POSTGRADUATE FUTURES CONFERENCE
SATURDAY 8th JULY 2000Summary by Tory Young and Rychard Carrington, with Val Scullion
(with additional material from Brian Burton, editor of Postgraduate English)
After a welcoming address by Dr Rebecca Stott, Reader and Head of English at Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge, the conference opened with a keynote speech by Professor Rick Rylance.
National Issues: An Update (from Professor Rick Rylance)
Locating your Work in the Research
Field (led by Dr Ashley Tauchert )
Publishing Your Ph.D(led by Sarah Caro)
The Politics And Practicalities of the Postgraduate
Experience (led by Karen Daw and Stacey Gillis)
Fostering Ph.D. Culture (led by Professor Steven Connor)
Keynote Address: Public Understanding of English
Studies (Professor Catherine Belsey)
Editor's Response to conference overall
National Issues: An Update (from Professor Rick Rylance) top
Professor Rylance, recently appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Letters at APU, is Secretary of the Council for College and University English (CCUE), and a member of both the National Subject Benchmarking Group for English and the 2001 RAE Panel. His address clearly established the context for the rest of the day's discussions, dispelling some harmful myths in the process.
Professor Rylance began by outlining the major changes which had occurred in Higher Education in the last ten years: the impact of universal auditing, the pre-eminence of business values, moral panics concerning standards, the funding famine. These have radically re-shaped the culture and context of English studies. Moreover, following a shift within the disciplinary community over the last two decades, English is now caught up in a broader context that involves cross-disciplinary interaction with subjects such as linguistics, film / theatre studies, colonial studies, and Irish / Scottish / Welsh studies. On one hand, this broad outlook indicates the extent to which English literature (that is, the wider field of literature in English as opposed to more narrow, generic forms such as women’s or nation-based literatures) influences – and is influenced by – other disciplinary fields; on the other hand, however, such incorporation may be viewed by purists as a diluting of academic English. This is patently a contentious issue and not one which is likely to find an easy resolution..
Such developments have shaken the traditionally private character of the study of the Humanities. In the past we were uninformed about the way colleagues taught in our own universities and colleges and knew even less about what went in other institutions. The advent of the QAA and the RAE have enforced greater awareness, but they have also created a suspicious, competitive atmosphere. Professor Rylance urged a collective response to a mean-spirited audit culture and a spirited defense of what we as the teachers and students of English do in a wider domain. This cannot be achieved without a clear picture of the entire English academic community.
Professor Rylance thus related some pertinent statistics. In Higher Education there are 102 'providers' of English (departments, or organising bodies); there are about 40,000 students, and 2,000 staff, including part-timers; 70% of English undergraduates are female, the same proportion as for 'A' Level students. The sex balance for staff is about equal, although with more men in senior positions. Professor Rylance asserted that despite the general perception throughout the twentieth century that English was in a state of crisis, the macro-picture was actually deeply consensual and rather stable. Why then, as a subject community have we been so inclined to depict ourselves as in a state of crisis?
Although Professor Rylance reassuringly reminded us that a small ripple may look like a tidal wave in a goldfish bowl he did identify and address three areas of concern:
and subject identity.
On recruitment, he noted the fear that in this new century English could suffer the fate of Classics in the last, declining from a prominent status to a little-studied subject, widely regarded as anachronistic. Yet while some fall in numbers has occurred in History and Language Departments, there is little evidence of a decline in the popularity of English nationally so far. English is the third largest subject in Higher Education, behind Business Studies and Computer Science. English and Mathematics are the most popular 'A' Level subjects, each with about 90,000 students. However, an increasing number of students are doing drama and film studies rather than literature alone, while at A level there has been a shift from literature to language, especially among boys. This has resulted in a much broader ability range among students, along with the admittance of weaker students onto courses for which they would not have been suitably qualified in previous years. Subsequently, teaching strategies have been forced to change given that we can no longer make assumptions about how to teach mixed ability student groups. English recruits substantially from mature students, although their numbers have declined since the introduction of fees.
Turning to vocationalism, Prof. Rylance strongly refuted the popular conception that an English degree does not lead to a job, and stressed the importance of scotching this myth. 88% of English graduates get a job or begin further training immediately. The figure of the remaining 12% includes those who are not seeking jobs. For Business Studies the figure is 12.1%, for Media Studies 20%. There is little correlation between subjects and jobs: only about 18% of English graduates go into teaching; of Chemistry graduates, 70% do not go into chemistry. It is simply not the case that all or even the majority of English graduates join the teaching or journalism professions, or go on to work in bookshops or libraries. This is a prevailing misperception that gives a wholly false impression of English graduates as a particular type of person. The crucial difference in employment prospects is between people with a degree and people without one.
The final concern was a perceived nervousness about the identity of the subject. Aside from issues raised by the
evolution of literary theory, more practical developments are changing the agenda of English teaching practice.
Following the general expansion of higher education, departments now have to address a much wider ability range
of students, and this is having an influence upon teaching. The issue of how best to teach the students of lower
ability needs to be considered thoughtfully. With the new awareness of the business world, the intention of
developing undergraduate's vocational skills besides literary analysis is also influencing curricula to an
increasing extent. Reading skills and IT skills are now more conscious concerns. Drama, film and language courses are currently growing rapidly. Inter-disciplinary work is both fashionable and increasingly popular, a trend which English departments should be well-equipped to incorporate. We are also having to respond to a contemporary culturewhich is becoming more orientated towards oral communication and towards the visual image. While some academic commentators may find such changes disconcerting, on the ground there is actually a strong convergent sense of purpose and collective solidarity. English has a great accommodating drive; in practice it adapts smoothly to new developments. A recent CCUE survey revealed that there was little difference in the curriculum principles of departments throughout the country.
Finally, Prof. Rylance addressed what he saw as some genuine problems that needed to be addressed carefully.
While he welcomed the increasing focus on the context of literature, it poses the issue of how to write about and
teach literature without adhering to a hierarchy which places text in the foreground, context in the background.
There was the problem of staff being removed from teaching to work on research for the sake of the RAE. In
particular, there was the huge increase in the employment of casual labour and of short-term contracts. The terms
and conditions of postgraduate teaching were often particularly poor, and such teachers lack protection from
the AUT [No longer applies see AUT and Postgraduate Teachers). Yet while such problems are real and substantial, Prof. Rylance did us all a great service by placing them within a context of intelligent optimism, denying the grounds for indulgent despair.
After the opening adress from Professor Rylancethe conference then divided for two sessions of workshops. Each workshop lasted for forty-five minutes, and some rantwice, enabling delegates to attend two workshops of their choice. The conference organisers were much assisted in the planning of these workshops sessions by Stacey Gillis and Karen Daw, postgraduate students from the University of Exeter.
Workshop: Locating your Work in the Research
Field (led by Dr Ashley Tauchert ) top
Dr Ashley Tauchert of the University of Exeter lead a workshop entitled "Locating your Work in the Research
Field." Dr Tauchert began by giving a historical context for the study of English at degree level and characterised
it as a feminised subject with a largely humanitarian ethic. She argued that English in Higher Education is now
operating in an ethically disinterested arena. Consequently, conflicts of interest, both pragmatic and
moral, arise. By drawing on group discussion, she illustrated that English is a subject with permeable
boarders. In a huge spidergraph on the whiteboard, she showed that English combines easily with many other
English studies is concerned both with the analysis of texts and with the ‘mission’ of locating texts within historical, philosophical, political, theoretical, and cultural contexts, including those of other cultures. Yet – and this is a problem many students, not just postgraduates, have to face – it is frequently the case that, once engaged on a course of research, the ease with which one can become sidetracked when attempting to elucidate one or more of these contexts can also result in detracting from the initial theme or direction the research was intended to take. Hence the need to ‘situate’ one’s work before rushing off to notebook or keyboard. ‘Situate’ simply means ‘to take a position’ or ‘to stake a claim’ in the expansive, and frequently hazardous, field of research in English (or any other academic field, for that matter). We are already situated as soon as we decide on a course of research, irrespective of whether or not the sheer wealth of available resources causes digressions into previously unconsidered territories. However, the need to disseminate research means that we are required to find a “strong territorial position” from which to start, bearing in mind that we must target a particular audience and we cannot situate work without that audience. The second half of Dr. Tauchert's paper concerned how research students could inform themselves about the field and related fields in which they were working. Practical advice followed on giving papers at conferences, publishing in journals and teaching. She regarded all of these activities as a 'dialogue with a community of scholars'.Apart from the importance of networking in pursuit of a future career, the exchange of ideas in discussion should
refine your own ideas. Ideally, your thesis should be applicable to more than a handful of texts. In order to add
to a body of knowledge, your thesis needs to reciprocate with other studies and have elements which can be
Lastly, Dr Tauchert described the current undesirable division between research and teaching. She
argued that the requirements of the RAE fostered a two-tier system, whereas, in her opinion, teaching should be appliedresearch. Dr Tauchert conversed with the group throughout her paper. Her method of delivery enacted her principles of how to locate your work in the research field through dialogue.
[Response: These are all sensible, important observations which need to be considered when embarking on a course of research. However, I feel that more could have been said about different types of research. Recognising and targeting a potential audience is, of course, vital, and it is obvious that the vast majority of published research is read only by other researchers sharing a common interest. However, in view of the remarks later made by Prof. Belsey, there is a danger whereby in targeting the limited, exclusive audience of the academic community, the public are completely ignored. It must be recognised, for example, that the audience for an article about a little-known 18th century dramatist published in a small-circulation journal will be considerably different to – and smaller than – the audience for a book-length general overview of 20th British poetry. The importance of audience cannot be overestimated, but neither can learning to recognise a potential audience, something this workshop failed to address. By concentrating on the ‘where’ of locating one’s work, the equally important ‘how’ was unfortunately forgotten.
Brian Burton, Editor]
Workshop: Publishing Your Ph.D (led by Sarah Caro) top
Sarah Caro, Senior Commissioning Editor for Social Science at Cambridge University Press, lead a workshop entitled "Publishing Your Ph.D." After stressing that she was giving her own opinions and experiences as a publisher, Ms Caro had many valuable things to say in general about the practicalities of getting a monograph published. It becameclear very quickly that the publishing of academic books was a buyer's market. The number of books sold is extremely low. Consequently, authors should not expect to be paid, even if they are lucky enough to get their work published. Ms Caro gave clear and detailed advice on how to give yourself the best chance at each hurdle. This included advice on making first contact with a suitable publisher and what to include in a covering letter to them. She spoke in detail about how to write a proposal for a book in order to give yourself the best chance of a publisher showing an interest. This included writing an abstract, a summary for each chapter and a comparison which argued why your book was different from other similar books in the field. Ms Caro pointed out that the process from start to finish, including reviewing and editing, would take at least two years, assuming you succeeded at each point. Although Ms Caro was encouraging in her tone, it emerged from her paper that it was exceedingly difficult to get a monograph published in the current economic and highly competitive academic climate.
Workshop: The Politics And Practicalities of the Postgraduate
Experience (led by Karen Daw and Stacey Gillis) top
The text below is a summary. Karen Daw and Stacey Gillis have also kindly provided us with the full handout used for this workshop)
Karen Daw and Stacey Gillis facilitated a workshop entitled "The Politics And Practicalities of the Postgraduate
Experience." Their informative hand-out stated that 'The purpose of this workshop is to discuss and explore the waysin which you can create a voice for postgraduates in your department which will, in turn, create opportunities foryourself and your fellow students. Becoming involved in the research culture of your department will enable you to getmore out of university life generally. In the long term, your chances of gaining a position in academic life will begreatly enhanced.' Karen and Stacey told us of the impressive efforts they had made at Exeter University to
improve the circumstances of research students. We discussed issues of facilities, postgraduate organisation,
relationships with department staff. Circumstances varied greatly between institutions, but in general there was
thought to be scope for considerable improvement. Developing a sense of community for postgraduates within
your own department, for instance through establishing reading groups, is an important start. Postgraduates need to take the initiative to improve matters for themselves. Karen and Stacey provided us with plenty of ideas for howto do this.Some options might include: becoming involved with an internal organising committee such as a Board of Graduate Studies or a Postgraduate Staff-Student representative committee: organising a one-day conference or establishing links with other postgraduates at neighbouring institutions. Moreover, quite apart from the academic staff, it is always worthwhile getting to know the administrative staff as they are not only the most informed people in any department, but they can also makepostgraduate life considerably easier (or harder!)
On a more immediate and personal level, it is the responsibility of students to make their requirements known to their respective departments, be they individual supervisory needs, requests for teaching experience, or the collective needs of all postgraduates in the department. These may include the provision of computer facilities for sole use by research students, access to a communal room, or even (though this may be pushing the boat out somewhat) tea and coffee making facilities. Whatever your situation, it is important to remember that postgraduates are important members of a department, although it sometimes helps to remind departments of this fact. It is therefore vital to make yourself known to other post grads, establish some form of mutual support structure from within – which may include regular contact with each other and securing representatives on departmental committees – and knowing who to ask among academic staff when help is required.
With employment aims in mind, it is fundamentally important that postgraduates are availed of opportunities to get their research known. Hence, participation in the wider academic community becomes paramount. Try to ensure that you become involved in presenting your work to your peers, whether by speaking at conferences or giving papers at staff-student seminars. This will provide you with a level of recognition which may come in handy when applying for jobs. Prospective employers are looking for staff who can balance a strong research background with teamwork skills and administrative / organisational abilities. Achieve this balance and your employment prospects improve dramatically.
[Response: My first impression of the session – and one of the presenters in particular – was that it was rather too politically orientated, verging on the ‘bolshie’, in fact. Yet in hindsight much of what was said made perfect sense. All employment environments – not just those in academia – require us to become ‘political animals’ in some sense. Deny the obvious and your career will inevitably falter, although it is also true that an excessive desire to take control may well brand you as a troublemaker. Tact and diplomacy rule the day when making your requirements known, but we must also learn to be assertive when necessary. Simple truisms, perhaps, but no less salient for that. Phrases such as “becoming involved” and “active participation” peppered the discussion, emphasising the need for postgraduates to take charge of their university experiences in preparation for a hopefully successful future.
Brian Burton, Editor]
Workshop: Fostering Ph.D. Culture (led by Professor Steven Connor) top
Professor Steven Connor, Pro-Vice-Master for International and Research Students at Birkbeck College, led a workshopentitled 'Fostering Ph.D. Culture'. He encouraged us to think of ourselves as participants in a general researchculture, as opposed to thinking of ourselves as lonesome scholars pursuing a narrow course of research in a very specific field. The latter attitude fosters the sense of isolation of which postgraduate researchers complain so frequently, and can create a sense that one's research lacks a significant context. He encouraged the pursuit of
auxiliary activities, and the creation of organisations to facilitate these. His own experience in setting up such
organisations at Birkbeck testified to their worth. These included reading groups, where matters discussed did not
relate to any individual student's particular research. These helped take researchers away from their narrow focus,and successfully stimulated creativity. Such gatherings also served to foster 'inter-generational' converse: thosebeginning, those completing and those who have completed theses could fruitfully share experiences. Generallyresearch culture needs to look outward, to broadcast what it does and become more involved in the outer world. Ph.D.students should be at the centre of society, not at its margins.
Keynote Address: Public Understanding of English
Studies (Professor Catherine Belsey) top
Lunch was followed by a superb keynote address by Professor Catherine Belsey, who is Chair of the Centre for Criticaland Cultural Theory at the University of Wales, Cardiff. She entitled her talk "Public Understanding of English Studies." Below is an edited version of her address:
'I want you to imagine you are on a train and the person opposite starts talking to you and you tell them what it is
that you are doing. What do you imagine they think you spend your day doing? In my case, if I tell them that I
teach English they start apologising for their grammar and spelling. Presumably they think that what I do all do is
correct grammar and spelling.The reason we often get this blank, inappropriate, even negative response is that we don't really tell them muchabout what we do. Compare and contrast the Human Genome Project, which is constantly in the news. Every timescientists come up with a new theory about the origins of the universe, or when a fossilised claw-print proving theexistence of a previously unknown form of pterodactyl is discovered, we get to hear about it. But what do we everhear about English?
They might think of book reviews in the Sunday papers; that I think is the slightly upmarket variation on the grammarand spelling notion. They think that what we do is a load of value judgements about recent or not-so-recent novels,about how readable they are.They might have the impression that we sit upon committees
allocating prizes for literary novels. They might think that we are concerned with upholding standard English.
They might think that we write critical biographies. Because I'm in a positive frame of mind and wanting us all
to pull together, I'm clenching my teeth in order not to say anything bad about critical biographies. They're not
my favourite way of passing the time, but if other people like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they
Other humanities are featured quite frequently in the media. On television there are loads of history
programmes, and a good number of archaeology and art history.How is English represented on television and radio?Costume dramas, not very close to what we're doing either. And programmes such as The Late Review, equivalents of the Sunday newspaper reviews.
Does all this matter? It matters in the sense that nobody understands us. It is our passion and we are committed to it, we want other people to understand and be involved.It matters because of funding. It is extremely important, at the moment particularly, that we don't lose what little funding we get. Why do scientists have a committee on the public understanding of science - because they want the public to understand and because it means a lot of money - scientific projects cost a lot of money, a good deal of which comes out of taxes. Whereas our work costs very little; there's a kind of circle there - we're not telling them what we do, they don't value it, they expect us to exist on a shoestring, and we moan about existing on a shoestring, and the staff-student ratios, and the shortage of Ph.D. studentships - all those things we moan about, but there seems to be nothing we can do.
Well maybe there is something we can do - it's long-term - I don't necessarily think that by getting the public to understand the value ofwhat we do the day after tomorrow we shall increase the funding the week after that, but long-term, can you blamethem if they don't fund us if they haven't the faintest idea of what we do and why we are doing it?
So it matters on all those counts - it matters personally, it matters because some extremely interesting work is goingon in English and related disciplines at the moment, and also because there could be money attached to it, moneythat we are not cashing in on. It's only in the humanities and probably particularly in English that we actuallysubsidise our own research. I bought my own computer, we buy our own books. Imagine scientists paying for their owntest-tubes - it's unthinkable. There's a kind of circularity - we are not promoting or work, they don'tvalue it, they don't value us, and in the end maybe we don't value ourselves.
It used to be different. I remember a time when the type of work that we do in English was on the public agenda; Iremember when Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart were published by Penguin as a matter of course, and weretherefore discussed in the circles in which Penguins were read. E. P. Thompson, a historian whose version of
cultural history hugely overlapped with what we do, wrote The Making of the English Working Class famously sold amillion copies in Penguin. Today when English studies books appear in paperback they are published in academicimprints and they are to be found in academic sections of bookshops, they are not for everyday consumption byordinary people. Why did this happen? I think it's partly to do with the success of universities, paradoxically, inthe last thirty or forty years. The student population has quadrupled in this country since 1965. This means thatpublishers have recognised that there is an academic market, and publishers have hived this market off in aspecial kind of way. Meanwhile cheap labour is available for these publishers, they don't have to sell many copies,because we write for very little money, we write to increase our chances of promotion, and to satisfy the RAE.The result is that we are talking to each other, I often think that I am talking mainly to my Ph.D. students,
working on the topics that my books are on. We need to crack this institutional construction of the situation.
Another problem is our tradition, a liberal tradition, of self-effacement. We don't like to come on as the experts
too much, we don't like to push ourselves forward. Continental professors of English are experts, they are
consulted as specialists, taken notice of and respected. In Britain nobody takes notice of professors, here the male stereotype is a shambling, incompetent creature with eggstains down his tweed jacket, and as for female
professors the less said the better. We need to re-evaluate ourselves, and to think of ways ofcounteracting the negative images.
Let's think positive. What we do now in English departments is more interesting, more challenging, more
exciting, better than its ever been before. It's broader, and altogether more intellectually serious. We do
linguistics - analysis of the language, particularly in its current usage; etymology, the history of meanings and the
way that meanings have changed; we edit texts, from the beginning to the present day, we make available to each
other, and to the wider public if they want them, good, intelligible, properly annotated editions; we do
bibliography, the history of the book and of reading practices; we do narratology, the study of the forms within
which narrative in a text presents and defines itself; we do reception theory, looking at the ways in which audienceshave responded to works, and how those responses have changed; we look at the history of performance in the theatre; and of course we do analysis of literary texts, which includes analysis in the light of feminist theory, gender theory, queer theory, postcolonial and other theories.
These new ways of reading have collapsed the canon, so that it's really very hard now to think of value judgements ashaving any very serious purchase on what we do. The whole of culture has become our own collective province. There's nothing written or spoken that we can't say something interesting about. English has moved outside itself to embrace other disciplines to an enormous extent. And so it's become a form of cultural analysis, cultural history, cultural criticism, and possibly to call it English has become something of a misnomer, except in that we're mostly talking about texts that are in the English language. That's a huge area: what is it, when you think about it inits entirety? It's language in form. And therefore it's a huge section of culture - culture past and present. We asa society understand our own culture better if we are alert to the nuances, the uncertainties, the contradictions, the undecidability of our own signifying practices, if we are aware of how complex the process of signification is, and the ways in which it can recruit people to values which we might want to distance ourselves from, and also how it canchallenge those values. What we do is important in that respect. It is also important for a culture to be aware of its own historicity, that is to say to be conscious of the historical differences which relativise that culture itself. Things haven't always been as they are, the norms that we now subscribe to have not always been in place.Family values, for instance, were constructed at a particular historical moment, and with a great manyanxieties and reservations and uncertainties, which are now visible again. If we want to change things, and who if they think about it is ever completely satisfied with the way things are, we need evidence that weren't always as they are, or that the way they are is not inevitable, natural or given.
So it seems to me that we have something extremely important to tell them, and that they ought to want to
listen. And that they probably would listen if we just started telling them. So how are we going to do it? My
suggestion is that we copy the scientists. The Royal Society sponsors a committee, called The Committee on the
Public Understanding of Science. This committee has been in existence since just after the war, promoting science.Every time there's a breakthrough, they do a media briefing. Scientists are in now in the habit of telling
the media what they do. We should tell the media about our histories of sexuality and our histories of anatomy. We could produce television programmes, organise public seminars, give out prizes for the best expositions to
non-specialist audiences. I believe that we could do all this. What it takes is a bit of ingenuity, and a certain amount of rhetorical skill. If we don't have that, who does?'
The speech clearly engaged delegates' strong feelings and keen thoughts. A very lively and intelligent discussion ensued.
Panel-lead open discussion. top
The final session was a panel-lead discussion, which was chaired by Dr Rebecca Stott. Sitting on the panel were
Prof. Rylance, Prof. Belsey, Jeremy Hoad, Stacey Gillis and Karen Daw.
Dr Stott opened by inviting discussion of issues that had arisen during the day's proceedings, issues from last
year's conference, and any other postgraduate matters. Jeremy Hoad informed delegates with a 'potted identity' of the National Postgraduate Committee, of whom it transpired few of us were aware. The NPC is the national
representative body for all postgraduate students in the United Kingdom. The closest comparison is the National
Union of Students, which tends to concentrate on undergraduate issues. The NPC constituted by
representatives of affiliated organisations, mostly student unions. It acts as a national focus for postgraduate
issues, campaigning and lobbying on matters such as accommodation, teaching, research, supervision, funding.
It also advises student unions on such matters. Check out its website: www.npc.org.uk.
Brian Burton, co-editor of Postgraduate English, took a couple of minutes to inform delegates of this journal, and
to encourage contributions.
Useful and varied advice was given on how to combine finishing the thesis on time, teaching, writing articles
and seeking publication, and on what qualities and achievements were most likely to impress potential
employers. The influence of the RAE was discussed. Prof. Rylance informed us that its influence was not causing
departments to be as brutally short-term in their recruitment strategies as has been feared. Jeremy Hoad
recommended that those of us concerned about the RAE should consult its website (www.rae.ac.uk).
Prof. Belsey assured a questioner that there was no problem in having chapters of one's thesis published as article before submission of the full work. On the contrary, she thoroughly recommended doing so.
A question about the handicap of being an older Ph.D. student seeking an academic career was discussed. Prof.
Belsey and Prof. Rylance assured us that age was not a handicap, as long as older recruits to English departments
were prepared to accept the same salary as younger people in junior positions. Prof. Rylance also thought that an
interesting career history outside of academia might actually be an advantage, especially in the light of the
new skills agenda.
The question of training and support for postgraduate teachers was aired. Stacey Gillis and Karen Daw outlined the training scheme that has been pioneered at the University of Exeter by Prof. Regenia Gagnier (a speaker at last year's Postgraduate Futures). Based on an American model, this scheme sounded thorough and enterprising, and will hopefully lead the way for other universities to follow. At present such provision is exceptional. Jeremy Hoad pointed out that union representation for postgraduate teachers should be a matter for student unions. The NPC had recently drawn up a charter on such matters, in association with the Association of University Teachers (AUT), whose attitude towards postgraduate teachers has recently become much more positive (AUT and Postgraduate Teachers)..
On the matter of representation and support for postgraduate students from overseas, Jeremy Hoad
recommended two bodies for consultation; the UK Council for Graduate Education, and the UK Council for International Students.
The session ended with a lively discussion on the desirable relationship between the teaching and research aspects of academic posts. Jeremy Hoad felt that teaching has been undervalued, and that university teaching ought be a
legitimate career that could be pursued without accompanying research interests. Other panellists felt
that any good, enthusiastic teacher ought to be interested in research and would want to combine the two roles.
[Response on internet publishing
The panel-led discussion, however, raised one issue which, not least because of my own involvement in such matters, I found more than a little condescending. During a discussion about the publishing opportunities available to postgraduates, Professor Rylance dismissed publishing on the Internet as an academically viable option on the grounds that the Internet is a transient medium offering no guarantees that work published therein will enjoy a prolonged existence, and that there are no vetting procedures for such work, resulting in the danger of compromised academic rigour. However, we at Postgraduate English take great pride in trying to ensure the presence of quality in the work we publish by having all papers refereed by established academics: we also believe that we offer a valuable service to postgraduates in English by providing the opportunity to develop confidence in those who may be unsure about offering their work to more august journals. Moreover, none of us can assert with any authority that the Internet is, or is likely to be, a short-lived phenomenon offering, at best, a temporary outlet for academic work. For one thing, the Internet was developed by an academic for the purpose of disseminating work among the scientific community; for another, what about the number of important books no longer in print because literary publishers do not view them as sufficiently profitable?
Brian Burton, Editor]
Response to conference overall
While the number of delegates was fewer than anticipated (as well as being down on last year’s conference), this actually made for a more relaxed, informal atmosphere which seemed to be appreciated by all concerned. For me, the best part of the conference was the ‘Politics and Practicalities’ workshop. Although its overtly political nature threatened to overshadow the practical aspects, the presenters were nevertheless very informed regarding the workings of academic institutions, and, perhaps more importantly, extremely enthusiastic about postgraduates making the most of their experiences. I would have liked to have seen more delegate involvement (these sessions were billed as ‘workshops’ after all), but given the amount of information imparted by the presenters and the lack of time available, this is a minor criticism. However, I feel that the same cannot be said about the workshop on locating research. While Dr. Tauchert is a very engaging and witty speaker, the discussion rather lacked substance, tending to focus more on obvious theoretical aspects of research rather than more practical elements. Also, the whole tone of the discussion lacked rigour, the weight of information provided by Stacy and Karen, and succinctness, again depriving the delegates of an opportunity to maybe open up the discussion somewhat. As this was my first experience of an academic conference I am, perhaps, guilty of expecting too much, but I do believe the time could have been spent more profitably.
Overall, however, the day was both extremely enjoyable and informative, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of Postgraduate Futures, Dr. Tory Young and Rychard Carrington, and to wish both them and their conference good luck for the future.
Brian Burton, editor.