University of Life - An Example Interview Academic Writer
This short paper outlines Liz' academic background in a self interview format. It explores her beginnings in academia and the development of her research interests in Critical Disability Studies and inclusive research. It interrogates Liz about her diverse interests in jewellery making and fetish photography and how she reconciles her position as a feminist within the fetish scene.
Liz, tell us about how you got started in academia.
Well, I’m what tends to be called a non-traditional student in that I entered university quite late in life. I had a rather disrupted upbringing and ended up leaving school with few qualifications. It was only when I entered my 30s that I really managed to come to terms with the fact that my life was going nowhere and I was… not bored, but dissatisfied and in need of some kind of mental stimulation. That’s how I ended up doing a degree.
So how did you get involved in Critical Disability Studies (CDS)?
Before starting at university, I worked in mainstream schools supporting children with learning difficulties (also known as learning/intellectual disabilities or cognitive impairments). The degree course I chose was in social science, with a significant health and social care aspect. It was responsible for introducing me to the social model of disability and the political aspects of disability as a social construct. My involvement with CDS led from there. I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of CDS intellectually and valued the opportunity to think about disability in more complex and nuanced ways than the social model allowed.
You’ve done a fair amount of empirical research, can you tell us about the range of studies you’ve been involved in?
The first time I did research was for my undergrad dissertation. I wanted to explore how the kids with learning difficulties I worked with engaged with their non-disabled peers. It was a small, qualitative study and challenging in terms of ethics. The most surprising outcome was that the most exclusionary aspect of their lives wasn’t the result of social interaction in school, but the rural environment in which they lived. This intersection between disability and rurality has been the focus of my study ever since, resulting in my Masters thesis and now finally my PhD thesis. For this I used an inclusive approach and worked in co-operation with the co-researchers, all of whom had learning difficulties. It was an incredibly challenging but fulfilling project, I’m sad it’s nearly over.
Has all your research been in the field of learning difficulties?
No, I’ve done projects relating to mental health and substance abuse as well as annotated bibliographies to support PIs researching work-based learning, child learning in deprived areas, the psychology of consumerism and so on.
Can you tell me if you have enjoyed this interview?
To be honest, it is quite strange writing in the first person like this. I have used the first person in the past when reflecting on processes, but this foray into auto/biography creates a sensation of vulnerability. That said, autoethnographic approaches such as Letherby’s are an exciting development.
What other fields of study are you interested in, Liz?
I could talk for hours on the myth of the rural idyll which forms a large part of the discussion in my PhD, especially the way it intersects with the faux neoliberal policies of the current UK government. I also enjoy reading around cultural representation of disability, especially the work of Garland-Thomson and Schweik.
What interests do you have outside of academia?
I love analogue photography and an unhealthy obsession with macho pulp TV. Really low-brow stuff like Strike Back.
I admit I’m surprised! I’d like to ask you more, but it seems I’ve run out of space! Thank you!
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