Dave Sayers, BA 2004, PhD 2009

Dave Sayers who completed his PhD in 2009I completed a BA in Sociolinguistics in 2004, and then — after those invisible ropes had tugged me back to Wivenhoe Park — again in 2009 (PhD Sociology). In between the two, I did an MPhil in Modern Society & Global Transformations at Cambridge (where Bryan S Turner told a grad seminar that Ken Plummer had once stopped replying to his letters! — at least I think it was Ken… I’m really not one for gossip, honest)..

A few months ago my answer to the  question ‘What are you doing now?’ would have been ‘waiting to enter a third year of semi-un-self-employment!’. The answer now is: just beginning a year’s lecturing work in the Department of English Language & Literature, at Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland. It’s a cover post for Martin Gill, one of the faculty here who is on research leave. Next year I’ll be back on the recruitment treadmill!

Back story: After I finished my PhD, I went straight into a job as Research Manager for a charity in south Wales. It was an interesting job, but the recession hit and after two years there was no money for it anymore. I spent the following two years doing bits and pieces of self-employed stuff (copy-editing is a far too grandiose term for all the turd-polishing I waded through!). I couldn’t do shelf-stacking, or any ‘normal’ job really, because of a long-standing spinal injury which prevented me from being upright for more than a few hours at a time. With a PhD, and management jobs, and lecturing work actually, it’s surprising how much of it you can arrange to do from a laptop on an over-bed table. Happily though, in late 2011 I met a clever physio who helped me to remedy this almost completely. (I think I’m really dragging you into my life story now, but you did ask…) Meanwhile my ever-patient wife supported us by doing proper jobs. The point of all this was to spend half my time writing for academic publication, in the hope of becoming employable back in the groves of academe. Note to academically aspiring grad students: write for peer-reviewed publication now!

I’ve just had my first peer-reviewed article published: http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/lplp.36.2.01say. It was part of my PhD, and it’s about the politics of the Cornish language revival movement c.2002-2011. My ongoing interest is in the politics of minority languages, and I’m currently doing a discourse analysis of contemporary Welsh language policy. The Swansea University affiliation you see on that article web page is an Honorary Research Fellowship I picked up whilst in Swansea, which has been really helpful with academic networking and schmoozing.

My links:

During the time I spent pacing around the dusty periphery of the academic metropolis, I made a Google Group for other similarly drifting folk: http://groups.google.com/group/ling-outside/.
Unfortunately that group has tailed off a bit since it began. I think people might have joined it hoping it would just show them how to get a job, whereas it was intended as a sort of support group. Sigh… Well, it’s got some useful info archived in it nevertheless. I’ll indulge my ego even further by linking to a couple of guides I made for people with inexplicable academic career goals.

Another website is http://theprofessorisin.com/. It’s a bit exhortative (anyone who says ‘truth’ that many times in an opening paragraph needs a serious eyebrow raised in their direction), but there are some useful tips. I haven’t used the paid services, but the email newsletter has some good ideas. Generally it’s a refreshing glass of water in the face to anyone seeking academic work, and helps you to think from the employer’s point of view.

As Edith Piaf put it, “Non, je ne regrette rien”! For some reason I’m glad I’ve stuck with academia as a vocation, even thought I might have gone about it differently given my time again (concentrating on publications earlier, for example). Academia is more of a calling than a job, and I think it’s an honour and a privilege to be paid to do research, and to hone and chisel the inquisitive instincts of young minds.

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