Erica Borgstrom

Erica Borgstrom held her Mildred Blaxter fellowship from June 2015 to May 2016, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, having studied for her PhD at Cambridge University. She is now Lecturer in End of Life Care at the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at the Open University.

What was the focus of your work?

My overall project for the fellowship was about understanding care practices towards the end of life. As part of the year, I had set myself several objectives:

  • to continue several pre-existing writing tasks and commitments
  • to present at several conferences on ideas related to my PhD research, to help me develop them into papers
  • to work on funding applications (I submitted two during from the work I did during the fellowship; one fellowship, which unfortunately I did not get, and one as a co-investigator, which is currently under review)

I focused on issues around changing care practices towards the end of life, and the ‘core concepts’ of palliative and end of life care.

What did the Mildred Blaxter fellowship offer you that you would not otherwise have been able to do?

During the 12 months of the fellowship I was able to think creatively about projects in a way that I have not been able to do before or since. This is because I had the time to investigate new methods (such as learning about film production) and different kinds of approaches, without the expectation that it directly relate to current teaching or publication requirements. I was also able to spend time going to events and networking, which was particularly helpful in terms of designing new projects and finding new potential fieldsites.

The dedicated time of the fellowship allowed me to focus on my writing. I used part of this time to prioritise certain publications that would help me in future funding and job applications. However, I also took this as a time to experiment with my writing practices and style. This included writing shorter pieces on related topics (e.g. my visual essay on #notdingy images on Twitter).

Now that I am in a permanent position, I am grateful for the fellowship in allowing me to think about my own research ideas without immediate REF pressures. This has enabled me to both identify what I find interesting and why, as well as providing a platform on which to build my future career. I also found it very valuable, in hindsight, to be at a different institution for a year – I met some amazing people, had some great professional and personal development opportunities, and found it very insightful to experience different organisational structures and processes.

What are you doing now?

After finishing the fellowship I took up a lecturer role at the Open University (OU) within the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care. My teaching and research continues to be on end-of-life care and sociological and anthropological studies of death and dying. The fellowship enabled me to build my publication record to establish my name in the field. This was particularly attractive for the OU as they were considering candidates who could contribute to the next REF. Obtaining the fellowship also demonstrated an ability to seek and secure external funding; this was another element that the hiring panel were interested in.

Importantly for me, the fellowship gave me time to build research contacts and the time to invest in establishing the groundwork for future research projects. These activities can be difficult to juggle alongside existing research and/or teaching requirements, and one should never underestimate the length of the research cycle!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for a Mildred Blaxter fellowship?

This is something several people have asked me since I’ve started the fellowship. There are four pieces of advice I can offer based on my experience:

  • Be realistic about how long a year is and how long it takes you to do different kinds of work
  • Think about how what you propose in the application shows both continuity and growth, and outline what practical steps you will take in the year to reach your next set of career goals (e.g. which publications, which funding, what new research)
  • Think about who you want to work with (as mentor) and what the university department provides you that you couldn’t necessarily get elsewhere
  • Be aware that universities can take some time in checking and approving applications, so provide your host institution your final version of the application well before the deadline.

You can find out more about Erica’s work on her OU and personal websites, and follow her on Twitter at @ericaborgstrom. Publications arising from her Mildred Blaxter fellowship include: