Thursday, 23 February 2012

Day of Ideas, Edinburgh University

Hullo from Edinburgh. I've quite liderally just given my opening keynote at Digital Scholarship: A Day of Ideas which is a day of
talks and discussions for staff and PhD students in HSS (Humanities and Social Sciences), to inspire and share ideas for digital research, teaching and scholarship. An exciting programme of invited speakers working in the field of digital scholarship will present their ideas and their work.

It is taking place at The Business School at the University of Edinburgh. Full programme is available here. The event is part of the Digital HSS programme of activities at Edinburgh.

I should be listening to the next speaker, but it will take me 10 minutes to come back from the place that I go to when I give the big public lectures. It is quite the out-of-body experience. (Whee! Free Drugs!)

I didnt have the time to write out my lecture long hand to post here. I did consider it - but I'm giving three big talks in the next couple of weeks (after Edinburgh there is Paris and Munich) plus another two guest lectures here tomorrow (since I'm here!) so... sorry, email and regular work (like writing lectures for my students in London!) inbetween lecture writing took precedence. But, fear not - there are livebloggers on the case! Nicola Osborne has pretty much covered what I talked about - almost scared to read through it myself - but here it is.

And now, to refocus on Ethnography as Play by Dr TL Taylor, currently happening as I blog this.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Interdisciplinary Research Posts at UCL.

Just a heads up - UCL Faculties of Arts and Humanities and Social and Historical Sciences are advertising three new Research Associate posts in interdisciplinary research in Arts and Humanities. You can read more over at the UCLDH blog if you are interested in putting together a proposal to come and work with us. Get in touch if you have any queries!

Monday, 20 February 2012

What Digital Humanities Thinks it / Actually does

I cannot tell I lie. It was me what memefied my discipline.

Friday, 17 February 2012

On the hidden opportunity costs of maternity leave in academia

I've been back to work 6 months since the end of my maternity leave. I'm up to full speed, resumed normal duties including teaching, even taken on more than I had previously. In general, its all great. I've followed with interest the many discussions that have been taking place about the effect of having babies on academic careers, and how much leeway someone should have for, example, submitting things to the REF if they have had a period of maternity leave, but mostly I find I'm in a good place. I publish, I have published, I will publish. I have ongoing and new research projects. I have plans (oh boy, do I have plans) and I hit the ground running when I came back to work. And on top of that, academic flexible working hours! Days working from home! Plenty of time to see the boys! Academic motherhood FTW!

But something has come up once or twice lately which has made me think about the impact of maternity leave, and having babies, on an academic career, which I thought it worth mentioning and adding to the discussion.

Academia is a long-term game. The conversation you have in passing with a colleague in the corridor may end up in being a joint funding bid a year later, with actual funding a year after that, and research outputs - the stuff we're all judged on, such as papers, conference papers, etc - emerging one, two, or three years down the line. What happens if someone becomes pregnant in that time? What is the opportunity cost - the thing foregone - if you are part of a research team, and a research project?

For me, opportunity costs started weeks after I became pregnant. Because it was my second pregnancy, and because it was twins (twins!!!! surprise!!!!), it was obvious to the world what was happening before I was even ready to tell colleagues. I made it clear that because it was a high-risk pregnancy, even though I was pregnant with twins didnt mean I would actually have twins. But still, the word was out. I was dropped from research projects, funding bids, project meetings without even being consulted. I can see the logic in this: she's going to be away on leave when this project is happening! But the fact of the matter is, that should have been my decision, and although I probably would have come to the same conclusion myself, if I had had the chance to react, I should have been asked. It is thoughtless and rude, at best, and actually illegal under UK and EU law to exclude someone because of pregnancy. Never mind, I thought, suck it up. The opportunity cost of pregnancy- all being well - is that you wont be included on things, wont be present to take part in things, because you'll be on leave with your child. It was my choice to have another pregnancy. But I didnt foresee the hidden opportunity cost: it's not just the time you are on leave, but for the months - in my case 5 months - before that others will decide you should not be included, consulted, kept in the loop.

What has made me think of this now? Because, after all, my employer was very supportive of a difficult, high risk pregnancy, that thankfully had a happy outcome. Well, in the last wee while I've had various different things fly in on email for me to have a look at and comment on, before it was submitted to conferences, or journals, etc. Things emanating from projects that I was heavily involved in, and continue to be heavily involved in, and plan to be heavily involved in - but I was on leave for a year (technically, 9 months) while the project was ongoing. It doesnt matter that I bust a gut to keep on top of email when I was on leave, and contribute where I could to ongoing projects, even in cases dialing into meetings, or commenting on drafts of papers, etc. My name isnt anywhere on the research outputs, the things upon which I will be judged. I've even had to ask, in some cases, to be included in a footnote, when I was central to the project becoming established.

This is the real hidden opportunity cost of maternity leave in academia. Its not the 9 months you take off on leave, its the months before where people exclude you, and the months after where people say "She was on leave for that period. She doesn't get to be an author on this". My 9 months of maternity leave has actually meant a two year CV hiatus, for some projects I was - am! - involved in. (The flip-side, of course, is that on some projects, I've been included on everything, by very kind and supportive colleagues. But should I have been?)

I should say that this isnt a passive agressive post. I've said loud and clear to colleagues "Hey, I noticed I wasnt on the author list for this, and thats ok, I was on leave. But from now on, given I'm part of the team, I want to be kept up to date with the project, and included on outputs". I'm a confident adult and perfectly capable of speaking up. I know it's difficult, and that most colleagues have done their best to navigate the fact that I was on leave, even though it may have sometimes meant more work for them. I understand that I wasnt around for a while, and I accept that. But its been six months since I came back from leave, and I feel I am actively contributing to various ongoing projects. When will the hidden opportunity costs of maternity leave in academia stop?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Reflections on a doctorate

Stylus tablet 836, one of the most complete stylus tablets unearthed at Vindolanda. The incisions on the surface can be seen to be complex, whilst the woodgrain, surface discoloration, warping, and cracking of the physical object demonstrate the difficulty papyrologists have in reading such texts. 

Only two research projects left to talk about in my survey of what I have done previously, and this is the biggy, the blast-from-the-past upon which your star will forever be hung, the doctorate. I cant even say PhD - you get a DPhil from Oxford, which will confuse people evermore.

My doctoral funding came from an EPSRC grant, working on an established, funded, project at the University of Oxford, which was split between The Department of Engineering Science and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, as a collaborative project between Professor Mike Brady, and Professor Alan Bowman. They were interested to see if they could use new and novel imaging techniques to try and read the damaged inscriptions on the Vindolanda stylus texts, above. At the start of 1999 I joined them on a 3 year project, where two doctoral students and a postdoc were employed. My role was to work in the space between the classicists and the engineers, given I had a training both in classics (but classical art!) and in computing science.

I'm not going to kid that this wasnt hard work, nor a tough time for me - but looking back, I see its part of the doctoral process that you generally get the stuffing knocked out of you, and then you rebuild yourself and are academically stronger as a result. Essentially, I hadnt done an undergraduate in Engineering, or Maths - but was being examined in Engineering. It was a steep learning curve, and I had a lot of catching up to do, learning a lot both about Latin and Probability Theory, Roman Archaeology and Parallel Computing. I successfully defended in January 2003 - although it took me months to even face doing the (2 hours worth) of corrections, and a further year to go back to the work and turn it into Image to Interpretation, my monograph published by OUP.

I published five pieces on my doctorate, as well as the book. One of them is pretty promissory (in general, something that has the words "Towards" in the title, you think, aye aye.....)

Terras, M (2000) Towards a reading of the Vindolanda Stylus Tablets: Engineers and the Papyrologist. Human IT , 4 (2/3) PDF.
Although the further three pieces are more substantive, the last one contains the maths:

Terras, M. and Robertson, P. (2004) Downs and Acrosses: Textual Markup on a Stroke Based Level. Literary and Linguistic Computing , 19 (3 ) pp.397 - 414 . PDF

Terras, M. (2005) Reading the Readers: Modelling Complex Humanities Processes to Build Cognitive Systems. Literary and Linguistic Computing , 20 (1 ) pp.41 - 59 . PDF

Terras, M and Roberston, P (2005) Image and Interpretation: Using Artificial Intelligence to Read Ancient Roman Texts. HumanIT , 7 (3) PDF.
The final paper is a contribution to an edited volume we were all asked to write a paper for, to reflect what research was being undertaken in our department at UCL, so it has crossovers with these two, above (and there is probably room, at some point, to discuss just how much you can publish in a paper that has already been covered elsewhere, in a different format, for a different audience, as its a pretty murky academic practice):

Terras, M (2006) Interpreting the image: using advanced computational techniques to read the Vindolanda texts. ASLIB Proceedings , 58 (1/2) 102 - 117. PDF.
It's only in the most recent couple of years that I've started to focus again on imaging of manuscript material, and how best we can tackle degraded texts. I'm working again with computer scientists and engineers on some fairly gnarly imaging problems, and its very rewarding - although the fun, now, is knowing I wont be examined at the end of it, and I dont have the "what will become of me!" stress that people have to face at the end of their doctorate (even though I am committed to helping my PhD students over those mental hurdles). It's now almost (six months short of) a decade since I handed in my PhD. How did that happen?????

On My Travels - Groningen

Just back from a flying visit to Groningen, where I presented at a Lustrum which celebrated 25 years of Humanities Computing - or "Alfa-Informatica" - there. I was invited to present about Digital Humanities, and my talk can be summed up in one sentence:

Why dont Digital Humanities folk talk to Computational Linguistics folk, and vice versa?

It was a lovely event - fun, and informative. I particularly enjoyed meeting Eduard Hovy, and hearing his talk about issues in training question and answer systems, and the way they parse questions we set them. I met some good people, and heard some interesting things.

Groningen is a lovely University town, very vibrant. I managed to include a couple of hours in my schedule to have a bit of a wander, which is becoming more important to me as I travel away from home. If you dont manage to see the place at all, it just becomes a veeeeeery long commute to give a half an hour, sometimes hour long, lecture. In my recent trip to Portugal, I managed an hour to go and see the Frida Kahlo exhibition, in Groningen I had an hour to trawl round fleamarkets, finding some cool dutch tat. I have upcoming trips, in the next month, to Edinburgh, Paris and Munich. Its all good - I enjoy the travel, tend to get lots done when I am away from home, get one or two good night's sleep, meet new people - and if I'm lucky, get a wander round a city, and enjoy the chance to explore.