Tough Love: Tips on Getting Your Application Right

headshotIn anticipation of our upcoming Employability Event we asked Prof Kate Newey to give us the benefit of her experience shortlisting candidates for jobs. What we got was a combination of practical and strategic advice that we think you’d be silly to ignore!

…be ready to hear it like it is…

 

CVs – the basics

Layout, layout, layout. Make it clear and easy to get the main facts from a CV quickly. Jobs I’ve been on the selection committees for have up to 100 applications – there are some areas (eg Eng Lit) where this is doubled. If we have to hunt for information in your application, it’s not necessarily a good thing for you! If the information is unclear, or ambiguous, ditto. And I start to wonder what you’re trying to hide…

On the other hand, no whizzy showy stuff to “stand out” in that pile of 100. I can live without pictures on a CV too. We don’t need to know what you look like (Sorry <grin>).

What will stand out is a clean, professional, sensible knowledgeable CV with a clear straightforward application letter.

Always order things from the most recent to the most historic ie backwards.

Be judicious about what you include. We don’t really need to know your hobbies or your non-academic employment UNLESS you want to refer to it in your cover letter for a specific this-job-related reason. EG voluntary work is lovely, but only mention it if you’re doing such work in an area relevant to the job for which you’re applying. But I really don’t need to know that you enjoy reading (I should hope you do in this business!) or fell-walking in your job application. If you’re invited to interview, we can have a great talk about that over lunch. But don’t waste your space or my time on such stuff in your job application.

Resist, resist, really resist the urge to inflate your CV. Please.

You really don’t need to have more than you’d be expected to have in relation to your ‘career age.’ The problem with CV inflation is that you think you have to have all this stuff for a job application, but we might make a less than positive comparison between what you write and what we know to be the case: for example, book reviews are book reviews, not publications in the same way that a refereed journal article is a publication.

Just be straightforward about articles out for review: say that you’ve submitted an essay for X journal, and are awaiting readers’ reports. In the first couple of years post-PhD, we’re looking for a research trajectory, which means that you need to show you know what you’re doing & the direction you’re going in, and that you’re taking practical, concrete steps to get there eg you’re preparing a book proposal adapted or drawn from your PhD (important to show you know that your PhD is rarely publishable in its raw form!) and have submitted/about to submit to XYZ publisher. Be ready to talk about why that publisher in interview. Basically, any claim you make in your CV, be prepared to discuss in interview.

Personally I don’t like the Twitter-like biogs at the top of a CV for an academic job: just stick to the utilitarian basics.

Ditto for the summary such as “I am a highly motivated self-directed individual, able to work on multi-disciplinary project.” That sort of guff. This is for your cover letter, and needs to backed up by concrete evidence/examples. For non-academic jobs, such statements are required & useful, but for an academic job, we all know what the job is; your distinctiveness is going to be in your CV, which represents the mix of your experience so far.

Cover letters, proposals etc

Again, remember that your application or proposal is going to be one of many. So keep things clean, clear, and try to be helpful in your submissions – in that you should adhere to any directions given you about layout or word length and so on.

Simple stuff such as: if you’re submitting an electronic document, name each document with your name & what it is not just randomly “Exeter application”.

Instead, label it clearly <YOURNAME_Grant proposal Exeter 2017>

Think about what information you would need and in what order if you were managing say, 20 applications for the same thing. You’d want to be able to sort & save the documents by applicant probably.

I always prefer MSWord, rather than a PDF but check about format for sending something. Usually, if you’re asked for several parts eg Proposal, summary, and CV it makes sense to put it all in one document (as above, think of the recipient, managing 20 or a 100 such documents), each section of the document separated by a page break.

It’s all just digital good manners.

Cover letters for jobs

Be straightforward and clear, and get to the point of what you offer to the post.

Give us a one or two sentence summary of your PhD research, and what was original. Then tell us how this is relevant to a broader field. And show us/explain to us how what you’re an expert in will add to, complement, enable collaboration, challenge the students etc etc in the Department you’re aiming to join.

Think beyond your PhD. It changed your life, but your PhD won’t change the world – it’s just the start.

To be really tough on this point: when I’m chatting to ECRs informally, and even more so when I’m interviewing them for jobs, I do tend to find those who can’t look beyond their own nose – see beyond their PhD topic – can be rather <ahem> boring and a bit self-absorbed, and I do wonder what sort of a collegial sharing generous person they’re likely to be. Ditto people who are arrogant about their work, or secretive. You should be able to talk to colleagues about your work in an open, non-jargonistic way; indeed, you need to be able to explain your research to your colleagues, and enthuse your colleagues about it. One way of doing this is to have a built-in response to the “So what?” question – excite them about how your work opens up broader issues, or whatever, and so on.

It’s important because it’s a good way to conduct your professional life – it’s a good ethic to share and to engage, and to collaborate. But on a more pragmatic note, if I have concerns about your arrogance or the narrowness of research enquiry, from the way you share or don’t share in writing and in person, I’m going to probe and prod & push you in interview. Or if I can’t see, in your CV and your research forward planning, that you’re aware of the level of team work and collegiality needed as an academic, and the openness & breadth needed as a teacher, then I may not push for you to be shortlisted. With 60 or 100 candidates, we’re looking for reasons not to shortlist as much as to shortlist.

Take your work seriously, by all means, but don’t take yourself too seriously. I think if you approach it like that, you’ll find your balance.

And if you’re a man, you’ll probably have to work a bit harder at this, because you’re socialised since birth to feel self-important and necessarily of interest to others without having to try too much; it’s as well to try to be self-aware about that socialisation. Gender politics are real, and you can’t rely on the advantages of institutional sexism for very much longer. (And women, note that I am deliberately phrasing this in terms of male advantage rather than female disadvantage.)

Kate Newey

<aka the Grumpy Professor>

________________________

Kate Newey is Professor of Theatre History at Exeter. She has been a Head of Department for three different University Drama Departments (Lancaster, Birmingham, and Exeter), and has sat on appointments committees from Teaching Fellows to Professorial and other senior appointments. She is currently Director of Research for Drama at Exeter, and has led on the last 3 REF/RAE submissions for her department (2001, 2008, 2014). She was a member of the AHRC Peer Review Panel from its inception, and is a founding committee member of the British Association for Victorian Studies, and the Theatre and Performance Research Association. She was a judge for the Society for Theatre Research Theatre Book Awards (2008) and sits on the STR Research Awards sub-committee. She has taught in English and Drama Departments in Australia and the UK, and is an expert in the literature and popular culture of the nineteenth century and has published widely on Victorian theatre and women’s writing, including the books Lives of Shakespearean Actors: Fanny Kemble (editor, 2010), John Ruskin and the Victorian Theatre (with Jeffrey Richards, 2010), Ruskin, the Theatre, and Victorian Visual Culture (co-editor, 2009), Women’s Theatre Writing in Victorian Britain (2005), and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1993). She was co-editor of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film from 2005-2015, and led the AHRC-funded project ‘A Cultural History of English Pantomime, 1837-1901,’ 2009-2012.

NRN Blog: One Thesis, One Document?!

One of the most tricky aspects to getting a single draft of a thesis is the physical merging of all of your chapters into one whole. It’s intimidating, but we’ve got you covered: here’s our own Kate Holmes with her tips and tricks. 

Recently I put my thesis into one document for the last time. Like most people I’ve been working with files that contain chapter information rather than one large document because this reduces the risk of document corruption. (My previous career in proposal writing drilled this into me! It also means that I’m used to working with large and unwieldy Word documents.)

I’ve actually combined my thesis twice: the first time was around a year ago when I produced my first (shitty) draft and the second was as my draft was becoming more final. Thankfully, this meant I had already investigated how to combine documents. But, if you haven’t done this already it could make a stressful time even more infuriating if you’re not familiar with the annoyances of Word. This is the stage where all the hard work has been done, so hopefully this post might make choosing the right method to combine documents easier. (Apologies, this post will be quite long!)

It took me quite a while to discover the following three main methods:

  1. Master Documents
  2. Insert File
  3. RD Field: keeping separate documents and combining as pdf

I’ve generally outlined the methods that I think are most likely to work on both Windows and Apple machines. (I have used both.) I’ve not outlined every step in detail, but you should be able to find information on Google by searching terms like ‘Styles’ and ‘Master documents’.

Before you even think about merging the documents, you really should:

Manage Your Individual Documents to Make Merging Easy

There are a few things you can do to make your files easier to combine on a file level:

  • Set up your own templates with line spacing, headings etc set up in a format you like and that complies with your submission requirements from the start. You do this by setting up ‘Styles’.
    1. Think about whether you like a particular font eg I like Garamond because it uses less ink (my printer cartridges last longer!) and is a serif font which makes it easier to read on paper. (How I imagine my examiners are likely to read it!)
    2. Coming from a marketing background I’m obsessed about consistency in document layout so I like headings to have the same spacing underneath – setting this up as a Style in a template will make that consistent across every document. You can also create your own Styles eg so that all your long quotations have the same formatting.
    3. Although, I’ve not done it, it is possible to apply a template retrospectively to a document if you are a bit further along in the process.
  • Use the different Heading style levels (1-3) and use them – that way you can automatically generate your Contents page.
  • Insert a caption on all images and tables so that they automatically populate your Illustrations and separate Tables list.
  • Insert images into the folder using the Insert menu on the main toolbar to ensure you can compress files. If like me you work with a lot of images, then copying and pasting images will result in big individual file sizes that cannot be compressed on a Mac (I’m not sure about Windows here). If you then try and merge documents with large file sizes into a large document you are increasing the chances of all your hard work resulting in a slow, or even, unreadable corrupted document. 
  1. Master Documents

This is a method I first tried and found the least successful. Initially it created a beautiful document with a contents page, but then when I tried to reopen the document it only included links rather than the full text. It also can apparently lead to an increased likelihood of document corruption (see here) in individual documents that goes unseen. (I did notice that it added section breaks to all of the documents I tried to insert when I returned to them – something that is only possible to rectify on a Mac if you click the ‘Show all nonprinting characters’ button.)

The theory is that a master document allows you to work on the individual files and that this will automatically update the master document. Here’s some detailed instructions on Word 2010. The key to it seems to be to select ‘View’ > ‘Outline’ which will then enable you to select ‘View’ > ‘Master Document’.

You can then insert the contents page on the first page prior to the point your first document is inserted. You can also easily create a contents or illustrations table by selecting ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ from the main toolbar. The master document will sort your page and figure numbers for you automatically.

I presume the safest thing to do with this method would be to pdf it at the end. I’m unsure how successful it would be to send this as a Word document to someone else eg your supervisor. Would you need to send all associated documents for them to be able to access the linked information?

  1. Insert File

This is pretty straightforward, but will result in one large document that may be more liable to corruption. (Although this may only be if you are working with as many images as I am!) It is the method I used to create my final document because it allowed me to use Reference Management Software to create my Works Cited list.

  • Save all of your documents separately in one folder.
  • Create a new file and populate it with all of the initial information required by your institution. Go to ‘Insert’ > ‘Break’ > ‘Section Break (Next Page)’ before inserting your first document.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘File’ and select the first file, making sure to insert another page break.
  • Continue until you have all of your files in your document.
  • Then go through and check all of your page numbers. The page breaks may have restarted each chapter to begin at 1. ‘Insert’ > ‘Page Numbers’ will allow you to edit the numbering.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ to create your contents, illustrations and tables lists.

Here’s a useful blog post on this method.

I would recommend doing this fairly late if, like me, you are using a number of images and Reference Management Software. I found that once everything was combined it slowed down my reference software significantly. I presume this is because every time you edit or insert a reference that it is reading the whole document to ensure the Works Cited list is up-to-date.

3. RD Field: Keeping Separate Documents and Combining as PDF

This is the method I used to create my first draft as it meant I could continue to work with separate documents.

  • First save your individual documents separately from the ones you have been working with previously. Save these all into the same final draft folder.
  • Update all the page numbers manually so that each chapter runs on from the last. (If you are using images, you will also need to alter the numbering on image captions to ensure they run on numerically.)
  • Create a document that holds all of your initial information such as the Title page, Acknowledgements, Contents, Illustrations or any other information required by your institution. Save this into the same final draft folder.
    • Turn on the ability to view all non-printing characters (button) so that you can see when you have linked this document to your individual files. This will allow you to see the fields you insert that allows automatic population of contents etc…
    • Prior to your contents & illustrations select ‘Insert’ > ‘Field’ from the drop down.
    • In the box this brings up select ‘RD’ and place in quotation marks the title of your first document. eg RD “Chapter 1”. (Do the same for all of your documents.) You will not see this on the final document, so there is no need to separate this with a carriage return, especially as each carriage return will drop the text that is printed lower on the page.
    • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index & Tables’ to place contents, tables and illustrations tables in this document.
  • You can now print all these individual documents in Word and they should print consistently with the correct page numbers, figure numbers and contents, tables and illustration lists. However, these are still separate documents.
  • Save all of your documents as pdfs. If you use a Mac, you can use Preview to combine pdf documents. If you use Office you may need to use Adobe (which I’m sure your institution will be able to help you with).
  • You now have a print document.

Printing the main document:

  • Look at how many pages your document is and decide if it will need to be printed in two separately bound documents. This is the frequently the case if your thesis is over 300 pages. (You will need a coversheet on the second print document.)

When using any one of these methods, you will need to also think about how you populate your Bibliography and how you ensure all of your references are correct once all your documents have been combined. The main reason I shifted from using the RD field to the insert file method was precisely because it allowed my reference management software to do a lot of the hard work for me.

What method worked best for you? Do you have any tips? Tell us about them in the comments!

NRN Blog: Transitioning from MA to PhD

 

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For our next installment in the NRN Blog Series, we’re delighted to feature committee member Ella Hawkins! Ella is a first-year PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon. Her research focuses on the representation of Elizabethan England in 21st century stage design for Shakespeare, and is funded by the Midlands3Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. 

 

‘How’s the PhD going?’

What counts as things ‘going well’ during the first months of a PhD? Getting out of bed before 10am each day? Finding some sort of routine that facilitates productivity? Reading three books per week? Writing something (anything!)?

I’ve now been a PhD student for exactly one term. I attended my first welcome event ten days after submitting my MA dissertation, and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to figure out what it means to be a doctoral researcher. My usual response to the question above is ‘Okay! I think…?’. This blog post offers a more detailed insight into my experience of transitioning from MA- to PhD-level study.

Out with the old, in with the new

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Welcoming the new student cohort with tea and cake

Unlike many, I stayed on at the same institution for both my MA and PhD. This has brought some continuity to my transition, and meant that I had a head start in settling in to my work environment. I already knew the staff and (most of) my fellow PhD students, I was familiar with the library and the various resources available to Institute students, and I could head straight to my favourite coffee shop in Stratford-upon-Avon to get stuck into some reading. I even had some crossover in terms of supervision. My MA dissertation supervisor became my second PhD supervisor, so I didn’t have to worry so much about building new academic relationships as I moved on to a new course.

Despite all this, I didn’t realise how different my surroundings would feel at the turn of a new academic year. All my MA friends disappeared, and were replaced by a new cohort. My familiar routine went on without me being a part of it. Students trooped in to their seminars – modules I’d known and loved – while I was left to figure out how to work alone. The new students seemed like a great bunch, but I’d lost the support network that helped get me through my Masters. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the way that I had just a few weeks previously.

Imposter syndrome

Feeling insecure, unworthy, and out of place is an issue that can affect PhD students at any stage of their research. For me, continuing directly from MA to PhD led to some serious imposter syndrome – particularly during the first few weeks of my new course.

Having submitted my MA dissertation just days before beginning my PhD, I didn’t receive my final results until I was almost a month into my doctoral studies. What if my work wasn’t good enough for me to be moving on to doctoral research? Would my supervisor be disappointed by what I’d produced? I had used my MA dissertation as an opportunity to begin exploring some of the ideas that would be key to my PhD research; if it didn’t go down well (I told myself), there would likely be serious repercussions for the success of my current project. Although post-deadline despair has been a familiar feeling throughout my academic career, it seemed like the stakes had never been higher.

Finding my feet

Happily, things turned out well on the MA results front. As the initial wave of imposter syndrome retreated, I knuckled down and got to work on my first bit of proper PhD research. Figuring out exactly what’s expected of me as a doctoral student was the next twist on the transition rollercoaster.

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Mind-mapping one’s way to productivity…

I always knew where I was at during my MA. A module lasted 10 weeks, and was worth just over 10% of my overall degree. I had to turn up to seminars, do the prescribed reading, and complete the assignments. At the end of each term I could cross a couple of modules off my mental to-do list and know that I was one step closer to donning a graduation robe. Then dissertation season came along; I had a monthly meeting with my supervisor, and at the end of the summer I needed to hand in a 15,000-word document. It wasn’t an easy year by any means, but I always had a good indication of my progress and performance.

A PhD is more… freeform. I have monthly supervisions (as I did while completing my MA dissertation), and there are a couple of interim deadlines that I need to stick to, but other than that my schedule is largely up to me. What do I feel like researching this month? Where would be a logical place to start? PhDs are big. They’re huge. Finding a way to divide things into more manageable chunks is something I’m still learning about, as well as the volume of material I’m expected to produce between supervisions.

Looking forwards

Although I find it hard to answer the inevitable ‘How’s the PhD going?’ enquiries, I’m feeling excited about the prospect of working in this way for the next three (or, realistically, four) years. Thinking about my topic gives me warm fuzzy feelings. It’s my little slice of the theatre pie, and I crafted it myself to include all the things I love most about Shakespearean performance. I’m developing a way of working that works for me; it feels good to organise my own schedule and find ways to be productive each day. Getting to know a new cohort of students is fantastic, and it’s even better to be supported by such an esteemed supervisory team and funding body.

I know that I’ll likely fall in and out of love with my project as I hit obstacles and opportunities along the way. But I want to remember the positive feelings I’m feeling right now. I’m doing what I love, and exciting times are ahead.

 

Twitter: @EllaMcHawk

WordPress Blog: https://ellahawkins.wordpress.com/

Midlands3Cities Research Profile: http://bit.ly/2fLaODv

UPCOMING EVENT! What Next? Life After The PhD

SAVE THE DATE! We’re very excited to announce our next event, taking place in the new year! Read on for more… *drumroll*

What Next? Life After The PhD

When is it? Saturday 11 February 2017

How long is it on for? 10am-5pm

Where is it? Murray Learning Centre, University of Birmingham

How much is it? Free!

Getting employed is hard. Whichever way you turn after completing a PhD, job markets are fiercely competitive and often seem impossible to penetrate.

What Next? Life After the PhD is an employability event aimed specifically at late-stage doctoral candidates and post-PhD early career researchers. The event will include a series of workshops and talks, a CV surgery, and a one-to-one mock interview. The content will be presented by academics and practitioners at a variety of career stages; you’ll hear from chaired professors, casual-contract postdocs, archivists, and theatre practitioners. By the end of the day, you’ll have received heaps of practical advice about landing a job, sharpening your CV, and polishing your interview skills. Whether you want to stay in academia or pursue an alternative path, you’ll walk away ready to do battle in your field of choice.

For more information, please email nrn@str.org.uk. Registration will open in the new year!

The NRN wants YOU to join our committee!

The NRN is seeking a new committee member to assist with our livestreaming programme.

A sub-committee of the Society for Theatre Research (STR), the New Researchers’ Network (NRN) is a supportive group of postgraduates, new scholars, practitioners, artists and early career academics with shared interests in theatre and performance, theatre history, and theatre historiography. The NRN is comprised of individuals from a variety of academic disciplines including Theatre, Drama, and Performance Studies, History, Art History, English Literature, and Modern Foreign Languages as well as theatre and performance professionals.

The NRN meets throughout the year for a series of study days, workshops, lectures, archive visits, theatre tours, and social dinners. The calendar of events is designed to encourage members to share knowledge and ideas, provoke discussion and debate, and develop a network of helpful and supportive contacts. Members of the NRN are also members of the STR, and as such are encouraged to participate in STR activities, including the lecture series, the Poel Workshops, the Research Awards, and theatre-related outings. Finally, the NRN provides opportunities for new researchers to present their current research in a more formal setting at the annual symposium.

The NRN is currently recruiting a new committee member specifically to assist with the livestreaming of the STR lecture series. The role would therefore suit a postgraduate, early career researcher, or young professional with interests in digital media, livestreaming, and/or audience development. As a full member of the NRN Committee, you will also be involved in planning the annual symposium and other events, keeping up the NRN’s online presence, and thinking ahead to the 2017/18 academic year.

This role will require the new committee member to undertake NRN activities in central London approximately once per month, and so we are expressly seeking someone London-based or with easy access to London.

To apply, please send a CV and a brief letter of application to the NRN Committee at nrn@str.org.uk by 5:00pm on Friday 30th December. We will inform candidates of our decision by Friday 6th January.

 

If you have any questions or would like more information about the role, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at the email address above.

Peer Reviewing and Friendship in Academia

Some NRN friends have kindly shared their peer review process anonymously. We think this is a fascinating read that can help people set up supportive group working practices…

We are a group of early career researchers in drama, theatre, and performance who completed our PhDs within a few months of each other. On one level, we’re just friends who read for each other, and people who maintained friendship outside of capitalist academia. On another level, the things we’ve learned from reading for each other can be carried forward to how we read for others, and (we hope) help inform your peer reviewing, too. As we often said to each other regarding chapter drafts: take what’s useful and ignore the rest!

We don’t really remember the first things we shared with each other. But we do know that by winter of our third year, we were sharing full chapter drafts on a regular basis. By summer, we were exchanging longer drafts about once a month. But we also shared shorter stuff much more frequently. Blog posts, tricky emails, job applications…if it was going public, we trusted each other to read it first. We got used to a pattern of sharing writing.

The trust that came with friendship was really important for our comments on each other’s work. We became buffers for each other before the work was shared higher up, with supervisors or other peer reviewers. Running writing past each other became a kind of safety check. We counted on each other to be honest but constructive in criticism. For example, we got into the habit of praising the parts that were good as well as offering critiques when giving feedback. Because we’re all from different subfields, we were also able to inform each other’s reading: our bibliographies are full of books and articles that we wouldn’t necessarily have found without each other. As much as it’s fun to read something right in your own field and feel like an expert, having an outside reader and being an outside reader is really valuable. We wanted the work to be as good as it could possibly be.

Strategies to Try

One strategy is to try to imagine that you are opening a book: does this chapter read like a book? Try to imagine it as a finished piece of work, in a journal or on a shelf. This helps to set the bar, and establishes the work as a professional piece of writing. So you’re not watering down the other person’s work, or patronising them. It’s just about identifying what’s convincing and what’s not, and saying what you think might fix any problems (in a constructive way of course).

Familiarity with each others’ style helps, too; the more you read, the more you get to know each other’s modes of expression. You have to remember that your instinct may be to add a comma or change a sentence, but it might work just as well without that intervention. You can make suggestions without trying to impose a style. Finding the language for that gets easier with practice. Two phrases that are really helpful:

“Take what’s useful and ignore the rest”

“These are suggestions”

With that approach, the comments become a dialogue—maybe the comma is needed, maybe it’s not, but it’s up to the writer. It’s important to understand what’s helpful at which stage of writing; saying “the structure is all wrong” three weeks before submission is not helpful! It’s also helpful to imagine yourself working on multiple levels. You might be commenting on commas one minute and asking big questions about the argument or the structure the next.

Something that happened as part of this process of reading and commenting was a transition from taking all of our supervisors’ comments all the time to understanding them as suggestions and choosing not to incorporate all of them. It raised our awareness of the fact that there are other readers in the world, always, and that every reader will approach the work differently.

In general, we took a “live dialogue” approach to commenting, rather than a “marking” approach. In other words, we would insert comments in the margins as we went along rather than writing up formalised feedback at the end—although we would often summarise our thoughts on the work overall in a brief email or final comment. But it’s important to remember that what you’re saying isn’t the final word on the draft; it’s part of a conversation.

Especially towards the end of a big project like a PhD, there’s value in stepping away from your own work and investing time and energy focusing on a completely different project. You learn from that, and it can become a kind of escape, an opportunity to disconnect and recharge.

Why It’s Helpful

One of the best parts of the process was the affective, absolute joy of a friend’s response back to an essay, and the experience of opening the Word document and seeing the comments. It often was the impetus to move on: a friend’s time taken to talk the work back to you encourages you to keep going. Sometimes we enabled each other to do the work that we could not do on our own. If you look forward to someone’s comments, if you look forward to how they enable you to do the work, that’s really valuable.

Built into this sharing was also permission to not read. We were all busy, and sharing always came with the understanding that the reader may or may not have space to read and comment. That ease of relationship became crucial and made us more comfortable to send again, to ask again.

A big part of that ease and trust was also recognising and acknowledging each other’s reading as labour. You could say that the labour of reading friends’ work is a feminist act. Certainly in our experience, women are more careful about how they request reading-as-labour. All of us have occasionally had emails from men who asked us to read things, which we did. But those requests were sometimes made in a less careful way, seemingly without awareness of the labour that goes into reading.

That isn’t to say that men can’t be feminist in their reading or their sharing of work; the feminist act is in how the request and the response are framed. In some ways, we’re attempting to resist the desire for women to be in competition with each other, the “divide and conquer” mentality. By resisting competition with each other, we resist the capitalist, neoliberal model of academia. The small acts of resistance inherent in reading for each other have helped us to take more pleasure in our work, to become more sensitive readers and peer reviewers, and and to nurture a powerful and valuable friendship.

Ultimately, we feel privileged to be in a friendship where we can work and share work without competition. We’re cautious of advocating a formulaic approach to peer reviewing and friendship. We didn’t formalise our own process until we sat down to write this blog post. There’s always an understanding that we’re all creating every day—and maybe that’s where the feminism is.

‘How to’ Navigate an Archive

Our latest blog post comes from the ever fantastic and knowledgeable Jill Sullivan. Jill completed her doctoral thesis on Victorian regional pantomime in 2005, and has since published a monograph, articles and book chapters on the subject. Her most recent publication is ‘English Pantomime and the Irish Question’ in Politics, Performance and Popular Culture: Theatre and Society in Nineteenth-century Britain, edited by Peter Yeandle, Katherine Newey and Jeffrey Richards (Manchester University Press, 2016). She is currently co-authoring a book on optical entertainments in the nineteenth-century. Much of Jill’s research has been archive-based; in 2013 she decided to retrain as an archivist and now works as Archives Assistant at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, a role that enables her to support the research enquiries and searches of students and other academics. This dual relationship means she is one of the best people to talk about how to navigating an archive! – Ed.

Autumn is definitely in the air and the new research semester has started. Some of you will be at the start of your doctoral research, or starting to think about the archival research element of your work. Archival research can be exciting and rewarding; sometimes it can be frustrating, sometimes surprising and sometimes it can provide a whole new direction for your research. If you haven’t used an archive before, don’t worry – here’s a short ‘How To’ Guide to using archives…

What exactly is an archive? 

An archive contains a single or separate collections of material which may have originally belonged to individuals (an actor, writer, or designer for example), or a theatre company, such as the National Theatre or Bristol Old Vic. Because of this, materials that you are interested in researching may exist in different collections across a single archive (and in different archives!)

An archivist is responsible for the care and preservation of and providing access to those collections. The archivist is also responsible for maintaining the integrity of these collections and keeping them in their separate order; in other words collections cannot be mixed up. Unlike a library, materials are not sorted by subject matter so if different collections all have material related to the actor Sir Henry Irving, that material will not be taken out and put into a separate ‘Irving box’ – it will all be kept within the individual collections.

An archive comprises largely paper-based information. So, for theatre and performance history this may include: scripts, prompt copies, production photographs, playbills, programmes, financial records, correspondence, production notes, show reports….

University of Bristol Theatre Collection website screengrab

(Note: Some organisations, such as the V&A and the University of Bristol Theatre Collection are also accredited museums so their collections also include 3D objects, which may include set models, paintings, costumes, props, ceramics, make up, wigs.…)

How do I know which archive to use?

Find out what archives are out there that are relevant to your subject area. The APAC (Association of Performing Arts Collections) has an excellent website for UK collections.

There are also University Special Collections e.g. University of Kent (Templeman Collection), Birmingham and Glasgow. And don’t forget that there are major archives in the USA including the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas; Harvard Theatre Collection, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington and the Billy Rose Archive at the New York Public Library. Some theatre companies retain their own archives, such as the National Theatre and the RSC. And Local Studies Libraries and County Record Offices often have good holdings for local theatre history.

You will need to research your research plans to find out where you need to be!

Researching the archive holdings
University of Bristol Theatre Collection catalogue search screengrabMost archives will have an online catalogue. Remember to search these using different filters to find relevant materials. Don’t search too broadly (you might just regret putting ‘Shakespeare’ into a catalogue search!) but don’t be too narrow either – think around your subject.

Archive cataloguing systems often use literal spellings based on the way in which they were originally populated by an archivist (this isn’t Google!). You may need to try different versions of a name (e.g. Peter O’Toole, OToole or O Toole) to find relevant materials.University of Bristol Theatre Collection catalogue search results

Bear in mind that all archives will have at least some uncatalogued items and that they will have different policies regarding researcher access to uncatalogued materials – if a collection has only recently been deposited, the archivist may yet have to check it for any confidential material (we have to adhere to the Data Protection Act); and some archives don’t allow access to any uncatalogued archives.

Contacting the archive and preparing for your visit

First of all, check the organisation’s website for general information about directions, opening times, closure periods etc. – this will help you to plan your research visit.

Please don’t turn up unannounced at an archive asking to see everything on Hamlet! Plan your visit.

Also check for any required identification that you will need to take with you and publicised rules about camera/copying materials and charges.

Then, use the online catalogue to identify items you’d like to consult. Make a note of the catalogue reference numbers. Once you have identified the items you’d like to see, start an email conversation with the archivist. Tell them what you are researching and for what purpose (e.g. an article or your thesis or dissertation) and what you’d like to see in their archive. Ask them if they have any advice about other related materials that may be of use to you in their collections (in case they have uncatalogued but accessible materials). It is much easier for an archivist to help a researcher if they know what the research project is about and the sort of materials you’re looking for.

Get to know your archivist and help them to help you! Remember that they want to make the archives accessible.

Contact the archive well in advance of a planned visit – not only do you need to check for any closure periods which may affect your plans, but the archivist needs time to retrieve the requested items ready for your visit. Agree a date (and time if necessary) for your visit. And it’s a good idea to just double check on any identification required.

Having established the items you want to see, work out how much time you think you’ll need at the archive. Bear in mind that archival material can contain research surprises so allow time to explore further. And be practical – there’s no point in ordering up lots of items if you only have a couple of hours to spare.

Some archives will have a limit on the number of items retrieved per visit or during a visit – you need to know this beforehand. Many archives are huge, with hundreds of thousands of items that take time to retrieve. Be patient and work with their retrieval systems.

Working in the archive

You’re finally there, in expectation of the research treasures contained within all those files and boxes! Make sure you introduce yourself to the archivist – we like to put faces to names! You will also be asked to complete a registration form/show identification when you arrive.

Although you may have found reprographics information on the organisation’s website, you should also clarify with the archivist at this point about copying/scanning/camera use. This varies from organisation to organisation and there will probably also be different procedures depending on whether you want images purely for personal reference or whether you want to make them public (in articles, conference presentations, exhibitions, and any social media use or blogs etc.) Archives also vary in how they class the use of images in theses.

The archive does not automatically own copyright on its collections. In establishing early on what you want images for, you will be able to timetable plans for arranging copyright clearance and permissions – this will be your responsibility although the archivist may well be able to help you with information about copyright holders and who to contact. Don’t leave copyright clearance until a month before you submit your thesis or paper – it will invariably take longer than you think!

When working at the archive, be aware of in-house regulations. Standard requirements are that you use pencils only (accidental ink marks can ruin original documents) and that you wear gloves (either cotton or nitrile) for handling photographs or glass plate negatives. When making your notes, always be sure to clearly detail the catalogue number or the box or accession number if it is uncatalogued, for each item, plus the collection that it comes from. If you are unsure, ask the archivist for the correct accession or catalogue number to cite.

This is important for three reasons. Firstly, you will need these details for your own citations and bibliography – there is nothing more irritating than getting to the final proofs for your work and finding that you didn’t make a note of the reference number, and you may not have time to revisit the archive. Secondly, if you want to request the item again on a later visit or for a copy of the item for publication it will enable the archivist to find it quickly. Thirdly, remember that these citations are not only for your own reference but may also be used as a reference point for others using your thesis/papers as a starting point for their own research.

Finally, when your work is submitted or you have work published, do let the archivist know – we love to hear about our researchers’ successes!


Committee Member Kate is a bit of a fan of the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, so if you want to read some of her musings on this particular archive click here.