It’s done. At last. The full and final manuscript for my first monograph is with the publishers. If all goes to plan, Payment and Philanthropy in British Healthcare 1918-48 will be out with Manchester University Press by the end of the year. That will be just over five years on from when I submitted the doctoral thesis on which this book is based. I’d been working on the topic as part of undergraduate and postgraduate studies before that, so it’s taken a decade from when I first started researching this topic until it will actually exist as a book.
This delay is far from ideal and a big part of the gap in my publications track record, which, with that permanent position still evading me, is something I’m acutely aware of. So why didn’t I just hurry up? Well, as ever in life, this was a mixture of my own shortcomings and things totally beyond my control. There are ways in which I could have been more disciplined and clearer about I wanted and needed to do. That could have sped things up a little. Deadends before ending up with a team I’m very happy to be working with and waits at each stage also played a part, but for the most part this was a consequence of the life on short-term and part-time contracts that have become the mainstay of early-career academia.
I first sent off a book proposal shortly after I completed my PhD. Since then, however, my employment situation has changed six times – each with a different impact on getting the book done. I was unemployed when a series editor suggested I send in a proposal for a new series. Six months later with no decision in sight, we agreed it would be better for me to go elsewhere. By then another series editor had asked me to submit a proposal to them and this was a much better fit for the book – the series it will now be published with. This was a good move, but as soon as I knew it was a possibility a university only went and gave me a job!
I thoroughly enjoyed my first (almost) full-time 9-month job, but it was a steep learning curve and a heavy workload. Although I got a quick thumbs up to submit a full book proposal with sample materials, all the time and energy I wanted to spend on the book went on job applications. In the end I was kept on for another year and in that time I put together the full proposal and sample chapters, sent them off and after a while, when the reader’s report came back, I signed a contract. Sadly I wasn’t kept on for a third year, so the time over the summer I had planned to spend on the book was taken over instead my more job hunting, which only came to an end a few weeks before the start of term.
As the permanent jobs slipped through my fingers I had applied for two 10-month jobs at the same university, one full-time and one part-time. I received a rejection letter (a courtesy you certainly can’t expect in higher education) for the full-time one and was asked to interview for the part-time one. On this basis I eagerly jumped at the chance to be a named researcher on a project small grant bid with a leading scholar in my field. Since only part-time work was on the cards, I could combine the two. While I wasn’t surprised the funding bid was successful, I was surprised when after the interview I was instead offered the full-time job. I was able to spread out the research work to avoid a 1.7fte workload, but I was still pretty busy with all this (as well as moving house, getting to grips with a new institution and most importantly making sure my recent marriage wasn’t a casualty of my academic life) while trying to finish the book. An extension was inevitable, but it also meant I couldn’t say the book was any closer to coming out when applying for jobs once again.
That job hunt was ended when colleagues in my department snapped me up for the project I’m working on now. Like the first job being extended, securing a second position in my next university and a helpful delay before my start date gave me a little breathing space that let me get my head down on the book. A full manuscript finally made it to the publishers. Looking back, this was a rather rushed job, and I was very pleased to see my super-helpful peer reviewers spotting some of the things I’d rushed through and giving me a license to return to them in the final stage. And the tireless support of my bosses was invaluable in actually getting that done.
So I have no intention of complaining. I’ve benefited from a host of wonderful colleagues and opportunities, which leaves me with a generally positive view of academia. The horror stories always strike me as the exception rather than the rule. And I know that getting that permanent job is neither something I’m owed nor a magic bullet to end all the pressures and worries of higher education. But I also know I’ve been less employable until book actually comes out. So I have to ask myself: what could I have done to get it out quicker? The answer, really, is that I would have needed one of those jobs I didn’t get partly because I didn’t already have the book. There’s really no escaping that the fragmented nature of early-career academic employment both makes it all the more important to publish and puts ridiculous obstacles in the way of doing so.
In fact, I also have half-developed plans for publications based on the work I was doing in each of those short-term positions. None of them has seen the light of day, because by the time I should be getting going on it I’m on to the next thing. One day I’ll return to milk as municipal welfare, voluntary sector planning, intra-class masculinity in 1920s anti-socialism, the symbiotic relationship between old and new in British society in the wake of the First World War, and de-centring the history of anti-poverty activism in the 1960s. For now, I’m onto the next job. At least this one will last long enough for me to see through most of what I’m being paid to do.