Early Career Researcher Highlight: Dr. Joan Redmond
Name: Dr. Joan Redmond
Title: Lecturer in Early Modern British History
Institution: King’s College London
Field of Study: Early modern Irish and British history – religious, political and social, especially of the seventeenth century.
Bio: I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. I studied for a BA in History and Political Science at Trinity College Dublin (graduating in 2011), before moving to Cambridge to undertake an MPhil and then a PhD in Early Modern history. My PhD focused on religious violence in Ireland between 1641 and 1660; I graduated in November 2016. Since the autumn of 2016 I have been a member of the History Department at King’s College London, first as a Teaching Fellow and now as Lecturer.
What was the most difficult hurdle you had to overcome as a researcher?
I think different stages of being a researcher present different hurdles and challenges to overcome.
When starting out as a postgraduate student, there were the challenges of identifying a suitable topic and overcoming the difficulties of managing a large project, involving large quantities of primary sources and managing historiography. These were hurdles that were overcome through the guidance of supervisors, mentors and fellow ECRs, as well as the opportunities to be more experimental or broader in research terms that could be channelled into the finished dissertation.
I think that now that I am finished with the doctorate, I am transitioning into being a more independent scholar in the early stages of my career, with challenges now focused on ‘completing’ the doctoral work through publication of the thesis as a book, submitting some further journal articles, and especially developing new areas of interest for future research. Each of these are exciting opportunities but it can feel daunting to be without the structure and support of a doctoral programme or similar to guide you and provide some recognisable milestones. However, many of the ways to overcome these challenges or feelings are very like those before: the continuing support of mentors and peers, and the opportunity to take part in events such as conferences, seminars and workshops. In my department there are ‘research conversations’ with fellow members of staff in small groups, which are invaluable chance to talk about works in progress, and ideas for the future, including five to ten year plans for potential research plans. As an ECR these have been amazingly helpful for thinking more long-term about the direction I might like my research to go, and to hear from those further along about how to pursue new avenues of inquiry, and are highly recommended as something to organise, even informally, with others.
One hurdle I feel all researchers in the humanities face is the difficulty in securing research funding, whether it be for postgraduate work, research trips, or postdoctoral fellowships. Using resources such as mailing lists and the Institute of Historical Research to stay in touch with funding opportunities is a good way to root out small pots of money that could help. Likewise the advice of colleagues, the sharing of previous applications and the opportunity to attend workshops or advice sessions for applying for funding have been invaluable in trying to overcome this obstacle and keep research on track.
“…I read emails and comments on drafts through fingers over my eyes initially, and decide that [my] piece is complete rubbish!”
Did you feel you had enough resources at your disposal when you were crafting your research and submitting it to an academic journal?
I was very lucky in the resources available to me both through Cambridge and Trinity, and now at King’s. Journal and book access was rarely an issue thankfully, and they were critical in ensuring up-to-date and relevant pieces were submitted. I am also fortunate in terms of the ‘human’ resources available to me, in the form of people who were generous enough to read and comment on work in progress; this form of resource is I think absolutely critical, especially as an early career researcher.
What advice would you offer the early career Humanities researcher?
One piece of advice is to ask for as much guidance and advice as you can, and especially feedback on any research you are considering submitting for publication. Asking supervisors, mentors, other academics, friends and peers is invaluable, and people are usually very generous with their time and their comments. It can be daunting to send off something and have it picked apart, but it will make the final piece much stronger, and help identify areas you can work on more generally. I know from feedback I’ve received for example that I always struggle with my opening section, especially the very first paragraph. Receiving advice and comments on this from different quarters, and on different pieces of writing, means I can bring new perspectives and tactics both when editing but also when beginning to write a new piece of research.
Another is to try not let perfectionism cripple you and your work, especially to the point where you are unable to submit anything for consideration. This is something I struggle with: I read emails and comments on drafts through fingers over my eyes initially, and decide that a piece is complete rubbish! Of course, we want our research, particularly anything that is going to be published and out there, to be as good as we can possibly make it, and it is crucial to spend the necessary time polishing and refining, and to address issues raised by any kind readers of the work. But I do think there comes a point when you have to let the work go, and see how it fares. Rejection happens and it hurts, but it can be used as another stepping stone to seeing the research in print somewhere else, if the reviewers’ reports were constructive in their feedback.
A third point is about time management and the struggles of balancing research, job applications and (often) teaching commitments as an ECR. I don’t have any specific advice as such – this is something I am still learning to manage myself, and it is an ongoing challenge. My feelings on this are that as much as possible we should be kind to and take care of ourselves as much as possible, both physically and mentally, and to try not to panic too much if it feels like research is taking something of a back seat during very busy periods. Of course, this is easier said than done, and I know well the feelings of worry and strain surrounding jobs, finances, getting to grips with a heavy workload, and trying to continue to research and write on top of it all. My ‘advice’ such as it is, is to continue to ask as much guidance and advice as possible, to seek out the support of fellow ECRs and friends, and as much as possible to keep trying and working.
“Patience [in the publishing process] is certainly a virtue here, and reassurance that a long wait does not necessarily mean rejection is comforting!”
What do you wish someone “in the know” would have told you earlier in your career about the publishing process?
I think guidance about the often-lengthy periods associated with peer review, production and other important aspects of academic publishing would have been welcome. I have been lucky in that most of journals I have dealt with were very efficient in terms of giving decisions, and then in getting the research ‘out there’, especially via online publication initially. Patience is certainly a virtue here, and reassurance that a long wait does not necessarily mean rejection is comforting! Clearer information about the length of time associated with securing book contracts, and then the procedures and timescales following a book manuscript submission to eventual publication.
However, guidance on when to follow up on something after an overly long period of waiting, and the best way to go about that, would have been invaluable too. I think that early career researchers can be afraid to be seen as somehow too ‘pushy’ or insistent and whether this might harm them further down the line; however, there are times when things have ground to a halt, and it is not unreasonable to inquire as to why, so being advised on a good approach to follow up on progress.
For myself in the humanities, I would also have welcomed opportunities to discuss the relationship between monographs and previously-published research. This is something I am getting firmly into now as I prepare to submit for book contracts, while also juggling articles under review that will be subject to copyright and restricted from appearing elsewhere for a number of years. Some of this links back to timescales too, in that uncertainty about typical waiting and production times can help to plan other research and projected publications that may relate to the book project.
Anyone I have ever asked or contacted for help about publishing, from academics to administrators at journals and presses, have always been very helpful. So I guess one final thing is to not be afraid to ask!