Building Bridges: Facilitating International and Interdisciplinary Networks For Early-Career Researchers

Sophie van Os, PhD Candidate Radboud University Nijmegen

Geraldine Bassil (PhD Student Mary Immaculate College + Postgraduate Researcher for the IWWN) has illustrated in her wonderful blogpost that literary networks played a vital role in the careers of women writers from the nineteenth century:

“Jane Wilde (1821-1896), for example, made her Dublin home a focal point for academics, artists, and writers. It was at one of Lady Wilde’s ‘afternoons’ at Park Street, London, however, that Katharine Tynan (1859-1931) was introduced to her son Oscar. […] Breaking into the London literary scene at the same time as Tynan, Hannah Lynch (1859-1904) was also introduced ( as ‘a young Irish genius’) to Oscar Wilde by his mother at one of her Saturday salons in 1884. The impact of fin-de-siècle Paris salon culture was to inform and enable Lynch’s literary career while Tynan’s memoirs, recalling her active networking, read like a directory for all those involved in the literary and publishing worlds of nineteenth century Ireland, and indeed, transnationally (Geraldine Bassil, “Everybody who wrote was a wonder to me”

Although it would be unwise to compare myself to incredible female writers like Wilde, Lynch, and Tynan, I would nevertheless argue that the same may also be said for early-career researchers working on Irish studies in the present time. Networking and socialising, especially in light of the global pandemic, has become more important than ever, not only for the furthering of academic careers but also to prevent mental illness. In 2019, for instance, the University of Groningen published a report that highlighted the amount of pressure that PhD students and young academics were under at that time, and the many ways in which this had affected their mental health [insert link]. Many additional studies have found that PhD students are often buried under a very heavy (unpaid)teaching load, feel pressured to ‘publish or perish’, are obliged to participate in extracurricular activities to ‘enhance and build their CVs’, and most importantly often feel isolated and alone.

Being able to communicate and connect with scholars from the field is thus extremely important, but at times, also very difficult, especially when you are an early-career researcher outside of Ireland. In 2019, like Geraldine, I was fortunate enough to become a Postgraduate member of the Irish Women’s Writing Network. At the time, I had just completed my Master thesis on the representation of gender and nationalism in Irish nineteenth-century women’s writing from the Great Irish Famine, under the supervision of Prof Marguérite Corporaal. Although I am from the Netherlands, and have also completed both my BA and MA at a Dutch university, I was fortunate enough to become part of a relatively small, but nevertheless impressive, Irish department at the Radboud University who, for example, hosted the 2018 IASIL Conference.

Through my associations with established scholars from the Radboud University, I was able forge new connections with scholars outside of the Netherlands (for instance with the wonderful members of the IWWN-team) but I recognise that I am very lucky and privileged, and that this is can be very difficult for early-career researchers from different, cultural, political, and socio-economic backgrounds (in addition to the constraint of the current global pandemic).  

Following these observations, the Irish Women’s Writing Network has decided to set up the Postgraduate Forum. The main aim of this Forum is to facilitate international and interdisciplinary connections and exchanges between early-career researchers recovering and studying the lives and work of Irish women writers, artists, historians, scientists and more. The Postgraduate Forum is open to Master students, PhD students/candidates, and young independent scholars. We invite early-career researchers from all walks of life to participate in the Postgraduate Forum through various forms of engagement. In the future, the Postgraduate Forum hopes to (amongst other things) host reading groups, blogposts, Twitter events, guest lectures, Q&A-sessions, online discussions, and informal chat sessions.

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