Weekend Reading: Being Alternative

What caught my eye this week

This week I’ve encountered a few references to ‘alt-ac’ (sometimes ‘altac’ or ‘alt/ac’), and I’ve been pondering my response to them. For those who haven’t come across the term, it comes from ‘alternative academic’, and is usually used of jobs (mainly post-PhD) which are related to academia but do not follow the traditional faculty path within a university.

I first heard the term quite recently – which is perhaps surprising, since I could be an alt-ac poster girl. I’ve worked in academia since I completed my PhD in 2005, in all sorts of roles (teaching, tutoring, mentoring colleagues, editing, researching, writing materials, developing resources, organising conferences, and working on assessment at all levels from design to marking to invigilating) – but I am not a lecturer in a university department, nor have I tried to become one. So as a classicist with an ‘alt-ac’ portfolio, I’m pleased by what seems to be a growing recognition of the existence of alt-ac careers in terms of career advice and even representation on Classics boards and committees.

But mixed in with my pleasure in seeing greater acknowledgement of ‘alt-ac’ professionals is a sense of disappointment that we are positioned as ‘alternative’, which often seems to be code for ‘second best’.

I chose my alt-ac career for good reasons, because being outside formal academia with its rules, networking and office politics suited my inclinations – and it still does. I don’t want office hours and an out-of-office auto-reply to excuse my absence; I don’t want to take my own cup out with me so that I can buy my coffee cheaper; I don’t want to be travelling home on the metro in the winter when it’s cold and dark outside; I don’t want to teach the Monday morning language class that nobody wants to come to; I don’t want the travelling and the miserable conference accommodation and the funding bids and the pressure to publish and the ever-increasing paperwork and the REF worries and the constant striving to boost my chances in the next round of promotions.

Most of the time I work at home, surrounded by chaos and cats and music, and I get to pick my child up from school every day, and hang around in the school yard for a bit of a gossip. I can run online tutorials with a glass of wine in one hand and a slice of chocolate cake in the other, wearing my pyjamas and fluffy slippers – and as long as I don’t turn on my webcam, nobody will ever know. I can research whatever I like, whenever I like – or I can take a year off researching and teach myself to make hats instead (did that  – it was great!). True, I don’t have the prestige or the contacts or the money of my non-alternative colleagues – but for me the hats and fluffy slippers and noisy play-dates are worth more.

So I think we need a new term, because I don’t really feel like I’m ‘alt’ anything. This week I came across the term ‘extended academic’, which appealed a bit; unfortunately I’m far too short to carry off that label without giggling! I think I’d like to be known instead as someone with a ‘relaxed academic’ career. We non-faculty mavericks may be on the outside looking in – but some of us have packed a picnic, and we’re having a lovely time out here!


Evidence of the hat-making. I can also make origami birds and construct a 1:12 scale 1960s Tardis console out of clay. But where do you put those things on an academic CV?!




This week’s links from around the Web


From Classical Studies Support

The unusual origin of a research project – Classical Studies Support 



Yorkshire metal detectorists – The Telegraph 

…and more metal detecting – Leader Live 

Excavating Odysseus’ palace – Argophilia 

Teesside treasure – The Northern Echo 


Comment and opinion

A decline in Humanities – The Atlantic 

Disputing the Labyrinth – Cosmos Magazine

Marcus Aurelius and free speech – Kiwi Hellenist 

A Myth reading list – Jean’s Thoughts 

Reviewing the decline and fall – The Strategy Bridge

Inscriptions and Indiana Jones – CREWS Project 

On relative and absolute chronology – e-ni-jo-te 

The authority of the internet – Mistaking Histories 

Nietzsche on Apollo and Dionysus – Big Think 

Britannia and the end of Empire – Le Temps Revient 

Handy Roman curses – Mental Floss 

Representing Cleopatra – Sphinx

On disagreement and the nature of character – A Don’s Life

Researching looted antiquities – EU Greek Reporter 

Roman structures in Assisi – Ancient World Magazine 

Talking controversial statues – The Art Newspaper 

SPQR and white supremacists – Hyperallergic

On exhibitions of Roman burial – Current Archaeology 

‘Alt-ac’ or ‘extended academic’? – Jacquelyn Clements 

Pretty pictures of Pompeii – Artsy

Pulling off an outdoor Homerathon – Society for Classical Studies 

Studying and parenthood [a very familiar story!] – Eidolon 

…prompting more reflections on Classics and parenting – Sententiae Antiquae 

…and a personal story of Classics and grieving for a mother – Eidolon 


Podcasts, videos and other media

Pat Barker talks to Andrew Marr about the IliadBBC Radio 4 

Experts discuss the OdysseyKosmos Society

Hera and Zeus – Myths, Baby! 

More on Alexander’s tomb – Kings & Generals 

Talking about the Acropolis – BBC World Service: The Forum 

Virtual Fishbourne – 3D Media 

A complimentary review of my first attempts on YouTube – Classical Fix 



New undergraduate journal now accepting submissions – Philomathes

New postgraduate journal now accepting submissions – New Classicists 

Forthcoming events in Classics – The Classical Association 


And finally…

It was sad to hear the news today of the death of Robin Birley, who has done so much for archaeology and awareness of Roman history here in the North of England. His work at Vindolanda has been an inspiration to many.

4 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Being Alternative

  1. And keep it up Cora-Beth! Impressive array of hats, and a unique take on a work life balance, much to be learned from your lifestyle footprint.


  2. The Milliner’s Tale! Hats off to you, Cora Beth 😉 Instead of ‘alternative’ how about being a ‘autarchic’ (self-ruling) academic? Although I am struggling to say it; it’s a bit of a tongue-twister! Maybe ‘academic autarch’ … ‘acadaut’ … ‘acadarch’ (‘acadork’!? Hmm… maybe not). I’ll stop now!


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