From education to employment

Brighton student trio team up for roles with leading Radio 4 series

Brighton student trio team up for roles with leading Radio 4 series

University of Brighton PhD students landed three out of five competitive placements as researchers on the latest series of Radio 4’s You’re Dead To Me – one of the station’s most popular programmes.  

Each episode of You’re Dead to Me takes a wry look at a different subject from history, from influential figures such as Julius Caesar or Mary Wollstonecraft to the origin of high heels or medieval science. Since its launch in 2019, the programme has become the BBC’s most popular podcast among under-35s and has been downloaded or streamed more than 62 million times.

The opportunity for Brighton students Jon Mason, Claudia Treacher and Rosemary Rich to take part came through their funding body Techne, a consortium of universities supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) which provides PhD students with research training and career development opportunities. When the trio saw the advert for You’re Dead to Me in one of Techne’s regular mailings, they jumped at the chance to apply.

The students’ job was to undertake additional historical research for particular episodes after an initial consultation with a specialist academic. They were assigned a new topic every couple of weeks during their placement and were also given the chance to co-write an episode. Finally, they sat in on the podcast recordings to provide fact-checking support.

Rosemary, who researches conscientious objectors in Second World War Britain from a cultural history perspective, said:

“I was thrilled to see the placement advertised as I was a big fan of the podcast! It was a treat to see the whole process from start to finish, and I learned a lot. I felt a bit nervous when I was told the first episode I would be working on was Ancient Greek Democracy as I am a historian of twentieth century Britain, but it was fine in actuality. I was also assigned Njinga of Angola, a 17th-century warrior queen, and a history of timekeeping, both of which were very enjoyable.”

Claudia, whose research usually covers art and politics during the Second World War in Britain, conscientious objection, and family history, was also taken out of her comfort zone. “Some things like the Istanbul in the Ottoman Golden Age episode they assigned jointly to me because I’d done an undergraduate Erasmus scheme in Istanbul and so had already studied some modules of Ottoman History,” she said, “but I’d never had any previous research experience in Prussian history or the history of Polynesian navigation!”

Facing the unknown, Jon said, added to the enjoyment.

“Part of the challenge – and fun – was being given a brief to research a specific angle on something you didn’t know anything about before and having a limited amount of time to get on with it,” he said. “I also really enjoyed contributing to the writing of the episodes. In terms of public history, that was a strong thread even from the research stages – look for what’s engaging, what’s going to catch people’s attention, and make the whole thing simple and accessible even when it’s complicated.”

Annebella Pollen, Professor of Visual and Material Culture and Claudia’s lead supervisor as well as one of Rosemary’s Annual Progress Review readers, said:

“My brilliant students have so far taken up funded placements at BBC, British Library, English Heritage, Historic Royal Palaces, National Science and Media Museum, and the V&A, among other locations. These are highly prestigious sites offering postgraduates real-world, hands-on experience. It is great to see them add these skills to their repertoires and to put their academic research to public purpose.”

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