Dr Annie Webster’s #ResearcherCommunities

Name: Annie Webster

School/College: School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Webpage/Profile: https://www.ed.ac.uk/profile/dr-annie-webster


How do you build your research communities?

My research sits at the intersection of literary studies, Middle Eastern studies and migration studies. I’ve worked at building research communities across these disciplines in a range of formal and informal ways. I particularly enjoy taking part in conferences and research seminars as ways of meeting new people working in these fields. My mentor, Professor David Farrier, has also been very supportive, connecting me with researchers across the university as well as the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet).

More informally, I keep in touch with other researchers through academic events, writing groups, or even just getting a coffee. I’m always amazed at how generous people are when you reach out to discuss a project or new ideas and love the unexpected collaborations that can result. I once contacted the artist Hanaa Malallah to discuss a particular piece of art, she invited me to her studio and I ended up working with her over several years, conducting interviews, co-writing an article, and helping to curate an exhibition as part of a larger research collective.

I also try to contribute to research communities in need of skills and resources. For example, I’ve delivered training sessions for the Syria programme ran by CARA (the Council for At-Risk Academics) and worked with academics on this scheme to organise a seminar on the preservation of cultural heritage in the Middle East.

What are the benefits of connecting with other #ResearcherCommunities across the University and do you have any examples?

Although I’m based in the English and Scottish Literature Department, I’ve benefitted hugely from research communities at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), the Centre for Data, Culture and Society (CDCS), and the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Department (IMES). Before starting my Leverhulme fellowship, I held a Digital Research Postdoctoral Fellowship at IASH which provided a wonderful interdisciplinary research environment through weekly seminars. While at IASH I had the opportunity to present my research at CDCS and take part in a public roundtable event on Scottish national imaginaries as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Through these events I got really valuable feedback on my project from research communities beyond my own discipline. I also have strong connections with IMES, where I completed my MSc in Arab World Studies, and since returning  to Edinburgh I’ve attended research seminars hosted by the department.

What do you love about your #ResearcherCommunity?

One of my favourite things about the research community I’ve built over the last few years is how interdisciplinary it is. I’m in regular contact with academics from Arabic studies, migration studies, and literary studies. It’s especially rewarding seeing the critical and creative overlaps between these different communities and I enjoy any opportunity to bring these networks together. I’ve organised conference panels with contributors from across these disciplines and as part of my current fellowship I’m planning a conference which will bring these communities into further conversation with each other.

Another thing I really appreciate about my research community is how personally and intellectually generous so many people have been. I’ve been very lucky to work with some amazing early career academics, as well as more senior scholars, who have taken the time to engage with my research, act as mentors, and invite me into other relevant research communities. Some of my most positive experiences in academia have been discovering unexpected shared research interests through these informal structures of support. I love it when an email unexpectedly pings into your inbox from someone who you may not have spoken to for years with a reading recommendation or a call-for-papers that has made them think of you.

What do you find most challenging about your #ReseacherCommunity and how do you navigate these challenges?

Like many precariously employed early career academics, I’ve moved between multiple different institutions over the course of my career. Building sustainable research communities when moving around so much is challenging. One positive is that I’ve developed a wider range of communities across different disciplines and institutions, but this takes time and effort. Even just on a very basic level, losing access to institutional email accounts can make it difficult to keep in touch with people or relevant mailing lists.

I think there is a growing recognition of how difficult it can be for early career academics to find research communities and mentorship when working precariously. Some people are doing brilliant work to form supportive communities online, for example Dr Alison Garden at Queen’s University Belfast organised several excellent online events designed to demystify the postdoc experience. On a smaller scale, I’ve signed up to online writing groups with other ECRs working in my discipline, which is a great way to get feedback on your work and learn about what other people are working on. Finding these research communities in different settings – whether online, through institutions, or personal networks – has been crucial to keeping up momentum with ongoing research projects and developing new ideas when working in precarious conditions.

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