Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 17 - What I Did On My Holiday

When I was 19, I wanted to be a composer. From a series of childhood ideas (author, pianist, librarian, archaeologist), this one had survived.
I was at the end of the first year of undergraduate study, and had a good idea about what sort of music I wanted to spend my life writing.
I had just finished a string quartet. It was 20 minutes long, written for four performers with click-tracks, each playing part of a texture which expanded out from a central Bb to the extremes of their registers, and rhythmically derived from six possible metrical layers, each related in tempo 2:3 (hence the click tracks). Single-(bloody)-minded, and destined to be unpopular.

I looked at this piece, and I knew that it was probably never going to be considered as entertaining or get me a gig as a film composer. And I didn't care. This was the kind of music I wanted to write for the rest of my life.


So what kind of career could I pursue? I had been reading plenty of interviews with composers that year, and it had taught me one thing about contemporary composition: if you wanted to write unpopular bloody-minded music, one of the safest career choices is academia. And so, that was that.

I did not get into teaching because I loved teaching. I got into teaching because I wanted to write music without worrying about what people thought of it. Luckily, I love teaching and I seem to have a knack for it, and it has taken over my life in ways that I never thought possible. My research now grows out of my teaching, and my research informs my teaching.

So why am I telling this story today?
I'm spending this holiday (apart from moving flat) writing music, and writing a book proposal. In short, I am carrying out the research part of my job. I am doing this because I love it. That is the true reason underneath it all.
I am lucky enough to have a job that I love, that gives me a real sense of fulfillment every day (well... nearly every day), and a job in which, in theory at least, I should be able to write music and teach alongside each other.
Except, that I am not the only person who gets to choose how I spend my time.
I have a line manager, who is supposed to allocate how my work load is divided, and he approves (or not) research time. At present, we are being told that unfunded research will not be approved, and that we have to carry it out in our own time. While this is completely against the current University strategy, I understand why he is saying it, and it's due to a stupid bureaucratic situation regarding research time that the School has got itself in, that is too stupid and boring to talk about.
But it means that I don't really have the allocation of time to find funding for the projects that I want to do.

So how do you follow your own ideas about research when your Institution (or at least the manifestations of the Institution's authority) has other ideas?

The only answer I have to give, is that you invest your own time (and money if necessary) to get projects off the ground. Nobody is going to drop some money in your lap and tell you to get on with it; you're going to have to fight for the right to write (or play, or whatever).
If you can demonstrate that you've got a project that will lead to an output of international standing, or that you have got funding that will make it happen, or whatever criteria will impress within your field, then, generally speaking, unless they are complete douche-canoes, they will get right on board and claim that they have been in your corner all the time.
This is annoying, and will make you want to get violent (Pro tip: Get a voodoo doll. It's more fun).
But you will have got where you wanted to get.

At the end of the day, you're doing this because you love it and you believe in it.
What is pretty awesome about academia, is that if you can demonstrate that people are willing to invest in your idea, you will get paid to do it.

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Blogger Lauren said...

This is an interesting post! Recently I've been struggling with work-life balance and have been thinking about these things a lot. Your previous post also made some good points about all of the things that academics do over the summer…for better or worse I've decided to mainly confine those things to June (before I went on holiday) and September. Thankfully my head of department is very supportive and even encouraging of this. I'm now trying to spend the rest of the summer doing research, but also have a lot of annual leave to use up. Despite successfully having an actual holiday some of my leave will be definitely used for research.

It is a poor situation with your research time, though. One of the good things about research in music is that it frequently doesn't incur huge costs except time. Protecting research time is very important both for our jobs and for our work-life balance/ability to have real holidays. I hope that this situation improves for you in the future!

9:12 AM  
Blogger harmonyharmony said...

Thanks Lauren.
Your tactic of confining summer chores to the outer months seems like a good plan and I will be interested to hear how that works out.
I'm still monitoring my emails, and I'm replying to a few things, even though I'm hating myself for doing it. The lesson that I've really learned this year is to plan my holidays in advance, and to actually take them.

In terms of the cost of research, in my institution, there can be rather too much emphasis on full economic costing, which means that even our time and the overheads are reified and added into a balance sheet.
On the positive side, I've been very happy to be able to channel some money towards research activities such as conference attendance, and the purchase of books to support specific projects which otherwise wouldn't have been possible.

11:27 PM  

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