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Becoming a broadcaster: Interview with New Generation Thinker Dr Joanne Paul

Joanne Paul
2017 New Generation Thinker Dr Joanne Paul

At about this time two years ago, Dr Joanne Paul was doing the same thing many early career researchers are doing now: putting the finishing touches to an application for the AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers Scheme in the hope of combining her background in academia with new skills and experiences, working in radio and TV.

Currently in the depths of a very different kind of writing - putting together a narrative non-fiction book about the Dudley family - we asked Joanne to talk us through her experience of becoming a New Generation Thinker (NGT) in 2017.

"What surprised me most, and maybe it shouldn’t have, was how amazing and interesting the other NGTs were," says Joanne. "For me, that was the most exciting part: getting to know them and getting to learn about their research, listening to what they were working on, how it was developing and really seeing them go from being trained to appearing on radio or on TV."

Of the many facets of becoming a New Generation Thinker, it was the interactions with the rest of the ten 2017 NGTs that really stood out as something that inspired Joanne.

"All of them were doing such different things," she says, "And in some cases, very different things from what I usually do. But I found what they were doing always so interesting and fascinating."

You are trying to appeal to a wider audience and a non-academic audience, and so it’s really important to get people to read it, or to read it out loud to them because you are trying to appeal to people's opinions and get them interested and engaged."

says Dr Joanne Paul

The scheme covers the gamut of arts and humanities disciplines - from philosophy to film studies - but for Joanne, every member of her cohort was an inspiration, no matter their discipline. Although, she admits, "not always in specific ways," but rather in their "differing perspectives."

"A few people's research bordered on my own, so we had some very productive meetings but even when it didn’t, they were all such interesting topics that I was captivated anyway.

"One of the great things about the NGT scheme is that it’s very interdisciplinary, so there are people looking at music’s relationship with medicine or how gangs relate to sociology or Shakespeare in terms of its relationship with Islamic culture. There are all these different ways of coming at topics that we’re used to only approaching in one specific way. So that diverse perspective has opened up my own way of looking at what I do."

Despite the wealth of academic and creative talent already present in Joanne's group, experience in broadcast, and specifically working in radio, was an entirely new experience for most of them. Joanne herself picked up a lot from her time working with a range of broadcast professionals:

"Have you got all day?" she asks. "I learned a great deal - I had never done any radio before this - but one of the things I found most helpful to learn was the way you have to use your voice and the way in which you try to talk like you’re speaking to someone directly. You still use your hands and you still gesture, and all of that impacts how engaging your voice is.

"I think a lot of people just think ‘Oh, you just go on the radio and you talk’ but there is a real skill set that has to be practiced there. And again, maybe it’s something I should have known, but I guess I still found it surprising exactly how much you have to think and practice around that."

Despite the wealth of new skills she picked up from her experience with radio, Joanne’s most memorable experience was quite early on, at BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival. Each year in March, new NGTs are thrown in at the deep end with interviews at the festival, which are later broadcast on Radio 3.

"We all had these little, mini interviews, little panels that were in front of an audience as well as being recorded. We were all very nervous as it was the first time we were doing this. I was one of the last to go on so I got to just sit there and watch them.

"We’d all been in a group and everyone was nervous and nobody knew how well they’d do but everyone was just so spectacular and eloquent and interesting and engaging. Just sitting there, listening and enjoying what was really privileged access to these brilliant people, talking about what they do - that’s what really stood out for me ."

A lot has happened since she first applied to the scheme, but Joanne remembers the application well enough to offer some advice to those thinking of applying:

"I would say get as many people as possible who you trust and admire and who know anything about public engagement to read over your proposal," she says. "I thought mine was pretty good and then I handed it to someone in my department who’s done a lot of this sort of stuff and he had some brilliant comments that basically boiled down to ‘rewrite it’, and I’m really glad that I did."

"You are trying to appeal to a wider audience and a non-academic audience, and so it’s really important to get people to read it, or to read it out loud to them because you are trying to appeal to people's opinions and get them interested and engaged."

About Dr Joanne Paul

Dr Joanne Paul is a lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Sussex. Her first book, Thomas More (Polity, 2017)

'Viral History' the series

Watch the first video in her 'Viral History' series below, in which Dr Joanne Paul explores the life, death & legacy of the Roman politician Cicero.

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