Clare Lees, Introduction
Postgraduate researchers (PGRs), both collectively and individually, represent one of the most important cohorts in English Studies. It takes a considerable investment of time and intellectual energy to produce research commensurate with a PhD, and that work supports the future of English Studies. The award of the PhD is a remarkable individual achievement that we rarely celebrate collectively as a discipline. As a cohort, postgraduate researchers are supported by their supervisors, academic departments and institutions; they are offered training that is both discipline-specific and that cultivates professional development and wider skills necessary for their future careers. Yet, postgraduates are also precarious. Funding for research is highly competitive and increasingly rare; opportunities to teach, if available, are often provided via short-term contracts with few benefits and little or no support for research or professional development. That those who represent one significant future for English Studies in its broadest sense experience such precarity is increasingly recognised. The most recent example, perhaps, is the free membership extended by the University and College Union (UCU) to postgraduates on teaching contracts or working within teaching and support (see https://www.ucu.org.uk/free). Research councils such as the AHRC commit funding to postgraduates through a variety of routes such as Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and also provide opportunities, policy and support for career development. And subject organisations such as the EA and UE consider postgraduate support and development central to our work.
What of postgraduates themselves, however? In what sense are their voices heard whether as individuals or as a cohort similar to that of the ECA? English: Shared Futures (E:SF) provided an opportunity for postgraduates to present their work and for participants to engage with it. Aside from conference participation, however, the voice of the postgraduate researcher is most often heard within professional settings such as the department meeting, the Graduate Centre, College or School, or the research council. Listening to those who represent the various futures of our discipline outside these formal settings, however, is also vital. For this chapter, I invited three researchers, postgraduates or post-PhDs themselves, who had attended the E:SF conference to reflect on their experience in ways that they felt appropriate. I'm grateful to Emily Ennis, Lewi Mondai and Helen Saunders for their willingness to take up my invitation: their voices follow. This chapter concludes with a further reflection from Susan Bruce, who stepped down as Chair of UE in 2017; she has a particular interest in the future of the discipline and its ability to reach out into the wider community. Lewi, Helen and Emily remind us how much we have to learn from postgraduate and early career researchers as they research and engage with the discipline. That lesson is ongoing, as Susan and I are very much aware. Emily, Lewi and Helen speak for themselves, for their peers, their subject organisations, their students--and for our futures.
Lewi Mondai, postgraduate researcher, Teesside University, intern at E:SF
After having the apparent misfortune of being recruited as an intern at a...