In my defence, 'let a semester go by' is perhaps not the most accurate description of the last four months of 2014. 'Was steamrollered by a semester', or 'managed to hang on to the rollercoaster of a semester' may be a more apt way of putting it. In terms of juggling different responsibilities, I think that last term was possibly the busiest of my academic career so far.
One of the main contributing factors to this is that I was teaching undergraduates for the first time. (This circumstance also made me more reluctant to post here: I hoped against hope that my undergraduates had perhaps not picked up on my total inexperience, and didn't want to out myself whilst I was teaching lest any of them had come across this blog). I think the only way of putting it briefly is that it was a highly educational experience. I learnt about some of the theories and techniques behind group teaching, I gained an insight into the dark art (or so it seemed before starting) of essay marking, and I learnt that letting awkward silences drag on to the point of unbearability in a tutorial is almost always a better way of getting discussion going than trying to fill it yourself with further questions or pointers. I also (whisper it quietly) learnt rather more about my period than I had known before, partly because the St Andrews' early modern module has a different set of foci than the one I did as an undergraduate, and partly because there's rather more pressure to know your stuff when you are the only tutor in the room, rather than one of several students.
Apart from teaching, I was also continuing work as the 'Communications Assistant' for the School of History, which basically meant helping to update the School blog, Twitter, and Facebook feed. It was a fun job, but it drained a surprising amount of mental space if not actual time - I think it was something to do with having a whole separate 'stream' of emails coming in across a given week - so I'm very much enjoying having handed it on and being able to just read the blog for fun. I was also elected as the "PGR" (postgraduate research, i.e. PhD) representative for the School of History, which means I get to attend School meetings and do surveys to get a sense of how the experience of postgraduate historians could be improved.
What else? I also applied for a few different pots of funding, all successful - so now I can look forward to co-organising a postgraduate conference and organising a postgraduate skills workshop in due course, which should be great. I also wrote a draft chapter for an edited volume on 'Northern Visions in the Premodern Era' and attended an absolutely fantastic workshop in Sweden in November in which all of the contributors discussed one another's chapters and how to improve them and to ensure that the chapters worked with one another rather than as independent articles just connected by a common theme. I thought this was a brilliant approach and I am so pleased to be a part of the project. I also convened the 'EMMH' (early modern and modern history) postgraduate forum at St Andrews for a third semester. Finally, on the grounds that it's better to ask in vain that not ask at all, I approached a trio of (far more senior, and far superior) mountaineering historians to see if they would be interested in forming a panel with me at a mountain studies conference taking place in Canada this May. They said yes, and the panel was accepted, so - eek! - next stop, Jasper National Park. (Have I mentioned at any point on this blog that I really, really love mountains?!)
It has to be confessed that the actual PhD thesis took something of a back seat last term due to all of the above, which is why this year I'm trying to make sure I don't split myself as thinly to make sure I have as much mental energy as possible to dedicate to my research and writing. That said, I've long viewed the PhD as being more in the way of a holistic apprenticeship than a single piece of work that needs to be done as quickly as possible. I might not end up in an academic career after this, but if I do, I want to know that I've used my PhD years not just to produce a large-scale piece of research, but also to gain the necessary initial experience in all of the other elements of being a 'grown-up' academic. Teaching, advocating for others, collaborating, producing shorter pieces of research on the side, and organising academic events are all important parts of the training I hope to take away from my time at St Andrews.
But, after last term, I am trying to be a bit more careful about how much I load my plate up with all of the extra opportunities open to me, and these past couple of weeks before the start of the new semester, which have been focussed entirely on my research, have been pretty wonderful. Doing a bit of extreme juggling every now and then certainly makes you appreciate it when you have just one ball to take care of!