Enjoying the little things

Last year, listening to the radio on the way to work, ABC Classic FM played a piece of music that was performed only once during the composer’s life. It might have been Rachmaninoff’s first symphony, which was difficult to write, had a disastrous first performance and triggered an episode of severe depression. Of his symphony, Rachmaninoff said:

I’m not at all affected by its lack of success, nor am I disturbed by the newspapers’ abuse; I am deeply distressed and heavily depressed by the fact that my Symphony, though I loved it very much and love it now, did not please me at all after its first rehearsal.

It got me thinking about what makes us happy with an achievement and what feels personally satisfying. It’s an easier to answer this question in the negative. (For example, I am not particularly proud of my PhD, nor especially pleased with some of my published work and professional achievements). But in my questions for 2018, I asked: what did I achieve in 2017 that I feel proud of? Answering this question reveals not only what I enjoy and value, but how I measure my own success.

I am proud of these achievements in 2017:

This special issue opened up space for scholarship on activism in academic contexts. I appreciate the papers for their mix of micro-activism (small acts of generosity or everyday refusals) and larger gestures of organised protest.  I enjoyed co-editing with Karina Luzia and Kate Bowles, and writing a paper with Cathy Rytmeister was inspiring. I continue to be stimulated by conversations with contributors and readers on Twitter. Liz Morrish deserves a special mention.

The way in which academia quantifies PhD completions for supervisors feels off, but I love the intellectual intimacy of PhD supervision (waves to Louise, Gayle and Christa) and celebrating Lilia Mantai’s PhD submission and graduation was a highlight of the year. I was privileged to learn alongside her. We have both missed the connection of our regular meetings—Barbara Grant’s description of the end of the PhD as a time of mourning resonates—but I am looking forward to peer mentoring and co-authoring a paper this year.

Another piece of work with Cathy Rytmeister. This feels important: sharing our knowledge about the history and context of higher education in Australia, and highlighting the power relationships that shape practices of learning and teaching. The MOOC starts on January 22 and is particularly aimed at early career academics. It’s entirely free so consider enrolling!

Much of the other work I have enjoyed has intangible outcomes or has not yet come to fruition. These things will be focus of my goals for 2018: developing strategies for peer review of teaching and research-enriched teaching; supporting teaching-focussed early career academics; collaborating on the Academic Identities conference cultural history; and directing a large undergraduate program. I am also excited, and daunted, by the writing I want to do: finishing up some end-of-project papers, and establishing new research that will guide my work for the next several years.


This all feels like big stuff, so for now I want to take pleasure in the little things: the smell of my office thanks to this mushroom oil diffuser, a stack of journal articles to read (including Doing Academic Writing Differently: a feminist bricolage and Positioning ourselves in our academic lives: exploring personal/professional identities, voice and agency) and the sounds of Rachmaninoff.

4 thoughts on “Enjoying the little things

  1. Wave back from Christa. I’d be very happy if my PhD resembled Rachmaninoff’s first symphony: only read once in my life-time enjoyed for all posterity.


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