Before the Interview: “Women in Science”

For my upcoming oral history project I will be interviewing a “Woman in Science” for the archives of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. The woman I have been assigned studied Zoology and Physiology from 1952-5. She went on to get her PhD and is still a lecturer, researcher, and author. Obviously, this will make for fascinating content. I found her publications online and her manuals are among the top regarded in their field; “Indispensable” as one reviewer put it. Unfortunately I cannot name the manual or the reviewer for reasons of privacy to the project but trust me, she is highly praised for her work. I am very much looking forward to meeting her properly (not just over the phone) and hearing what she has to say.

That being said, I do have some reservations about the interview itself. It will be my first proper oral history interview and I am a quiet person and struggle with social situations generally, and it will be my responsibility to prompt the conversation and keep the narrator at ease. Hopefully it does not become forced or awkward to discuss topics I know little to nothing about, such as being alive in the 1950’s or studying science. Or being a woman studying science in the 1950’s. Or being a woman currently in her late 70’s or early 80’s and still writing and publishing textbooks about science.

I think as far as a project about Women in Science is concerned, I have struck gold. She took her education seriously and is still taking her work seriously. The downside of her amazing career and work ethic is that she is busy proofing her latest book and only has time to meet for one session, not the desired two. It is not ideal but I have to be able to adapt to this and think about what my goals are in the interview and stick to those for the sake of time. Honestly, I am more interested in her time as a student and professional than I am about her being a wife and/or mother (if applicable.) That is not to say I am opposed to her talking about her personal life, especially if she really wants to, but for a project about women in science, given the possible restricted time, I want to stick to learning about what the experience at Bedford College was like 60 years ago and how she ended up in such a remarkable career. I don’t know if it is bias to see it this way or just planning and anticipating that there won’t be time to cover everything. Either way, this will very much be a learning experience for me and, hopefully, a useful resource to someone else in the future as well.

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