The PhDcasts – Behind the Scenes, Part I

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Ruth and John filming with Graham Riach during season two.

Last year, I was involved in making the Cambridge PhDcasts, with co-producer and tech wizard Ruth Rushworth and presenter John Gallagher. We had enormous fun with our first two seasons, and we have had quite a few questions about how we did it. In this series of three posts, each of us will offer some reflections on making the PhDcasts, our own particular role, and what worked (or didn’t). In this first one, I will say a little about how we got started and what I did in the rather vaguely defined role of ‘producer’.
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Navigating Open Access

In 2009, between studying for my Master’s and Ph.D., I was lucky enough to spend July at the National Maritime Museum as a research intern. This is a great programme if you are a postgraduate or just finishing your undergraduate studies, and want to try out some primary research or get to grips with the NMM’s fantastic collections. My project, supervised by Richard Dunn, looked at early modern navigational instruments, of which the Museum has quite a few. My aim was not to understand them in a scientific sense, but to consider them as cultural artefacts: what did they mean for the people who made and used them? This involved looking both at the instruments themselves and at manuscripts and books from the period, many of them held in the NMM’s Caird Library – although this was in the old Caird, before the Sammy Ofer wing was built (the new Caird is great, but I admit a soft spot for the old library, with its glass-fronted bookshelves. It was where I encountered manuscripts for the first time, too).

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Willetts Revisited

I rarely agree with David Willetts. Reading his new pamphlet on universities, Robbins Revisited: Bigger and Better Higher Education (a comparison between the 1963 Robbins report and current policy), I found that I agree on one principle, mostly discussed in chapter 3, that universities should be focusing as much energy on teaching as they do on research. That’s as far as I can go, though. His statement ‘Looking back we will wonder how the higher education system was  ever  allowed  to  become  so  lopsided  away  from  teaching [towards research]‘ (p. 47) has been leapt upon on social media, perhaps unfairly, as a sign that he does not know why it has. In fact, he provides the answer himself: ‘Universities have focused primarily on research because that is where the funding and prestige came from’ (p. 36). He is just not doing enough to change this.

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