A guest article written by Penny Newell & Ella Parry-Davies, Research Students, Department of English
“Liberate yourself from peer fear!” It’s a piece of advice that sticks, offered to us by Jules Evans, New Generation Thinkers winner, blogger, and speaker at Research with Reach – a conference that took place on the 16th May at King’s as part of a student-led training programme in the arts and humanities.
The more you reflect on Jules’s words, the more they begin to radically shift how you picture your life in academia. The motto isn’t just about confidence and courage within your field, although it does mean both of those things. It’s about breaking out of the bottleneck of academia: embracing the PhD as a chance to explore ideas, not garrison them; to share your project with collaborators, across and beyond your field; to build lateral connections that go further than the narrow (and slippery) ladder of PhD to Professor.
Looking outside of the academe can feel risky for reputation and credibility – but the networks, dialogues and diversity we can develop through an engaged research practice make us more resilient in the face of harsh competition and shifting funding structures.
When we were devising this conference, we drew together people whose work engenders and facilitates this lateral approach to academic life. As we wrote in our first blog post, we wanted to provide students with the opportunity to think through the scope of their work beyond the academe, without losing any of the rigour of their thinking. We wanted academics whose work was thoughtful, creative and critical. We wanted editors and directors who run platforms for researchers to engage in dialogues with public audiences. We wanted a conference to touch on questions such as readership; writing style and ‘jargon’; disseminating research and Open Access; developing an online presence; and finding a ‘niche’.
And fellow students had their own questions they wanted answering:
‘How can I make my research interesting to public audiences?’ This isn’t just about presentation, Peter Florence MBE, Director of Hay Festival, advised. The public are thirsty for knowledge and expertise: they’re fascinated by a speaker who knows more than anyone else on a subject, no matter how specialist.
‘How do I balance the difference in content and timescales between academic and public writing?’ Dr Catherine Wheatley, a Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s, emphasized how this can work to your advantage, with magazines offering a fast turnaround so you can get your ideas out there before you (or anyone else) publishes a book on the subject. Develop blogs into research papers; develop research offcuts into magazine articles.
The biggest question was whether or not Research with Reach can continue – whether we can continue to build and nurture a community of like-minded researchers with creative and innovative approaches to research. This question hung over the day (and the drawn-out drinks in the pub afterwards) and has stuck with us since.
And so here is our answer: Research with Reach is becoming a community, and this community begins at King’s.
To join the Research with Reach network, sign up to our Google Group. Doing so will link you to news of our spin-off workshops. It will give you access to the written responses to the event, and to the blog we are currently developing. It will give you a space to keep asking questions – a space to open discussions, seek advice, and feel supported.
Most importantly, Research with Reach will work to counteract ‘peer fear’, not to feed it.