Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Why I won’t be at BCHS

‘Merry’ female students at Oxford, in The Sphere, 28 October 1922 (from British Newspaper Archive)

Today, I should be making the 40-minute car journey followed by three train changes journey up to Ormskirk to spend a couple of days with fellow crime historians at the British Crime Historians Symposium.

Held every two years, I’ve attended the last three – at Edinburgh, Liverpool and Milton Keynes – and have found it to be a valuable experience. Not only do you get to talk about your research to people who are genuinely interested and involved in related fields, but you also network with others, make or renew friendships, and feel that you are part of a supportive community.

However, I won’t be there today. Very reluctantly – and after having managed to write both my own conference paper and its accompanying PowerPoint, which always feels like an achievement in itself – I’ve had to withdraw. It’s the second conference I was supposed to be speaking at this year, and the second I’ve had to cancel, with less notice than I’d like to have given.

Why won’t I be there? Basically, I’ve realised I’m not superwoman. Other people seem to be able to do everything (and if that’s you, I have huge admiration for you) – but I can’t, and I think because I straddle two different areas – academia and freelance writing – I struggle to keep up.

If you work full-time in academia, or are doing a research degree, speaking at conferences is pretty much expected of you. There’s a clear benefit both to you and your institution that this is a valuable activity, one to add to your profile or CV. You may also get funding – some, at least – towards the costs of attending the conference, even.

I finished my PhD three years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to get a lectureship, as my university was unable to give me any teaching experience over the course of my studies, and this is required for all the posts I’ve seen advertised (understandably, I hasten to add). I am also at a disadvantage in terms of applying for sought-after postdocs because I have family commitments that mean I can’t just up sticks and move around the country to take on jobs that are on fixed term contracts.

I therefore work as a freelance writer and editor, juggling projects and commissions for different companies (in addition to also trying to get my next book written!). I love doing this – I’ve been doing it for over a decade, so I must do! – but it’s not a 9 to 5 job, and it’s not regular hours throughout the year.

I never know when I’m going to be busy, and when I’m not – although if the last couple of years are anything to go by, it seems that the summer holidays tend to be my most frenetic time. But it means that paid work has to come first, and that when I become busy, I have to let other commitments go.

This year, conferences have been the commitment I’ve had to let go, and it’s made me realise that I need to stop trying to attend them for a while. It’s costing me too much in terms of time, stress and money – as I have to pay conference fees, travel and accommodation out of my own pocket, and the conferences I want to attend invariably seem to be quite far away, meaning I spend a lot of time travelling with dodgy or non-existent wifi, so that I can’t guarantee being able to work whilst on the move.

It does make me sad, and feel sometimes that I’m struggling just to keep one foot in academia – but I’m just going to have to find other ways to do it (and thanks to Oxford Brookes University, who have given me an honorary research associate position, which is very much appreciated)!

Luckily, I know lots of lovely academic historians on social media, and if any of them ever fancy a coffee in Oxford or London – the places I can get to easily – then shout! And in the meantime, all the best to everyone taking part in BCHS this weekend; do tweet, blog or otherwise communicate what’s happening up at Edge Hill University so that those of us who would love to have been there, but can’t, feel like we’re still involved. 🙂

1 Comment

  1. Going to miss you Nell. We must meet up for that coffee – I can easily get to Oxford and/or London xx

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