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Spotlight on... Kate Errington

Kate Errington is a PhD student based at both LSHTM and Birkbeck, University of London. In her interview, she tells us about her research on the cultural history of pregnancy in the UK, her advice for prospective PhD students and what she's currently reading.
Kate Errington

Where are you from?

Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

What is your PhD exploring?

I am undertaking a PhD, funded by the Bloomsbury Consortium, based at both Birkbeck, University of London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). I’m about to enter the second year of my MPhil and hope to upgrade to PhD shortly.

My PhD explores the cultural history of pregnancy in the UK, 1945-present. In particular, I’m interested the communication of risk during pregnancy. Women are confronted with numerous messages about risk - from multiple sources - sometimes offering conflicting advice. My thesis explores how we got here.

I take a historical perspective, using archival materials to analyse the development of this risk narrative in the 20th century. I intend to couple this historical research with contemporary insights gained from public engagement. By incorporating public engagement into the research process, I hope to identify the legacies of my historical materials that linger in current practice, and to examine how this impacts current risk communication and the pregnant people consuming these messages.

I have recently been awarded a Wellcome ISSF grant to facilitate the first public engagement activity of the PhD. This project aims to engage with pregnant women in the North-East, researching maternal decision-making and exploring women’s understanding, and responses to, historical and contemporary pregnancy-risk messages.

What were you doing previously?

Before joining Birkbeck and LSHTM, I lived and worked in Newcastle upon Tyne. I completed my BA and MA at Newcastle University majoring in English Literature. My favourite modules focused on the medical humanities (if anyone is unfamiliar with the medical humanities, I recently published an accessible intro with The Polyphony). I particularly enjoyed studying medical and health experiences as represented in memoir, literature and visual arts. I then went on to work at the University for 4 years in various admin roles.

Tell us about Broadly Conceived

Broadly Conceived is an online reproductive network and reading group founded by myself and fellow PhD student, Jemma Walton. It is devoted to topics such as pregnancy, childbirth, maternity, (in)fertility and more. We formed in January 2022 to draw together postgraduate and early career researchers interested in reproduction and working across the critical medical humanities.

We’ve been very lucky with lots of early success. In May we interviewed author Laura Dockrill about her experience of postpartum psychosis and in June artist and curator Helen Knowles gave us an online tour of the Birth Rites Collection exhibition. Internationally renowned scholar Samantha Pinto recently spoke to our reading group about her approach to feminist collaboration.

In September, Broadly Conceived was awarded funding from the Northern Network for Medical Humanities Research (NNMHR). This £2475 award will be used to fund a one-day conference in Summer 2023.

What will the conference focus on?

We are still finalising the details for the conference with information to be released over the coming months. What I can say is:

  • The topic will encompass interdisciplinary perspectives on reproduction
  • We’re keen to attract postgraduates and early career researchers in the critical medical humanities, and across disciplines
  • The call for papers will be issued in December 2022
  • The conference will take place at Birkbeck, University of London

Make sure to follow Broadly Conceived on Twitter (@BConceived) or sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date.

What three words would you use to describe your PhD?

Interdisciplinary, Archival, Public-Engagement (that counts as three words right?!)

Do you have any advice for prospective PhD students?

Get stuck in and build your network. When Jemma and I started Broadly Conceived, we just wanted to learn from one another and connect with other researchers interested in similar topics. Studying at the postgraduate research level can be isolating, so it’s important to try and find others you can connect with. This can certainly be in your department or at the School more widely, but don’t be afraid to reach out to people. I’ve connected with researchers on social media and at conferences.

Broadly Conceived discussed collaboration with Professor Samantha Pinto – she had some great tips for starting out and making those connections. So I’d definitely recommend checking that out on our website!

What are you currently reading?

Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn.

What is your favourite place?

North Peninne Moorlands.

How does being a member of MARCH support your work?

The most exciting aspect about running a critical medical humanities network, for me, is how interdisciplinary it is. You can collaborate with scholars who are immersed in a totally different field to you, and therefore present a new perspective and expertise. As a humanities scholar, based in Literature and History, MARCH provides that fresh perspective for me. It affirms the medical in the critical medical humanities. As my research focuses on pregnancy and maternity care, MARCH has also allowed me to connect with other researchers with shared passions – and I am so grateful.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I lived in Hong Kong for three years and spent a year studying ceramics before starting university.

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