Building the CV: Getting a headstart on the next school year

It’s summer, and for the most part there’s still lots of time before the big scholarship and funding award deadlines start looming. This means that now is an ideal time to think about strengthening your CV, meeting with mentors and potential supervisors or future colleagues, and formulating your plans. Keep in mind that many will likely have research trips planned, but they’ll also have more free time as classes are out and exams marks have been submitted. Why not send out an email or two to see if someone in your field at a nearby university would be free for a coffee as you ask a few questions about their work and projects. You find find yourself with some new leads, new ideas, and new connections.

Now is also an ideal time to write out a list of all of the award programmes you’ve been thinking of applying for and note their official deadlines. Next, check with the university you’re planning (hoping?) to take up the award at to see if they have their own internal deadlines and work from those. Go over the description of your future project to see what areas you can expand upon or clarify. The clearer and more specific you can be about your proposed project, including your timeline, your objectives, and your planned output, the better. Be sure to note where you’ll be doing your research, what archives (and specific archival sources) you’ll be utilising, and in what format(s) you plan on sharing your findings.

For example, are you planning a website, journal article, conference, public lecture, an essay in a published collection, or even an academic monograph to come out of your project? Then show and prove that you’ll be able to accomplish this. For example, past publications with reputable publishers demonstrates that you can write and get published. Technical skills in web design show that you can put together a website. Evidence of event planning in previous employment or having helped out with past conferences might help convince a funding body that you’ll be able to plan and run a successful conference withe their money.

You’ve probably noticed that I specified that past publications are an indication that you’re likely to be able to get published in the future, and the same goes for events such as conferences and workshops. In fact, it’s also true for funding. One of the best ways to support a funding application is to have already had successful funding applications. This is one of the (many) reasons postgraduate students who are self-funded struggle to continue in academia beyond the PhD. Not only do they often graduate with crippling debt (or end up ABD — all but dissertation — because they’ve often had to take up paid work and run out of time or motivation to finish their own research and thesis), but they can’t show that they’ve been considered a worthy investment by funders.

So how do you build a strong academic CV? Keep your CV in mind as you make daily choices about what you’re going to do. Could you be doing some additional research to strengthen that article you’ve been writing? Could you ask someone in your department about possible funding for student-run conferences? Past funding doesn’t have to mean scholarships and studentships. You could volunteer to help organise a series of postgraduate work-in-progress workshops at your school, or email a friend who’s organising a conference to offer to give a talk. Become a member of an organisation that is connected to your field. Not only will your membership go on your CV, but you’ll suddenly be getting insider information about upcoming events and opportunities for ‘service’.

Have you taken note of publishers who have been publishing on topics related to your field recently and looked up how to contact the editorial team? You may find that your preferred publisher appreciates early contact with authors in order to discuss a potential book idea instead of waiting until you have a fully-formed book ready to go. Who knows? You might suddenly have a book deal with two years to go before you feel the book will be ready (just be completely honest and up front about the stage at which your research and ‘book’ is at — you don’t want to miss publishing deadlines).

It’s worth looking into their instructions for authors from an early date. You can gain a lot of insight from a few webpages and an email or two; not only could this save you a lot of time in restructuring work or chasing down editors at a publishing company that may no longer be interested in your field or in adapted PhD theses, but you might also find just the right person at the right company who wants to work with you now to create an exciting book in the not-so-distant future.

My plan is to revisit this topic later this year with some clearer points to help with building and refining the CV, but for now I want to wrap up with some advice one of my PhD supervisors always gave at his postgraduate skills seminar on publishing: finish the degree. The most important thing to do is to finish the degree. There’s a reason why ‘Education’ is listed at the start of the CV. Completing your degree shows that you have commitment, drive, and ability. You stick to the task. You can be trusted to finish what you start, and you’re worth investing in. So enjoy the relaxed pace of summer, but consider using some of this time to get ready for a better, more productive year in the next school year, one that you can document and utilise to do even more in the future.

Researching International History Workshop

Researching International History Workshop

On Friday I gave a paper at the Researching International History Workshop that was held at The University of Edinburgh on May 6 & 7. The workshop brought together doctoral candidates, early career researchers, and internationally renowned historians who work in the broad (and growing) fields of international and transnational history.

It was the call for papers that made me want to participate and write a paper for the workshop. In the CFP, one of the suggested topics for potential speakers was to write about how the study of international or transnational history can relate to modern politics and law. I was already interested in looking into the funding and uses of recent slavery research for one or more future blog posts, so this was an ideal reason to get started on the research and a great opportunity to get feedback on a draft copy of the work.

I spoke about contemporary research into slavery history being conducted at British universities and how their findings have the potential to be used to support calls for reparations. I examined the origins of these research projects’ funding and the irony of how government funding could be being used to find information that challenges the David Cameron and his government’s position on reparations. My paper was well received and I got some good feedback.

I was the second to speak on a panel of three speakers and the only presenter on slavery history (and the only female presenter) on the day. In the Q&A session I got asked a great question that I hadn’t yet thought to address in my study:

Why did I think that the Caricom Committee was asking for reparations now?

Caricom, which stands for Caribbean Community, has 15 member states and 5 associate states from the Caribbean region. In March 2014, the Caricom Reparations Committee released a Ten Point Plan for Reparatory Justice as a means of achieving their goals, ‘to prepare the case for reparatory justice for the Region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading and racial apartheid’.

My thoughts are that the wave of commemorations in 2007 addressing the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire didn’t start the calls for reparations by any means, but they did bring a lot of publicity and greater awareness of Britain’s past slaveholding and trading activities. Many new academic studies were published, memorials were held, and even commemorative coins were minted (which I plan to write more on at a later date). The public commemorations highlighted the role of British abolitionists, frequently leaving black agency out of the narrative and strategically overlooking Britain’s prior role as a leader in the transatlantic slave trade.

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In this short time, in my view, increased public interest and an increase in relevant digitised resources plus funding bodies interested in providing money into slavery-related research has led to a greater understanding of Britain’s role in slavery and not just abolition, and this could then be used to support the case for reparations.