A Day in the Life of an Independent Scholar: An Interview With Historian Kimm Curran

February 21, 2014 Anne-Marie Green


Our ‘Day in the Life’ series continues – this time with an interview with Kimm Curran. Kimm received her PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2005.She was the Chair of History Lab + at theInstitute of Historical Research from 2010-13 and currently Co-Chair until August 2014. She sits on the steering committee for The History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland and is also the network coordinator for the research networks: Prosopography in Medieval Monastic Studies PiMMS-net and History of Women in Medieval Wales, Ireland and Scotland [H-WIMWIS-net].


Kimm Curran
Source: Kimm Curran

Q. What discipline do you work in and what is your research area?
A. I am a medievalist who works in the field of monastic studies. I am particularly interested in female religious in Britain and Ireland from ca. 1000-1600, the use of prosopography in monastic studies as well as how religious houses shaped medieval landscapes.


Q. You are an Independent Scholar. How do you define that and how did that come about?
A. I only define myself as such due to the length of time from my PhD viva til now. For funding bodies, I am no longer considered ‘Early Career’ and it was just the only other ‘category’ that I fit into. See my blog post on this subject posted for History Lab Plusfor more details and link to the definition of an ‘independent scholar’.


Q. What does your typical work day look like?
I currently work in university administration - commuting and working accounts for about 12 hours of my day. I come home and spend as much time with my son as possible and then de-clutter my brain from a stressful day by reading.


Q. What is the most difficult thing about working outside of academia? What is the most liberating thing?
A. The most difficult thing is not having a university affiliation which isolates me from funding streams and support without a university lecturer/department tied to a project, having to find your own way in the publishing minefield, having very little time for archival research (my summers are full with administrative work for a university), feeling left out of current debates in the field, and not teaching budding medieval historians (I love teaching!).


The most liberating is not being tied to university structures and pressures put on academics with their time and energies. There is more freedom to research and publish when I can, mentoring younger scholars and dedicating time to advocacy work for early career and independent researchers.


Q. What do you feel are the most significant challenges for new PhDs today? Are any of these challenges specific to your discipline, generation or gender?
The challenges for new PhDs are not being given the right support and information to make informed decisions about their future careers. There are more PhDs in History than there are jobs available; the competition is fierce and it can be soul-destroying looking for an academic post. There are also a lot of short term contracts that may (or may not) lead to a post, developments in Open Access publishing and difficulty in finding funding for research projects beyond the thesis. If you have a family or are a carer, it may be more difficult to be geographically or economically mobile - this can be difficult when making decisions to apply for posts. PhDs need to be realistic about their expectations after they finish - careers outside of academia can be fulfilling but also come with their own problems and pitfalls if you want to continue to research and publish.


None of these challenges are new to the discipline of history - or any other Humanities disciplines - and they are certainly not gender-specific. Women and men face the same challenges after finishing their PhDs and the decisions they make are based on their individual circumstances. However, once in academia, the experiences can be different depending on institution or department and perceived roles. The Royal Historical Society is looking at this subject of women in academia in more depth - watch this space! History Lab Plus is also a good place to get advice, attend events and meet other PhDs who are going through the same experiences. I can say from my own experience as a Chair (and now Co-chair) that this network has brought historians together from a wide range of backgrounds and places, including those who research on different subject areas and time periods. Many of these historians support one another through networking at events, or via Twitter or Facebook. I have learned a lot from them and value the support and friendship offered - it is what is needed to keep my head above water while I reside ‘outside of the academy’.



About the Author

Anne-Marie Green

Content and Communications // Anne-Marie has worked on the marketing and communications side of publishing for over 15 years. In that time, both the marketing and publishing worlds have been turned upside down. She currently serves as Managing Editor of The Wiley Network

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