I believe that the arts is a largely marginalized means of understanding our human history, not only as it pertains to everyday life but especially as it reflects important social and political moments. The better we know these human interpretations of history, the better we can understand the present from within.


Welcome to the first interview with Leah Batstone, our November REWIRE Fellow of the Month. Leah started her Fellowship in January 2021 at the Institute of East European History, where she studies the art of music in Ukraine of the past century. Read about her research, everyday life as a post doc and what she believes is essential to overcoming obstacles in academia.


Describe your research in one sentence.

Leah: My research examines art music in Ukraine over the past one hundred years and maps musical movements, figures, and developments onto the variety of important political moments that have taken place in Ukraine between 1917 and 2021.


Tell us about a normal day in the life of a postdoc. 

Leah: Most days in Vienna I spend working in my office on campus, translating texts, listening to music, and analysing scores. More exciting days in the life of this postdoc occur when I am traveling to do research. On these trips, I visit various archives, sometimes personal collections, meet with musicians, composers, and other musicologists, attend performances of new works, and gather observations about the living subjects of my research.


How will society benefit from your research? 

Leah: I believe that the arts is a largely marginalized means of understanding our human history, not only as it pertains to everyday life, but especially as it reflects important social and political moments. The better we know these human interpretations of history, the better we can understand the present from within. I hope that my research will shed new light on important political moments of the recent past while also acting as a testament to the importance of contemporary musicians, composers, and arts institutions. These figures are unfortunately largely undervalued in society and I fear we are missing a greater understanding of one another and our common existence by forcing the arts sector to struggle for existence.


Share a funny/surprising or unexpected anecdote with us from your academic career so far:

Leah: I was recently in Kyiv working in the Central State Archive-Museum of Literature and Arts of Ukraine on several composers from the 1920s. One day a drama professor associated with the nearby Les Kurbas theatre visited the archive with some files about one of Kurbas’ composers, whose files I was in the midst of reading. The women, who I had become friendly with, informed him about my work and laughed at the serendipity. He eagerly beckoned me to the archive computer where he was transferring the files, including photographs and documents he had received from a private collection. Among them were several manuscript scores and even a recording of one of them. He was so excited to hear about my work that he volunteered to transfer the musical material onto my computer, which I now have to analyse and listen to my heart’s content. This is perhaps better described as #researchgoneamazinglyright! This is the kind of magical research moment I enjoy telling students and mentees about; you never know when a primary source will resurface and change our sense of a field of study. It is one of the many reasons that I encourage students to pursue subjects they are passionate about, whether it is a well-trodden topic to which they fear they may have nothing new to add or a completely new field about which they think there may be no information. There are always possibilities.


What does REWIRE mean to you?

Leah: For me, REWIRE is an invaluable opportunity to combat one of the many ways in which the field of academia remains inequitable. It is a postdoctoral fellowship that offers promising researchers not simply a line item for their CVs, but it is truly a chance to delve deeply into a new research topic and to accumulate all the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue it at the highest degree. I am extremely grateful to be a part of the REWIRE program in particular because it not only provides opportunities and resources to pursue my research but is built around the idea of mentoring a population who has traditionally struggled to gain entry to the European Academy. I think this kind of training, which raises awareness of the challenges for certain demographics and models ways to ameliorate them, is invaluable for anyone seeking to work in higher education globally today.


Who is your personal heroine? 

Leah: It is difficult to assign such weight to any individual. Rather, there are many women in my professional life who have, and continue to, inspire me with their achievements and mentorship. I have been lucky to cross paths with many women musicians, researchers, professors, and scholars who have recognized the importance of mentorship and have helped me purely out of a sense of professional responsibility to the future of the field. I am eternally grateful for their support and think of them any time I have the opportunity to “pay it forward.”


The most important lesson learned so far that you want to share with other future (female) early post docs:

Leah: Be persistent. Even though a program like REWIRE is designed to assist female postdocs obtain opportunities that they would normally struggle to access—and its initiative indicates the awareness of institutions like the European Commission of the ongoing inequities for women in the academy—the system changes slowly and many obstacles still remain for female academics on more mundane and prosaic levels. I think the most important advice I can give to any member of an underrepresented group looking to pursue a career in academia is to be aware and wary of ongoing inequities and not to be afraid to object to such situations. Too often I find female colleagues are quick to apologize for any demands they make or to even demand nothing, struggling alone for resources to which they are entitled. This is a tragedy for promising postdocs and it does not help to change the system. We need to normalize not only equity for minorities in academia, but their right to demand this equity.


Quickfire Questions

Keyboard or Pen?


Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?


Early bird or night owl?

Early bird


Interested in reading more about Leah's research? Click here.