Research Leave Ahoy 

Greetings scurvy dogs to another archaeodeath blog, this time with a vaguely contrived nautical theme.

I am currently enjoying my first research leave awarded without the support of external grants by my University since I began working here in 2008. This is mainly because we now have 5 permanent full-time archaeology lecturers at the University of Chester, a heritage lecturer plus 2 further fixed-term archaeological researchers and teachers. We are quite a team and we have established a rota for research leave. This means we all do even more teaching to give each of us, in turn, a team of research leave every 3 years.

On reflection, this is actually  the first research leave I have ever had without winning an external grant to cover it or match it. That feels really good and it shows how things are improving massively at my workplace now that we have established ourselves as an important teaching and research locus in UK archaeology.

Being on research leave means I am spending a large chunk of my working time at home, although I continue to utilise my work office regularly and (sometimes) daily. The principal blessing is that I actually get time to dedicate to research and this is fab. The smell of the sea air. The promise of adventure! I am even busier than ever, with many projects ongoing and much research to do. My navigation is faultless but I am off exploring uncharted waters…. Here be dragons!

Research Leave Blues

However, life at sea is never easy…

For me personally there remain a series of negative points to long durations of research leave. It is even more isolating and a less structured experience than a teaching term; I don’t get to talk to people and meet students and staff. Furthermore, it is never fully free time; there is still a stream of admin, postgraduate supervision and the like. I have done major admin roles during my supposed research leave. More frustrating still is the constant curse of academia; the time-lag between effort and result in academia is so great that it is difficult to get a full sense of my achievements and it is actually rather demoralising rather than liberating. When will all the work I have done actually come out? I have c. 10-12 outputs, including 3 edited books, written and ready to be published! Grrrrr. I have c. 20 other outputs in various draft stages… Double-grrrrr.

There are also family-related factors that make research leave a trial. On research leave, I remain a single wage-earner, father of five and husband and carer for a family member with a long term and serious disability. Academia is a great career in terms of flexibility it offers me in this circumstance, but it is never easy and research leave doesn’t make it any easier in reality. Stormy seas are always on the horizon!

Archaeoden Relaunch

Anyway, here I am, on research leave and hold up in my cabin with its blessings and its curses rubbing shoulders. What keeps me going in this high-pressured academic existence? Well, I am finding writing a blog curiously therapeutic… Also, there is the archaeoden!

What is an archaeoden? This is where I write my blogs, do my editing, reading and writing, is my ‘archaeoden’. She is like my trusty seagoing vessel.

What makes it different from a normal home work space? Well, the archaeoden is much like a small nautical craft but she is also like Doctor Who’s TARDIS. She allows me to travel through time and space and explore all manner of dimensions in archaeological research, both relative and non-relative.

The archaeoden is also like the TARDIS in that it is small on the outside and yet spacious on the inside. Actually, that isn’t really true. It is small on the outside, and small on the inside.

I suppose there are infinite other ways it is NOT like a TARDIS. For example, there is no Jenna Coleman here to keep me company (whether you consider that a blessing or a curse I leave to your taste).

So while the archaeoden, on reflection, has very little to do with the TARDIS, it remains a valuable work space for me. Let’s revert to the nautical metaphor….

The archaeoden has been in dry docks and she has had her barnacles removed and she is now ready to set sail once more.

I have had her refitted with a new (well appropriated from other uses) IKEA desk and the deployment of an HP probook laptop (with crap touchpad that interferes with my typing) and a widescreen that allows me to operate dual screen working at home. This is a major help and innovation for me, since it allows me to work with images, edit texts and also to keep email open to answer messages all at the same time. Multi-tasking archaeospace! I also have my comfy chair, Shakespeare insults mug, note pad and even a Grace Darling postcard to inspire me in my journeys to distant locations.

What more could one want from an archaeological adventure on the high seas?

Archaeoden Sails On

So hurrah for the archaeoden and long may she sail through the turbulent waters of archaeological research as they hove into view during 2015! She is a tricky craft to manoeuvre, speedy yet small, and with a shallow draft. I am relying on her to help me through shoals and reefs, avoid giant octopi and pirate vessels – as well as the time-wasters and tossers – in search of the great white whale that is archaeological glory! To quote Round the Horn, if I spot the Moby Dick that is the focus of my quest, I hope to hear the shout from the crow’s nest:

“Avast! Avast!”, it will say.

“A vast what?”, I will reply.

“I don’t know, but it’s pretty big!”