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ECR interview: Making global connections through Early Career Research

Rayna Denison

Dr Rayna Denison - Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia

Dr Rayna Denison is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia. Her research and teaching focus on Japanese and Asian media, writing extensively about contemporary Japanese anime and film.

Here she describes how Early Career Researcher (ECR) funding helped her develop her research.

1. What AHRC ECR funding have you received? And when?

I’ve been very lucky to have received both PhD funding and then Early Career Funding from the AHRC, the latter of which was for a project between 2011-2013 called Manga Movies: Contemporary Japanese Cinema, Media Franchising and Adaptation.

2. How did the funding help you professionally? How did it help you develop your research / career?

There are so many way that this funding has been useful. A big part of my job is trying to investigate a culture that is thousands of miles away and often culturally distant from ours here in the UK. This funding helped me to find out so much about the roles of Japanese cinema in its home culture, and what that might mean to us here in the UK.

There is so much we can learn from each other, but it requires funding like the AHRC's in order to make connections, visit archives and talk to scholars and industry professionals who are scattered around the world.

I am still using the research materials we generated on the project. Just last month, I finished a chapter for a handbook on Japanese Cinema where I got to re-visit the world of Japanese blockbuster filmmaking that this project revealed to me.

I think the best thing that the project has helped me to do was meet a wider network of scholars, and share information, in order to try to raise the profile of Japanese media and the lessons we can learn from its local success story.

3. Was there anything you would have been unable to do without it?

So much of my thinking about Japanese cinema is based on what I learned during this project. It has totally inspired me to move away from traditional methods and to move towards industrial analysis.

Without this project, I would never have been able to amass the data to make that jump between texts to thinking more about their contexts of production. 

It also allowed me to see just how huge the worlds of Japanese media are: they can start with something small like a manga (comic book) but then expand outwards into huge networks of texts all based on the same idea.

In essence, what we think of as an exception, something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is totally normal in Japan, where you might start with a manga and see adaptations into animation, television dramas, live action films, video games, theatrical shows, concerts and video games.

It would have been so difficult, if not impossible, to see and map the borders of these media landscapes without the ECR funding from the AHRC.

4. What do you think are the main challenges facing ECRs?

I think higher education is changing fast. It is now more competitive than it has ever been, and ECRs have to develop their skills fast, along with other kinds of professional development, from management and supervision skills through to administration and (self-)promotion.

5. Did the AHRC ECR funding help you address these challenges? How?

This funding helped me so much to think about how to specialise and make my scholarly voice heard and gave me my first opportunities to work collaboratively, to administer a major project and to manage staff. It also allowed me to give opportunities to other, even younger postgraduate scholars than myself, which was a real unexpected boon and joy. They really made the project a success.

6. Looking back, what advice do you have for ECRs looking to develop their careers? 

Talk to people. Go to conferences, make connections and talk to people about developing joint projects that you can work on together. If you are already a junior lecturer, think about who you want to work with and how you might complement each other. We can do so much more together than can be achieved alone.

7. Tell us something about your future plans -- how to you intend to develop your achievements as an ECR?

I think I'm probably post-ECR now. I've received promotion to Senior Lecturer, in no small part due to the success of the Manga Movies project. I'm currently working on an industrial history of Studio Ghibli, utilising the methods I learned on the project. I am also designing a new project with a friend and colleague. We are developing this new project to allow us to do even more to uncover the transnational connections between the UK and Japan, which I am very excited about.

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