A new subject is just a subtle shift away

July 28, 2000

An academic "can get typecast" and feel "pigeon-holed" by staying within one narrow specialism in order to climb the careerladder, says John Ramsden, professor of modern historyat Queen Maryand Westfield College. But he argues that it is possibleto change direction without scuppering your prospects.

Ramsden made his name as a historian of the Conservative Party - from its 18th-century roots to the present day. But he has also written about Winston Churchill and next year will publish a book on the 1954 film classic The Dam Busters. It wasquite a "smooth transition", he says.

He had begun teaching film history before submitting his Dam Busters book to publishers. And a TV-film script he wrote about Stanley Baldwin neatly connected his two interests.

Ramsden does not regard hisdecision to switch to film history as a change of specialism so much as a subtle shift of emphasis. Manyof his colleagues, he says, haveportfolio careers.It is a way to "keep fresh". It is moredifficult to pursue two distinct careers the way Simon Grey and Trevor Griffiths have - both lecture in English at universities but are also successful playwrights.

But Ramsden sees no obstacle to changing direction if you "stick to real quality".

Published work is judged on merit, he says, not according to the author's past research.

Ramsden's advice is to "grab the future with both hands".

His next project? A cultural historian...

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