Daisy Richards

Be true to yourself by daisy richards

The below interview does not represent the views of Nottingham Trent University, and solely represents the author’s beliefs. This interview was not undertaken in a work-related capacity and does not speak on behalf of the University.

We interviewed Daisy Richards, a lecturer in Media and Communications at Nottingham Trent University about her journey.

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?

I started my current role at Nottingham Trent University in September of 2021, however, have been teaching in university settings since 2018. My enthusiasm for research, scholarships and teaching began when I was very young – I loved school and was so excited to go every single day. I would get up super early every morning (before my parents were even up) and put my uniform on. Then I would just wait until it was time to go! These feelings then evolved over the years. In 2016, I graduated from the University of Warwick and achieving a 1st Class Joint Honors’ degree in Film and Literature. I spent a year working in various roles (some wildly different to the role in in now) however, I felt like I was missing something integral to my sense of self and my identity. I started to consider getting my MA degree and was very fortunate to be offered a scholarship to return to the University of Warwick’s Film and Tv Department. I received my MA in 2018, and by the Autumn of the same year, I had joined De Montfort University in Leicester after receiving a PhD scholarship. From there, I started to work in various part time roles in university settings, and no – here we are!

What does a typical day in your career look like?

One thing about academia is that no day feels exactly the same to me – mostly because of the variation in our timetables! However, a typical day in my career often includes teaching, administration, research and “academic service”. Today I woke up early (because I am unashamedly one of those annoying morning people) and travelled to campus. I spent the first hour of the day attending to student queries via email, providing some feedback on formative (non-assessed) work, and organizing the promotion of some material for a committee that I am a part of (all whilst listening to the radio). I then hosted a drop-in workshop for students to come and ask questions or spend some time quietly studying. After this, I teach two second year, two-hour seminar classes, and finished the day by catching up on a little bit of reading and research.

What made you choose this career/industry?

In my life, I have been so fortunate and grateful for the fantastic education that I have received. At every step of my career journey so far, I have had the most amazing teachers and mentors who have inspired me, stood by me, and opened doors for me. When I was younger, I loved school and learning, in all forms. I especially loved (and still love) to read, and I truly devoured anything and everything I could. My mum used to buy me a book as a treat when I was little, and I’d read the whole thing on the bus home – it annoyed her so much. In High School, I had an English teacher called Miss Fahey who showed me that you could be an excellent, rigorous teacher whilst still being a caring and empathetic person who met students where they were personally at, no matter their background, circumstances or a ability. For a couple weeks in our English classes, Miss Fahey has us carry out “media” projects, it was like a firework went off in my brain – I took the project so seriously. I still have my folder! I knew then that I wanted to pursue “media” in more detail. At college, I studied GCSE Media, and then A-Level Film Studies, where I was taught by another incredible woman, Dr. Chloe Stephenson. She told me that shed studied Film and the University of Warwick, and just like that scene in Mean Girls (2004), I decided that was what I’d do too. I studied hard for my A-Levels and received an offer for a place. At university, I then went on to meet mor brilliant academic women (particularly Professor Helen Wheatley and Professor Rachel Moseley) who introduced me to the study of television in more detail, which is primarily my filed of research today. 

How did you get to where you are now, and did you face any challenges along the way?

I say this quite a bit, but it was truly a “team effort” in some ways. I had so much emotional support from so many people around me. Like anyone, I did face challenges getting to where I am now – especially in terms of my status as a working-class academic. I was the first in my family to finish college with A-levels, and the first to go to university. I found myself in unfamiliar situations, and it was difficult when there wasn’t anyone to ask questions to. I felt like my life experiences were so different to the people around me, and I sometimes felt out of place. I have been extremely fortunate in securing a position in an institution where I feel valued and respected. However, academia itself is an industry plagued by many types of issue s- sexism, racism, classism, ableism, casualization and more. I spent a long time struggling to make ends meet financially because of. A series of short term, insecure, hourly paid roles (which is the norm for many people working in academia). I also struggled to overcome feelings of “imposter syndrome” and isolation. When I originally applied for my PhD scholarship, I was unsuccessful – the industry is just so competitive, and there are hundreds of applicants for every fully funded place. I was devastated because I knew I couldn’t carry out my research without financial help. I did think that maybe that was the end of my journey, but I made one more application to a different institution and was very fortunate to be offered funding. Often, academia is closed off to those who can’t afford to pay tuition fees or support themselves whilst studying, those who are able to study, however, often face other inequalities alongside financial issues too. Whilst studying for my PhD, I began to teach across different university modules related to film, media and television, and when a permanent role came up that called for an academic with an interest in gender, feminism and race in the media, I applied.

If you did face any challenges, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?

If would love to be able to say that there is some magic formula for overcoming the obstacles in academia, but many of them are truly systemic. In my own case, securing a full-time position was the product of a mixture of specific professional expertise and sheer fortuitous timing. Whilst I still do experience “imposter syndrome” as a new academic, I more often see my background and experiences as assets to my career and my teaching. I find I can use these life experiences to relate to my students more, and I think they make a better academic in general. When I was carrying out my MA, there was a PhD student (who is now a Lecturer in Film Studios) that I often spoke to who once told me that in academia, everyone I smart, but far fewer people are kind. I still think about this all the time and try to carry out my role in an empathetic manner. I got to this place with the help of caring, strong and intelligent teachers and mentors who believed in me, and I hope that when I eventually end my career one day, students might say the same about me.

What’s great about being female in your role?

I think that diversity of all kinds is needed in all roles and industries – without the incorporation of a variety of perspectives, life experiences and backgrounds, it is impossible for us to challenge ourselves, grow as people, and address our own biases. As a woman in academia (especially as my research focuses on representations of gender, feminism and post-feminism), I feel that my perspectives lend themselves to the topics I explore. In general, academia is a male-dominated industry, and even where women are present, there are very few women of colour, transwomen, and disabled women in full-time, permanent roles in the industry. The more that we address this imbalance, the more we can challenge the scholarly canon, and start to decolonize the curriculum (move away from teaching the same things from the same perspectives). This shouldn’t be something that only academics from minority backgrounds undertake, though. We should all want and work towards this because challenging tradition allows us to engage with fresh, exciting work, and also allows our students to see what they may one day want to be. I strongly recommend the work of Rachel Cargle on this issue – she is one of the most brilliant academics of all time, in my opinion (and she has a great Instagram page where she shares her thoughts and writings). I think my favorite thing about being a woman in academia is probably the feminist solidarity that I have observed, felt, and experienced so far.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learnt thus far is that being true to yourself, and your own morals, values, and aspirations. It’s more rewarding than anything else could ever be. In life, when I’ve found myself feeling lost or unhappy, it’s usually been because I was trying too hard to live by someone else’s standards (whether in terms of a real person, or simply an illusory image of a particular lifestyle). I try to appreciate where I’m at and appreciate the moment. In order to live your most honest (and authentic) life, sometimes you have to set boundaries – and this is a healthy and positive thing to do too (despite women in particular being taught that we should give limitlessly). As one of my favorite independent creators and inspirational women Zara Street would say, “protect your energy.” This is especially important in academia, because there are so many different demands on your time and your resources. Learning how to prioritise, how to stay motivated, and how to say no to things (if you are fortunate enough to be able to) is crucial.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

In some ways, it has. As a woman in academia interested in media, and especially in exploring the demarcation between “high” quality and “low” quality media, people often make assumptions about the caliber of my work, or the integrity of my research. More than once, someone has advised me to study (and teach!) a “proper” subject, or even to research other types of media that are somehow more “valid.” When engaging in public speaking, women in academia often receive “questions that are more comments” from audience members who just want to challenge female presenters. Women in academia are also often relied upon to provide more “pastoral care” than their male colleagues. I have some colleagues who have held the title of Doctor or Professor for many years who attend meetings and find that all of the male attendees have been referred to using their official titles, and the female attendees have not. As a woman who researches gender and feminism specifically, I am also personally subject to a particular brand of sexist and misogynist criticism from those who believe that men and women should not receive equal treatment in society.

Outside your work, what are your favorite hobbies and pastimes?

Probably unsurprisingly, I like to read! I’m also a big music fan, and enjoy going to live events, and playing instruments. I like to watch films and television programs. I also like to travel, when I can, and experience the best food that different cities and countries have to offer. I enjoy spending time with my family (especially my nephews and my niece), and I also have a little patchwork cat called Meatball, who enjoys napping directly on me, so sometimes I just endure that, too.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

One of my favorite films is A Cinderella Story (2004), starring Hilary Duff. Years ago, as part of an internship I carried out, someone asked me on the spot what my life mantra would be, and I said that it would be “never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” which comes from that film. It was a spur-of-the-moment response that I originally intended to be quite funny and tongue-in-cheek, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it’s actually quite a perfect motto to live by for me. It encompasses so many of my values – being brave, taking part, speaking up, and enjoying the moment, for instance, and it also allows me to express the sheer love that I have for media objects often considered “low-quality” by others. It’s such a good film!

What three tips would you give to young women starting their careers?

  1. Meet people from all industries and backgrounds and take a genuine interest in their lives and careers. Building connections is more than just “networking” – it’s about finding people who are on your wavelength, and working with them, celebrating their joys, achievements, and commiserating their losses. Opportunities may come your way through the professional contacts you make, but even if they don’t, mutual respect and friendship definitely will.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask – whether it be for help, for feedback, for reassurance, for a better salary, more responsibility, or whatever it might be that you need. Being able to be polite but direct is a useful skill, as it allows you to communicate more clearly, and lets others know what you feel you are worth. You may not always receive what you ask for, but you might be able to achieve a compromise or develop yourself in other ways instead. At the very least, asking is a good way of figuring out whether your own goals align with the situation you are in. This may be harder for some women than others, especially because of stereotypes around women being “direct” (for instance, that it makes women “bossy” or “aggressive”).
  3. Try new things. You might find something unexpected that you are fantastic at, or that you enjoy doing. You might also find that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone allows you to experience new and interesting career opportunities. If I hadn’t spent a year of my career moving from position to position in many different industries, I would never have found what I actually love doing. It was hard work at the time, but it was worth it.


What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given and by who? 

This is going to sound bizarre, but when I was a teenager, I had a group of friends and we used to say to one another that the first step to success was to brush your teeth. Again, it was originally a silly thing to say that I think we came up with and said to one another when we were too hungover to function properly – but, actually, we ended up adopting it for other situations too. “Brushing your teeth” meant taking care of yourself even in small ways when things were hard, or you felt down. It meant breaking things down into small steps when you felt overwhelmed. It meant dusting yourself off if you had a setback and trying again with the tiniest of efforts at first. It was also, in a strange way, emblematic of my first experience of real feminist solidarity – this was a group of strong, fiercely independent young women with shared feminist values who looked out for another, protected one another, and sometimes used “the first step to success is brushing your teeth” as a way of saying, “I’m here for you, I’ll help you.” So, when in doubt, when you can’t get out of bed or face the world – try brushing your teeth. It’s a good start.

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

So many women (some of whom I’ve already referred to here) have positively impacted my life that it’s very difficult for me to choose just one – which I actually feel very lucky to be able to say. For the purposes of this question, I would have to choose Heather Savigny. I met Heather just before I started my PhD – she helped me to cultivate my application and offered me my first experience of teaching at University level. She is the very embodiment of the saying, “do no harm, but take no rubbish.” I saw the way she opened doors for others and used her power to fight for the rights of less privileged members of the Academy. She trusted in my abilities (which helped me to develop my confidence and trust myself more), gave me responsibilities that she knew I could handle, introduced me to two more amazing women that I am still close with today, and made me strive to become a better academic, and a better person.

What are your key motivators?

My key motivators are probably anger (or any sense of injustice) interweaved with an ethics of care. I hadn’t actually realized that these were my key motivators until thinking about this question, but it makes a great deal of sense to me now. Feeling that something is wrong and that it needs to be addressed or dealt with is a long-lasting motivator – more so than, say, enjoying something (in my opinion). We move on from the things we enjoy and like, but I find that the things that anger or annoy us tend to inspire us to act and push for change in the longer-term. Anger can be a very powerful tool (especially for women, who are often expected to manage their anger in very specific ways). In terms of operating with “an ethics of care” – for me, all this truly refers to is love. We do things for people because we love them. We take care of our families and our friends because we love them. Lately, I have been reading about “care” in more detail (especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic). “Care” underpins our lives and is the context within which we are all born and against which we all die. This sounds very morbid, but it isn’t meant to be – it’s more of a reminder that the invisible structures that keep society going are vital to our livelihoods. Caring about something or someone is why we do what we do. The world would be a better place if we made visible these labours and properly valued “care” in all forms in the workplace and in our lives.

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

I think it’s difficult to say – on the whole, I see many organisations and companies publicly presenting themselves as addressing gender imbalance and joining in with specific feminist “moments” (especially online). However, these performances must be supported by specific, targeted action. There are so many policies that businesses could introduce that could move towards addressing gender imbalance – whether by providing free, on-site childcare, longer paid parental leave, LGBTQ+ staff support networks, a blind-hiring scheme, the diversification of Boards of Directors, and so on and so forth. These movements are what matter most – not aesthetically-curated Instagram posts (although publicly supporting and sharing a message of equality can have some uses).

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?

Again, I think that whilst women speaking up and putting themselves forward for opportunities is useful, in order for women to achieve more prominent roles in their organisations, other staff who are higher up in the network must create the conditions that ensure that women feel willing and able to take on these roles in the first place. In our society today, we are constantly bombarded with neoliberal understandings of continual self-improvement (the whole “if you work hard, you can achieve it” mentality). This may be true for some people, but the obstacles others face are insurmountable without huge amounts of industrial and economic change.

What drew you towards specializing in feminism and post-feminism in academia?

I have been interested in and a supporter of women’s rights for as long as I can remember. My mother is a very strong, independent woman and she raised me in a similar manner. My sister is also an intensely brave, assertive woman who I admire, and who has impacted my life in so many ways. I had an intense moral compass growing up, and was motivated by injustice in all forms. Even when I’d done something stupid at school, and the teacher blamed someone else instead of me, I always came clean because I couldn’t stand the idea that someone else would be punished for something they hadn’t done (and I had). During my time studying, I was introduced to the scholarship around feminist and postfeminist media studies (particularly the works of Angela McRobbie, Rosalind Gill and Feona Attwood). This literature resonated with me hugely. My research centers on representational practices in the media, because the kind of media we consume helps us to formulate our understandings of the societies we live in. Thus, analyzing feminist and postfeminist theory in relation to the media helps us to shape our understandings of how women are viewed by and within our changing world. In short, what we watch and engage with matters – because it contributes to our world-view (and the views we hold about women’s positions in society).

What are you currently researching?

I am currently researching media representations of violence against women, particularly on television. I chose to explore this field because I realised that with much of the television that I was watching and enjoying, female characters were continually subject to graphic and often gratuitous experiences of sexual violence and rape. Unsurprisingly, this really annoyed me, and as I say to my students now, anger is often an excellent research motivator. My general research interests also include gender, feminism, post-feminism, “quality” media texts, and how bodies are depicted in the media. I have written on portrayals of fat women on television and have also published on sexual violence in the music industry.

Do you have any advice for females and femme-persons working towards having a career in academia?

I would definitely suggest trying to join or formulate a supportive network of similarly minded people. As I’ve described, academia can be a difficult industry to navigate (especially for women, transgender people, disabled people, and people of colour). However, having supportive people around you can help you to manage setbacks and rejections in a healthy and positive manner. I would also suggest reaching out to scholars whose work inspires you – academics always enjoy hearing that their work has been valued. It might also be useful for you to join your local UCU branch who can help you if you ever need professional support or advice.

In 3 words, describe what feminism is to you.

In my opinion, feminism has to be intersectional, inclusive, and radical (in the revolutionary sense).

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Take others with you – we’re stronger together!

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

I would tell my 16-year-old self to enjoy being a teenager, and to revel in the dramatics and disasters that come along with being 16. When you’re a teenager, everything is both the beginning and the end of the world. You are so in your feelings, all the time. It’s a miserable and magical period of life and I wouldn’t change it, at all.

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