Dr. Natalia Nowakowska is a Tutor & Lecturer in Early Modern History at Somerville College, University of Oxford.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Splitting Down the Middle

Sliced in half... Photo by Anan Zeevy
        Over summer, while sitting in a 19C cognac-estate manager’s house on holiday, I casually checked my email and found that a major research project on the Jagiellonian dynasty which I had proposed to the European Research Council had been selected for funding. This happy news stunned me even more than the French sunshine, and the local liqueur, Pineau des Charentes.

            The grant agreement paperwork is still being prepared in Brussels, but the most immediate effect of the ERC grant offer is that I need to calculate how to chop my Oxford History tutor & lecturer job in half, right down the middle. It is a condition of ERC Starting Grants that Principal Investigators (i.e. project leaders) spend at least 50% of their working time conducting research towards and leading the project. This means that the college and university will appoint a historian to a 0.5 post, and that – for the next 3 years - I will be sharing the job I’ve done for the past 6 years with somebody else.

            An Oxford tutorial fellowship is a strangely diffuse thing, once you start to look at it closely. Beyond the formal duties – tutorial teaching, lecturing, examining, pastoral work, sitting on committees, research – there is a penumbra of activity which builds up slowly and organically around the postholder, some of which shades into the voluntary… meeting with school groups of prospective undergraduates, talking with alumnae when they return to Somerville, attending development events in London. It’s been useful to step back and appreciate how diverse, multi-faceted and constantly surprising academic life in a college environment can be; how hard it is to write down a complete list of what we do.

            The idea of acquiring a professional partner in this job, a surrogate, is strange but appealing. Academic posts are in some ways pretty solitary, and come with a lot of de facto autonomy, so doing the job collaboratively will surely offer fresh perspectives; watching someone else do parts of this role, articulating what it involves, discussing its parameters and the execution of tasks, hearing someone else’s perspective day to day, will I suspect teach me a lot I didn’t know, or hadn’t thought of, about teaching and administration in Oxford.  Job shares are common in many other professions (and indeed in academic administration), but still very rare among Oxford humanities academics, so we will all have to learn as we go along. Innovations like this can, I suspect and hope, bring all sorts of unanticipated benefits to individuals and institutions. So, if you are a historian of early modern Europe or Britain, and would be interested in sharing my job for the next three years (entering the world behind the blog, like Alice through the Looking Glass!) do get in touch... 

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