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      Work/life experiences of Brookes’ academics


    Success is being able to change the way people think and getting them to look at things.

    Christiana Payne is Professor of History of Art and Research Lead for the Department of History, Philosophy and Religion. She joined Brookes in 1990 and gradually moved from being an hourly lecturer, through various part-time arrangements to a full-time position in 2012, by which time she was already a Professor.

  • From a young age, Christiana has been very inquisitive.

    I remember when I was young, saying I want to know things and not being able to articulate precisely what. But I just love finding things out.

    This desire for knowledge led her to study Modern History at the University of Oxford, before moving to the Courtauld Institute of Art where she completed her MA and a PhD.

    Christiana has always been interested in combining her research with exhibitions – feeling strongly that academics have a place outside of universities. Accordingly, she was delighted when in 1991, the topic of her thesis was accepted as an exhibition in Nottingham. This was an opportunity to publish the catalogue of the exhibition, Toil and Plenty: Images of the Agricultural Landscape in England, 1780-1890 which then led to her being offered a permanent role at Brookes in 1998.

    This desire to combine research with practice and Christiana’s outward -looking approach to her work has paid dividends. Whilst earlier in her career, her approach was seen by some as “not really research”, now - due to the increased emphasis on impact in academia - it means that she is submitting lots of top quality research for the REF.

    Another significant career achievement came in 2008 when, after giving assistance to colleagues who were applying for readerships, Christiana realised that she ticked most of the boxes and successfully applied for Reader herself. Upon this promotion, she was particularly encouraged and flattered by the warm congratulation letter from the Vice-Chancellor saying: “I hope this will lead to further promotion” which was the point at which she thought “Oh, could I be a professor?” When this promotion did come, it felt like a significant achievement:

    It was really nice being made a professor. I did really enjoy that. And I had to give an inaugural lecture and I was absolutely terrified. But once I’d done it, the warmth of the response I got from people was really nice.

    Looking forward, Christiana’s professional aspirations are research-related: to broaden her research, interact with other disciplines and make transnational comparisons. She also wants to continue to curate exhibitions and deepen the impact of her research, remaining adamant that “we shouldn’t just be in ivory towers.”

    Christiana’s daughter was born in 1987, the year after she finished her PhD, and so the initial years of her career required fitting her academic and teaching work around her work as a mother. She says that her husband has been very supportive throughout and that his encouragement made a huge difference to her ability to be so successful. Working part-time when her daughter was young enabled her to balance both, and also enabled her to carry out research in her spare time. She feels like her research work has had a positive impact on her as a mother because

    It has always been something that’s energised me, satisfied me and stimulated me, made me happy basically.

    Christiana enjoys sharing her passion for History of Art with others. She enjoys research, and loves “working with others and sharing the pleasure I get from studying art and curating”. For her, a true art historian, the most important thing is affecting how people think and how they observe the world:

    Success is being able to change the way people think and getting them to look at things.

    Teaching, helping younger colleagues and working with museums through her exhibition curation are all sources of pleasure. However, there are also challenges that come with the territory: the ups and downs of publishing, having work rejected. Christiana adds that academia is a tough profession to work in because, even though it might not seem like it to your students, you are being judged all the time.

    Be sure of what you want to do because it can be tough, but if you really want to do it then you’ll carry on with it through thick and thin.