Thursday, 18 February 2016

Midweek Musing: a week of interest, intrigue and innovation

Mid-term in second semester at the University of Edinburgh means Innovative Learning Week. A week when individuals, schools and departments across the university run events of interest, intrigue, and yes, innovation. But strangely, my building complex is eerily quiet, I can access the washing machines with no competition or queue, the door across the landing isn't slamming all hours of the night with the coming and going of my undergraduate neighbours. They've all gone home.

It's mid-term, they want a holiday, rather than the reinvigoration of alternative learning, workshops or excursions.

Fair enough, I suppose. I am a postgrad, so supposedly more studious, and I am attending two official Innovative Learning week events, both of which I am presenting. The third event of the week wasn't officially for Innovative Learning, but took the opportunity of a class free week to present peer-to-peer learning for early career academics.

What, then, am I learning, this week of interest, intrigue and innovation?


Two of our earlier career academics at New College convened a conversation about post-doctoral research opportunities, to share of their experience and knowledge in this area for postgraduate students exploring their options.

I had heard both Naomi and Lydia speak on their post-doc experiences briefly as part of a panel in 2014, when I was just beginning the PhD. Now, half way through, and knowing that once I complete the performance season for the PhD project I will have half a mind to applying for positions and places to take me beyond the PhD come 2018, it seemed important to find out more.

Academia may be transforming from the once all-encompassing occupation of men who worked and came home to a house cleaned and meals cooked by someone else, transforming to hold a place in more balanced lives where partners and children, community and self receive attention they require for health and wellbeing. However, the years between PhD and finding a permanent position within the academy hold more challenges to balance and wellbeing.

I learnt that it can take a year or two or three to even achieve success with post-doctoral applications. During these limbo years, if you hang in there, you must improvise, cobble together part time jobs teaching or assisting someone else's research; keep doing your own research and writing articles; turn your thesis into a book and get it published, too. I learnt that 2% of applications to the big post-doc schemes in the UK are successful. I learnt that some universities treat their post-doc researchers better than others.

I began to wonder about possible research projects that might flow from the work of my PhD. I saw potential for work I could do to fit the parameters of one of the big schemes quite well. My interest in further research as a path from the end of the PhD has been further piqued, a seed planted to germinate in my sub-conscious during the rest of 2016.


I don't do much with the whole science and religion side of things. I am an artist, my pursuits generally take me in other directions. But my being an artist, a performance artist, has taken my path into the science and religion field this week, as I lend my skills to a reading of Brecht's play, The Life of Galileo, for Innovative Learning Week.

I know little about Galileo, or the controversy in which he was involved. Helping to tell his story, of exploring the possibility that the earth is not the centre of the universe, of yearning to discover more, of coming up against the fear of the church who don't like their doctrines undermined by so called heresy, I am intrigued.

Of course regular readers of this blog will know I am intrigued by this question of fear in humans, and the courage of humans in the face of fear to stay true to themselves, to the best of humanity, to the Sacred spark of Love within us all.

So I am intrigued by this story, and enjoying the learning through performing more about our fears and our courage as we bring these characters to life in our midst.


The big event of the week for me was the preview performance of the letter to the Romans and conversation, yesterday afternoon.

I am not sure I can say very much here, both because I am still processing the afternoon, and also because the reflections will form part of the discussion of the thesis.

What shall I say, then?

For the most part, I was happy with my performance. I was grateful to have the chance to bring the letter, at least in part, before an audience, and give it a test run.

Once I had finished the performance, I invited the people to sit in silence for a moment or two. Their silence was active and engaged, closed eyes or note writing – no phone checking or aimless staring into the distance. Then I invited them to talk to one or two others near them, and the conversations were enthusiastic and animated as they gave voice to their responses to the performance. Then we had a question and answer conversation together.

General comments affirmed choices I was making with language, gesture and tone. In fact, the consensus seemed to be that the audience wanted more – push the language further into the twentyfirst century, make the gestures bigger, the movements bigger. It's working, but we want more of it. So that was excellent feedback to receive.

I stumbled and fumbled my way through one difficult short passage, the meaning of which I thought I had settled, but which in recent weeks I have revisited and found myself uncertain again. My uncertainty came across. But rather than asking of me more certainty, the audience were suggesting in conversation that I could lean into the uncertainty, for perhaps it is there that I will find meaning. I found the discussion of this passage most helpful, and am looking forward to seeing how I resolve the issues in coming weeks before the main performance (9 March, Scottish Storytelling Centre).

Responses to the performance included a connection with reading someone was doing, giving me another scholar with whom to engage in my discussion; excitement and enthusiasm for this biblical storytelling thing, and a desire to find out more; shared stories of the struggle to find ways to use oral storytelling in pastoral ministry and the delights of delving deeper into the biblical stories through rabbinical filling of gaps.

It seems this is a valuable exercise, this exploration of my storytelling process for what it may offer to biblical scholarship. I am encouraged to continue with this innovative enquiry.

While the first year undergrads have all gone home for a holiday, I have entered the space this week opens up for interest, intrigue and innovation. In that space I have been challenged, inspired, and encouraged.

When invitations to participate are handed to you, will you head home for the holidays (granted, sometimes this is the most appropriate choice), or stay, change your perspective and rhythm, and find refreshment, rejeuvenation and renewal in the spaces that open?

1 comment:

Heather said...

So glad that the first performance was so well-received, so... deeply? responded to!
It sounds affirming of your artistic and thorough engagement. I am looking forward to our turn to embrace this way of relating to this letter.