I saw a careers advisor today.  He had some helpful advice about CV layout and content and some less helpful advice about career direction.  I felt he didn’t really know that much about librarianship, which I guess is the problem with my having a minority career.  I was annoyed he hadn’t looked at my CV in advance even though I had been asked to send a copy and had done so.  I had the usual social anxiety thing of thinking he hated me and thought I was an idiot every time he suggested I do something differently, particularly when I said I’ve applied for six jobs and he said if I’ve been looking for work for a month, I should have applied for more jobs, one a day.  The thing is, I thought I had been applying for almost one a day and even given that I have been on holiday for nearly two weeks (counting days lost due to moving flat as well as being in New York) that should be more than six jobs.  Now, six jobs was to some extent a number pulled out of the air in desperation when asked on the spot about how many jobs I have applied for, as I honestly didn’t know, but I thought it was a ballpark figure, so I have no idea why I have applied for so few.  Maybe I have applied for more and can’t remember?

The really interesting/scary thing he said was that if I want to work in research, I should do a PhD.  This was even without my telling him my pipe dream of writing about science fiction TV because it seemed too silly and impossible.  The thing is, I don’t know how I would go about doing that.  My initial reservation was that, having been very depressed while doing my BA and my MA and in both cases taking significantly longer to finish than I should have done, a PhD would also make me depressed, but I’m sufficiently depressed now to wonder what difference it would make.

The second issue is that my MA was not at a good university and I wonder whether a good university would accept me for a PhD.  I am not sure if this is a valid concern or how to find out.  I guess I could try writing to admissions tutors.

The third issue is what to study.  I don’t want to work on Library and Information Management (my MA field).  History (my BA) is a possibility, but I don’t know what to specialise in.  My BA curriculum was broad.  I don’t really want to work on historiography (the subject of my BA extended essay, Oxford-speak for my dissertation).  The English Civil Wars and Interregnum, the subject of my special subject (a historical period of a decade or so in length, studied in detail and with primary sources, a specialism of sorts) is more promising, but I don’t feel either interested or capable in engaging with distant historical sources in a detailed way again after so long and I don’t really feel greatly interested in the seventeenth century any more.

Working on the problem from the other direction, my interests these days are interdisciplinary, particularly in the area where history, cultural studies and politics meet.  I’m interested in Jewish history and particularly in the causes and manifestations of antisemitism  and especially in the place where legitimate criticism of the State of Israel mutates into actual antisemitism and support for the Palestinian cause turns into support for anti-Jewish violence (*cough* Jeremy Corbyn *cough* the Labour Party).  I might just go mad if I studied this all the time, though, and given the political climate in much of academia (increasingly very anti-Zionist to the extent of sometimes being in my opinion antisemitic), finding a supervisor I was on the same wavelength with about what constituted legitimate anti-Zionism and what antisemitism could prove difficult.

I’m also – and this would be much more enjoyable to study – very interested in British television science fiction of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, particularly for what it tells us about the values, politics and worldview of writers and audiences of the time.  This is the most exciting area for me to think about working on, but it also has the most challenges.

First, I have no experience of working on cultural history, bar one term at Oxford on eighteenth century British popular culture, although I did do a piece of coursework for my MA on how Doctor Who fans make use of information resources.  Second, I don’t know what exactly it could lead on to (although I’d be interested to find out).  Third, as a librarian I’ve catalogued a bit of cultural studies material and both sixth form and degree level and I’ve found a lot of it does not interest me because it’s very postmodern theory-driven (I find postmodern theory confusing and not as obviously correct and useful as many humanities academics do) and also very driven by left-wing identity politics, which again is not my political viewpoint and has the additional problem that my identity (religious Jewish and Zionist) is marginalised or even demonised by academics working in this field, whereas I feel i have very little meaningful to say about race, gender and sexuality perspectives which are what dominate.

I feel there is nothing really to say about a Jewish perspective on TV science fiction in this period, unless it is to ask why there are no Jews in it despite the presence of some Jewish creators (although I’m not sure how many or how to find out; I can think of a couple off the top of my head); even then the answer is probably that religion as a whole was avoided as too controversial rather than a specifically Jewish response.  That said, some (including me, years ago in a blog post as well as a more serious (if flawed, IMHO) academic article in the journal European Judaism) have suggested that the Doctor could be considered coded as Jewish in some sense.  There was an article I read the other day in the latest Jewish Review of Books that may help here, arguing that Jewish film director Stanley Kubrick consistently took books with Jewish characters or themes, denuded them of obviously Jewish content, but then filmed them with Jewish actors or thematic elements that could be seen as coded for Jewish; one could perhaps see something similar going on with Doctor Who.

Crunch time: if someone gave me a sizeable research grant and the opportunity to work on anything I like, with the proviso that I had to produce a decent thesis at the end of it, my inclination would be to do something on the British television science fiction (TV SF for ease) of the fifties, sixties and seventies.  My current ideas for topics (and this is just from a couple of hours of thought) would be either looking at the presentation of technocratic scientific projects in the TV SF of the era as a way of looking at the breakdown of the “Butskellite” consensus on economic policy in post-war era (Quatermass II, A for Andromeda, late sixties/early seventies Doctor Who, The Avengers and maybe The Prisoner would be key here) OR looking at the presentation of Jews in British television of the time, particularly looking at whether the Doctor (co-created by assimilated Jew Sydney Newman and originally produced by the Jewish Verity Lambert, but originally portrayed by the somewhat antisemitic William Hartnell) can be seen as a symbolic grappling with mid-century Jewish identity[1].

I can actually see myself enjoying writing either of those theses, but whether I could get accepted on a PhD course to write them, and where I would do so, is another question.  I would definitely welcome any feedback from readers in academia or with experience of ‘aca fandom’ (academics who are also Doctor Who fans, writing professionally and academically about Doctor Who, science fiction or fandom), either about whether my ideas are worth pursuing or general hints about picking universities/supervisors/topics, whether having gone to a not-so-good university for my MA (after Oxford for my BA) will count against me and so forth.  EDIT: ideally I would stay in London for my PhD, although I could just about move to somewhere with a Jewish community e.g. which would basically be Manchester or maybe possibly Leeds or Glasgow.


[1] For those interested, the short reason why the Doctor is seen as coded Jewish is his consistent presentation as a wander and exile, as per Jewish history and stereotype (the wandering Jew and historic Jewish migrations over the last 2,500 years), but also per many Jewish refugees from Nazism and Communism, many of whom turned up in pre- or post-war London with Doctorates from foreign universities and a suspicion of authority, very like the presentation of the Doctor himself in the very first episode of the series.  Like many Jewish figures (again, Holocaust and Soviet refugees, but also back into the nineteenth century), he espouses progressive values of empiricism and social justice and provides a unique outsider’s perspective on society’s problems.  Like many Jews, he can ‘pass’ as a member of the societies he visits, but, again like many Jews, is often ‘outed’ as different either by enemies who dub him ‘impure’ or by his own principled refusal to approve behaviour he finds unethical.  The first and eleventh Doctors in particular are visually ‘coded’ by their dress, not specifically ‘Jewish’, but certainly visually redolent of mid-century academic refugees from Nazism and the USSR and it’s certainly not hard to imagine the Doctor having tea with Jewish refugees like Albert Einstein (mentioned in The Stones of Blood and glimpsed in Time and the Rani), Sigmund Freud (mentioned as having a comfortable couch in The Curse of  the Black Spot), Karl Popper or Sir Isaiah Berlin (we also know he was friends with Jewish escapologist Harry Houdini (Planet of the Spiders and a recent Doctor Who Magazine comic strip), a less obvious connection, but another Jewish immigrant who debunked spiritualism in the name of science.)


3 thoughts on “University Challenged

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