Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times is a well known, but seemingly fictitious, “Chinese curse”, and boy was 2013 an interesting time!

I’m not much given to end of year reflections as I tend to see this as a time to look forward rather than back, however I can’t let this year pass without comment.  My former Cetis colleague Sheila MacNeil has already written a lovely reflective post over at her blog called That Was The Year That Was; my equivalent post is rather more That Was The Year That Wasn’t.  Unsurprisingly the year was dominated by the University of Strathclyde’s decision to terminate the Cetis Memorandum of Understanding and make all Cetis staff at the university redundant at the end of July.  However this was just the end of a long, drawn out and bitter process that started with the controversial closure of the department that housed Cetis, the Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement, in early 2012.  Over the previous eighteen months most of my time had been devoted to increasingly hostile wrangling with HR and university senior management.  University College Union representatives at Strathclyde were helpful and supportive but ultimately neither they, not I, were able to prevent the university serving us with compulsory redundancy notices, or to negotiate better terms than statutory redundancy.   I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bitter about loosing sixteen years tenure and a considerable amount of funding, left behind in various project budgets.  Unfortunately, as I had spent most of the previous year and a half embroiled in HR negotiations,  I had no alternative employment lined up when our redundancies finally came into force, and I found myself unemployed for the first time since graduating in 1990.  To add insult to injury, due to lack of funding, I was unable to attend the ALT Conference in September, and the paper Phil Barker and I had had accepted was dropped from the programme. I was also gutted not to be there to see Sheila accept her immensely well-deserved Learning Technologist of the Year Award, which Cetis’ Christina Smart and I had sneakily nominated her for.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though.  Determined to leave Strathclyde on a high, we organised the highly successful Open Scotland Summit, which brought together representatives of Scotland’s education authorities, agencies and institutions to discuss the potential of open education policy and practice to benefit Scottish education across the sector, and which featured a keynote from Creative Commons’ Director of Global Learning, Dr Cable Green.

I spent the three months after my redundancy working on variety of project proposals and consultancy bids and it was great to reconnect with several colleagues who I had lost touch with including Lou McGill, Allison Littlejohn and all the great people at Jisc RSC Scotland. I made some great new contacts through the Open Knowledge Foundation too, and got involved with helping to organise the OKFN Glasgow meetups. I also migrated my professional blog from Lorna’s Cetis Blog to Open World, I set up the Open Scotland blog and continued working with colleagues to further the goals discussed at the Open Scotland Summit.

In October I was very much relieved to be back in the saddle as Cetis Assistant Director, this time at the University of Bolton.  Working from home on a regular basis has required a bit of adjustment, but there are worse things to have to put up with!   Shortly after re-joining Cetis I was delighted to see some of the proposals I’d been working on over the summer come to fruition and I’m looking forward to starting the new year with some new projects that I hope to be able to start blogging about soon.

2013 might have been difficult career wise, but in terms of our history research it was a huge success.  My research colleague Heather Noel-Smith and I were delighted to have two papers accepted for peer reviewed conferences run by the University of Portsmouth (Port Towns and Urban Cultures) and the National Museum of the Royal Navy (Press Gangs, Conscripts and Professionals) and to have a research seminar scheduled as part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy Seminar Series in the new year.  Our research was also featured at the National Archives Explore Your Archives event in November.  I also really enjoyed connecting with a diverse and lively group of #twitterstorians on twitter, not least the irrepressible Port Towns crew.  It was through these twitter connections that I had the opportunity to contribute to a blog post written by Joanna Bailey of Oxford Brooks University, and co-authored by Isaac Land, Indiana State University, Steven Gray, Warwick University and myself. “The six best conference questions: Or, how not to paper-bomb at a conference” turned out to be the most popular post on this blog in 2013 with over 2,300 views!

So that was 2013.  There was plenty to say “good bye and good riddance to”, but there were also many real high points among all the doom and gloom, not least of which was the support of colleagues, family and friends.  It’s also been hugely encouraging to see so many of my former Strathclyde colleagues from both CAPLE and Cetis move on to new posts where their talents are very much appreciated.  It’s great to be able to keep in touch and I hope we can look forward to working together again in the future.   So here’s looking forward to 2014, and here’s hoping that it’s a slightly less “interesting” time than 2013.  Onwards and upwards and all that!

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