Life on research leave

Hello, I’m Alice König, a lecturer in Latin here in the School of Classics. It’s actually a good while since I have done any lecturing, though, because back in 2012 I was awarded a two-year research fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust to enable me to work on a book I am writing about the life and literary output of an important Roman statesman called Sextus Julius Frontinus. I’ve got about seven months of my research leave still to go, so the clock is ticking; but I have been making steady progress, and aim to have a first draft of the book finished by the end of 2015. (If you want to find out more about the book, have a listen to this.)

Research leaveOne of the wonderful things about research is the unexpected directions it often takes you in; and one of the wonderful things about research leave is that you have a certain amount of time to follow unexpected leads up. While researching my chapter on Frontinus’ treatise on military tactics, for instance, I have enjoyed delving into its reception in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, reading the likes of Christine de Pizan and Machiavelli, who were heavily influenced by Frontinus’ work. This has inspired some ideas for future research projects, on the development of military thinking and writing between the ancient, medieval and renaissance worlds. My research on Frontinus’ aqueduct treatise, meanwhile, has involved a lot of familiarisation with the physical landscape of ancient Rome (I may even try to take a trip before the book is finished, to look at some of the aqueducts’ remains for myself); and I have had to learn a lot about Roman law. As part of my approach to his treatise on land surveying, on the other hand, I have been reading quite a bit about conceptual geography, as well as grappling with the technicalities of this complex profession.

Research leave can be lonely. I love teaching, and miss the regular contact with students that it involves. I also find that my teaching often feeds into my research, and vice versa, so they partner each other in invigorating ways. But I have been enjoying the opportunity to concentrate exclusively on my research for an intensive period and the depth of immersion that that involves (also the chance to spend lots of time in the beautiful new Martyrs Kirk Research Library!). Research, of course, is also – at best – always a collaborative process. Much of the time, we collaborate with each other at some remove, by reading other scholars’ works and engaging with their arguments in publications of our own. There is plenty of scope (especially when on research leave) however for collaborating in person, and I have relished the opportunity that my flexibility of time has given me to talk at length with some of my colleagues (for instance, Prof. Jill Harries, who has been generously helping me with some aspects of Roman law) and also with some of our St Andrews PGs whose work overlaps with research interests of my own. I am also running a collaborative research project (funded by the BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants Scheme) with a wonderful groups of scholars from lots of different universities on Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian, and that has involved some really stimulating workshops and conferences, with more planned for the next couple of years. Because this collaborative project overlaps with the research focus of my own book, the two have been complementing each other brilliantly. For good measure, I also continue to be involved in a research project I am running with my colleague, Dr Emma Buckley, looking into aspects of our Latin language teaching at St Andrews – so I am keeping in touch with the teaching side of my job that way.

In no time at all, I’ll be back in the lecture hall, thinking about what exam questions to set, and helping my students to decipher Martial’s Epigrams or Tacitus’ Agricola. Thanks to my research leave, I will not only have written the best part of a new book by then; I will also have read and thought a lot about the texts and topics that I am going to spend much of the next decade teaching, so my students will benefit from my time away as much as I have. In the meantime, I have a lot to do! Research is one of those tasks that can expand to fill whatever space you give it, and there are times – when I realise there’s yet more I could/should look into – when I wonder if I will ever get around to putting down that final full-stop. When I do, I will be able to look back on an exciting couple of years in which I have grown as an academic. Research leave isn’t easy, but it’s a great opportunity to reflect on all the different things that one does as a university lecturer – and all the future things that one hopes to achieve.

Alice König, lecturer, University of St. Andrews

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