How skills I gained during my research got me to where I am now

The most important skills that are needed to survive in the academic world are patience and persistence. This is what I remind myself when I stare at a document from sixteenth century Spain in an, at first seemingly impenetrable, hand, or when I re-visit an old paper. Archives and documents do not relinquish their secrets easily, but instead set challenges and reward patience and persistence. You need to establish familiarity, and to train the eye. Doctoral students will know that good research takes time and energy, but developing the appropriate language and palaeography skills takes patience and persistence in a different way. Learn which days you have the patience, and which days attempts at patience will challenge your long-term persistence.

The same applies to the world of publications; some journals have rates of acceptance in single figures. Don’t be dispirited, instead accept the challenge. Think about which parts of the argument are essential, and which you can do away with. Think about what the readers weren’t convinced by and why. Decide what is most important, and whether you should clarify the explanatory pathways or find other routes. Remember that this exploration is all part of the process.

As anyone learning languages and skills such as palaeography or developing research for publication will know, progress is not always linear. It is more like navigating a ship in a rough sea. There are days when favourable winds take you onward at a high rate of knots, and there are other days when you are adrift in the doldrums. Sometimes you may arrive in unfamiliar territories, and erroneously think that you are in another place altogether. Don’t be disheartened, as this is the way that ‘New Worlds’ have been born.

Dr Julia McClure, Assistant Professor of Global History, University of Warwick

Nov 2015