The Faustian Bargain

A blog about life outside the academy


PimPhD my CV

I was looking this week at 'The PhD game' hosted on Ian 'Mackem Beefy's 'Layman's Guide to a PhD'. The final gag – 'Congratulations. Your PhD is awarded. Now join the dole queue!!!' – will ring true to a lot of post-docs, and no doubt haunts the sleepless nights of many pre-docs too. In a crowded job market, where secure posts for young lecturers are becoming increasingly scarce, it is tempting to think that every day spent on PhD work is a day spent burrowing deeper into specialism and irrelevancy and further from the practical experience that gets everyone else the jobs they want.

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Renounce the Faustian Bargain!

I've finally got around to giving this blog a title of its own: The Faustian Bargain.

It stems from a conversation in a New Cross pub shortly after I and a few colleagues had handed in our Masters theses. 'So, what do we do now?' was the general theme. Find a job, pursue further study, move out of London and go back home were the general themes. And then, said with a smile:

'No more education. I'm renouncing the Faustian bargain and becoming a bricklayer.'

I've often admired that sentiment, even if I haven't often followed it. But anyway, this one's for you.


Style vs Style: guest post at PhD2Published

My latest post for PhD2Published has gone online today; it's a nurdle around the differences between 'style' (in the aesthetic sense) and 'style' (in the practical, copy-editor's sense).

Style? Simple: it’s Bryan Ferry, Oswald Boateng suits, Coco Chanel, the E-Type Jaguar. Right?

Well, for an editor ‘style’ also conjures up images of reference books, dictionaries and lists of acceptable abbreviations. It is – as far as such as thing is possible – a way of codifying certain characteristics of how an author writes, or how a publisher or journal would like to be represented.

Also mentioned: Jacques Derrida, the BBC and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell.

I've written previously about style on RPBP, and if you putting together your own stylebook, then download this handy stylebook template.


Blogging out of the post-PhD hole

In my previous post I started to talk about my personal circumstances after finishing my PhD. If I made the transition from institutionalised student to real-life earner sound easy, it wasn't. I had to hit rock bottom first.

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Introducing: Life after the PhD

I'll admit it – the Red Pen, Blue Pen blog, such as it has been, has lacked focus. Blogging about proofreading is sort of difficult. There are few relevant news items to build posts around, and the confessional approach doesn't really work either ("Reader, I spellchecked him ...").

What I really want to write about is wordsmithery in general – editing and writing together (a red pen and a blue pen, see?) is the thinking behind this site after all. And in particular, I want to write about how I'm relying on words to build a career as a PhD scholar who is happy outside the academy. With education funding and the economy being what they are, this is a tough time for a lot of recent or soon-to-be PhDs. As a result, blogs and online support networks (some more commercial than others) have been mushrooming into life – including Escape the Ivory Tower, On the Fence, Post AcademicAdventures in Gradland and Sell Out Your Soul.

You can read my professional biography elsewhere on this site, but here's a more personal life story to give you an idea of where I'm from.

I started my PhD (a reception history of Eastern European music during the Cold War) in 2003. I was studying part-time so I also worked as an editor for the Grove Music online encyclopedia. For the five years that I was working on my thesis, my plan was to find an academic post, preferably in London or the Southeast, and settle down. The PhD – as I saw it then – was a line on my CV and the essential credential for an academic career. The only problem was that I wasn’t getting anywhere in my search for a job. Not even an interview. 

This will be familiar stuff for many postgraduates. It's what happened in the 18 months after finishing my PhD, from summer 2008 to winter 2009/10, that finally locked me on the course on which I am now on.

First, my daughter was born (just a week after my viva; in fact I had half-expected a call to come to the hospital while I was being examined. I don't know whether that would have increased or decreased my levels of stress that day ...). Then the academic job market ground to a complete halt. Then we moved house and took on a larger mortgage. Then my regular work from Grove abruptly dried up. In November and December 2009 I had to do some tough thinking about how to move forward.

Calm downHaving reviewed my options, Red Pen, Blue Pen is one of the results. I now make two livings, as a writer (I write about contemporary music) and an editor. Neither is big enough to stand on its own, but they are remarkably complementary. There's something very Daoist about alternating your days between creating your own work and polishing the work of others. It's a yin-yang thing that is very satisfying (and since I started training in kung fu last year it's also intellectually pleasing to see some of its principles playing out elsewhere in my life). I could be more financially secure and I could certainly have a little more free time, but I am at least fashioning a living for myself using the skills that I acquired from five years' work as a PhD student.  

What, precisely, I think those skills are is a story for another day...