events (if you’re reading this, then you know who you are and you are great). I think that I began to feel peace with myself when I recognised that I did not have to conform to anyone’s expectations, just as 21st century portfolio careers do not correspond to a traditional notion of a “career”.

I have worked, largely as a freelance editor, and I have researched and published not as a career professional, but as an enthusiast, as someone who has learned with time that he cannot give up scholarship. I can no more leave scholarship than I can leave my blood vessels, my lungs, my heart behind. I am tangentially (and productively) part of academia – affiliated with a university, and within the world of the university – and also outside of it, doing research because of an impulse, rather than a necessity. This has not always been without its turmoil – it is often frustrating to navigate the boundary between demanding vocation and rewarding pastime, to lack the funding that allows conference travel or the time to devote to research without carving it from weekends or evenings. The balance is sometimes precarious, but I am finding it largely rewarding. The reward came, I think, when I let go of my preconceptions. I recognise that I am a lucky and privileged person, and that I am supremely grateful for what has been given to me.

I am moving on to a new stage in my life, having spent over three years in York. The next stop is Dublin, where I will be continuing my research as a visiting fellow at the Trinity College Dublin Long Room Hub and (probably) working freelance again. I will be academic, but also not currently employed as an academic. I am open to whatever comes my way, but I have found a way to research that works for me, for now. My wife Debs and I have worked hard to carve a path for ourselves where we both found supportive pathways for our careers (she too is an ECR), and I am happy that I have developed a skill-set with the flexibility to accommodate both of us as we move forward. I couldn’t have done this, or anything else, without her!

This post is the first of a new theme for Scrivener & Smith, which is transforming from a wholly professional site to a personal site that incorporates elements of my editing and scholarly activities. I hope that you will come back to read more! The plan is to merge scholarship, creativity, and editing knowledge in one.

Before I go, I would like to speak out to anyone who has found their path post-PhD to be strange and meandering, and who may have felt lost. You are not alone, and there is a place where you will thrive. Time will tell where that place is, but it will come.

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