Glass of champagne

Year in Review

An earlier version of this post listed the milestones that my blog had crossed, and popular posts that I had written over the last twelve months. As I was writing that post, I became conscious that there must have been more meaningful events in my life in the year that passed, which might be worth writing about. Even so, I felt reluctant to get too personal. I suppose that it is easier, and safer, to talk about the statistics of this blog.

I think that this reluctance stems, in part at least, from a fear that if I were to measure the things that I have achieved this year, they would fall short of the things that I had set out to achieve; and from the related fear that, looking into the future, I now have one less year to make them happen. This is an unhelpful frame of thinking, though, and one needs to guard against belittling one’s accomplishments. So, at the risk of appearing immodest, in the paragraphs that follow I’d like to share some personal highlights for 2014. These are presented in a roughly chronological order, and are not mean to be an exhaustive list.

Matters of the mind

The Matters of the Mind conference, in Graz, was in some ways an academic turning point for me. Some readers of this blog will know that 2013 had been personally challenging, and that I had frequently considered quitting academics altogether. So when I registered for the conference, without submitting a paper, in my mind this was the last chance to get together with friends from the academe; that and say goodbye. One of the ways in which depression works is that one tends to project to other people the negative feelings one has about oneself. Because you resent yourself, you begin to think that others no longer believe in your worth. With regard to the Graz conference, all I can say is that any such feelings were forcibly falsified in the company of great colleagues and good friends. This conference reminded me of all the things I liked about academic life, and it prompted me to think about giving it all one more chance. The first thing I did when I returned was submit an abstract for another conference – this time I would be presenting.

A Wiener Schnitzel
And you wouldn’t believe how fantastic the food was!

Blogging

In the meanwhile, this blog proved to be something of a success. I kept crossing various milestones (50,000 views, 200 likes, 2,000 followers) faster than I projected, and – narcissistic though it might seem – that made me feel appreciated. To my surprise, I began getting requests to republish my content (by the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, Footnote media, SAGE’s Social Science Space, among others). Equally surprisingly, people started citing me, and talking about me in academic journals and professional media. All this gave me a sense of respect for myself, and for what I did, and even a sense of pride. But none of the above compared to the feeling I got when I read the following email:

Dear Achilleas, thank you for all of your questionnaire writing and statistics material. I am studying questionnaire writing through Coursera, while I care for my lady who has Parkinson’s. Best wishes for [viva on the] 18th! Best regards, …

There are many people who will claim that blogs are a vulgar form of academic self-promotion. So be it. This blog makes me happy.

Bringing it back home

After Graz, I started working on a paper titled Tracing Dynamics of Intentions in Greek ELT, which was to be presented at the 10th Annual Conference of the BAAL Language Learning and Teaching SIG. I already felt considerably more confident, but it had been a while since the last time I presented anything, and I was still not sure if I was up to the task.

I had already let myself be talked into presenting an early draft of the paper in the ‘Bring it back home’ research day in Manchester, partly because I felt that I needed the practice, partly because I wanted to reconnect with the brilliant people in the Language Teacher Research Network, and mostly because I was told that “it would be nice to have some of the senior PGRs around” and I simply cannot resist flattery. I then pulled out because I had to be in Greece at that time, and in the end I reluctantly agreed to present online. This involved considerable work for Susan Dawson, who was organising the whole event, and I am very grateful to her for her efforts.

A lesser known fact about that presentation is that on evening before the event, I was involved in a traffic accident, so my presentation was delivered between meetings with my insurance agent and the police. On the positive side, I am probably one of very few academics who’ve actually told a police officer that “I’ll be back to make a statement in an hour or so, and i shall answer any questions you have then, but now I have an online presentation to attend to, so bye”. On the negative side, I was terribly under-rehearsed, unable to focus, and very uncomfortable, because it’s simply impossible to establish rapport with an audience over Skype. It was definitely not my finest moment.

Making a comeback

That was why I determined that for the next presentation, at BAAL, I would settle for nothing short of perfect. There are lots of tips on giving a good presentation, but the single most effective thing you can do to make sure you do well is practice, practice, practice!

It seems it worked out well, because I got excellent feedback for my paper. Modesty prevents me from repeating much of it, but I did get the BAAL bursary for best presentation, which was the first time in my life that I ever got money for speaking. Although it felt awkward to be singled out among many truly excellent researchers, it was an odd, and certainly very pleasant, feeling.

Pack of index cards outlining my presentation
Practice – Practice – Practice!

You can read more about the BAAL conference here and here, so all I’ll write in this space was that it was a wonderful experience, not least because I laid the foundations for a co-authored chapter that I would write later in the year, and because a brilliant symposium was conceived there (watch this blog for more details later in January!)

Getting published

Another thing that happened in 2014 was the publication of the Resistance to the Known chapter. I’ve already written about this at some length, so I won’t repeat those thoughts here. One thing that I didn’t discuss in the older post though, was the somewhat painful experience of going over the galley proofs in order to spot any remaining typos. As I went over the text line-by-line, I couldn’t help feeling that I simply hated what I had written 14 months previously. I decided that this was a good thing, as it meant that my thinking had evolved in the meanwhile.

The second major writing project in which I was involved was a chapter for an edited volume on Language Learning Psychology. Usually, I prefer to write alone, because I like to have control of the writing process and of the manuscript. That said, I could not have hoped for a better co-author than Juup Stelma, my doctoral supervisor. It’s not just that Juup’s brilliant and made fantastic contributions to the chapter; he also did a wonderful job helping me take over ownership of the project. I now know that I do such a project alone, and that’s largely thanks to his showing trust and and encouraging me to grow up as a scholar.

The viva

Last but not least, 2014 was the year when my viva, the final examination of my PhD, took place. For readers who are not familiar with the workings of UK academia, the viva is an oral examination by two senior academics who had not been part of the candidate’s supervisory team. This is intended to help a candidate demonstrate not only their knowledge of the topic that that studied, but also their ability to ‘talk the talk’, i.e., hold their own in a rigorous academic discussion. The stakes are high, which is why the examination takes place behind closed doors.

I was lucky to have as my examiners Richard Fay and Adrian Holliday, two very demanding scholars with considerable expertise in context-sensitive language teaching. The examination was intense, and absolutely exhilarating – in some ways it was like a boss battle, the final stage of a video game. After almost two hours of vigorous questioning, my supervisors and I were asked to withdraw to an adjacent room so that the examiners would discuss the final outcome: pass, resubmit or fail. Much of the viva is now a blur in my mind, but one of the things I vividly remember is crashing on a chair, still high on adrenaline, and thinking that this had been a robust defence, and that no matter what the examiners decided, they would never take away the knowledge that I did well, or the feeling that comes with it. I passed :)

Christie Building @ UoM
Becoming a doctor…

~

If I were to sum up the experience of 2014 in a single phrase, I’d describe it as journey towards academic self-fulfilment. At the beginning of the year, I felt trapped between wanting to throw in the towel and not being ready to admit defeat; a year later, I can say with some confidence that I am moving forward. As for the next year, I may or may not manage to follow up on what modest success I’ve enjoyed so far – but at least I know that I am in control and that I can make great things happen. Thank you all for walking alongside me on this journey, and let’s all have a great 2015!

~

“And what about the statistics of the blog?” you may ask. I’ve showcased a few of the more successful blog posts in the home page for you to browse. Some of them are not too bad!


 Featured Image: Andrea Parrish – Geyer @ Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

One thought on “Year in Review”

  1. Dear Achilleas,

    First of all, thank you so much for sharing so many aspects from your life, both personal and academic. I am sorry to hear about the bad moments, and I am very glad that eventually you did not quit academia – it would have truly been a great loss for the field.

    Second, it is amazing to see the impact of you writing and blog, which is true, as I see people sharing your content everywhere on social media and I am also a follower and learn a lot from your posts.

    I love how you describe the experience of your viva – the results are well-deserved!

    I wish you all the best in 2015 and I am thrilled we will be working together this year!

    Best wishes,
    Vicky

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