All 5 entries tagged Nic Pillai

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September 17, 2012

Teaching as an ECR – by Nic

For some, it's an unpleasant duty. To others, it's the reason they got into academia in the first place. Yes folks, I'm talking about teaching.

I'm one of the latter, I have to admit. Teaching a room full of enthusiastic undergrads is the most rewarding aspect of university life for me. In the 2012-13 year, I'll be running more seminars - which is something I've been doing in my department on and off since 2008 - but also lecturing. Designing my own module is pretty daunting, but also hugely exciting, right?!

Having got past the initial "Hang on, what, they've left me in charge?" confusion, I've been thinking more carefully about how one puts a term of study together. It's been useful to cast my mind back to undergraduate days, remembering what worked and what didn't, and what were the most interesting and inspiring modules that I took.

Luckily, the module I'm creating is strongly connected with my own research (music and film), so I've no shortage of texts that I could include. The problem, if anything, is narrowing down the field!

I know that some people aren't temperamentally suited to teaching, but my advice is: if you're offered the chance, grasp it with both hands. The experience of teaching made me more confident as a lecturer, but it also really improved my research skills. The pressure of the seminar room helped me become more articulate, and showed me how problems can be approached in different ways.

Of course, talk to me next year and I might be a nervous wreck! But in the meantime, please leave me a comment with your own opinions about teaching. Do you think it's essential for ECRs? And, if you've experience of creating your own module, any advice is very welcome!!!

September 03, 2012

The "other" job – by Nic

Increasingly, ECRs are having to supplement their academic lives with other work. Almost all of my peers are in the same position - teaching just doesn't provide a living wage. We've got to the stage now where many researchers (including me) are effectively subsidising their own research through part-time jobs.

This can have a detrimental effect - there's always the danger that you're spreading yourself too thinly. You can't burn the candle at both ends, so the saying goes, but that's exactly what most young researchers are forced to do.

While it's easy to see this as a source for gloom, I think it's useful to view "other" jobs as opportunities rather than necessities. It seems as though we're at a point where the academic landscape is changing, and moving towards soimething more varied and multi-platformed. Accruing extra skills and experience can only be a good thing.

For me, getting a job in the Wolfson Research Exchange broadened my horizons considerably. I've now got a stronger understanding of how this university works, where once my horizons were limited to my own department. I've gained valuable web experience, created site pages, written copy, commissioned other writers... And I've had fun with some awesome colleagues! It's difficult not to see this as a big personal advance, developing aspects of myself and my CV that PhD study did not.

Still, I'm aware that this is very particular to the kind of job I do. I'd like to hear from other ECRs - what kinds of "other" jobs do you do? And (crucially) do you think they inform your academic identity, or are they just a way to pay the bills?

August 06, 2012

"And the livin' is easy…" – by Nic


For the researcher, the holidays are a blessing and a curse. Without the distractions of teaching and marking, it's finally possible to get a clear run at your writing projects. However, without the structure imposed by the ten-week term, it's all too easy to run out of momentum.

For me, the summer holiday is a chance to keep working but with the luxury of relaxed hours. This year hasn't been great for sunshine, but when there is warm weather, I'll often take my work down to the local park. Changing my routine and surroundings has a very positive effect on my writing!

However, sometimes all this freedom can seem oppressive... With that in mind, here are a few local beauty spots that are worth a visit. They'll take your mind off work, if that's what you need. But they're also wonderful settings if you want to work outdoors - they'll stimulate your imagination!

1. Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

You've probably gone past Abbey Fields on the bus, but have you ever stopped and explored? An oasis of calm, surrounded by Kenilworth's oldest and most beautiful buildings. Close by is the striking St Nicholas' parish church, which has a shady, relaxing churchyard. The ruins of St Mary's Abbey adjoin the park and historic Kenilworth Castle is a short walk away.

Abbey Fields

2. Charlecote Park, Wellesbourne

This National Trust property is quite expensive if you want to visit the stately home itself. However, the grounds are free to walk around. It's a great spot for a picnic - herds of deer roam the park and there are stunning views of the house from across the river. The park is just a few miles away from Stratford-Upon-Avon, which has all sorts of Shakespearian sites of interest!


3. Compton Verney, Kineton

An art gallery set in a grand country manor. Visitors can enjoy the grounds designed by 'Capability' Brown), which contain an abundance of wildlife, or view the extensive and varied collections. In the past, I've seen Van Gogh and Francis Bacon exhibits here - currently on show is The Image of a King.

Compton Verney

Of course, these are just a few of your options. Let me know which are your favourite places to visit in the area - I need to add more to my list!

February 16, 2012

Green days – by Nic

Hannah's post really struck a chord with me. Over the course of my PhD, I often felt inadequate and lost. My peers seemed to have direction and purpose, while I sat at home mournfully rewriting Chapter 3.

Envy is destructive. It affects your interaction with peers but also your relationship to your own work. It's easy to feel as though researcher life is a competition, and that the winners are the first to publish or get approval.

Of course, this is a distortion. Everybody's work is different, everybody's approach is different. If you hold yourself up to comparison with others, you're setting yourself a false standard.

What I eventually realised about my feelings of envy was that they came from insecurities about my own work and my own worth as a researcher. Happily, these fears have (mostly) abated. And also... I don't have time to be envious any more!

Ol' green eyes is back: Data does not understand your human feelings of envy.


February 06, 2012

Giant Academic Team–Up – by Nic

We all know that research can be a lonely process.

By the end of my PhD, I was doubting my ability to continue in academia. I'm a social animal - I like talking to people, which is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much. In retrospect, it was moments of sociality that got me through my PhD: meetings with my supervisor, chats with colleagues and students, grumbles on Twitter and the support of my girlfriend and family.

Getting a job in the Wolfson Research Exchange was probably the turning point for me, though. Working in an office environment and having the satisfaction of contributing to a larger project gave me confidence and opened my mind up to the possibility of collaboration.

Since my viva, I've been pursuing collaborative projects, academic and non-academic (I also serve on the editorial board of an online publisher). Talking through a research project is a great motivator!

I do wonder, though, if my natural inclination toward sociability is making me see only half the picture. What do you think are the advantages of collaboration? Are there any pitfalls? Answers on the back of a postcard, or failing that, in the comments section below, please!

Giant Academic Team-Up

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