Do we grow out of self-consciousness?

(written in response to Can’t Stand Me)

Blushing has always been a problem for me. When I had to speak in undergraduate seminars I would feel the red flush spread from my neck to my face and chest as I staggered through what I had to say. I didn’t feel nervous, I didn’t stammer. My only feelings were a desire to express my thoughts and a desperate hope that this time I would not go red. But I always did.

These days I usually only notice it at the end of a conference presentation which, while still horribly embarrassing, is at least not distracting. I find that when I have something I want to communicate, I concentrate more fully on my paper and my subject, and my self-consciousness just floats away for about 15 minutes.

I still hate watching or hearing myself back. And I hate the idea of others listening to recordings too. But I push through it, and, in the interests of self-promotion, link to podcasts and photos of myself, telling myself that it has to be done.

(Like this horrible one that I only found when I googled myself in google images. Very much regretting wearing the boots with that dress…)

I have heard that self-consciousness, or hyper self-awareness, is a function of the frontal lobe. The reason older people don’t give any f*cks is because of deterioration in their frontal lobes, i.e. brain damage.

In some situations self-consciousness can be good. The idea of others’ eyes upon me, as an object of interest, as I just go about my daily life, can awaken me to the reality of my life, of my existence in the world – and remind me to put some makeup on, or change my food-stained sweater…

I think I’m going to embrace self-consciousness. I’d rather that than brain damage.

Do you have any thoughts about self-consciousness and self-promotion in academia? Leave me a comment below.




I never know what to call myself. It’s been over a year since my PhD was awarded and, like most of my peers, I’m not yet settled in a ‘proper’ academic job. In fact, just after I finished my thesis corrections, I moved to the States where my husband had got a job in an education non-profit, and where it proved far more difficult than I’d imagined to get permission to work and find a job. As a result, apart from some tutoring, I’m not teaching at the moment. I’m also not currently carrying out any research for anyone. So I’m not a PhD student anymore, not a fully-fledged ‘academic’ yet, not a research assistant, teacher or adjunct. I have to come down on ‘independent scholar’, which I hate for its obvious lack of affiliation with any status-giving institution, but perhaps should learn to love for its comparative freedom.

Anyway, it’s been over a year since I finished my PhD. It’s also been over a year since I last published on this blog.

This last year has been tough at times. Leaving London for me meant the loss of my scholarly community and peer group. I’ve also really missed the British Library and Senate House. I hadn’t fully realised how important these things are for helping ward off self-doubt and inspiring new ideas.

But this year has also been exciting. In May last year I presented at the triennial Big Berks conference on the History of Women, where I felt almost like I was being initiated into their amazing, international, academic (feminist) community. I also had papers accepted at the British Women Writers Conference (held in Binghampton NY) and the Victorians Institute Conference (held in Charlotte NC). I also made six applications last year for grants of various kinds – and got one! So in the next couple of weeks I’m heading to the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin to look at the papers of Charlotte Brontë’s friend Ellen Nussey.

This blog was mainly started as a promotional tool for various conferences I was involved in. While I probably will still use it to promote events and publications, I hope to also use it to curate interesting work on women, religion and writing, and to share my experiences of postdoctoral life and research activities. I’ve found that I far prefer following and reading fellow-researchers’ blogs than scouring Twitter for interesting snippets – maybe for the same reasons that I prefer novels to poetry? – so I’m hoping to discover new and interesting blogs or websites out there in my field.

Even after four years of study, and even a year on from my PhD, I still find myself fascinated by how women writers in the nineteenth century expressed, represented and wrestled with their faith. Religion was part of their emotional as well as intellectual experience, and this can explain why women writers don’t always say what we think they should, or why their characters behave in ways we don’t understand. In the nineteenth century the emotional and subjective experience of being a woman was different from what it is now. This seems like an obvious thing to say, but the ways in which Victorian women’s experiences differed from ours, especially where religious faith was concerned, is still only just being explored. I hope my work contributes to this exploration, and that even this blog in its own small way can be useful to those finding their way through research questions, PhD courses and the postdoctoral experience.