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April 10, 2014

This past academic year has been a lively, focused and productive one, but it has also brought mixed blessings. In addition to finally sitting down to crank through my first draft of chapter one (I’m nearly there!), I’ve focused much of my energy on fellowship and grant applications. I was thrilled to receive a prestigious Schallek Award to support dissertation research from the Medieval Academy of America and Richard III Society, American Branch. As delighted as I am with this award – it will go quite a long way in sending me to Dublin for my archives tour, hooray! – this was my sole success. The three fellowships I had hoped and applied for didn’t materialize, which means I will definitely (reluctantly) return to teaching duties in the fall. (More on that later). While the financial support would have been a fantastic thing for my family and I am of course disappointed by this outcome, I have to confess that the application process was the best thing that could have happened to my dissertation. It forced me, for the first time since my vague-ish dissertation proposal, to really grapple with how to organize my research, and to figure out what the hell I am actually arguing (or, rather, what my sources will actually let me argue, for they are in the driver’s seat!). I am blessed with incredibly supportive mentors at UConn, and their probing questions in response to my drafts really forced me to take stock of my project and to confront myself as well: to force myself to think about the kinds of questions I want to ask of my sources, and the kind of historian I want to be. I didn’t get the fellowships in the end, but I did develop a gameplan for a well-organized and innovative project that excites me (and my advisors!), and that’s probably the next best thing. Of course rejection is never fun; anyone who has been through the Ph.D. application process is already far too well-versed on the subject. I’ll be quite honest; I’m really bummed about it. But life goes on.

And so, I return to teaching. I have enjoyed (a little too much!) my hiatus from teaching for the past two years while serving an administrative assistantship, and it has taught me that my heart is 100% in my research, and not necessarily in a teaching career. The more I think about it, the less enamored I become with the traditional tenure-track academic job search (not least because I’m learning how profoundly family un-friendly academia can be for women, but that’s a conversation for another day). I have loved the editorial and librarian work I’ve had the good fortune to secure, and I really do think I would be much happier with (I hesitate to say it, because it sounds ridiculous to me, but it IS the new buzz word) an ‘alt-ac’ (alternative academic) career. I’m not sure the high pressure tenure track is for me. I’m not discounting it for good, by any means, but I am considering my options. I haven’t yet had the chance to teach a proper history course, and that might change everything for me. But right now, in this moment, I could see myself in an editorial, library, archive or museum career. I dearly love history, and I know it’s what I want for my career, and at the moment the future seems so very open-ended.  So that’s always in the back of my mind as I continue on the grad path. Returning to the classroom this fall means it will take longer than I’d like to finish my project, that’s inevitable. I just hope I don’t lose faith in it, or in myself. This revelation, that maybe I don’t necessarily have to sign myself up for a lifetime of teaching, gives me a little bit of relief at least.



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