I had been meaning to apply for the AHRC/ BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers initiative for a couple of years now, and last December I finally decided to take the time and fill in the application form. I proposed a programme on the history of widows in Britain, and explained the wider relevance of my research on this topic. The final section required applicants to write a review of a recent play, film, or book unrelated to their research that could be read on air. I offered a discussion of Maxine Peake’s play “Beryl” (2014), something which relates to my personal interests (women in sport, particularly cycling), and which I knew few people were likely to review.
I know there has been critique of the scheme from some academic quarters (as in this – in my opinion problematic – piece), and suspicion is quite expected and indeed required when we work in culture in which academic competition has been pushed to new heights (and sometimes embarrassing lows). But having seen how some previous New Generation Thinkers – like Fern Riddell – have got on, I was excited by the prospect of gaining – if nothing else – an insight into how the relationship between academics and the BBC works, and what it is they’re actually looking for in those experts we hear in radio programmes and see in documentaries. After all, one the main aspects I enjoy about my job is the opportunity to present on my work and to try and create excitement and curiosity in others.
So on Monday I had the rather exciting message in my inbox that I had been shortlisted for the next stage in the process: a one-day workshop which would on the one hand provide some media training for candidates, and on the other hand it would include two tasks which would allow us to show whether or not we have what it takes to be an academic on the radio or on the TV; one a short pitch for our proposed programme, the other an improvised panel discussion.
I’m really looking forward to this – it’s why I applied, and it’s what I’d hoped for! Of course I’m a little apprehensive, but only a little. There’s the natural reaction that prompts me to wonder if I’m the kind of person anyone would want to hear on the radio, and the natural (British) response is, of course: probably not! There’s the equally logical and searching reflection on the fact that there are few people on the radio that sound like me, or that look like me. But of course that’s because I’m me, and they aren’t (whether that’s for the better or not isn’t my decision, luckily). So overall I’m trying to focus on my excitement, and on the preparation of my arguments and pitch. And of course there’ll be the other shortlisted people to meet, too, and lots of interesting ideas and research to hear about. It’ll be something totally new for me, and I’m determined to make the most of it!