Over the past months, in addition to pursuing my studies, I have undertaken a number of extra-curricular activities to help me develop as a researcher. These activities have been diverse and focus around four very different authors. The only thing they have in common is that they’re all no longer with us. Charlotte Smith was a highly respected poet and novelist who enjoyed huge popularity during her lifetime. Mary Linskill was a Victorian novelist who spent most of her life enduring crushing poverty. Mrs Basil Holmes was a social investigator and writer of a history of the London cemeteries toward the end of the Victorian era, and Penny Jordan wrote trashy romantic novels (lots of trashy romantic novels – 187 for Mills & Boon alone).
Recently, I have presented conference papers on each of these authors, all in the name of developing my confidence as a public speaker (of which I had little or none). The other thing they share is that I adore their work. As a result of this, speaking about them and presenting their work is generally a positive (and confidence-boosting) experience. I know their work so well, and feel so passionately about the value of it (yes, even the trashy romantic novels!), that I’m quite prepared to answer any difficult questions which might arise on their works.
In addition, I’ve also written an essay on the subject of Mary Linskill and a book review on a Mills & Boon romantic novel. These have both been accepted for academic journals. The process of submitting these, having to undergo a peer-review and revising my work in line with the editor’s comments, has also, I think, helped me develop as a researcher. The University itself has supported my efforts in this too. There’s an excellent seminar on ‘Academic Publishing: Editing and Peer Review’, as well as a Critical Writing for PhD students course.
Finally, I’ve been very fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to present at the 24-hour Inspire lecture taking place this month. During this event I’ll be sharing my passion (pun-intended) for Mills & Boons – at 8 o’clock in the morning! I even get to do some baking, as cakes and snacks will be sold at the event alongside my own authorial endeavours, which proceeds from this also going to charity.
The opportunities available for doctoral students within the University continue to amaze me. There are so many ways in which postgrad researchers can find ways to develop themselves. I try and make the most of everything that comes my way.
Val Derbyshire, PhD student (School of English)