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ECR interview: Making connections is key

Richard Bramwell

Dr Richard Bramwell - a Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University

This week we’re celebrating the great work done by our Early Career Researchers (ECR): highlighting their work, sharing advice and asking how ECR funding has helped in their academic careers.

Here, Dr Richard Bramwell – a Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University – reflects on what he’s learned moving beyond his PhD to become a full-time academic.

“Making the jump from finishing your PhD to becoming a lecturer is tough,” says Dr Bramwell. “It's a massive minefield.

“I think the key to success is being able to see your research in context - and making connections between what you have done and what other people are studying.”

Dr Bramwell's relationship with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) began when he was an undergraduate, studying English literature at Brunel University.

He applied for funding through the Research Preparation Master's Scheme, and got it. Building on that, he successfully applied for a doctoral award and began his PhD at the London School of Economics, looking at hip hop and grime culture.

“When I finished my PhD I saw a job advertised at the University of Cambridge for a researcher on a project looking at religious dynamics in prisons,” says Dr Bramwell.

“Now, while there might not seem an obvious link between that and my research, I knew there was.”

During Dr Bramwell's PhD work he had observed the role of religion in hip hop and became interested in the relationship between rap and other art forms.

“I was interested in the way a number of black British Muslims were organising performance poetry and rap events in London,” he says. “I had interviewed a number of the key players, but hadn't had the opportunity to fully explore the topic within the context of my PhD.

“Because black British people make up 3% of the UK population - but 12% of the prison population - they have a significant influence on the dynamics of prison life; there’s also a high rate of conversion to Islam among black British prisoners.

“I felt my experience was directly relevant to the project even if the link might not be immediately obvious. They obviously agreed with me - I got the job!”

And the position proved to be the perfect bridge to take him from his PhD to an academic position.

From being a research assistant on someone else's project, Dr Bramwell now manages a post-doctoral researcher on his own AHRC-funded project, looking at the performance of alternative identities through rap, examining the role that hip hop and grime play in a variety of institutional contexts.

“These include prisons, youth centres, and an arts charity,” he says. “I am interested in the impact that rap has had on organisations funded by local or national government, the role that the state plays in fostering Britain's rap cultures through these organisations, and how young people perform their identities and represent their communities through rap.

“There's always going to be a bit of a shift from your PhD to your next project. Perhaps I took a bigger shift than most, but being able to see how your experience is relevant beyond your own immediate area of interest is, I think, essential in the early years of your academic career.

“I was very lucky - it was the right job at the right time. I don't think the panel who interviewed me could have imagined my skill-set existed; they would never have advertised for it. So you have to be able to make those links.”

While in post Dr Bramwell was given some freedom to follow his interests when not focusing on his post-doc role, and this helped him develop his plan for his own project.

“I found myself going from looking at hip hop at the city level, to interviewing different people involved in rap culture within a single institution.

“This helped me develop my ideas about the role different organisations play in the scene more broadly, across England.

“I was also able to build up my contacts with other academics and develop collaborative skills.”

From there he was able to develop his plan, apply for AHRC ECR funding and begin his own project.

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