Research Radar – Laoighseach Ní Choistealbha

Laoighseach Ní Choistealbha is a PhD Candidate at NUI Galway’s Centre for Irish Studies, specializing in Irish language ecocritical poetry and literary studies. Her interview was conducted by Gabrielle Machnik-Kekesi earlier this spring.

Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why? 

In terms of my own field, several people spring to mind.  Máirín Nic Eoin, probably one of the most influential Irish language scholars ever, has been so instrumental in shaping my thinking around post-colonial theory as it impacts on the Irish language.  Máire Ní Annracháin as well.  I remember after my first conference paper in Irish, herself and Máirín Nic Eoin came up to me and congratulated me.  I was starstruck, it was so fantastic feeling that support.  A bit closer to home, my supervisor Rióna Ní Fhrighil; she has always been so encouraging.  The whole network for scholars in the Irish language and Irish Studies departments at NUIG are wonderful.  I think it is really important for female scholars to see exemplars of other female models; “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”  Adam Hanna’s work is also fantastic and he has been very generous with his time.  Outside of academia, my good friend Keeva O’Shea, who brings academic rigor and curiosity to her non-academic work.  Lastly, my brother Paul, who is pursuing a master’s in theoretical physics in Munich.  We always debate and trade ideas.

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

Being sick with COVID at the moment, not a whole lot in the past week.  But what I have floating around in the ether is Trén bhFearann Breac and Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment.  I’ve been struggling with what postcolonial theory gives to Irish language studies, so these texts have been helping me to navigate the this contested space.  For pleasure, I’m reading The Left Hand of Darkness, which is important to me as a sci-fi book written by a woman (I recently read Kindred and loved that).

What podcast do you recommend?

I enjoy podcasts, but I really need to focus when listening to them.  I’m such a visual learner, that without intention, they just become background noise.  I really enjoy “You’re Wrong About,” particularly the episode about Koko the gorilla, which was so fascinating to me given my research interest of the post-human.  I’ve just started listening to “Wardrobe Crisis” and regularly listen to The Guardian’s “Audio Long Read.”  The latter is great for in-depth coverage of current events.

What is your favourite archive or library? / What is your fondest research memory?

The library at NUIG, and the Special Collections room therein.  I’ve been in the university since 2012, and over the years I’ve gotten to know the staff.  Over the lockdown, I was going in every few days to gather books, and the librarians said, “you should just pitch a tent here!”  A library is so much more than what is in it; it’s about the people.

In terms of my fondest research memory, during recent work for an article on a poem about the bombing of Hiroshima, “Living in Hiroshima” written by Irish poet Anthony Glavin, I was able to connect a line from the poem to a particular psychological study by an American academic — “you can’t hate magic” — which refers to the horrific and the sublime of the bomb.  There is so much to unpack there in terms of the ethical questions, but this triangulation felt like being in the poet’s mind, forty years ago.  It was incredible.

What book or movie changed your life?

If I think about my formative years, it would be an English language book.  The books that touched me the most deeplyare the His Dark Materials series.  The scale of the concepts with which these books engage is biblical.  In terms of movies, “Cold War” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”  Both of these deal with the power and the importance of art in their way.

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?

When I do creative work, I often find myself listening to the same song over and over again.  If I’m doing something like data entry or form filling, I’ll listen to video game soundtracks, particularly the Metroid Prime series soundtrack (a Nintendo game with the first female space action hero, with whom I was obsessed as a kid).

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

Buy a printer; after reading Teresa Dunne’s interview for this series, I finally went and bought one.  For the longest time, I had resisted it, for environmental reasons.  But I’ve accepted that I absolutely need the physical printed page for a material connection to edit my work. I also agree with what many others have said here about imposter syndrome.  Everyone has it, and if you don’t, what’s your secret?  Social media really exacerbates this, so I’m trying to be mindful of this since getting Twitter when I started my PhD.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

Walking, making art, writing poetry, listening to audiobooks, birdwatching, taking care of my plants, and watching anime.

What advice do you have for other ECAs? 

Find out the best way for you to learn and the best way for you to interact with people.  Having a routine that builds on the tools most useful to your own learning style, what time of day suits best, how you take notes etc.  I, for instance, need notebooks and a print diary, and I’m a visual learner.  Also, knowing how to balance out your introverted and extroverted self, without necessarily feeling the need to label yourself one or the other, is so important in having a good relationship with your peers.

Is there a research initiative that you would like to use this platform to highlight?

Two recent publications in Irish Studies: Síobhra Aiken’s Spiritual Wounds: Trauma, Testimony & The Irish Civil War and Deirdre Ní Chonghaile’s Collecting Music in the Aran Islands – A Century of History and PracticeBoth authors have been so generous to me with their attention and their time in the past that I wanted to mention them here.  Also, “The Republic of Conscience” project about human rights and modern Irish poetry.  I was involved with the team for three years, and it was the springboard to me pursuing doctoral studies.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?

Can I mention my printer again?

Other than that, my diary, my notebooks, my laptop, black pens, and my ethernet cable.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

It has shown me the importance of structure.  I’m saying that coming from the perspective of not having much structure right now, being sick, but I want to get back into a routine.  The routine is important to have not just for “I need to start now,” but also for “I need to end now,” and logging off for the evening.

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