Competing demands: on combining different activities during my Postdoc

A small project called Europäische Friedensverträge der Vormoderne in Daten (FriVer+) ran at the DH Lab in 2023. The main aim of this project was to transform the data that had been gathered during an earlier project, Europäische Friedensverträge der Vormoderne online, and that was stored in an SQL-database, into XML and make it publicly available. All of this was done in accordance with the FAIR principles. The various activities this project comprised are already explained in another blog on the Text+-blog as well as in the project documentation. Hence I won’t reiterate all this information here. Instead, I would like to offer a short reflection on the advantages and challenges of combining a project like FriVer+ with my role as Postdoc at IEG Mainz.

 

Screenshot of a XML transcription from the FriVer+ corpus in Oxygen

In 2023, my working week was split equally between my Postdoc and FriVer+ (each 50%). One of the main benefits was that the 50% of my Postdoc time was put on hold and allowed me to extend my contract, thus postponing the slightly daunting prospect of becoming jobless. (Sadly, because temporary contracts are rampant in German academia, this is a situation that many of us have to face at some point.) In addition, FriVer+ allowed me to hone particular skills. Although over the years I have gained quite some experience in working with XML, I was not that well-versed in TEI (the XML schema according to which our data was expressed). Moreover, even though I worked with SQL-databases in the past, I had never transformed data stored in such a database into XML. It was fun and, in the end, rewarding to learn and apply new skills within the context of a clearly-defined and delineated project. Furthermore, although I greatly benefited from the assistance provided by and conversations with my colleagues, ultimately the execution of the project was in my hands, which resulted in a degree of freedom that was really enjoyable.

At the same, the freedom and time to design the FriVer+ project and to acquire new skills was constrained by the demands of my own research as well as by the activities staff members of any research/academic institute are likely to be involved in. In general, the IEG Mainz provides its academic employees with sufficient time to conduct their own research, but last year’s evaluation of the institute by a scientific committee did consume a significant part of that cherished and elusive resource in academia: time. As a result, having to deal with competing demands and having to keep various balls in the air was a constant challenge.

One way to deal with this situation was to be pragmatic and realistic about the work that could and couldn’t be done. While writing longer texts often proved to be more difficult, as this activity tends to require dedicated and uninterrupted attention over longer periods of time, doing bits and pieces of archival research as well as the preparatory work for the writing stage was feasible. In the end, this approach allowed me to make progress with FriVer+ without having the feeling that I was abandoning my own research entirely. Moreover, because I enjoyed a great degree of flexibility in terms of scheduling my work, I even managed to reserve some weeks for my own research while devoting others to FriVer+. This allowed me to finish a draft (albeit an admittedly very rough one) of a chapter, co-write a grant proposal, and co-author an article.

Ultimately, in spite of the challenges that accompanied it, I found that being involved in the FriVer+ project was very rewarding. Apart from being able to acquire some new skills and enhance existing ones, it was pleasant to be engaged with a different type of project for a circumscribed period of time. It is my hope that FriVer+ has not only been rewarding for me, but that the outcomes of this project, all available here and here, will be of use to the wider scholarly community as well.

 

Featured image: Screenshot of a table in the Europäische Friedensverträge der Vormoderne database



Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Jaap Geraerts (2024, 19. Januar). Competing demands: on combining different activities during my Postdoc. Digital Humanities Lab. Abgerufen am 17. April 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/vmhn

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