Research in England: A Different Perspective

While for the first half of the summer I was working on my research project for the SNaPP Lab, the second half of the summer I was in Cambridge, England with the W&M program.  It was an interesting transition to go from spending most of my time reading scholarly articles and working on graphs in R to living, traveling and studying with 47 other William & Mary students!  Our program took place at Christ’s College, a college within Cambridge University founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort in 1209.  I didn’t think I could find a place more in tune with local history than W&M, but I think Christ’s College may have us beat in that department!

Our program was fortunate enough to have a Christ’s graduate student as a kind of local liaison and point of contact for engaging with the student community and Cambridge community as a whole.  He was working on a PhD in Classical Studies and his research was focused on perceptions of the Ancient Persian empire.  Over the course of the summer, he told us extensive details about his own research projects.  After receiving a research grant and being exposed to the W&M research funding process, I was struck by the differences between the research process in American and English universities.  He explained to us that had received funding from the government to produce a short film that presented a critical moment in ancient Persian history as a series of news clips.  It was designed to target the general population and make classical studies more relatable and accessible.  I think the public perception of  research is that it exists only to serve scholarly communities, not those who work outside the field of academia.  After hearing about his project, I was impressed by his commitment, and the British government’s, to make his PhD work accessible to a broader audience. The import they placed on sharing scholarly work with the public and ensuring it reached a broader audience offers yet another means to evaluate the purpose and success of  research.