Interdisciplinary Research, Anyone?

When I graduated with my PhD in 2009, there was a flurry of interest in me as a ‘mature’ postgraduate, and my ‘portfolio career’. There’s only one problem – it isn’t a portfolio career! I work in one place, full-time, on a full-time salary. I’m not self-employed, nor do I do a little bit of this and that for different employers. It’s correct that I spend 0.7 of my time as an academic librarian, and 0.3 of my time as a researcher. If I had any aspirations at the start of my librarianship career, it was to be a scholar librarian of some kind, and as you see, that IS where I’ve ended up. I don’t claim that it exactly reflects who I am now – in my head, I’m more scholar than librarian.

So, if I don’t consider myself a good example of a portfolio career, then here’s another conundrum: do I do interdisciplinary research? If at some times I’m writing about librarianship, and at other times I’m writing about nineteenth to twentieth-century music publishing, does that make my research interdisciplinary? I guess it probably does, even if the librarianship and the music publishing seldom meet! I’m often contemplating the social context of whatever I’m researching. And just occasionally – like my recent article about Clarinda Webster – I manage to mention librarianship, music publishing AND social history in one fell swoop.

At other times, my research finds its way into the librarianship quite naturally. This week, the RCS Library is having a series of events throwing a Spotlight on Diversity. I’ve written a short blogpost about Scottish Women Composers as one of my contributions. The names I’ve suggested are just a start – and I haven’t attempted to include every Scottish woman who wrote a tune, because I’m assuming our students are basically looking for recital repertoire. My research has led me to several more women who made their own unique contribution, but they’ll get a mention in the book I’m currently writing. Their pieces aren’t necessarily recital repertoire, or even easily sourced today.

See my Scottish Women Composers in the Spotlight library blogpost.

Retrospective 2021 Part 2: Stuff the Patriarchy!

I wrote my research retrospective. Published it, then (as I always do) thought of a bit more I wanted to add this morning. This is what I added:-

It was crazy to start another qualification in another discipline before finishing the [first attempt at a] doctorate. In my own defence, I wanted an occupational pension plan. And everyone (male – I hardly knew any women academics) said it was hard to get a job in academia. In the early eighties. (Aw, bless! How could it have been harder than it is today?)

Previous blogpost

And then I went for a shower, and it was there (unsurprisingly) that I had my lightbulb moment. What had I just written? “I hardly knew any women academics.”

When I was an undergraduate in Durham (1976-79), there was only one woman lecturer, a doctoral candidate in composition. I believe she went to join the BBC – so, that would have been a move out of academia.

Off I went to Exeter for my first attempt at a doctorate. (As I explained in the last blogpost, I didn’t finish that attempt because I changed direction too soon. In fact, I wrote up a Master’s thesis and changed topic for my PhD, which is why I ran out of funded time, resulting in my second change of direction to librarianship, before I had actually written my thesis.) Were there any women academics in the music department at Exeter? I don’t recall any. I was the only female doctoral candidate. (1979-1982). I couldn’t imagine myself in front of a class of undergraduates, and was offered no teaching opportunities, though I can’t say whether I was giving off “Don’t you dare ask me” vibes at the time! I don’t know if any of the guys got teaching opportunities – I suspect not, to be honest. Another missed opportunity to try out the role, in any case.

Then, people were saying that it was virtually impossible to get an academic post in a British university in any case. My guess it that it was easier than it is today! But who were the ‘people’ who were saying? Male people, in all probability. I didn’t know that many women doctoral candidates, apart from those I shared accomodation with, who were in different disciplines. We didn’t talk about our research.

I listened to ‘people’ and decided that actually, the librarianship idea wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I could still be scholarly, but not be a lecturer, and that sounded fine. In fact, even at CLW (College of Librarianship Wales) for my postgraduate diploma, I don’t remember there being many female lecturers, though there may have been one or two. I’m surprised that this has only just dawned on me. I had been to a girls’ school where the majority of teachers were women, and now here I was in yet another higher education institution, where there were barely any women lecturing at all! Where were my women role models? Conspicuous by their absence!

So here I am. I did get a PhD eventually. I understand that when I wanted to study for that second attempt at a doctorate, someone in my present institution was heard to declare, “What does a librarian want with a PhD anyway?” Well, I funded myself and studied in my spare time, and I like to think I’ve proved the answer to that, at any rate. I have published quite a bit, and I have done some lecturing, on a small scale – spasmodically. I could have done more of it, given different circumstances – of course I could. But I could definitely have done with a push in the right direction when I was in my 20s.

So what is the point of this diatribe? Girls need role-models, and they need encouragement. Despite my early 1970s education in a ‘girls can do anything’ environment, this didn’t carry through to higher education. I had the same educational opportunities, but I definitely could have done with a nudge to fulfil my potential. To tell me that I could, when I didn’t believe myself. And I wish there had been role models to act as mentors.

I’m here where I am, approaching retirement as a librarian. Not next year or the year after, but it’s approaching. What can we do to help the next generation of girls get their equal share of self-belief and opportunities? Because nothing else will do!