Dr Naomi Paxton is an actress, performer and researcher and has appeared in the West End and on tour in the UK and internationally. She was one of the AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers for 2014-15. Naomi edited The Methuen Drama Book of Suffrage Plays (2013), is an Associate Artist of the feminist production hub Scary Little Girls and is currently Research Associate for the AHRC funded project Poor Theatres at the University of Manchester.
Have you heard of the AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers scheme? If you’re interested in getting your academic research out to a wide audience through BBC Radio it’s definitely something you should investigate.
The scheme is an annual competition run jointly by the AHRC and BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking producers to find ten new academics from across the arts and humanities and give them the chance to get their research out into broadcast media. You’re eligible if you’re working at a UK research organisation, are in the final year of your PhD or are an ECR with no more than 8 years of post-PhD experience.
I applied in 2014 because I was a regular listener to both BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 3’s arts programmes, review shows, features and essays – and as an avid podcast devotee realised just how special radio is as a medium through which ideas can be introduced, discussed and questioned. I wanted my research, on the Actresses’ Franchise League (the professional theatre ‘wing’ of the suffrage movement), to be ‘out there’ – to contribute to debate and knowledge about feminist theatre past and present, bring to life the performative propaganda of the suffrage movement and challenge ideas about the ‘canon’ of twentieth century British theatre. It was thrilling to be shortlisted and to make it through to the audition stage – a fascinating day – and of course even more exciting to be chosen as one of the New Generation Thinkers for 2014-15.
I was delighted to be picked as one of the ten, eight of whom were already post docs. Topics among my fellow New Gens included animal rights, the cultural history of beards, Indian translations of Shakespeare, the life of Disraeli, the link between citizenship and consumerism in 19th century America and Victorian suspicions of animal camouflage. We were a relatively diverse bunch, united by our enthusiasm for our research and our desire to communicate both!
If you’re keen to learn new ways to frame your research and share it with the general public and to learn more about what media organisations like the BBC want from young academics then the scheme is an excellent way to do that. My year as a New Generation Thinker gave me the opportunity to speak at the Hay Festival, the Latitude Festival, the BBC 3 Free Thinking Festival at the Sage, Gateshead and of course on the radio. I also got to make a short film with BBC Arts as a showcase for future presenting work – another challenge and learning curve that was a lot of fun. We were told at the audition day that shortlisted candidates who didn’t make it through to the final line up were very likely to be contacted by Free Thinking if something within their area of expertise came up – so it’s definitely worth applying even if you don’t make it into the final ten. Even now I’m an old New Generation Thinker the relationship with the producers has continued and opportunities still arise – for example I was asked to review the film ‘Suffragette’ when it came out earlier this year and have been invited to pitch ideas for next year’s BBC Radio 3’s arts programming.
In hindsight, it was probably a bit bonkers to do it in my writing up year, but actually for me the extra pressure, and the confidence that it gave me, helped. It made me look at my work differently, engage in different writing styles and think harder about how very detailed research can be adapted for a general audience. The producers are great to work with – and we had a day of media training at the AHRC which was incredibly interesting and useful. If you’re already blogging about your research and are active on social media, particularly Twitter, you’ll know how effective and stimulating getting your research ‘out there’ can be – not only in terms of clarifying ideas and broadening appeal but also for making connections with other researchers and the public. The scheme adds to that, opening up other possibilities and opportunities for disseminating your ideas to a wider audience and raising your profile as a researcher.
One thing to note – although it’s under the AHRC funding schemes, you don’t get a stipend for taking part. We got a small appearance fee if we were on the radio and had accommodation and travel paid for the festival appearances, but there was no fee for the BBC Arts film. This is worth bearing in mind – the opportunities are fantastic, but you need to be very flexible, able to get to London and find tight deadlines galvanising rather than terrifying!
My experience of being one of the New Gens has been really worthwhile – interesting, exciting, challenging and inspiring all at the same time. If you think you might like to be a part of it – get applying!
Do get in touch with me if you have any questions about the application process or the scheme – I’m on twitter @NaomiPaxton.