This is my final post! And what a way to go! This is my interview with SGSAH’s new president, Professor Claire Squires. The interview took place at SGSAH HQ, on an unbelievably windy day in Glasgow.
JJ: Your position in Stirling relates to international publishing. Has that been a lifelong interest?
It developed. As a kid I was a big reader but I don’t think anyone is born thinking they want to work in publishing! I did work when I was at school in a library, but never wanted to be librarian.
I did my BA in comparative literature, and MA in comparative literature, which included a publishing module, so I gained hands-on experience that way. I then worked in publishing.
I found the international aspect of publishing really interesting – selling rights to books around the world. The cohort on the MLitt in Publishing Studies is really international, with students normally from 15 or 16 different countries. I’m both French and British myself, so living across cultures is part of my background as well.
JJ: Is Brexit affecting your work?
Well, the university and cultural sector will be massively affected. There are some big questions around freedom of movement. EU staff and researchers moving is easy at the moment. There’s lots of uncertainty around research funding and the Erasmus scheme. My experience is that many semester abroad students come to Scotland and want to stay, and it’s pretty depressing to think that opportunity will disappear
In order to retain SGSAH’s vision of being an integral and influential part of Scottish, UK and international civil society, ensuring we continue to have links with the EU and beyond is imperative.
JJ: When did you decide that academia was for you? Or did it choose you?
I did work for 3 years in between my masters and PhD for a big trade publisher in London. I learned a lot of the stuff you didn’t learn on a literature course in the 1990s, literary sociology that you might learn on lit courses now. I like being at university, I like learning. I had it at the back of my mind that I might do a PhD, and I had a moment (very specifically) in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway where I decided I would. I worked with books all around me, andI wanted to keep doing that. A PhD was a way of doing it. It was kind of a switch of mode: straight through from industry to PhD, and that’s where I got my topic from.
JJ: What do you hope your experience will bring to SGSAH’s current and future members?
This feels like my interview for the job again! I suppose a couple of different things. The involvement I had as Stirling steering group member before SGSAH formed means I have knowledge and a good background, though there’s still a lot to learn.
One of the priority areas within the DTP2 (Doctoral Training Partnership) is to do more placement and research internships activities: the kind of experience I have working with industry and third sector organisations will help with that. I’ve put together numerous collaborative PhDs so I have that experience too.
I’ve jumped disciplinary areas as well, so I have a sense of starting off as doing one thing and taking things off in a different direction. Embedding inclusivity is crucial, and one of the things is I want us to think what it means to be SGSAH in a time of climate emergency, so there will be some thinking and events to do with that too! But at the same time nother of our priorities is internationalisation, and we want to demonstrate that we are open. We want to remain culturally, democratically, socially open, but what does that mean for international travel?
JJ: What aspect of SGSAH and its work is most exciting to you?
The collaboration for me, definitely. I really like that we’re working across 16 universities, that’s a lot of universities! Monica and I (Head of Operations and Strategy at SGSAH) are about to set off, I wish it were a proper road trip, to visit all 16 universities; find out what SGSAH means for them. What’s working, what’s not, what we can do for the future.
Then the broader networks and partners we have, our funders, the AHRC, the SFC as well. I just had a meeting with colleagues from the SGSSS [Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences] who we do Spring Into Methods with. Who can we work with, what will create great opportunities for PGRs? I like that process.
Also advocating for arts and humanities. We are a national school, so we are in a great position to do that. We are for doctoral researchers, but also for doctoral researchers in the arts and humanities specifically, so we have a potential platform there to expand upon.
JJ: What can we do in Scotland to make the public more aware of the value of Arts and Humanities PhD research?
I think we’re doing quite a lot already through the partnership activities we do (PhDs, placements and so on). The intention as I said is to create more of those opportunities. This year with the DTP2 we’ll oversee the new collaborative doctoral awards as well.
And certainly there’s more we can do to showcase our activities, but a lot of that work is already going on and the organisations we work with know about it
JJ: But we could broadcast that more?
Yeah, I think there’s more we could do there.
JJ: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their PhD research or the stresses associated with it?
I think that’s such an issue, especially the mental health challenges. Doing a PhD is supposed to be challenging intellectually, but that segues all to easily into its being mentally and emotionally challenging. Then there’s the long term worries like what happens after with all the precarity as well, and that’s all difficult.
Pace yourself, take a proper break. Some people find it constructive to see it as a proper job with proper hours. Whether that’s 9 to 5 or 12 to later. Developing good routines is always helpful.
Keeping your supervisors in touch as well is really important. They’re not trained counsellors but they should have knowledge of where you can get support within your own uni. But they might have just the technique to help as well.
If you are really having a tough time just stop for a little bit. Whether that’s a few days or a leave of absence. That’s proactive active and good thing to do if you are struggling.
Peer networks are so important too. There is that narrative of a PhD being an isolating experience, and one of the key things SGSAH does is bring people together. Engaging with other people is also so important.
The other thing I’d say is the more people can convince themselves writing doesn’t have to be a ‘special’ thing the better. If you’ve got 25 minutes, write something down. I Instead of thinking, I don’t have a full day so I can’t write, think I’m still going to write. Colleagues with babies and young children have definitely shown me that. Writing is so important to doing an arts and humanities PhD, but it shouldn’t be something you’re afraid of if the conditions aren’t perfect. Find your own places and times when you write better, but snatch moments when you can.
JJ: How can Scotland’s, and the world’s, academy make PGRs feel more welcome and relevant in a world where experts have lost a great deal of their respect?
That’s quite a challenging question! There’s a bigger socio-political question about questioning expertise and knowledge. I don’t think I can fix that, but there’s a way to take in the best spirit the effect of knowledge exchange. All doctoral students put a statement of intent together: what they’ll do to make their research available to communities. That’s a requirement for the AHRC, and a lot of that is to do with drivers from the UK government for relevance and people can be cynical about that. But take it in the best spirit. Not everyone will be interested in your research if it’s niche, or has a very complex language aspect.
I think the way of doing it is by thinking through who are the potential audiences. Is that working with a community group, or a local museum? Breaking it down.
On the one hand that anti-expert rhetoric is so depressing, but then you only have to look at programming on TV and radio to see how frequently researchers and academics get their findings reported. It might be them appearing on TV or radio, or blogs, or social media. The key is finding your audience, and working with that.
Finding people who might be interested, and then people who don’t think they’re interested but seeing if you can hook them in the right way.
JJ: What’s your favourite music to research or write to?
Also a serious question, I think!
I nearly always have music on when I’m working. Depends on my headspace. I have quite a busy brain and I find music helps with that. If it’s answering emails or general admin, I just have BBC 6Music on. I turn it down when they get too chatty. If I’m into really writing and I need more control over the music…
JJ: no judgement.
… I like to listen to things on loop. Jon Hopkins Singularity. You do have to be really deep into writing though for that
Just this week I went to see Nitin Sawhney at Celtic Connections. He and his band did the whole of Beyond Skin, an album they put out in ‘99 about immigration among other things, so still very relevant today. I used to listen to it as a PhD student and thought “oh my God, this album is great!” So just over the last few days I’ve listened to that on loop again.
If I need something a bit upbeat: Janelle Monäe every time.
Bit of an odd mix.
JJ: Excellent taste! What’s your favourite bibliographical style and why is it Chicago?
You’re leading me, now. Yes, definitely, because it’s marvellous!
I’m agnostic on this question. It’s funny, you can see people stick with what they were taught when they did their undergraduate degree, but when you’re publishing you don’t get to choose most of the time, so it’s better to be agnostic. Even if it’s one of those really awful styles, you don’t get to choose.
I love a good Easter Egg footnote, though. I like using in-text referencing if I have the choice, but include a little jokey footnote for those who can be bothered to delve that far.
Referencing software: use it! It will convert it for you!
There’re all sorts of challenges, but I really like being an academic. Find what you find fun. Be a serious academic researcher, but have fun! I’m a bit nerdy, and putting jokes into my footnotes is but one of my methods.
JJ: And that’s it! Well thank you so much for letting me interview you!
You too! Thank you for serving as our blogger for six months.
And I’m done! Thank you all so much for reading my posts. Keep reading! Our new blogger, Chiara Bullen, is an experienced writer, and a really interesting and inspired PGR with a lot of great stuff to say. Good luck, Chiara!