I had some utterly fantastic news yesterday that I think/hope it’s now OK for me to share. At the start of the next academic year (from 1st October 2016) I will take up a personal chair as Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at my wonderful institution, Birkbeck, University of London.
Ever since I had an idea to try for a career in academia a full professorship has been my dream; admittedly a dream that seemed impossible at various times due to the terrible job market for Ph.D.s. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have got here. There’s a huge element of luck involved in getting an academic job in any form; it’s not purely work or skill, no matter how much I might like to claim so, but is a combination of circumstances, privileges, and so on. Of course, I do work hard and I do think I’m pretty good at what I do. But I also want to explicitly acknowledge that I’ve benefited from circumstances beyond my control, I’ve had luck and positive life circumstances (from birth onwards, no doubt). Not everyone who deserves an academic career gets one, so I am fortunate.
I also want to put in a word here about open access. I’m very pleased that the work that I have done on open access has played a key role in this process alongside my literary studies research and digital humanities projects (primarily on contemporary American fiction and histories of various technologies such as passwords). A substantial portion of the dossier that I presented to the conferment of title panel was about my theoretical and practical research, but also policy-related work, on the transformation of scholarly communications. In this sense, it wasn’t a standard “English department” profile that came before the panel. In keeping with many others in my discipline, however, I am not convinced that “literature” is a category confined to great works of fiction, drama and poetry, but is actually a porous concept. The object of “literary studies” is not singular. That I have been able to focus a set of theoretical research methods from literary studies – and then taken them on to their practical implications in the form of the Open Library of Humanities – upon “literature” as in “the scholarly literature” and to have this recognized is wonderful. This might seem a little cynical in some ways, so I do want to say that I would have done this work anyway; I do it because I believe that people should be able to read research work regardless of whether they can pay. I think this is a public good. In fact, I started doing OA before I had any hope that it would lead to a career return. But it’s very nice to have shared an experience articulated by Erin McKiernan elsewhere, namely that I was lucky enough to be acting upon my belief in the potential of open access just as it became a truly global phenomenon. If you believe OA is the right thing to do, as I do, then it’s also a good time personally as forward-thinking institutions are recognizing this.
Anyway, I suppose I better get planning an inaugural lecture-type thing at some point. Thanks to all who have supported me so far.