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.

WSG Mentoring Scheme: The Mentee’s Experience by Eva Lippold

Eva Lippold was mentored by Gillian Williamson during the 2020-21 scheme. Below, she reflects on her experience of the scheme and the support she received from her mentor. Eva’s blog post follows on from Gillian’s blog. Please click here to read it.

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I really like the concept of a ‘next friend’ – especially as an academic at the beginning of her career, being able to go to someone for advice and feedback is invaluable. I have been lucky throughout my studies to have the support of kind and clever women, from Julia, who was the first to suggest I could go on to Postgraduate studies, to Carol, who helped me complete my PhD. Gillian’s offer to take on this role through the mentoring scheme has been incredibly helpful to me, especially considering the circumstances of the last year and a half.

It is difficult at any time to move on from PhD student status, with the support of a supervisor, other students, and an institutional affiliation, to being an ECR without any of those support structures. During the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the often isolating experience of trying to find your way around the job market, teaching contracts, and publications became even more difficult to navigate. At the beginning of the year, I was working on an article which was a slight departure from my previous research. I thought it was going in a good direction, but I could not be sure – I was working from home, so there was no discussion with colleagues, no casual chats over coffee at conferences. Gillian both listened to my ideas about the article, and gave me specific feedback on the draft, pointing out those things you can never spot in your own writing. This really helped me to refine my work, as well as providing some reassurance that I had not forgotten how to write since my PhD! Since then, we have regularly exchanged updates on work, research ideas, and interesting sources, and this continues to be a very helpful aspect of developing my work and academic ability. At the same time, this has always remained an informal and flexible conversation, so that rather than adding any extra work or deadlines, it has been an additional asset to my research.

While in-person meetings, chats, and conferences are now slowly becoming a possibility again, the mentoring scheme remains just as valuable; sometimes, especially when you are new to being an academic, all you need is sometime to listen to your ideas and say, ‘That sounds interesting!’. Having received some good advice through Gillian’s mentoring, I can now advise any ECRs who are thinking about applying for the mentoring scheme to go ahead, and hope that at some point, I can take on a mentoring role myself to be the ‘next friend’ to a future researcher.

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Eva Lippold completed her PhD at Loughborough University in 2018, and also hold a BA and MA in English Literature from Anglia Ruskin University. Her PhD project, entitled “Most Women have no Character at all’: Female Playwrights and the London Stage, 1760-1800’, investigated the representation of women’s lives and works on the eighteenth-century stage. She now teaches at Coventry University, and is working on research into women’s travel and travel writing.

WSG mentoring scheme now open!

We are now accepting applications for the 2022 WSG Mentoring scheme. For more information please click here. We will be accepting applications from 1 October-14 January 2022.

Want to read about how some of mentors and worked together? Please read the following blog posts:

The Mentor’s Experience by Gillian Williamson

The Mentee’s Experience by Eva Lippold

Send in your news!

Have you published a new book or article that members of our Women’s Studies Group (WSG) would be interested to read? Do you have information about a new call for papers, conferences, grants, jobs, seminars, or workshops that our WSG members might be interested to hear about and contribute to?

If so, please send your news to Sara Read who writes out monthly newsletter! The newsletter is sent to all WSG members at the beginning of each month and Sara is looking for content that would benefit our membership. Please email Sara your news no later than the 30th of the month or no later than the 28th/29th if it is February!). Her email is: S.L.Read@lboro.ac.uk.

WSG Edited Collection of Essays: Call for Proposals

“Global Exchanges”

In Summer 2021, ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640–1830 published a series of reflections on the pandemic. In her contribution, Karen Griscom (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) described how WSG’s Zoom meetings had been a lifeline, helping her to ‘remain optimistic about my scholarship’. The WSG’s forced transition from London-based seminars to an online global platform generated many benefits, allowing us to widen participation from our members based in the US, mainland Europe and New Zealand. Our new book project is inspired by the conversations we have enjoyed with our international community.

We are seeking contributions to a collection of essays on the theme of global exchanges. Papers will explore the international connections made by women during our period of study (1558–1837). While there has been a great deal of recent interest in women’s travel and their travel writing, the scope of this collection is intended to be much broader and embrace all types of exchange, including for example, ‘travel of the mind’, material culture, music, or writings that engage with the wider world.  

Submissions may address any of the following questions or related themes:

  • What types of exchange have been made by women travellers in their journeys around the globe, and what role has gender played in facilitating these connections and interactions?
  • How have women enabled the transfer of ideas – artistic, literary, philosophical, political or scientific – from one geographical region to another?
  • How have women embraced, interpreted or influenced the art and culture of different territories, and what was the effect of this exchange?
  • In what ways were women nourished and supported by international friendships, networks and correspondence?
  • To what extent did women translators innovate, or develop their own literary voice, in the process of translation?
  • What relationships were forged with material objects from overseas, and what do these connections tell us about how women saw the world and their place within it?

Submissions will be invited in two formats (please specify your chosen format in your proposal):

  • Full essays (approximately 7,000 words including references)
  • One-page picture ‘postcards’ incorporating a short reflection on an object, image, or piece of music or writing (approximately 400 words, plus an image).

Contributions should feature strong case studies and may cover any topic relating to women’s and gender studies. This call for papers is open to all sections of our membership* and we aim to build a diverse and inclusive collection. The book will be pitched to an academic press.

Timeline:

  1. Abstracts to be submitted by 1 January 2022 (400-word abstracts for essays or a brief 100-word description for ‘postcards’).
  2. Editors to respond to all submissions by end January 2022.
  3. Accepted papers/’postcards’ to be submitted by 31 August 2022.

All queries and abstracts to be sent to both Louise Duckling (louise@philipmarksav.co.uk) and Brianna Kirkland-Robertson (B.RKirkland@rcs.ac.uk).

* The WSG is open to men, women and non-binary people, students, faculty and independent scholars. We are trans-inclusive.