Beyond Your Research Degree

Epsiode 18 - Ruth Gilligan (Senior Lecturer at Birmingham University)

September 23, 2021

Welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast from the University of Exeter Doctoral College! The podcast about careers and all the opportunities available to you... beyond your research degree!  In this episode Kelly Preece, Researcher Development Manager talks to Dr. Ruth Gilligan, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Birmingham University and author of The Butchers.

Music from https://filmmusic.io ’Cheery Monday’ by Kevin MacLeod (https://incompetech.com) License: CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses

Academic_career_advice6ozwx.jpg

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter.

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Hello and welcome back to Beyond Your Research Degree.

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I'm really delighted to be back with you after our summer hiatus and to be bringing to you a conversation with Dr. Ruth Gilligan.

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Ruth is a senior lecturer and academic, but also because she's in creative writing.

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She is a published author. And so I thought it would be interesting for us to have a conversation with someone who is an

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academic but maintains a professional profile and creative practise alongside their academic work.

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So Ruth, happy to introduce herself, certainly. Well, firstly, thanks so much for having me.

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It's lovely to be chatting to you and reminiscing a little bit about my time at Exeter.

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I came to Exeter in two thousand and eleven to start my PhD in creative writing,

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and then I actually went straight for my PhD into my first academic job.

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I the first interview I went for my creative writing role had come up at the University of Birmingham.

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So despite the fact that I was still finishing my PhD, I was like, ah sure, I'll apply and see what happens.

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And anyway, I got offered a job. So I started as a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Birmingham in kind of August twenty fourteen,

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at which point I was still in the final two or three months of my PhD.

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So I was kind of trying to pretend that I was a lecturer and seem very grown up and important to my students,

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despite the fact that I was secretly still a student myself and trying furiously to dot all the T's and cross all the I's on my thesis.

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So yeah, it was a bit of a mad time, but yeah, then I started out at Birmingham and seven, maybe eight years later I'm still there.

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So I'm now a senior lecturer. Since that time, I've also published two more novels and I had published three novels before my PhD at Exeter,

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but I went on to publish two more, one of which was the novel that I wrote as part of my creative writing PhD.

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And then my most recent book The Butchers came out last year.

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So yes, I am now kind of fully fledged novelist, academic, creative writing lecturer and still very much in touch with Sam

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And Sinead my two wonderful supervisors and have very, very fond memories of working with them.

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There's a number of things I think I want to pick up on in that.

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And the first is something that comes up a surprising amount, actually, in talking to people for this podcast,

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which is about kind of seeing an opportunity when you've not actually finished the PhD and going for it and getting it,

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and then how you go about juggling, working and finishing up.

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Could you talk a little bit about what that experience was like, kind of managing the workload of working whilst also finishing the PhD?

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Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, part of me looks back at that and thinks, what did I eat for breakfast that morning?

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That I had the kind of gumption to apply for a job, despite the fact that I hadn't even finished the PhD.

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In the spirit of full disclosure, the job was actually a senior lecturer role, which I definitely wasn't qualified for,

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but I applied and they ended up basically giving the senior lectureship to someone else who was duly qualified,

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but then creating a new lecturer in creative writing role, which they offered to me.

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So I'm a big believer in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If I hadn't applied and taking my punch, yeah, that wouldn't have played out that way.

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So, yeah, I'm a big believer. Just throwing your hat in the ring and see what happens in terms of managing the workload.

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I mean, you know, realistically, I was at the tail end of the PhD.

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Like, I'm not someone who had kind of left all the work at the last minute, like both Sam and Sinead, my supervisors,

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like they've been very good about making sure that I was making steady progress

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and I'd already written multiple drafts of both the creative and the critical.

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So although those last few months are always going to be quite panicked and quite frantic,

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just because you are about to submit this thing that you've been working on for three years,

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it wasn't like I still had kind of half the thing to write. Like I had.

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I had written multiple drafts. I was just kind of finessing and going through my bibliography and all that kind of boring stuff.

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So, yeah, it was a lot.

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But it also coincided with me like I moved to Birmingham and when I first started the job, so I kind of was in a new city, my my partner.

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Who's that at the time He was my boyfriend. Now he's my husband. he at that same time

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Ictually moved to Singapore for six months. So I just kind of find myself living in this little flat in Birmingham on my own.

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I didn't really know anyone in the city. I was starting a new job. I was also finishing my Ph.D.

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So, yeah, I probably wasn't the most social time of my life.

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Fundamentally, I managed to get it all done, and I'm delighted that it played out the way it did.

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You know, my my big fear, the reason I kind of pursued doing it that way,

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even though it was a bit nuts, was I think like so many people in academia, the fear of, like,

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not knowing what the next step is going to be or the idea of kind of having a gap before you figure out the next thing you know,

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have plenty of friends and colleagues who've had that situation where there is a gap when they go from one thing to the other.

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But I know from my own personality type that I would have just been absolutely freaking out if I didn't have something lined up.

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So I would rather kind of take on too much in there, be perhaps a bit of overlap rather than being in the desert, not knowing.

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So, yeah, it was worth it in that regards. I wanted to kind of take a step back,

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step back to that point of applying now and I'm really interested when you said that it was kind of a it was a senior lecturer role,

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but you kind of nothing ventured, nothing gained, kind of went for it.

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And actually, you may not have got that role, but something else came out of it.

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Were there any particular challenges that you felt that you were coming up against because you were still a Ph.D. student?

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Yeah, and it's a it's a great question, I think I should say, again, in the interest of full disclosure, like I mentioned briefly,

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but like despite the fact that I was still finishing my PhD, I had published three novels before I did the book.

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So I, um, I do appreciate that that might not be the case with all PhD students.

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So I kind of had the publishing track records.

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I think the big gap and this is where kind of Sam and Sinead were particularly helpful was because it was my first academic application

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interview and ultimately post just kind of plugging in a little bit to university speak like I didn't really know at that point,

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having only been a student albeit a Ph.D. students, I learnt phrases like REF and outputs and impact and all these kind of buzzwords that

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we're going to come up in my interview and I and they were going to quiz me on. So kind of swotting up a little bit on that vernacular.

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But yeah, I think, you know, in those situations, I'm kind of like, what's the worst thing that could happen?

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I just think that, as you said, just getting your name in front of people and maybe they don't even shortlist you for that particular role,

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but they'll still lodge at the back of their minds the next time they are looking for something or someone with your set of expertise,

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your or kind of a prior prior knowledge of you were already going to be at the back of their minds.

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I do think, like I read various things as well, that I do think there's something slightly gendered as well in terms of,

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you know, they've done various studies whereby women only apply for jobs,

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where they have all of the required skills, whereas men are much more likely if they've got half or even less, they'll be they'll still go for it.

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So I think that I am always keen in life to kind of be challenging those kind of gender stereotypes or whatever.

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So, yeah, I just I just thought, what what's the worst that can happen?

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And I think, you know, like, I remember going for my undergraduate interview and I remember, like,

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the last thing someone said to me going in to class was like, they don't expect you to be perfect and to know everything.

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But just having that willingness to learn and that potential, if they can see that, that's really all they want.

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So I don't think it's totally dissimilar within a job capacity.

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Like with the academic world, they could see that I'd never, you know I'd done teaching and stuff at Exeter,

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but I've never worked full time in an academic role before.

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But they could see that I was able to, as I said, swot up on that front I and familiarise myself with the kind of university landscape.

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And I was going to give it literally everything. So as long as they saw thatthey knew that I was going to be able to to do the job.

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And as I said, seven years later, I'm still there. So they were right.

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Very much so, and I think that's really important and that that point about it's not about perfection, it's about potential.

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It's about willingness to learn and openness to that.

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And it got me thinking about what experiences you had when you were doing your Ph.D. that you found were

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really beneficial in helping you kind of apply for and secure that first job with that particular things,

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or was it just the kind of guidance and mentorship of your supervisors? I mean, as I mentioned, I did so I did do quite a lot of teaching.

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I and then also while I was there, I did my I think it was called the LTHE

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So the learning and teaching and higher education. I did the kind of first bit

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So I remember doing that. And it was one of those things where you go along and you don't really know what to expect.

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And some of it was quite theoretical and some of it was quite abstract and some of it was quite practical and Hands-On.

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And inevitably, though, when you're doing the breakout groups of the workshop sessions,

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you get lunch with the the scientists who are like, what creative writing that isn't a real subject.

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Why are you going to try and teach that? They have to spend half of the time defending it.

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But all that being said, I did actually find it really, really useful.

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And that was kind of my first induction into kind of really thinking about teaching

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and lecturing and what what it involves and what kind of teacher I might become.

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So I did actually find that really useful and then being able to put it into practise.

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As I said with those sessions, I also taught at the Edinburgh University run this the Scottish Universities International Summer School thing,

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and it's just a four week course, but they get students from all over the world.

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And basically I was tasked with designing and then delivering a four week creative writing course

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for these these overseas students who kind of ranged from anything eighteen to twenty five.

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So that was like another great opportunity for me. And this time I had complete autonomy to decide what what they were going to read,

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what they were going to do, how the whole thing was going to be structured.

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So again, I was slightly throwing me in at the deep end because I had had so much freedom.

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But again, it was a brilliant opportunity for me to kind of flex my teaching chops.

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I think that's mixing multiple metaphors, but yeah, just to give it a go.

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So then when I did finally start Birmingham, I did actually have quite a lot of not a lot,

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but like a good amount of teaching experience under my belt.

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And I could also say that I have been in a position whereby I'd have to kind of curate and design a course, myself.

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So that was a really, really useful stuff. Yeah, I was thinking that and that summer school opportunity, actually,

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that's that's where you kind of have that additional experience where you go beyond teaching

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seminars or doing lectures and to actually thinking about designing and setting curriculum,

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which, of course, is not something you necessarily get to get involved in when you were a Ph.D. student,

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but is a huge part of being being an academic.

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Yeah, and I think I'm always kind of encouraging people to look look out for opportunities like that.

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I think, you know, within the creative writing world, anyway,

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there are various summer schools or workshop scenarios or one off taster's or a six week courses or whatever.

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So I think like anything, getting anything like that under your belt, I think is is hugely useful.

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You know, it's not necessarily the case that you just have to have loads and loads and loads of very specific undergraduate or postgraduate teaching.

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It's just any sort of any sort of experience, especially, as you said,

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if there is some kind of design or management element attached to that, the more so the better.

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Was there anything particular in research terms that you did,

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or was it just kind of the process of doing the Ph.D. that really kind of stood you in good stead to then move on to an academic role?

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And it's a good question.

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I think the whole point of me doing the PhD, this is already alluded to like I had published three novels before, before starting at Exeter.

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But those novels were very much they were very commercial. They were very much based on personal experience,

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like they were kind of all of kind of young people in Dublin growing up and doing stupid things and finding their way.

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Well, it's very much based on my own life and my own encounters. And I sort of after the third one was published,

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I sort of realised that although I definitely did want to keep writing and publishing and going forwards,

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these weren't necessarily the kinds of books that I was interested in and in pursuing.

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So I kind of took a break to figure out what kind of books do I want to do.

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And I realised that the books I love to read were actually books that had nothing to do with my own personal experience.

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You know, there were novels set in different portions of history or engaging with different cultures or

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parts of the world or whatever where and where I kind of learn something when I was reading that.

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So I was really interested in, well, could I write a book like that? Like,

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could I write a book that would require me to go away and do a lot of research and interview a lot of people and really kind of expand my horizons.

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And I'm kind of right outside of my own first hand experience. So that was a real journey for me.

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And that was what was kind of about. I was doing a lot of research in the very traditional sense, like I did a lot of archival work.

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I went that the novel was based around the history of the Jewish community in Ireland.

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So I travelled all over Ireland interviewing people. I was down in Cork and some archives there.

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I actually went to Israel to interview the Irish community that's now living out there.

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So I really was doing that kind of library based or to field research kind of

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stuff that you might not necessarily associate with with with creative writing.

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And then, of course, I had folders and folders and folders, notes. And I was like, OK, how on earth do I translate this into a novel?

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So a lot of my PhD was then trying to marry this kind of factual research that I'd

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acquired with a story and characters and craft and all of those kinds of things.

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So so figuring out all of that was was a real took a long time and that's why I needed the three years of a PhD.

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Also, as I mentioned, the novel was about the Jewish community in Ireland.

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I'm not Jewish myself.

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So I was very aware when I was working on this project of my own kind of position and and whether it was it OK that I was writing this novel,

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how ethically what were the challenges formerly Practically all this kind of stuff.

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And then, as I mentioned right at the start,

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the critical part of my PhD was then looking at other Irish authors who have similarly written about minority communities or groups that

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they're not necessarily a member of themselves and kind of the way that they have navigated that potentially kind of tricky territory.

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So that academic thinking and looking at other authors that very much informed my own practise.

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So, again, that kind of circular process of research and reflection and then writing, just figuring out how that all works.

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And then, you know, it was lovely that after the PhD, I went on to publish the novel,

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but I also went on to publish the critical portion as an academic article in the Journal.

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So even at that point, I was I was still thinking of my research as both creative and critical.

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And I know that when I went to the interview of Birmingham, that was something they were really keen on,

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that I was someone who was doing both these kinds of research side by side and saw them very much in

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conversation and informing each other and was going to kind of generate different types of output.

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So that really helped me kind of figure out what kind of academic I wanted to be.

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I didn't necessarily want to be just an English academic or just a creative writing academic.

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I kind of wanted to be both. I think that's really important and acknowledging the kind of the identity side of things, even if you're not kind of.

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A creative practitioner or doing kind of practise both works of art about thinking about your identity.

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Increasingly, PhDs are interdisciplinary.

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And so then there's a question about, well, where do you sit in terms of discipline and department and and those aspects of identity as well?

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It's something that a lot of people are grappling with in lots of different ways when they're looking at moving into an academic post.

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And I wondered if you could say a little bit more about the job application and the

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interview and what what it practically involves the did you have to submit a CV,

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a cover letter, a supporting statement? Like what? Do you remember what actually you had to.

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Had to do as part of the process. Yeah, so I definitely remember all the things you've mentioned in terms of CV, a personal statement, a kind of.

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You know, various samples of my work, et cetera. The main thing I remember is the day itself.

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There were kind of two parts to it. The first was a presentation.

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So I had to give a presentation. And there about 20 people that I remember being slightly overwhelmed by how many people were in the room.

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And I get I basically gave a presentation on sort of what I've just spoken about in terms of the kind of creative and critical aspects

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of my research and how those two things are in conversation and how I might be able to envisage them developing going forward.

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So that was in the morning. And then they made us have lunch with all the other candidates,

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which seems like one of the cruellest things anyone's ever done is to make you have lunch with people that you're competing with for the same role.

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So I think they've actually discontinued that because that is horrid.

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It was awful. And then in the afternoon, then I had an interview with about eight people, like it was, again, quite overwhelming.

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Yeah, some from creative writing, some from English, some from the wider college.

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And then I think they have to have a couple of people from completely different parts of the university just almost as kind of a neutral party.

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So it was like a guy there from geography and there was someone else there.

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So, yeah, it was a real mix. And they asked me like a really wide range of questions.

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I mean, I think I remember one woman. Her main job was to make me list out, like what we're going to be my four output's over the next few years.

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Again, just universities thinking in REF terms and always wanting to know what items of research you're going to actually produce.

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So I sort of had to come up with the list of some things that I did actually end up delivering.

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But I was kind of put on the spot a little bit with that one. They want to talk a little bit about impact and

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So that's another. When I was interviewing back in twenty fourteen, I was kind of a buzz words.

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I was just starting to emerge and it's now consumed my life for the last few years.

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I'm actually now in to lead for our schools. So while talking and thinking about impact.

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But back then I was just a PhD student who had learned a new word recently.

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So I had to kind of real off ideas. I had to pertaining to that. So, yeah, it was a bit it was it was all, you know, friendly but marginally intense.

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And then I went away thinking, well, I've given it a shot.

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That's fine. And then they actually the head of college actually emailed me that night actually to say, yeah, we're not you know,

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obviously you're far too junior to get the senior lecturer role that we had originally advertised,

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but we're actually going to create this new role for you. Would you like it?

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So that happened within a matter of hours, which was on Monday.

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So that was a good day trip to Birmingham,

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although a lot of people's anxiety about job applications in the application process is about the unknown and what it involves.

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And actually it involves some pretty standard things. But at the same time, you know, there's some things that you might get in terms of,

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you know, we are driven by outputs and impact and all of those buzzwords.

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And so, you know, being able to talk about how, you know, what your what your plan is for your research outputs,

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what if you've got some publications that you'd like to adapt parts of your PhD to become or any kind of ideas about,

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you know, spinoff project  from your work

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actually that sort of thinking about what might be possible in the future is quite helpful because it's likely to be asked about in that context,

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because they want to know what you'll do when you're there. Yeah, absolutely. I mean,

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I think I hadn't quite anticipated how much how far forward they would be looking

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because I thought I was coming in really well prepared with this idea that,

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like, wow, I'm writing a creative and critical thing for my my PhD.

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So hopefully going forward, I'd like to publish both of those aspects.

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So there's two outputs already lined up and almost ready to go.

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And they were like, yeah, OK, cool and what about After that. I was like, oh, right, OK.

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And I remember it's so funny. I remember them just like racking racking my brain because obviously I was put on the spot and I did at the very,

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very back of my mind, have a tiny, tiny germ of an idea for the next novel and all.

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I really had very little except that I knew I wanted to be called the butchers.

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So I remember saying that as I was like oh my next books going to be called The Butchers, and it's going to be set in rural Ireland.

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I made it up. I honestly didn't know I hadn't even applied my brain to thinking about it because I was still finishing the previous one.

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And I remember during that really quite awkward lunch with the other candidates, two of my.

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Colleagues came up to me separately in the lunch, and their main comment was wow The Butchers is such a good title for a novel.

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I can't wait to read it. And I was laughing to myself. I was like, this is literally something I've kind of come up with on the spot.

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Like they both said it to me.

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And then when Ninefolds, which was my novel, did end up getting published and I was moving on to thinking about the next thing,

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I was like, maybe I should actually write that book called The Butchers.

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And sure enough, I spent the next four years researching and writing a novel called The Butchers, which came out last year.

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So what sort of was a bit of a blg on the day of my interview ultimately became reality.

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So there you go. And not only that, but one, the Royal Society of Literature.

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Ondjante, I'm not even know if I'm saying that, right, Ondjante

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is fabulous.

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Congratulations and it's fascinating to me to hear that, you know,

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this prize winning book came from a kind of something that sat in the back of your head in a job interview and came out.

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Yeah, well, once I'd said it out loud I felt like I probably had to go away and do it. And just so I'm probably glad I did.

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noe as you said, it went onto to do quite well. Say Happy Days.

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I always like to end on kind of a twofold note, which is.

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In terms of the reality of being an academic and making that transition from being a Ph.D. student to to a lecturer.

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What do you wish that you knew or what advice do you wish you'd been given before you made that transition?

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That is a good question. I mean, I think one thing I'm really at this point, like I haven't

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Explicitly said it, but I am aware that it is quite unusual to go straight from your PhD to an academic job and not do a postdoc.

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So I know that like the majority of my colleagues, that is the route they took.

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So I sort of skipped that stage, mostly because I think postdocs in creative writing just weren't really a thing at that point

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So it's just like a slightly different way. The discipline works. I think just harking back to our earlier conversation, to be honest,

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I think the main thing I wish people had told me is a just just take a punch, just like if something comes off,

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like even if sometimes even now when we're advertising jobs or other institutions,

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advertising jobs, it might say creative writing, lecturer brackets, poetry, focus.

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And you're thinking to yourself, oh, rats. I write short stories. So I'm not going to be I'm not going to be suitable for that.

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Just apply. Just apply. You never know again. They might not get any good poetry people.

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They might see your application and think,

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actually this person can slot in here and we can just move some stuff around and cover the poetry stuff some other way.

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I just think literally, as I said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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And then finally, just to reiterate that, like when it comes to the application and the interview process,

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if it is a question of just kind of brushing up on you're kind of university speak

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and trying to get your head around exactly what they're going to ask you,

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just talk to your supervisors or other lecturers who've been through this, because that was honestly that was a game changer.

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I can still remember the cafe in East London where I had lunch with one of my supervisors,

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and she walked me through all these key terms and was able to predict all the questions they would ask me.

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And if it weren't for that brunch, like I would have been nowhere.

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But because she had so kindly prepped me and was able to anticipate exactly the kind of notes that I would need to hit, like I got the job.

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So I just think don't be afraid to kind of ask for advice from people who have been

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through it and who know exactly what what buttons are going to need to press.

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Thank you so much to Ruth for taking the time to talk to me. I thought there was so much in there in terms of advice about applying for academic jobs.

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That's really, really pertinent.

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And I've actually created an infographic to go alongside the podcast that capture some of that really, really fabulous insight.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

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Hello and welcome to the Beyond Your Research Degree podcast by the University of Exeter.

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Hello and welcome back to Beyond Your Research Degree.

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I'm really delighted to be back with you after our summer hiatus and to be bringing to you a conversation with Dr. Ruth Gilligan.

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Ruth is a senior lecturer and academic, but also because she's in creative writing.

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She is a published author. And so I thought it would be interesting for us to have a conversation with someone who is an

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academic but maintains a professional profile and creative practise alongside their academic work.

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So Ruth, happy to introduce herself, certainly. Well, firstly, thanks so much for having me.

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It's lovely to be chatting to you and reminiscing a little bit about my time at Exeter.

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I came to Exeter in two thousand and eleven to start my PhD in creative writing,

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and then I actually went straight for my PhD into my first academic job.

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I the first interview I went for my creative writing role had come up at the University of Birmingham.

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So despite the fact that I was still finishing my PhD, I was like, ah sure, I'll apply and see what happens.

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And anyway, I got offered a job. So I started as a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Birmingham in kind of August twenty fourteen,

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at which point I was still in the final two or three months of my PhD.

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So I was kind of trying to pretend that I was a lecturer and seem very grown up and important to my students,

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despite the fact that I was secretly still a student myself and trying furiously to dot all the T's and cross all the I's on my thesis.

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So yeah, it was a bit of a mad time, but yeah, then I started out at Birmingham and seven, maybe eight years later I'm still there.

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So I'm now a senior lecturer. Since that time, I've also published two more novels and I had published three novels before my PhD at Exeter,

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but I went on to publish two more, one of which was the novel that I wrote as part of my creative writing PhD.

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And then my most recent book The Butchers came out last year.

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So yes, I am now kind of fully fledged novelist, academic, creative writing lecturer and still very much in touch with Sam

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And Sinead my two wonderful supervisors and have very, very fond memories of working with them.

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There's a number of things I think I want to pick up on in that.

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And the first is something that comes up a surprising amount, actually, in talking to people for this podcast,

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which is about kind of seeing an opportunity when you've not actually finished the PhD and going for it and getting it,

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and then how you go about juggling, working and finishing up.

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Could you talk a little bit about what that experience was like, kind of managing the workload of working whilst also finishing the PhD?

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Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, part of me looks back at that and thinks, what did I eat for breakfast that morning?

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That I had the kind of gumption to apply for a job, despite the fact that I hadn't even finished the PhD.

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In the spirit of full disclosure, the job was actually a senior lecturer role, which I definitely wasn't qualified for,

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but I applied and they ended up basically giving the senior lectureship to someone else who was duly qualified,

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but then creating a new lecturer in creative writing role, which they offered to me.

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So I'm a big believer in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If I hadn't applied and taking my punch, yeah, that wouldn't have played out that way.

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So, yeah, I'm a big believer. Just throwing your hat in the ring and see what happens in terms of managing the workload.

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I mean, you know, realistically, I was at the tail end of the PhD.

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Like, I'm not someone who had kind of left all the work at the last minute, like both Sam and Sinead, my supervisors,

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like they've been very good about making sure that I was making steady progress

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and I'd already written multiple drafts of both the creative and the critical.

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So although those last few months are always going to be quite panicked and quite frantic,

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just because you are about to submit this thing that you've been working on for three years,

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it wasn't like I still had kind of half the thing to write. Like I had.

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I had written multiple drafts. I was just kind of finessing and going through my bibliography and all that kind of boring stuff.

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So, yeah, it was a lot.

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But it also coincided with me like I moved to Birmingham and when I first started the job, so I kind of was in a new city, my my partner.

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Who's that at the time He was my boyfriend. Now he's my husband. he at that same time

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Ictually moved to Singapore for six months. So I just kind of find myself living in this little flat in Birmingham on my own.

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I didn't really know anyone in the city. I was starting a new job. I was also finishing my Ph.D.

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So, yeah, I probably wasn't the most social time of my life.

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Fundamentally, I managed to get it all done, and I'm delighted that it played out the way it did.

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You know, my my big fear, the reason I kind of pursued doing it that way,

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even though it was a bit nuts, was I think like so many people in academia, the fear of, like,

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not knowing what the next step is going to be or the idea of kind of having a gap before you figure out the next thing you know,

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have plenty of friends and colleagues who've had that situation where there is a gap when they go from one thing to the other.

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But I know from my own personality type that I would have just been absolutely freaking out if I didn't have something lined up.

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So I would rather kind of take on too much in there, be perhaps a bit of overlap rather than being in the desert, not knowing.

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So, yeah, it was worth it in that regards. I wanted to kind of take a step back,

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step back to that point of applying now and I'm really interested when you said that it was kind of a it was a senior lecturer role,

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but you kind of nothing ventured, nothing gained, kind of went for it.

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And actually, you may not have got that role, but something else came out of it.

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Were there any particular challenges that you felt that you were coming up against because you were still a Ph.D. student?

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Yeah, and it's a it's a great question, I think I should say, again, in the interest of full disclosure, like I mentioned briefly,

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but like despite the fact that I was still finishing my PhD, I had published three novels before I did the book.

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So I, um, I do appreciate that that might not be the case with all PhD students.

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So I kind of had the publishing track records.

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I think the big gap and this is where kind of Sam and Sinead were particularly helpful was because it was my first academic application

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interview and ultimately post just kind of plugging in a little bit to university speak like I didn't really know at that point,

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having only been a student albeit a Ph.D. students, I learnt phrases like REF and outputs and impact and all these kind of buzzwords that

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we're going to come up in my interview and I and they were going to quiz me on. So kind of swotting up a little bit on that vernacular.

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But yeah, I think, you know, in those situations, I'm kind of like, what's the worst thing that could happen?

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I just think that, as you said, just getting your name in front of people and maybe they don't even shortlist you for that particular role,

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but they'll still lodge at the back of their minds the next time they are looking for something or someone with your set of expertise,

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your or kind of a prior prior knowledge of you were already going to be at the back of their minds.

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I do think, like I read various things as well, that I do think there's something slightly gendered as well in terms of,

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you know, they've done various studies whereby women only apply for jobs,

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where they have all of the required skills, whereas men are much more likely if they've got half or even less, they'll be they'll still go for it.

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So I think that I am always keen in life to kind of be challenging those kind of gender stereotypes or whatever.

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So, yeah, I just I just thought, what what's the worst that can happen?

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And I think, you know, like, I remember going for my undergraduate interview and I remember, like,

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the last thing someone said to me going in to class was like, they don't expect you to be perfect and to know everything.

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But just having that willingness to learn and that potential, if they can see that, that's really all they want.

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So I don't think it's totally dissimilar within a job capacity.

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Like with the academic world, they could see that I'd never, you know I'd done teaching and stuff at Exeter,

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but I've never worked full time in an academic role before.

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But they could see that I was able to, as I said, swot up on that front I and familiarise myself with the kind of university landscape.

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And I was going to give it literally everything. So as long as they saw thatthey knew that I was going to be able to to do the job.

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And as I said, seven years later, I'm still there. So they were right.

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Very much so, and I think that's really important and that that point about it's not about perfection, it's about potential.

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It's about willingness to learn and openness to that.

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And it got me thinking about what experiences you had when you were doing your Ph.D. that you found were

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really beneficial in helping you kind of apply for and secure that first job with that particular things,

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or was it just the kind of guidance and mentorship of your supervisors? I mean, as I mentioned, I did so I did do quite a lot of teaching.

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I and then also while I was there, I did my I think it was called the LTHE

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So the learning and teaching and higher education. I did the kind of first bit

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So I remember doing that. And it was one of those things where you go along and you don't really know what to expect.

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And some of it was quite theoretical and some of it was quite abstract and some of it was quite practical and Hands-On.

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And inevitably, though, when you're doing the breakout groups of the workshop sessions,

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you get lunch with the the scientists who are like, what creative writing that isn't a real subject.

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Why are you going to try and teach that? They have to spend half of the time defending it.

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But all that being said, I did actually find it really, really useful.

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And that was kind of my first induction into kind of really thinking about teaching

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and lecturing and what what it involves and what kind of teacher I might become.

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So I did actually find that really useful and then being able to put it into practise.

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As I said with those sessions, I also taught at the Edinburgh University run this the Scottish Universities International Summer School thing,

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and it's just a four week course, but they get students from all over the world.

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And basically I was tasked with designing and then delivering a four week creative writing course

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for these these overseas students who kind of ranged from anything eighteen to twenty five.

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So that was like another great opportunity for me. And this time I had complete autonomy to decide what what they were going to read,

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what they were going to do, how the whole thing was going to be structured.

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So again, I was slightly throwing me in at the deep end because I had had so much freedom.

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But again, it was a brilliant opportunity for me to kind of flex my teaching chops.

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I think that's mixing multiple metaphors, but yeah, just to give it a go.

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So then when I did finally start Birmingham, I did actually have quite a lot of not a lot,

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but like a good amount of teaching experience under my belt.

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And I could also say that I have been in a position whereby I'd have to kind of curate and design a course, myself.

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So that was a really, really useful stuff. Yeah, I was thinking that and that summer school opportunity, actually,

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that's that's where you kind of have that additional experience where you go beyond teaching

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seminars or doing lectures and to actually thinking about designing and setting curriculum,

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which, of course, is not something you necessarily get to get involved in when you were a Ph.D. student,

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but is a huge part of being being an academic.

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Yeah, and I think I'm always kind of encouraging people to look look out for opportunities like that.

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I think, you know, within the creative writing world, anyway,

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there are various summer schools or workshop scenarios or one off taster's or a six week courses or whatever.

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So I think like anything, getting anything like that under your belt, I think is is hugely useful.

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You know, it's not necessarily the case that you just have to have loads and loads and loads of very specific undergraduate or postgraduate teaching.

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It's just any sort of any sort of experience, especially, as you said,

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if there is some kind of design or management element attached to that, the more so the better.

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Was there anything particular in research terms that you did,

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or was it just kind of the process of doing the Ph.D. that really kind of stood you in good stead to then move on to an academic role?

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And it's a good question.

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I think the whole point of me doing the PhD, this is already alluded to like I had published three novels before, before starting at Exeter.

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But those novels were very much they were very commercial. They were very much based on personal experience,

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like they were kind of all of kind of young people in Dublin growing up and doing stupid things and finding their way.

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Well, it's very much based on my own life and my own encounters. And I sort of after the third one was published,

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I sort of realised that although I definitely did want to keep writing and publishing and going forwards,

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these weren't necessarily the kinds of books that I was interested in and in pursuing.

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So I kind of took a break to figure out what kind of books do I want to do.

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And I realised that the books I love to read were actually books that had nothing to do with my own personal experience.

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You know, there were novels set in different portions of history or engaging with different cultures or

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parts of the world or whatever where and where I kind of learn something when I was reading that.

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So I was really interested in, well, could I write a book like that? Like,

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could I write a book that would require me to go away and do a lot of research and interview a lot of people and really kind of expand my horizons.

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And I'm kind of right outside of my own first hand experience. So that was a real journey for me.

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And that was what was kind of about. I was doing a lot of research in the very traditional sense, like I did a lot of archival work.

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I went that the novel was based around the history of the Jewish community in Ireland.

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So I travelled all over Ireland interviewing people. I was down in Cork and some archives there.

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I actually went to Israel to interview the Irish community that's now living out there.

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So I really was doing that kind of library based or to field research kind of

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stuff that you might not necessarily associate with with with creative writing.

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And then, of course, I had folders and folders and folders, notes. And I was like, OK, how on earth do I translate this into a novel?

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So a lot of my PhD was then trying to marry this kind of factual research that I'd

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acquired with a story and characters and craft and all of those kinds of things.

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So so figuring out all of that was was a real took a long time and that's why I needed the three years of a PhD.

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Also, as I mentioned, the novel was about the Jewish community in Ireland.

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I'm not Jewish myself.

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So I was very aware when I was working on this project of my own kind of position and and whether it was it OK that I was writing this novel,

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how ethically what were the challenges formerly Practically all this kind of stuff.

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And then, as I mentioned right at the start,

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the critical part of my PhD was then looking at other Irish authors who have similarly written about minority communities or groups that

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they're not necessarily a member of themselves and kind of the way that they have navigated that potentially kind of tricky territory.

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So that academic thinking and looking at other authors that very much informed my own practise.

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So, again, that kind of circular process of research and reflection and then writing, just figuring out how that all works.

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And then, you know, it was lovely that after the PhD, I went on to publish the novel,

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but I also went on to publish the critical portion as an academic article in the Journal.

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So even at that point, I was I was still thinking of my research as both creative and critical.

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And I know that when I went to the interview of Birmingham, that was something they were really keen on,

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that I was someone who was doing both these kinds of research side by side and saw them very much in

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conversation and informing each other and was going to kind of generate different types of output.

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So that really helped me kind of figure out what kind of academic I wanted to be.

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I didn't necessarily want to be just an English academic or just a creative writing academic.

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I kind of wanted to be both. I think that's really important and acknowledging the kind of the identity side of things, even if you're not kind of.

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A creative practitioner or doing kind of practise both works of art about thinking about your identity.

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Increasingly, PhDs are interdisciplinary.

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And so then there's a question about, well, where do you sit in terms of discipline and department and and those aspects of identity as well?

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It's something that a lot of people are grappling with in lots of different ways when they're looking at moving into an academic post.

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And I wondered if you could say a little bit more about the job application and the

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interview and what what it practically involves the did you have to submit a CV,

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a cover letter, a supporting statement? Like what? Do you remember what actually you had to.

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Had to do as part of the process. Yeah, so I definitely remember all the things you've mentioned in terms of CV, a personal statement, a kind of.

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You know, various samples of my work, et cetera. The main thing I remember is the day itself.

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There were kind of two parts to it. The first was a presentation.

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So I had to give a presentation. And there about 20 people that I remember being slightly overwhelmed by how many people were in the room.

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And I get I basically gave a presentation on sort of what I've just spoken about in terms of the kind of creative and critical aspects

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of my research and how those two things are in conversation and how I might be able to envisage them developing going forward.

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So that was in the morning. And then they made us have lunch with all the other candidates,

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which seems like one of the cruellest things anyone's ever done is to make you have lunch with people that you're competing with for the same role.

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So I think they've actually discontinued that because that is horrid.

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It was awful. And then in the afternoon, then I had an interview with about eight people, like it was, again, quite overwhelming.

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Yeah, some from creative writing, some from English, some from the wider college.

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And then I think they have to have a couple of people from completely different parts of the university just almost as kind of a neutral party.

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So it was like a guy there from geography and there was someone else there.

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So, yeah, it was a real mix. And they asked me like a really wide range of questions.

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I mean, I think I remember one woman. Her main job was to make me list out, like what we're going to be my four output's over the next few years.

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Again, just universities thinking in REF terms and always wanting to know what items of research you're going to actually produce.

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So I sort of had to come up with the list of some things that I did actually end up delivering.

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But I was kind of put on the spot a little bit with that one. They want to talk a little bit about impact and

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So that's another. When I was interviewing back in twenty fourteen, I was kind of a buzz words.

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I was just starting to emerge and it's now consumed my life for the last few years.

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I'm actually now in to lead for our schools. So while talking and thinking about impact.

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But back then I was just a PhD student who had learned a new word recently.

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So I had to kind of real off ideas. I had to pertaining to that. So, yeah, it was a bit it was it was all, you know, friendly but marginally intense.

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And then I went away thinking, well, I've given it a shot.

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That's fine. And then they actually the head of college actually emailed me that night actually to say, yeah, we're not you know,

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obviously you're far too junior to get the senior lecturer role that we had originally advertised,

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but we're actually going to create this new role for you. Would you like it?

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So that happened within a matter of hours, which was on Monday.

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So that was a good day trip to Birmingham,

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although a lot of people's anxiety about job applications in the application process is about the unknown and what it involves.

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And actually it involves some pretty standard things. But at the same time, you know, there's some things that you might get in terms of,

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you know, we are driven by outputs and impact and all of those buzzwords.

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And so, you know, being able to talk about how, you know, what your what your plan is for your research outputs,

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what if you've got some publications that you'd like to adapt parts of your PhD to become or any kind of ideas about,

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you know, spinoff project  from your work

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actually that sort of thinking about what might be possible in the future is quite helpful because it's likely to be asked about in that context,

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because they want to know what you'll do when you're there. Yeah, absolutely. I mean,

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I think I hadn't quite anticipated how much how far forward they would be looking

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because I thought I was coming in really well prepared with this idea that,

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like, wow, I'm writing a creative and critical thing for my my PhD.

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So hopefully going forward, I'd like to publish both of those aspects.

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So there's two outputs already lined up and almost ready to go.

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And they were like, yeah, OK, cool and what about After that. I was like, oh, right, OK.

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And I remember it's so funny. I remember them just like racking racking my brain because obviously I was put on the spot and I did at the very,

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very back of my mind, have a tiny, tiny germ of an idea for the next novel and all.

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I really had very little except that I knew I wanted to be called the butchers.

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So I remember saying that as I was like oh my next books going to be called The Butchers, and it's going to be set in rural Ireland.

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I made it up. I honestly didn't know I hadn't even applied my brain to thinking about it because I was still finishing the previous one.

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And I remember during that really quite awkward lunch with the other candidates, two of my.

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Colleagues came up to me separately in the lunch, and their main comment was wow The Butchers is such a good title for a novel.

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I can't wait to read it. And I was laughing to myself. I was like, this is literally something I've kind of come up with on the spot.

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Like they both said it to me.

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And then when Ninefolds, which was my novel, did end up getting published and I was moving on to thinking about the next thing,

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I was like, maybe I should actually write that book called The Butchers.

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And sure enough, I spent the next four years researching and writing a novel called The Butchers, which came out last year.

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So what sort of was a bit of a blg on the day of my interview ultimately became reality.

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So there you go. And not only that, but one, the Royal Society of Literature.

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Ondjante, I'm not even know if I'm saying that, right, Ondjante

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is fabulous.

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Congratulations and it's fascinating to me to hear that, you know,

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this prize winning book came from a kind of something that sat in the back of your head in a job interview and came out.

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Yeah, well, once I'd said it out loud I felt like I probably had to go away and do it. And just so I'm probably glad I did.

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noe as you said, it went onto to do quite well. Say Happy Days.

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I always like to end on kind of a twofold note, which is.

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In terms of the reality of being an academic and making that transition from being a Ph.D. student to to a lecturer.

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What do you wish that you knew or what advice do you wish you'd been given before you made that transition?

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That is a good question. I mean, I think one thing I'm really at this point, like I haven't

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Explicitly said it, but I am aware that it is quite unusual to go straight from your PhD to an academic job and not do a postdoc.

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So I know that like the majority of my colleagues, that is the route they took.

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So I sort of skipped that stage, mostly because I think postdocs in creative writing just weren't really a thing at that point

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So it's just like a slightly different way. The discipline works. I think just harking back to our earlier conversation, to be honest,

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I think the main thing I wish people had told me is a just just take a punch, just like if something comes off,

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like even if sometimes even now when we're advertising jobs or other institutions,

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advertising jobs, it might say creative writing, lecturer brackets, poetry, focus.

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And you're thinking to yourself, oh, rats. I write short stories. So I'm not going to be I'm not going to be suitable for that.

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Just apply. Just apply. You never know again. They might not get any good poetry people.

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They might see your application and think,

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actually this person can slot in here and we can just move some stuff around and cover the poetry stuff some other way.

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I just think literally, as I said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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And then finally, just to reiterate that, like when it comes to the application and the interview process,

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if it is a question of just kind of brushing up on you're kind of university speak

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and trying to get your head around exactly what they're going to ask you,

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just talk to your supervisors or other lecturers who've been through this, because that was honestly that was a game changer.

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I can still remember the cafe in East London where I had lunch with one of my supervisors,

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and she walked me through all these key terms and was able to predict all the questions they would ask me.

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And if it weren't for that brunch, like I would have been nowhere.

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But because she had so kindly prepped me and was able to anticipate exactly the kind of notes that I would need to hit, like I got the job.

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So I just think don't be afraid to kind of ask for advice from people who have been

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through it and who know exactly what what buttons are going to need to press.

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Thank you so much to Ruth for taking the time to talk to me. I thought there was so much in there in terms of advice about applying for academic jobs.

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That's really, really pertinent.

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And I've actually created an infographic to go alongside the podcast that capture some of that really, really fabulous insight.

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And that's it for this episode. Join us next time when we'll be talking to another researcher about their career beyond their research degree.

 

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