The ultimate job cover letter.

I haven’t been around in a while-mostly it just turns out there is, in fact, a limit to how many things it is possible to write at once, and blogging had to move aside for articles and conference papers and thesising. That should all calm down around the middle of next month, but hey, every time I say that, ten new things come up.

What I have been doing, as a soon-to-be-released-upon-the-world PhD, is applying for jobs. This is the cover letter I wish I could send.

Look, here’s the thing. I’ve been applying for a lot of jobs lately, and I just don’t think I can take it. You know how it goes. You spend days translating the criteria from Jargon to English, then writing answers, then translating them back into a kind of pidgin-buzzwordese that tries to include the right number of references to ‘impact,’ ‘engagement,’ and ‘forward-thinking student-led research’ without completely destroying your will to live. Then you wait and wait for that form letter – you know, the one that says ‘we’ve decided to see other people – it’s not us, it’s you.’ You’d ask what happened, if you could. Did you just not see eye to eye on the methodology? Not enough publications? Too broad, too specialised, they didn’t like your shoes? It’s a mystery, but you will never know, because even though you slaved over your letter for days or more, a note at the bottom explains ‘it is not our policy to give feedback.’ You will never get an acknowledgement that you, a human being, submitted a thing and not the kind of conversation bot that used to hang out on AOL.

I can’t take it anymore. So I’m just going to give it to you straight, and explain why you should give me this job.

Underneath it all, what you’re looking for is someone who can do really good research, and who can teach. The research should be easy to turn into soundbites so it can be sold to the public, and equally easy to expand into pages-long quantifiers for funding bodies. The teaching should be interesting, and students should learn stuff. These things somehow turn into magic money pots for universities, though nobody is entirely sure how. It’s apparently kind of like alchemy. So let me tell you why I am awesome at those things.

If you ask me about my research, I will talk a lot; it’s what academics do. But if you wanted it summed up in three words, those words would be ‘sex and violence.’ There has literally never been anything in the history of civilisation that has been an easier sell to the public. Sex and violence are what keep the wheels of humanity turning. They convince people to buy cars, clothes, cheap beer and horrible-smelling body spray. They lurk at the heart of practically every story or historical event ever. The power of this great evolutionary impulse to procreation and mayhem is what I offer you. That years of academic institutionalisation has conditioned me to be able to say that in bigger, fancier words is just an added bonus.

As for teaching, don’t let the fact I own a daringly hipsterish tweed jacket fool you. I have also had professors who stand at the front of the room droning on like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, eventually lecturing to a room full of small recording devices. I am not one of them. See, in addition to knowing a lot of stuff about literature, I also teach an actual class on how to get up in front of people and be interesting. I got this job because through a convoluted sequence of events, I ended up doing an Eddie Izzard impression at the interview. I’m not saying I’m going to grow up to be a great comedian or anything – that ship has probably sailed – but you have to agree that anybody who gets a teaching gig on the basis of pretending to be an evil giraffe is at least not going to put people to sleep.

That said, I should probably come clean and admit I do hold a few unpopular opinions about recent developments in education. I think, for instance, that if people are going to pay an amount that would have made them extremely eligible marriage prospects in the early nineteenth century for a single year of education, they should probably actually get that education. Some universities seem to see their students as disposable sources of money – you, of course, are not like that, and that’s why we’re going to get along. But some do, and so they concentrate entirely on getting people in the door, and once they get there, don’t bother to actually let the faculty teach them things. I won’t be doing that. I don’t really have to. Medieval literature is already inherently interesting. We’re telling stories, and then talking about those stories. Again, sex and violence. It’s not a tough sell.

There are a few other things you’re looking for, I know. The perfect person for you to hire would actually be a saint, because they are endlessly patient, are willing to undergo any amount of torture, can perform actual miracles, and be in two places at once. As saints are generally in pretty short supply these days, you might consider settling for a regular human instead. I am an especially excellent human. Before you send that note, we should at least talk things out. I really think we could make it work.

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Snow White and the Virgin Martyrs: The Terrifying Conclusion!

And here we finish the play! I’ll tell you one other interesting thing about Hrosvithe of Gandersheim and her work: From the end of the 15th century, printing companies used to have exclusive rights to print copies of particular books for a certain length of time, granted either by a monarch or the Pope. The first record of a German copyright privelege was in 1501, when Conrad Celtes of Sodalitas Rhenana Celtica was given the rights to print copies of Hrosvithe’s dramas. Since the only surviving manuscript copy of her work was one prepared by printers and covered with their marks, this is probably a lot of why we have this play at all!

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A great man passes.

This is, I guess, off topic. And I was going to put up the last part of the Virgin Martyrs tonight, but while I was out at the department’s Christmas party, someone checked Facebook or whatever gave them the news, and told us that Nelson Mandela had died. He was, of course, quite old–ninety-five–and had been ill, and certainly can be said to have used his time to make the biggest difference he could. I am not generally a person who comments publicly on people’s deaths, especially people I don’t know.

But here is a thing I remember. In 2012 I went to see the World of Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum. Among the treasures on display was the Robben Island Shakespeare–a copy of the Complete Works that a prisoner named Sonny Venkatrathnam had managed to keep in his cell disguised as a Hindi sacred text. He’d passed it around, and asked other prisoners to mark passages that they found especially meaningful or important. Seeing this book remains one of the most profound examples I’ve ever encountered of the power of literature to feed the spirit–all those names, scribbled next to underlined bits of text from a five-hundred-year-old play. Robben Island was a place for political prisoners, so these were idealogues and dreamers and there seemed to be a touch of them still lingering around the pages.

Mandela had chosen a passage from Julius Caesar:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths:
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.” (2.2.32–7)

And so it does.

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Snow White and the Virgin Martyrs, Part 2

Here is the long-promised second part to Hrosvithe of Gandersheim’s play Dulcitius. There will be one part after this, just to wrap everything up neatly. It’s been a while, so here is part I again.

This is a closet drama, so was likely never meant to be actually performed but rather read aloud in a small group. This means that the stage directions are all included in the dialogue; one of Hrosvithe’s strengths is that she can so clearly visualise what the characters are doing and what the scene looks like. This also means some of the scenes are quite short–one character (or the chorus/soldiers) doing a single soliloquy, for instance.

Once again–the Latin (which you can find a copy of here) is assonantal prose, while my translations are condensed slightly to make them sound better in English.

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A triumphant return! And conferences.

A cardinal sin in the blogging world, I know, to let a thing lie for so long! I’m sorry for that–I finished my thesis, and submitted it, and the fact is there is very little space for blogging at the end of that process. Or eating, sleeping, and showering regularly, for that matter. But it’s over, and I have recovered my senses at last, and have so much to tell you! Like the last couple of conferences, and the long-promised rest of the translation of the Virgin Martyrs.

But first, I just got back home last night from Quadrivium IX, a postgrad/early career training symposium held at the University of Kent.

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Happy academic new year!

I have one more week of PhD-thesis-writinghood, which is why the total radio silence.  But as it’s freshers’ week (or induction week, as my uni has recently decided to rename it), I thought re-linking a couple of older posts might be useful.

Five ways to Survive Freshers’ Week

Dealing with Housemates

Onward and upward!

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Four reasons I like the White Queen

So last weekend, the BBC’s sort-of-like-Game-of-Thrones-but-less-horrifying drama The White Queen finished off the season, with a rather gruesome Battle of Bosworth Field. Despite dodgy set design, frustrating characters, and a, shall we say, laissez-faire approach to history, I liked it, and I’m a bit disappointed it’s over for the summer.

This is why.

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