Relocation, Relocation: The Fate of an Academic Gypsy

Last Sunday I went for tango in Market Harborough. There, I have been introduced to a young dancer with excellent leading skills. Curious about his style, I asked him where he took tango lessons. He mentioned that he started in Paris and then he continued in Canada and the UK. Then it was my turn to reveal the whereabouts of my teachers: Ireland, UK, Italy, Germany and Greece. The next question took me by surprise. He asked me: Are you a Researcher? How could he have guessed? Was it my scholarly glasses? My lack of fashion sense? Or my excellent grasp of the English tongue, despite my Greek origins? No, he said. Only researchers travel so much and stay in a place long enough to take tango lessons!

So, is this the fate of all Academic researchers? I am sure there are some bright exceptions, who were lucky to study as undergraduates and postgraduates at an Institution that eventually gave them a job. For the rest of us, the road is our only option. As early as the end of your BA, they advise you to seek another university for the completion of your MA studies. And as soon as you get your First, they ask you to move once more, so that you can find a supervisor in yet another university. By that time, you may start wondering whether they dislike you intensely and thus try to get rid of you. I can assure you this is not true. Your teachers probably think that you will need the experience of adapting in a new working environment, since for the rest of your life you will be moving from one city to another, one country to another, or one continent to another. (There are no universities in different planets, yet!)

Jobs in Ancient History, Archaeology and Classics are scarce and they are advertised once in a blue moon. When I finished my PhD I sent applications in ca. 30 universities, in 2 different continents, in 4 different countries. The chances of staying in UCL, where I finished my thesis, were negligent and I have not bothered applying not even for a part time post. From then onwards I found out that the only way to stay in Academia was to get whatever was on offer in whatever place it was offered. The repeated moves took their toll, physically, emotionally and socially. Only determination and blind idealism kept me going over the years.

Finding a permanent job is not a guarantee that you will stay permanently in the same city either. Sabbaticals are usually spent in foreign countries, excavating, using the libraries, becoming part of laboratories… And when the time comes to ask for a promotion, then another move may be in the horizon. The only opportunity for a researcher to remain in one place and grow roots is after she/he departs for the Underworld. Or is it that also the beginning of a new journey?

Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. But would you enjoy having an office job and not going anywhere else? I believe that you wouldn’t. You have had the opportunity to see different places and cultures, while teaching. Not bad!

  2. Yes Manolis, but it would be welcome to be able to chose and not be forced to. 😉

  3. It is a matter of personality. Some people like to stay where they are all the time, some people want a change of scenery every now and then. My father was a merchant navy captain. Now he’s retired and he is often nostalgic of the days when he was traveling everywhere. I, on the other hand, work at an office: I do the same things every day and I’m OK with it. Different personalities.

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