Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Informal end of term report on my IAS fellowship / research leave

Coming to the end of my time as an Emergence Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Durham, I have to write an end of fellowship report. But that prompts me to think more broadly about what it has been about. (A friend of mine once told his daughter that he had had a good day. The daughter apparently replied: ‘What was it about?’ I think I share her instinct.)

Naturally in academia, a first thought is output. In 12 weeks, I have written four draft articles totalling perhaps 25,000 words. One is owed to the IAS, Durham for their in-house electronic journal but will form the nucleus for a CUP chapter I owe on Wittgenstein and Davidson. The others are owed to an OUP edited book on gradualism in psychiatric taxonomy, an MIT edited book on harmful dysfunction as analysis of disorder and a Palgrave collection on transcultural psychiatry. My hunch is that all will probably be published after revisions. It also halves my list of outstanding commissions.

I have given an internal seminar to the IAS, one to the Philosophy Department, a closing paper to the Psychology Department’s graduate research day (a really good day attended by lots of staff) and an evening public lecture in the historic Senate Suite of University College (recording available here).

I have made significant inroads into the UK based backlog of work for the journal PPP, which resulted from my mother falling ill and dying earlier in the year, including helping it move to electronic submission at long last. (I should say that authors have been very understanding of the reasons for delay this year and that John Sadler (US Founding Editor) and Linda Muncy (who manages the journal) have been hugely supportive.)

More broadly, I have had many more academic conversations than I would have had at UCLan by attending more seminars, conferences, visiting international speakers, college dinners etc. But also, having a 30 minute coffee break with fellow IAS fellows and other visitors has been stimulating. Not always, I should add. Sometimes we have just talked about the eccentricities of UK trains. But that is also part of the accepted risk. An outgoing pro-VC at UCLan conducted a series of seminars asking what our university would look like if it looked like a world class university. I suggested it would look as though we were doing less because it would look as though we had time for coffee and other random social interaction across the institution. I don’t think that this was adopted as a central recommendation but it seems a pity as Durham clearly embraces just such a view of the importance of interaction. They do quite well at research, including interdisciplinary. (My own School within my University is, however, looking at just this issue as part of a Google inspired undirected time. Well done it!)

I hope that my PhD students haven’t suffered too much thanks to Skype, emails and one furtive visit to Preston. Thanks also to my colleague Gloria for looking after the Philosophy and Mental Health masters programme which I had not intended to step back from but was forced to.

I taught, or perhaps it would be better to say convened, what seemed to me this year to be a particularly successful six week post-doctoral module on the philosophy of the social aetiology of mental illness for the University of Toronto. So much depends on the students that I take no credit for it going well. This year they were happy to explore the idea that their interests raised as many conceptual as empirical issues.

I ran 235km. I drank in too many of the pubs of Durham. On the penultimate night, the IAS fellows took part in a pub quiz at Ye Old Elm Tree, Durham. It must have cost about £200,000 to assemble the team there. We came fourth.

All of that, however, seems quite lucky. I might have done nothing. My father’s death on the third day I was here has been harder to accept than I would have expected, not least after the death of my mother four months earlier. I might have just retired to bed. I certainly wanted to. So I think I have been lucky to be out of the direct firing line and coaxed by the very excellent IAS staff (both the academic leadership and administrative support) and fellows. So thanks to them. But also, and as much, to my Dean of School for letting me spend time ‘having coffee with a bunch of academics’ in his delightfully ironic phrase, a year ago.