Dr Naomi Wells reports on the recent AHRC event she attended for Early Career Researchers from across the Open World Research Initiative, hosted at the IMLR

Organised by Professor Janice Carruthers, Leadership Fellow in Modern Languages, and Dylan Law from the AHRC, this event brought together Postdoctoral Research Associates (PDRAs) from across the four AHRC Open World Research Initiative projects (OWRI). The aim was to establish research connections between Early Career Researchers across the Initiative, as well as to discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in working as a PDRA on a multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary research project. As both a recently appointed PDRA on the Cross-Language Dynamics project and a former PDRA on the Transnationalizing Modern Languages project, I was invited to present my new research and to discuss my previous postdoctoral experiences.

The morning session began with Janice Carruthers and Dylan Law introducing the aims of the Initiative and the many exciting opportunities for collaboration across the projects. This was followed by a three-minute pitch session, with the fifteen postdocs who attended briefly summarising and presenting their research on their respective projects. I introduced my own research for the Cross-Language Dynamics project, focusing on developing an approach to Digital Humanities research which is sensitive to questions of language and which involves collaboration with project partners and language communities in the UK.

The presentations from the other PDRAs demonstrated the breadth of expertise and research interests across the Initiative, bridging literary and cultural studies, international politics, neuroscience, education and sociolinguistics.  At the same time, overlapping and complementary research connections emerged, both in terms of methodological approaches and shared interests in questions of multilingualism, language education and community engagement. In sum, the PDRA presentations effectively demonstrated what Professor Michael Worton CBE, chair of the Open World Research Initiative, describes as the ‘radically interdisciplinary’ and ‘imaginatively collaborative’ language-based research at the core of the OWRI programme.

After the morning session, a break for lunch allowed us to make more informal connections, sharing initial ideas for future research events and collaborations. The afternoon focused more directly on the role of the PDRA, with myself and Dr Mariam Attia invited to lead a discussion by reflecting on our own prior experiences working on large projects under the AHRC’s Translating Cultures theme.  As the position of PDRA on a multi-institutional research project is still relatively new to the Arts and Humanities, we focused on the challenge of defining what the role entails. Further challenges related to balancing project responsibilities, such as taking the lead in organising research and impact events, with the need to develop your individual academic profile through high-quality publications and developing teaching and supervision experience.

At the same time, we both emphasised the invaluable opportunities offered by the role to be an active part of a supportive and dynamic research community, with the opportunity to participate in discussions at the forefront of the discipline and to establish unique research connections both within the project team and across the project’s extensive networks. In sum, being part of a large project offers the vital support, both in terms of resources and mentors, to engage in genuinely ground-breaking and pioneering research, as illustrated by the breadth and ambition of the interdisciplinary projects in which all of the OWRI PDRAs are engaged.

The event demonstrated how OWRI represents a major investment by the AHRC not only in language-based research, but also in researchers at the early stages of their academic careers who will be central to ensuring the long-term transformative effects of the Initiative on Modern Languages in the UK.

Dr Naomi Wells, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Translingual Communities, European Languages and Digital Humanities, IMLR

The event was held at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, part of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London and welcomed Postdoctoral Research Associates from across the four OWRI consortia. The Open World Research Initiative is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.