Karen McAulay

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Higher Education
Job title: Performing Arts Librarian/ Postdoctoral Researcher
Subject of study: Music
Year of graduation: 1981
Type/Level of study: Post graduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

Got MA, but didn’t finish PhD at Exeter (1979-82) Trained to be chartered librarian (now Fellow of Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). Have worked in libraries since then. Did PhD as part-time student (University of Glasgow) whilst working FT (2004-9) Have since been seconded to several spells of part-time postdoctoral research for 1-2 days per week at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where I’ve worked as librarian since 1988.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I blame imposter syndrome! I couldn’t imagine myself as a lecturer or leading seminars. I wanted to work with music, and enjoy both organising information and working with students. (Yes, I know. That’s what lecturers do … ) If I had had more confidence in myself aged 24, I should have finished the PhD and sought an academic career. The best part of my week now is doing postdoctoral research; and as for giving lectures? Teaching is usually teaching information skills, but I’ve given dozens of conference papers – clearly I *can* do it after all!

Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?

I was in the Choral Society, Chapel Choir, Early Music Choir, and Walking Club occasionally.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

I enjoyed the repertoire analysis I did for my MA, and collaborating with the Computer Science Dept to do this – I think I was the first music postgrad to have done anything like it. I also had the chance to learn coding in “Basic”, which was an up-and-coming computer language back in the early 80s.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

I had a great supervisor, and made some good friends. I went on to do a graduate traineeship at the University Library before I went to library school.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

My BA dissertation tutor at Durham recommended Exeter because he knew my supervisor.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Towards the end of my career, it’s hard to isolate particular skills/experiences that I gained at any particular university – I’ve now studied at four! Writing cogently, organising myself and my studies, and networking, have all been important. Also – “teamwork” wasn’t seen as a graduate skill when I was an undergraduate or an Exeter postgrad, though it’s now something employers put a lot of emphasis on; but in fact, anyone who is involved in choirs or orchestras gets bags of experience of teamwork!

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Because I’ve had a librarianship career *and* a research career concurrently, for the past 15 years, some people have suggested I’ve had a “portfolio career”, but actually, I’ve just become good at switching roles multiple times per week! What I would say to someone wanting a career in academia, though, is that I can now see I made mistakes in not pursuing research at the outset and settling for something that I thought I could do instead. Whatever you want to do, try to believe in yourself and be single-minded about pursuing that goal. If you need experience in teaching, or public speaking, or whatever, then ask for it. Be bold in stating what it is that you actually want to achieve. Seek advice if you think there may be things your CV needs, that you haven’t yet got.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m five years off the legal retirement age. I want to cram in as much research and as many academic achievements as possible into that time. I absolutely do not want to slow down and take things easy!


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