Amy Solomons was mentored by Karen Lipsedge during the 2021-22 scheme. Below, she reflects on her experience of the scheme and the support she received from her mentor.
I started my PhD in October 2019 which means I only had six months of ‘normality’ before the pandemic hit in Spring 2020. My PhD, in collaboration with the National Trust, relied heavily on physical sources which I could no longer access. Throughout 2020 and 2021, I worked to reframe my PhD to mitigate the loss of crucial time in the archives. Throughout the pandemic, I participated in online conferences, made connections on Twitter and connected with my peers at Liverpool through online coffee chats. These experiences were great in tackling the isolation of doing a PhD during the pandemic. As the world began to reopen, I organised a quick succession of trips to archives and National Trust properties, keen to reconnect with colleagues and make strides in my PhD research. I also felt that I needed to fast track my personal and professional development to make up for lost opportunities during the pandemic.
When I saw the WSG Mentoring Scheme advertised, I knew that it would be a fantastic opportunity to enhance my PhD experience. I applied to the WSG Mentoring Scheme in February 2022 with three aims: to enhance my networking skills, to explore post-PhD career options and to write my first journal article. My supervisory team are hugely supportive but I was keen to expand my network and learn from different experiences. I was really pleased when the WSG got in touch and paired me with Dr Karen Lipsedge.
Our first meeting was fantastic and Karen helped me to set out a strategy to achieve my first aim: networking. I was attending my second in-person conference not long after our meeting and asked Karen for tips in growing my network. Karen’s advice was hugely reassuring and helped me to feel more confident in approaching senior academics at the conference. It was great to be able to feedback on the conference with Karen in a future meeting. I have now attended several face-to-face conferences and have started to enjoy the previously dreaded ‘tea break’ on the schedule!
Karen’s advice on forming connections with non-academic partners proved hugely beneficial during my recent placement with the British Library. I took advantage of available training and worked with colleagues at the library to learn about different career paths within the sector. Outside of the placement, I continued to have discussions with Karen about post-PhD options and now have two routes (one academic and one in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums sector, otherwise known as GLAM) to explore next year when I submit my PhD.
We also dedicated time in every meeting to progress on my publication plans. Academia is hugely competitive and sometimes difficult for those of us in the earlier stages of our career to navigate. Informal conversations with Karen have been invaluable in understanding the process and thinking about the best way to frame an article. I now feel more confident about the co-editing experience and review process. I am currently co-editing a special issue for a journal and the process now seems less daunting. I am looking forward to seeing my article in print later in the year.
Throughout the process, Karen has continued to encourage me to reflect on my experiences and celebrate the small wins! The mentoring scheme has been a fantastic opportunity to broaden my network, gain advice and set aside dedicated time to work on my professional development. Like many current PhD researchers, I missed out on face-to-face connections and informal network building for almost two years. My meetings with Karen pushed me to make new contacts, develop my ideas and think about future opportunities. I am hugely grateful to Karen for her continued support beyond our sessions and to the WSG for facilitating the experience.
Amy Solomons is currently undertaking a collaborative PhD with the University of Liverpool and the National Trust researching networks of female readers in eighteenth-century library collections.