Life Post-PhD: Post-doctoral Work as a Member of a Project Team

In October 2013 Dr Laura Anderson started work as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Leeds. She is a member of the team working on ‘The Professional Career and Output of Trevor Jones’, a three-year project funded by the AHRC. Laura previously completed her PhD in the area of film music and sound at Royal Holloway, University of London, on the topic of Jean Cocteau’s creative involvement with music and sound in his films. This blog post gives us an insight into the day-to-day experience of working on a larger-scale research project.

 

In the final year of my PhD studies, I started to look for postdoctoral opportunities, including junior research fellowships and teaching positions. The advert for the research post at the University of Leeds was of particular interest as it was in the field of film music, my primary research field, and it offered the possibility of joining a team to work on a large archive of materials relating to the film-music production process. I feel fortunate to have secured a position so closely aligned with my specific interests, as such positions are few and far between. The project examines the output of Trevor Jones, who is one of the film industry’s leading composers and has worked on a range of British and Hollywood films over the last thirty years. In 2005 and 2010 he donated a collection of materials relating to his film scores to the University of Leeds, including audio files, scores, sketches, and associated textual files. A key part of my role is to manage the day-to-day handling of these materials, to organise their digitisation, and to report on my work to the rest of the team. I am also involved in shaping how the research materials will be organised and searched for in the planned digital archive. More broadly, my role offers the opportunity to contribute to the research into Jones’s work through group conference papers, publications, and project reports. As the first year of the project comes to a close, I have led the preparation of an annual report, which should be useful in preparing formal reports to the AHRC at a later date. This has afforded me a valuable insight into how funding applications are prepared and managed.

The project is somewhat unusual in that the Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator are from the same School within the University, rather than collaborating across institutions, faculties, or schools. This has its advantages in that regular meetings can be carried out in person. Furthermore, this fosters a sense of close collaboration among the team and a feeling of mutual support and interest in each other’s work.

Working as part of a team has been quite different from my PhD experience. Instead of managing a project that is ring-fenced as my area, I now work on shared research questions with a group and report on my progress to three other people. Indeed, one of the specific questions raised at my interview was how I might respond to working on a topic that was already conceptualised. This issue didn’t concern me as it was apparent that there were going to be opportunities to contribute to the direction of the research and to develop my own ideas as part of the larger project. Thus far, this has borne out in reality, and I presented a paper on how Jones developed scores for films with a substantial amount of pre-existing music at the Music for Screen Media conference at the University of Liverpool in June 2014. Moreover, I knew that working closely with established academics would enable me to learn a great deal about the very process of research.

The job description for my role stated that archival experience was desirable and I felt that my previous experience scouring the contents of archival boxes at various French libraries, including the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris and the Cinémathèque Française, qualified me in this area. The archival experience thus far has been quite different in that I now handle a great deal of audio materials, as opposed to written documents and manuscripts alone, and I am refamiliarising myself with how to use software such as ProTools.

Through attendance at university-supported research training days, it has become clear to me that my position as research assistant on a team project is less common within the Humanities than in the Sciences. This has highlighted the importance of being able to discuss the impact and significance of my research to non-humanities and letters subjects.

At an early induction event at the university I met other postdoctoral staff. This led to my involvement in applying for university funding to co-organise a training day in developing public engagement skills for postdoctoral staff within our faculty. We received financial support and have organised two training days with invited speakers to learn more about how we can become more connected with the wider community as part of our research.

One of the challenges of working on a group project is to ensure that I carry on with my own research interests in tandem with my work on the project. This has required strict time management to ensure that I carve out sufficient time to continue with efforts to expand on my thesis with a view to publication. The allocation of a research time period each week has been very helpful. An additional tip here might be to avoid checking email for a few hours! This challenge was not present while working on my PhD but it is one that will be familiar to all academics who must balance their research with teaching and administrative duties.

I am also keen to build up teaching experience and am engaged with group teaching and individual supervision in the School of Music. This includes research skills work with first years, supervision of film music dissertations with third years, and some lectures on nineteenth-century French music as part of the Musicology programme. These topics are aligned with my research interests, which is a characteristic of the school as a whole, and indeed the university, which values research-led teaching.

My work as a post-doc also involves quite a bit of administrative and outreach work, including preparation for an annual film music conference. The first annual conference connected with the project, Music for Audio-Visual Media, was held in early September over three days in parallel with the RMA Annual Conference. I contributed as a member of the conference committee and was involved with the selection of papers, programming, liaising with speakers, and the practical logistics of running the event. We are keen to nurture relationships with partners outside academia and to raise awareness of the project themes. This involves making contact with local and national organisations with an interest in film music and Jones’s work. This ranges from interaction with large film festivals to local film clubs and schools.

I think the opportunity for collaboration has led to me becoming integrated within the School of Music more rapidly than if I was working on a solo project. I would strongly recommend undertaking post-doctoral work as part of a team for a variety of reasons. Principally, it has pushed me to broaden my areas of expertise; if I weren’t doing this postdoc I would have continued with applications to carry out research within the area of French film music. My current role has allowed me to embrace a very broad range of activities and to develop new skills while feeling supported as a team member.

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