11/27/2017 Expe(e)rtise: Audrey Peyper is a PhD candidate in history, mother of two and writer on the subject of metal. This week, we are very excited to have not one, but three (!) experts involved in our interview. In the first part of our interview, Audrey talks about the challenges and excitements of academic life, but also shares her perspective as a scientist and mother of two young children. In the second part, her daughters Roxy and Angelique (4 and 7 years) will talk about what they think their mom is doing, what they want to be once they grow up and what the best thing about their mom is.
How did you get into academia?
I wanted to create a job for myself that was interesting, so I kept studying!
What is your focus?
Historical economic theory, religious ideas concerning power and colonial sites influenced not by formal or ‘settler’ colonialism but rather economic imperialism and evangelism.
What is it that fascinates you about your topic?
Being able to interrogate questions of freedom, human rights, and formative processes of the modern world.
What are the biggest challenges?
The challenges are also the exciting part. The sites I work with in the colonial Pacific Islands misalign with many established models which is difficult to examine but prompts important questions. Access to archives is a practical challenge that requires a lot of travel and sometimes careful negotiation, alongside many hours of difficult reading (with some exciting discoveries!)
Looking back at your experiences, what’s your most important recommendation for….
…a student deciding upon her/his field?
I would make two points. Firstly, to study a variety of subjects before settling in on a single field is a great way to bring a unique set of skills to your field, and will help differentiate you from others. Secondly, try to pursue the field that genuinely interests you, rather than thinking too much on potential work or money and so forth. The PhD is a long, difficult degree and it will be passion and interest that keep you going. Furthermore, you will be more successful in a field that you are passionate about and more likely to create a niche for yourself.
Do you feel that you had to sacrifice a lot to get to the position you are in today?
I have been at the University for 14 years now, all through my 20s and now into my 30s. This has meant a delay in other life things such as buying a house, being able to travel for leisure, accruing superannuation for retirement, and stability of housing and finances for an extended period of time. It can be exhausting! These things mean more once you have children, and it can really feel like you are ‘behind the pack’ for your age group in terms of becoming established in life.
What are the challenges you are facing in your everyday life (i.e. in keeping a healthy work-life balance)? Can you give some advice on what worked best for you?
Definitely it is hard to balance the demands of young children, maintaining the house, and earning money alongside sustained research, especially if the research is unfunded or you are ‘between jobs’ (which is a lot of modern academic reality – moving from contract to contract). Getting enough work done to be a competitive academic when you have many things also making demands on your time and energy is a real challenge. Resolving this is not easy, and I have found that ‘compartmentalising’ time is important – to be very strict with what I am doing in a given block of time (whether research, spending time with children, or working, etc.) and not thinking on the other things in that time, to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
What are your distractions when you are not studying? Is there time for hobbies?
There is not much time (or money!) for hobbies but it is important to make time for things that make you feel happy or are good for your health. Exercise is something I am trying to do more often, though I am not so great at it! My main distraction is my interest in music. I write for a music magazine which is really exciting. I find this is a good task to take my mind off my research but also keeps me writing every day, as momentum is key to sustaining writing.
If you could change 3 things about the way the academic system works right now (publication, funding, hierarchy etc..) what would they be?
- The heavy focus placed on amount of publications for postdoctoral fellowships, often rather than quality.
- The availability of teaching work for PhD students is diminishing yet many jobs require fairly extensive teaching experience including designing courses that simply isn’t available to many finishing candidates.
- Short term (1-3 year) contracts for fellowships or lectureships. It means that early career researchers have to move around the world frequently to secure work – while I don’t mind this in itself and it does make academia prohibitive to many, it is expensive to facilitate and creates in between periods of no income which is very hard on families.
Is there anything else you always wanted to tell a student?
To embrace a life of scholarship is, in many ways, its own reward. It won’t always be easy but be patient and have faith in yourself.
What did you want to be as a kid?
I wanted to be a famous artist!