I got involved – I was already involved with community based activities related to my work which has been really useful for me. I never quite had the bravery to do it but I know that writing to Times Higher about 'I'm doing some interesting research' or trying to get people to publish articles in newspapers is a good idea. I did a bit – I've done quite a lot of documentary talking heads for small production companies. That is really useful work. You can get paid for it and it can pay quite nicely if you demand it. But actually I did quite a lot of it for free and it was a really useful experience.
And was that through contacts?
It was through contacts. Sometimes that was e-mails that were just sent around through the Graduate Centre and then it becomes word of mouth. So all this is making sure that people – this sounds really basic – but making sure that people in your department and school know who you are and know what you're working on, including your fellow students. I spent the first three or four years of my PhD working absolutely on my own apart from seeing my supervisor. I didn't involve myself in the academic community at all and I think that was a real mistake. I understand why I did it. I was on my own, I had kids, life, but I think I lost a lot of sense of putting things in context. I probably lost out, I had links with really nice people and it was only towards the end when I started teaching and started feeling myself around the campus much more and getting to know people much more and then I started investing in the post graduate community. There were post graduate conferences organised by students who applied for AHRC funding, they brought in students from all over the country. I offered to be a reader and a paid reviewer for articles in a journal through that I came to understand what it is that they're after, what they're looking for, what the editorial issues are important. That's been really, really useful. And it's not difficult to set up your own journal you know, as a group of students, and most departments like the publicity and will give you the resources. I don't think there's even any money involved, I think it is all done voluntarily.
I spend quite a lot of time using the Hnet, internet communities around various Humanities, particularly the History of Sexuality, and there's one on the 1960s and there's one on popular culture. There's also an H grad which is solely for post grads internationally, and that was really useful. Some things were personal too, such as advice on how to cope with having a baby and writing up. When we were organising associate students pay and conditions, we were able to communicate with each other about those issues. Practical things too 'I'm going to an archive in such and such does anyone know somewhere cheap to stay?' So that was a really useful thing, and also on that site you can get a digest of just huge amounts of announcements about conferences.
Going to conferences and getting funding to go to the conferences, whichever your discipline funding bodies are, there's usually money for postgraduate training. That also shows that you understand part of the job is about raising money, very little of the job is research. It's only a third of it. It's about teaching and it's about raising grants, so find ways to demonstrate those skills.
And I started being a bit more sociable, and we had a research seminar on Thursday. We all started going to the pub after that which built into a really nice rolling, on going support. I feel a bit old now to be going, so I handed that on to a new generation and sneak off with the older people to the restaurant, while they all drink till two or three in the morning.
I think building up social networks and building up networks through internet communities, going to conferences and getting together with groups of students in your own institutions. Thinking about what you can organise for yourself. It really is a way of making yourself part of the community, in what could be really isolated. And in a really cynical mercenary way, it's also a way of proving that you know what academia is really about.