Interviews with New Generation Thinkers Leah Broad and Laurence Scott
Leah Broad, Researcher in Nordic theatre and theatre music at the University of Oxford, and Laurence Scott, Instructor at the London Centre of Arcadia University, get together with AHRC to talk New Generation Thinker (NGT) experiences, in this, our 3rd NGT interview.
AHRC: What motivated you to apply to the scheme?
Leah: I care a lot about academic communication and outreach. To me, being able to share and discuss your work with people outside your academic community is a vital research skill. I'd really enjoyed previous NGTs' essays on Radio 3 and I loved the idea behind the scheme, so when the call went out I thought 'Why not try?'. Even if I didn't get selected for the workshops, just putting together the application would be a useful exercise in presenting my research to non-musicologists.
Laurence: I had always hoped that my academic research could be adapted for wider audiences, in the form of public debate and essays. The NGT scheme sounded an ideal opportunity to begin this transition.
AHRC: What were your thoughts about attending the workshops, media training and ultimately the Free Thinking Festival?
Leah: General thoughts: academic speed dating is great! More seriously though, they taught me a lot. I wish we’d had the media training slightly earlier, because it really helped me to be less nervous about being interviewed.
"Being able to share and discuss your work with people outside your academic community is a vital research skill"
Laurence: The workshops were an intense and adrenaline-fueled blur, but they really helped me to understand the role of the Free Thinking (previously Night Waves) producer: the types and scope of topics that interest them, the pressures on their time and concentration, the fast rhythms of programme-making. I was born in Newcastle, so it was personally satisfying to walk up to the Sage in Gateshead for my first public talk at the Festival. The producer who helped me with the script for my essay there is wonderful and has become a good friend.
AHRC: How has being an NGT made a difference to your research and your career?
Leah: It's been a hugely formative experience for me, particularly because I went through the process quite early, while finishing my DPhil. I definitely think more about how to link my research to current events than I did before. As for my career, I don’t know yet as I feel like I’m just starting out, but I hope that media work will continue to be central to my academic life.
Laurence: I’m not exaggerating when I say the NGT scheme has totally transformed my career. Following the announcement, I received an email from an excellent agent, who then worked with me closely to build up my journalistic connections and ultimately to find a publisher for my non-fiction book The Four-Dimensional Human, at Penguin Random House. The book has since given me more opportunities for public speaking. The scheme was therefore a brilliant catalyst for my freelance career. It has also made me much better at pitching to print editors; I now have a more refined sense of what makes an appealing journalistic idea.
AHRC: Do you feel it makes the world of research more interesting and engaging to the public? How have you made your specific topics (not that they are not worthy) - enjoyable and appealing?
Leah: I've really enjoyed having to think outside the box a bit with how I present my research. This has usually meant expanding on things that get relegated to the footnotes in my academic writing. These are often the quirkiest and most captivating stories, so it’s been a lot of fun getting to write about those. I hope it makes research more engaging for the public!
Laurence: My background is in comparative literature, which is naturally suited to suggesting the longer view on cultural trends. I’m always trying to find bridges between our times and earlier periods, and of course literature is a great storehouse of human emotion and behaviour, and is where I often look for the predecessors of our current concerns.
AHRC: What’s the most unusual or odd thing that’s happened to you since becoming an NGT?
Leah: Somebody asked for my autograph at the Free Thinking Festival! For an academic, that's pretty odd.
Laurence: Making a Sunday Feature documentary for Radio 3 on Merchant Ivory cinema briefly immersed me in that world. Interviewing James Ivory about his extraordinary career, as well as meeting some of the cast and crew, was unforgettable.
AHRC: How has AHRC and BBC Radio 3 helped you?
Leah: They’ve been fantastic right the way through. The staff at the AHRC have always been willing to suggest contacts in relevant areas, and the feedback and advice I’ve got from staff at BBC Radio 3 has been really useful.
AHRC: Would you recommend the scheme and why?
Leah: Yes, definitely. Mainly I’d recommend it because you get to meet some incredible people, and above all it’s good fun.
Laurence: I would certainly recommend the scheme – for all the above reasons!
AHRC: Has your career and institution benefitted?
Leah: Er, I don't know yet! Ask me again in a couple of years when I've been through post-doc applications. But, certainly agents and producers have approached me directly as a result of the scheme. I’ve definitely been asked to do more stuff by my university because I’m an NGT.
Laurence: My institution certainly enjoys and supports my broadcasting work.
AHRC: What advice would you give to researchers unsure whether to apply?
Leah: Put in an application: the only way you definitely don't get chosen is by not applying. In a million years I didn't think I'd get through, but here we are. Besides, the workshop process is really useful and enjoyable, so it’s worth it even if you don't make it into the final ten.
Laurence: Reasons for hesitation are too varied to give general advice, but here are a couple of practical points for those who do apply: the initial application process involves a specific writing exercise; make sure every sentence is clear, lean, and visually evocative. If you make it to the workshops, remember that precision, and telling details are the stuff of good radio!
make sure every sentence is clear, lean, and visually evocative. If you make it to the workshops, remember that precision and telling details are the stuff of good radio!
Put in an application - the only way you definitely don't get chosen is by not applying
For details of latest scheme and how to apply, please visit the website