Welcome back to ‘Voices of Early Career Researchers’, a monthly feature on the French History Network blog. Each month we’ll post a short interview with an Early Career Researcher of French History, giving you an insight of the different paths that ECRs are following after their PhDs in and outside of academia: what do the lives of recently appointed lecturers, teaching assistants, post-doctoral researchers or teaching fellows etc. look like? How does one transition from PhD to the post-doctoral years? We invite our interviewees to share their experiences and we hope that the conversation carries on in universities, conferences and social media.
Estelle Paranque is a Visiting Lecturer in Early Modern History at the New College of the Humanities and Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, Warwick University. She teaches first and final year modules on Early Modern Britain and Europe. She completed her PhD at UCL in 2016. Her research focuses on Elizabeth I of England’s representations in the French royal correspondence with their ambassadors. She has published several essays on Elizabeth’s warlike rhetoric and Henry III of France’s father figure. She has co-edited with Nate Probasco and Claire Jowitt Colonization, Piracy & Trade in Early Modern Europe: The Roles of Powerful Women and Queens which was published in August 2017 by Palgrave Macmillan in the Queenship and Power series. She is also currently co-editing with Valerie Schutte a collection on Forgotten Queens in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Political Agency, Myth-Making and Patronage which will be published by Routledge. Her monograph Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes: Power, Representation, and Diplomacy in the Reign of the Queen, 1558-1588 will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018.
Could you tell us a little about your PhD?
I have completed my PhD at University College London in 2016 on “Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes: Power, Diplomacy and Representation 1568-1588”. In my research, I demonstrated how complex and multi-layered Elizabeth’s representations were in the French royal correspondence. Much of the extant scholarship on representations of Elizabeth has focused on the ways her own people viewed her. My research extends beyond English images of the Tudor queen to examine how the French royal family and their ambassadors regarded Elizabeth at key moments during her reign. Not only does my works draw on conventional diplomatic and political history but it is also truly transnational. Indeed, through the use of French and English sources, I am able to study relations that transcend national frontiers rather than simply relations between national governments. In my thesis, key diplomatic relations as well as intriguing and unexpected images of the Tudor queen have been examined and revealed. I have translated hundreds of French letters in order to be able to analyse them and present them to an English audience.
How did you come to the field of history and French/European history? Did you work outside academia before the start of your PhD and if so, did this affect your research interests and your current career?
I have never worked outside of academia before. I started a Licence (BA) in English Studies (LLCE Anglais) in Aix-Marseille I. During one of my lectures on English history, I stumbled across Elizabeth I of England and I was fascinated by her: a woman ruling her own during the sixteenth-century—that was just awesome! Younger I have always loved the Renaissance period and French kings and queens, especially Catherine de Medici who fascinated me. While during my university years I only focused on Elizabeth, it came rather clear to me that I should do something linking Elizabeth and the French monarchs. Many historians have been fascinating by her relations to Henri IV of France. As a result, her relations to both Charles IX and Henri III of France were completely overlooked. While discussing it with Professor Michael Questier and Professor Carole Levin, it became clear to me, and to us, that there was a gap here that needed to be fill. Later, I met Dr Elena Woodacre, who was so supportive of my topic, that she became another mentor to me. I was lucky enough to have these three great academics by my side while doing my research.
When did you submit your thesis; what did you do in the months following submission and the viva?
I submitted my thesis on 15 June 2016. I was lucky that my viva was scheduled on 27 July 2016 so I did not have too much time to think about it. Submitting your thesis is rather stressful. Until the end, you keep reading over and over again all the words you have written, hoping that you have caught up all the typos possible—it never happens. Always one or more mistakes magically appear after your submission. This is how it works I think. During the six weeks I had between my submission and viva I applied for postdocs and jobs. Early, I received an email that I was shortlisted for a postdoc in Liverpool so I also had that in mind. In terms of preparation, I asked my friend who had been through the process all the questions they had and one was recurrent: “What is the originality of your research?”. I re-read my thesis in its entirety and wrote down questions with answers. I also identified my best and worst chapters. I had different coloured post-it throughout my thesis referring to different types of questions: historiography, analysis/development, originality, and typos. In the end, none of the questions I had written down were asked during the viva but somehow it gave me the confidence I needed and it was clear that I came prepared and very knowledgeable of my own research.
The viva was one of the best experiences of my life. It was intense and challenging but my two examiners, Dr John Cooper and Dr Lucy Wooding, were engaging, thorough, and enthusiastic about my work. Again, I was very lucky.
As I have just mentioned, between my submission and viva, I had been shortlisted for a postdoc at Liverpool University. For this, my friends Dr Joanne Paul and Dr Adrian Blau gave me a mock interview. It really helped me prepare for it and I felt ready and confident when I walked in. It is very important to support one another in academia and to have friends with experience who can give you valuable advice when it comes to publications, applications, and obviously interviews. Unfortunately, I did not get this postdoc.
From September 2016 to April 2017, I managed to secure some teaching. I was a course lecturer and seminar leader for the Early Modern Britain course at King’s College London. For my commitment and dedication to my students, I was nominated for the Teaching Excellence Awards. I am still very honoured and proud by the nominations I received. I was also in parallel an Associate Lecturer on Introduction to Early Modern Europe at the University of Winchester. This experience massively helped me improve my lecturing style. I was giving 3-hour lectures to more than 70 students. Dr Elena Woodacre was the one who believed I could do it and who supported my application. I am very grateful that I had these two teaching experiences and I think they really improved my CV.
Could you tell us about your current job and how you are finding it so far?
I am now working as a Visiting Lecturer at the New College of the Humanities, in London. I teach around 12 hours a week, sometimes more. I teach two first year courses: “Sixteenth-Century England” and “Britain and the Wider World” and one final year course: “Power and Politics.” At NCH, groups are rather small, allowing the lecturer to fully engage with their students and to make sure that everyone can follow. I really like my job and enjoy the pastoral care of my students. I think that as lecturers we are here to do more than teaching, we are also here to care for our students and make sure that they can rely on us if they encounter difficulties. I have great and supportive colleagues and we truly work as a team which is very agreeable as academia tends to be at times way too competitive for no real reason.
What were the challenges you faced during the application and interview processes?
Since the submission of my thesis and my actual job, I have applied for 22 positions, including postdocs, one-year contracts, and permanent positions. I have been interviewed 5 times. I knew it was going to be very difficult. An academic career is really hard to obtain. It is very competitive and honestly everyone deserves it—so in so many ways it is not a question of merit. You have to constantly remind yourself of your own worth and that what is meant to be will eventually be. I have had lots of support from my mentors and friends who have given me mock interviews, reviewed my applications, and cheered me up along the way. My advice is to prepare your interviews very well. Do your research on the university/department/funding body. Make sure that you can see how you fit into their department. Be jovial and enthusiastic. In the end they are hiring a colleague, not just a great scholar. And on top of everything: don’t give up. Eventually, if you really want it, it will happen.
What advice could you give to ECRs looking for academic and research jobs?
This will be a long process and as I said it is very competitive. So focus on your own research and your own CV. Don’t compare yourself. Remember you are living the dream. How lucky are we really to apply for jobs that would allow us to pursue our research interest: in itself this is amazing! Remember that! Now, I am not going to lie. Bottom line is publications. If you want a job in academia you need publications. Scholars tend to prefer journal articles and monographs. I have many chapters in edited collections and I have co-edited/am co-editing volumes. Let me tell you they are as hard to get as journal articles. You go through different round of blinded peer-review and chapters can be rejected at any time during the publication process. Do not give up if you have been rejected once or twice. This happens. Once you have secured one publication, the rest will follow. Another advice: publish your thesis. This should be your priority number one after your PhD. Do not release your thesis online and instead hold it off for a few years. Then, add some new materials to it and send it to a publisher. If necessary, do not be afraid of changing the structure of your thesis. My external examiner, Dr John Cooper, retweeted a very good advice on twitter the other day that I would like to share with you : “A thesis starts with a question, a book starts with an answer.” Also, do not forget the importance of teaching. During your PhD, make sure to get as much teaching experience as you can. Teaching is huge part of an academic life and it helps, in my opinion, to develop your own research interests. These interactions with students are essentials for any scholars and if you cannot inspire and engage with students, I am not sure that a lectureship is what is meant for you. So think about this as well. At the end of the day, a good lecturer is a good researcher and a good teacher.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Yes, sure. Self-promotion has never hurt anyone!
I am currently publishing my thesis with Palgrave Macmillan, entitled Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes: Power, Representation, and Diplomacy in the Reign of the Queen, 1558-1588. I have added a brand new chapter which I am very proud of. I have also published in August 2017 a volume co-edited with Dr Nate Probasco and Professor Claire Jowitt entitled Colonization, Piracy, and Trade in Early Modern Europe: The Roles of Powerful Women and Queens.
And I am currently co-editing a collection with Dr Valerie Schutte on Forgotten Queens in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Political Agency, Myth-Making, and Patronage which will be published by Routledge in 2018.
As I said, publications are key.
Thank you for the interview!