Audrey Walshe is a PhD candidate at NUI Galway specializing in Irish Studies, botany and empire, post-colonial studies, the decolonisation of collections, and 19th century Irish women in the sciences and art. Her interview was conducted by Gabrielle Machnik-Kékesi.
Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why?
I don’t think I can pick a favourite academic; it depends on what I am researching or reading at that moment. There are the classics, like Fanon and Said. Having said that, Corinne Fowler’s work has been a constant presence this past term. She writes about rural England and colonial countrysides. She is actually presenting at an upcoming conference at QUB, and I’ll be attending that in person in April.
What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?
For work, Fanon Today: Reason and Revolt of the Wretched of the Earth. For leisure, Women on Nature, a self-funded publication edited by Katharine Norbury. It is a collection of texts written by women, from the 14th century to present, who write about the natural world of Ireland, England, and the rest of the archipelago.
What podcast do you recommend?
Jennifer Jewell’s Cultivating Place. The content relates to natural history and the human impulse to garden. Jewell and her guests discuss everything from biodiversity, botany, and seed heritage to non-violence towards the earth, food justice, and herbalism. It’s really interesting.
What is your favourite archive or library? / What is your fondest research memory?
Early Printed Books in Trinity College Dublin, where I spent a lot of time doing research for my undergraduate dissertation on Irish representations of grief and reading famine-era poetry. The staff are so helpful. I love the journey you have to take to get there; going down steps, walking underground, and re-emerging in a lovely space near the Old Library. Also, Marsh’s Library is amazing and timeless. Finally, a library where my friend Pauline is the branch librarian, Ballitore Library & Quaker Museum in Kildare.
What book or movie changed your life?
Looking back on it now, probably The Secret Garden. I loved it when I first read it about the age of eleven. It is all about empire and gardens, everything that I’m researching now.
Do you play music while you work? If so, what?
No, I prefer working in silence. I might listen to the odd “music to study to” playlist if I need some white noise to wash out the sounds of the train or the library if I’m working in public.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?
Fake it till you make it. We all have imposter syndrome, and really, everyone feels the same deep down. We’re all just trying to figure it out. Also, having done business studies when I was eighteen and only pursuing my real passion (humanities) later in life, I think it is really important to follow your true interests. As a parent, I am much more conscious of this now, and will encourage my son to make his passion his work and chase whatever he is interested in, regardless of career expectations.
What is your favourite way to de-stress?
Spending time in my polytunnel; I have a garden at my parents’ home, which I am so grateful for, it’s like my rent free allotment. I grow flowers and make bunches for NeighbourFood. Also, yoga. I really like Yoga with Adrienne
What advice do you have for other ECAs?
New beginnings are always stressful. The educational journey becomes much more personal, sort of shrinks as it expands, so the risk of failure feels more daunting. I think it is important to remember that feeling overwhelmed is normal.
Is there a research initiative that you would like to use this platform to highlight?
Personally I have had huge support from my local arts office who guided me through applying for Creative Ireland funding for various creative projects which, though not strictly academic, were related to my research and useful experience in engaging with the public.
What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?
Coffee, my ergonomic chair (designed by my partner’s friend, after years of research), and my folding desk.
How has the pandemic affected your research practice?
I started my PhD a year into the pandemic; the previous year, I really took my time drafting my proposal. That time was great for me, as it allowed me to read widely without the pressure to produce anything specific. I think that I’ve benefitted from how much has been available online and the work that people put into remote instruction; I can’t believe how many lectures I can attend online without having to travel to Galway. At the same time, the reduced hours or closures of research/public institutions has been difficult to navigate.