Rediscovering Confidence: Dr Ainsley McIntosh’s Journey Back to Research

28 May 2024 | Blogs, News, Dr Ainsley McIntosh news

One of the most difficult aspects of a career break can be the loss of confidence that comes from being out of research for an extended period. As a Daphne Jackson Fellow in Scottish literature sponsored by the AHRC and hosted by the University of Edinburgh (2021-2023), Dr Ainsley McIntosh found the support of her Fellowship Advisor and community of peers gave her newfound confidence.  A year after her retraining Fellowship ended, Ainsley is teaching, publishing, and seizing every opportunity that comes her way.

The Loss of Confidence with a Career Break

Ainsley completed her PhD in literature at the University of Aberdeen in 2009 but decided to forgo postdoctoral opportunities for family caring reasons. She continued to publish, but her career break extended after her first child was born. After eight years away from research, Ainsley found the prospect of returning daunting.

“My self-confidence was at an all-time low and I felt very lost about my identity as a researcher.”

When a friend told her about the expansion of the Daphne Jackson Fellowships to the Arts and Humanities, Ainsley decided to apply. From the outset she found the mentorship and encouragement of her Fellowship Advisor invaluable.

“The support offered by the Trust is unparalleled and unheard of in the academic sector. From the moment that you come onboard, the members of the Trust are 100% behind you, willing you on and supporting you on our journey.”

New Perspectives in Literature

Ainsley’s Daphne Jackson Fellowship, Thinking in Ink: Composition, Materiality and Mediation in Nineteenth-Century Scottish Literature, built on her earlier work in Scottish Romanticism by examining Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing through the lens of disability studies. Integrating disparate fields, Ainsley’s research seeks to understand, “the ways in which Stevenson’s lived experience of physical and mental health issues were reflected in his writing,” bringing new perspectives to well-loved texts.

As a Daphne Jackson Fellow she published “Women’s Writing 1700-1900,” in the Blackwell-Wiley Companion to Scottish Literature, and the opportunities provided by the Fellowship allowed her to return to both teaching and public engagement as a scholar. She featured as a Sir Walter Scott expert in Paul Murton’s Grand Tours of Scotland’s Rivers (BBC1 Scotland) and gave multiple public lectures, including at the European Network’s celebration of ‘In the Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson.’

“For the first time, I have a very clear sense of my research narrative and my right to take up a space within the research community.”

Seizing Opportunities

“You have to embrace every opportunity that comes your way, and trust that it will open doors for you going forward.”

A year after the completion of her Daphne Jackson Fellowship (in 2023) Ainsley is not only a tutor at the School of English and Scottish Literature and an affiliate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh, but also an Advanced Research Fellow at the Walter Scott Research Centre at the University of Aberdeen. She was longlisted for Teacher of the Year by the University’s student association for the second time, and is currently working on a range of publications, including four articles emerging from her Daphne Jackson research; critical editions of Walter Scott’s Rokeby and Susan Ferrier’s Destiny; a chapter for the Routledge Companion to Scottish Literature; and a literary biography of Susan Ferrier.

Ainsley’s Daphne Jackson Fellowship pushed her research to become more collaborative, and in the last year she has sought new connections between Romantic literature and medicine.

“I’m currently working with researchers in psychology on a Stevenson and mental health project and am about to start bidding for funding on a project exploring the relationship between nineteenth century Scottish women writers and philanthropic/medical care initiatives.”

For Ainsley, the Daphne Jackson Fellowship proved to be a truly transformative experience, not only bringing her back to a research career she loves but also giving her the confidence to push past self-doubt and take chances.

“I wouldn’t be where I am in my career right now without it.”

She has encouraged others to apply, telling researchers with a career break to just, “Go for it!” Ainsley certainly made the most of her Fellowship; “I engaged with meaningful training opportunities presented by the Trust and the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) at the University of Edinburgh, focusing on courses that contributed to my pedagogical, intellectual, and personal development.”

Ainsley’s return to research is a reminder not only of the myriad of challenges faced by returners – from the limited job options to the loss of purpose and confidence – but also the ways in which the support offered by the Daphne Jackson Trust allows returners to overcome those barriers. Ainsley’s range of contributions to research, teaching, and public engagement demonstrate how much returners have to offer to the academic and research landscape.

Do you know anyone who would benefit from a Daphne Jackson Fellowship? Please share with them and help support another researcher back to their career. 

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