WSG Mentoring Scheme: The Mentor’s Experience by Gillian Williamson

Gillian Williamson mentored Eva Lippold during the 2020-21 scheme. Below, she reflects on her experience of the scheme and the support she gave to her mentee. Eva’s blog immediately follows Gillian’s blog. Please click here to read it.

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One of the best pieced of advice I was given by one of my PhD examiners is that all scholars should have at least one ‘next friend’: someone with whom one can candidly chew the fat over research projects and who will happily read through drafts and make helpful comments as a piece of writing edges towards publication. As a published independent scholar, I have taken that advice to heart and have benefitted much from it. It both avoids academic loneliness and keeps research and writing sharp. When WSG began a mentoring programme, I felt that being this ‘next friend’ was something I could try to offer in return.

Eva and I were paired in January 2021. It was bad timing in one sense – the COVID pandemic and lockdown meant that there was no chance of meeting in person at that time. When Eva and I first ‘met’ in early February 2021 it was therefore by Zoom, making use of the WSG account. We introduced ourselves and chatted about our research interests and Eva’s current position and goals. Our subsequent contact was by email until we finally got together in person in September for a hugely enjoyable extended chat over coffee in the Wellcome Collection café in London.

Our pairing was a good one as Eva, as I understand her, very much wanted the sort of friendly scholarly contact and encouragement that I had been advised to seek. She had completed her PhD (on women dramatists in the 18th century) in 2018 and while currently working in a university this was in a general role as an academic writing tutor. She was developing new lines of research and had an article in draft for a specific journal. However, she felt now she lacked the background presence of a support that a supervisor provides to a research student.

One of the first tasks I undertook was reading and commenting to Eva on the article, and I was pleased to learn when we met in September that this is now complete, accepted and will be published towards the end of this year. I have also read Eva’s thesis – which was both a new treatment of female theatrical careers and extremely well-written. I continue to encourage her to publish this important work and after discussing the field with a WSG colleague, have suggested a particular series and publisher. Once Eva is ready for this step, I will be able to use my own experience of the process to help with the proposal.

The September meeting was also a chance to chat generally about research and ideas. Eva is currently working inter alia on women’s travel writing and polar exploration and, in a team, transcribing the Anne Lister diaries for digital publication. I was delighted to learn that she has also picked up teaching roles both at her current and another university. I am encouraging Eva to embrace this broad approach to areas covered by her teaching and research projects, in their various stages of development. When I see publicity for a conference or other event that is a good fit and would help build and maintain scholarly networks, I get in touch and will continue to do so. One good opportunity for publication on a theme where Eva’s work on travel writing would be a good fit is the forthcoming, second WSG edited volume and I am again encouraging Eva to put in a proposal to this.

However, I am very aware that ECRs are juggling a huge workload including various paid teaching contracts, in addition to research and publishing. Scholarship can be a lonely pursuit at times, a rollercoaster of exhaustion and elation. It is here that I hope our relationship can develop into one where I am truly that supportive ‘next friend’ for Eva.

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Gillian Williamson is an Independent Scholar. After co-editing a local history project she returned to academic life as a mature student, gaining her PhD at Birkbeck, University of London in 2014.  She has since published two monographs, articles and has contributed to two edited volumes. She is a WSG Committee member and a Convenor of the IHR British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar.

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