Elizabeth Anne New
Current Employer/Organisation Name
What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?
After leaving Exeter I completed a MA in Medieval Studies at the University of York and a PhD in medieval history at Royal Holloway, University of London. Between my degrees I volunteered at the Imperial War Museum and worked for English Heritage for almost a year, keen on the idea of a career in the heritage sector. Indeed, after finishing my doctorate I worked on research projects at The National Archives for a year, but then moved more into academia by spending two years as a postdoctoral researcher in Canada. Upon my return to the UK I did a number of temporary and part-time jobs, including Lifelong Learning tutoring and mystery shopping, before spending almost four years as a Research Associate at Cambridge University. In 2007 I was appointed to Aberystwyth University on a 1-year contract, which led to several temporary research and teaching posts and, eventually, to an open contract as a lecturer. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2015, and since then I have been a Co-Investigator on a major Arts & Humanities Research Council project as well as actively involved in all aspects of teaching and admin in my department. I was recently awarded a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship, and have just started work on this three-year project.
Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?
I have always been fascinated by history and even as an undergrad I enjoyed research, so my initial career path was fairly obvious, if hard work. Although initially I considered a career in heritage or focusing just on academic research projects, I have always enjoyed talking to others about history and, during some teaching opportunities in Toronto, discovered that I’m actually quite good at engaging students. My career has involved quite a number of temporary contracts and fitting research around teaching and vice versa, so I feel that my career chose me rather than the other way around. I love the excitement of discoveries in the archives or museum, but also really enjoy teaching, enabling students and others to engage with the past and achieve their potential.
Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?
I was a cox in the Boat Club, but didn’t represent the university at extra-mural events; I was also a member of CathSoc.
What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?
Almost everything! The wide variety of time periods and topics covered was a great grounding in the subject. My two highlights were getting to clamber all over Exeter Cathedral – even on the roof and top of the south tower! – as part of one course, and site visits as part of my Special Subject that saw our tutor (6′ 4″ tall) lie in a medieval stone coffin to prove that medieval people were not all short. After that, how could I chose anything other than a career in medieval studies?
What did you enjoy most about studying here?
The expertise of the tutors, enthusiasm of at least some fellow students, excellent resources, and fantastic medieval remains within easy reach. I also made some great friends.
Why did you choose to study at Exeter?
At the time it had an excellent reputation generally, and in particular for history and archaeology. I then visited for an interview and fell in love with the campus and surrounding countryside. I loved my time at Exeter, and although I studied at two other universities this is my true alma mater.
What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?
Perseverance, dedication and a commitment to your work is essential in academia, as is flexibility. Multi-tasking is also extremely useful, but also the ability to focus completely when required. If in a teaching role, enthusiasm and understanding will get you a long way with students – remember, you were one once! Academia is a tough place, and luck plays a part, but being able to pursue your interests and enable others to pursue theirs is a great reward.
What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?
This is a great career, but be prepared for tough times – it’s not an easy option! A privileged few have a smooth path, but most work extremely hard and face challenges along the way. This is nothing to do with ability, so try not to let those setbacks get you down. Some people stay at the same institution for all their degrees, but be prepared to move around to find the best course or tutor for you, especially at PhD level. As a postdoc and early career academic, the ability and willingness to move is almost essential.
What are your plans for the future?
My Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship is finally giving me the time and space to work on an individual project leading to a major monograph. My aim is to continue to research, publish and teach in the field of medieval studies, but also to work more with and in the heritage sector.