It had been quite a while since I published anything here. My excuse is that I had a very hectic summer, working with horses, re-enactors, public engagement, Arthurian scholars, stock exchangers and trying to write yet another chapter of my PhD. Or, and I went home, so there were family and friends to spend time with.
Anyway, back to uni and back to a more relaxed working pace.
One though that had been disturbing me some time – in fact, from the very beginning of my PhD – is employment. I think most PhD students and other academics or would-be academics are suffering from the same anxieties at this time.
As a corollary, you have the choice: family or career? Let me explain: it seems a natural thing for people here to assume that if you want to make a career, you have to accept the fact that you are going to travel around the Isles or even around the globe in this wild-goose career chase. At the annual IMEMS conference two weeks ago, I met a new lecturer of the School of Music at the Bangor University. Has been married a few months, but had to leave his wife in Dublin because offered a three-year contract in Wales. Admittedly, Dublin is closer to Bangor than, say, Aberdeen or Edinburgh. It’s just 20 miles to Holyhead, and then a straight ferry to Dublin. Still, not a journey you would undertake every evening or even every week-end.
Now, when I have my PhD, and start looking for employment, and my husband, who also wants an academic job, starts looking for employment, what if we are offered posts on different sides of the Atlantic?
I know some people would not mind. I know I would.
Maybe, I’m old-fashioned, but I believe there is no point in marrying if you are not together. Preferably 24h/day. Or at least you need to wake up together, go to bed together, and have breakfasts and suppers together. But that does not seem good enough for people with ambitions nowadays.
Had a dispute yesterday at lunch between our chaplain, Katherine, and a girl from the same School of Music (nutty people those music scholars). The girl is finishing her MA and managed to obtain partial funding for her PhD project. She is Canadian, so the funding that the School gave her covers only British/EU fees, and she will have to pay the extras. She said she _needs_ to do the PhD. Katherine said it was a wrong word: she _wants_ to do a PhD. The girl says she _needs_, absolutely _needs_: it is innovative and ground-breaking, history of liturgy, codicology, etc., not just music. Now, not everyone at the table knew what ‘codicology’ means… So maybe the research is not of that universal significance after all… Well, it seems we have pretty much bullied the girl to flee from the table. We are a good bunch of well-meaning Christians, aren’t we?
I know what she meant by _need_. Two years ago I needed to do my PhD so badly that I was happy to leave my husband, with whom we had been married for half-a-year at that time, to go to North Wales from Latvia. Maybe ‘happy’ is not the word. ‘Determined’ is a better one. I felt that if I hadn’t done a PhD, my whole life would have been wasted. And I could do a ground-breaking PhD, become an academic genius of world renown, etc. Definitely become a professor at a reputable university at the end of the day.
I still feel it could be like that. And I did _need_ to do a PhD if I wanted to stay sane. But I do not feel I need to throw family and friends and normal life out of my boat in order to reach the Promised Land of academic career. I can do innovative research, but so can other PhD students. If I do not make discoveries about literature, culture and the meaning of life, somebody else will.
We are called to make the best use of our talents and skills, but what is the best use? To serve your own ambitions, or to serve other people?
I would like to give my ramblings a Christian and academic touch by finishing with a quotation. It is a commentary on the Sunday reading from the Gospel. The commentary is by a Russian saint, St. Theophan the Recluse. A nineteenth-century nobleman, with bright prospects opening in front of him, educated as military engineer… A stern guy, judging from his writings, who maintained a military discipline at his monastery before he became a recluse:
“The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost. [II Cor. 6:1-10; Matt. 25:14-30]
The parable about the talents offers the thought that life is a time for trading. That means that it is necessary to hasten to use this time as a person would hurry to a market to bargain for what he can. Even if one has only brought bast shoes, or only bast, he does not sit with his arms folded, but contrives to call over buyers to sell what he has and then buy for himself what he needs. No one who has received life from the Lord can say that he does not have a single talent—everyone has something, and not just one thing; everyone, therefore, has something with which to trade and make a profit. Do not look around and calculate what others have received, but take a good look at yourself and determine more precisely what lies in you and what you can gain for that which you have, and then act according to this plan without laziness. At the Judgment you will not be asked why you did not gain ten talents if you had only one, and you will not even be asked why you gained only one talent on your one, but you will be told that you gained a talent, half a talent or a tenth of its worth. And the reward will not be because you received the talents, but because you gained. There will be nothing with which to justify yourself—not with nobleness, nor poverty, nor lack of education. When this is not given, there will be no question about it. But you had hands and feet. You will be asked, what did you gain with them? You had a tongue, what did you gain with it? In this way will the inequalities of earthly states be levelled out at God’s judgment.”