I often think back to what a friend once said about it being hard, but really a worthwhile exercise, to allow yourself to recognize what you have done already, which is invariably more than you give yourself credit for. 


The month of May is dedicated to our Fellow Rosamund (Rosie) Johnston. Rosie started her fellowship in October 2020 at the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET). Find out below what her research project is about and how she masters her daily academic routine.


Describe your research in one sentence.

Rosie: I study how arms production shaped interactions between different social groups in communist Czechoslovakia and underlay the country’s relationship with the rest of the world during the Cold War.


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

Rosie: I try and write in the morning, when I generally have more inspiration (and energy!) and then spend the afternoon reading secondary literature or primary sources to line up ideas for the next day. I really try not to go near my inbox until the afternoon too, though I am not always disciplined enough to resist that. Dropping off and picking up my son from nursery bookend my working day. My work and home life are quite clearly separated: entertaining a toddler does not always facilitate great thinking! Once my son is in bed, then I have some time to myself (which largely means eating supper and streaming an episode of something online). The next day it starts all over again…


How will society benefit from your research? 

Rosie: My work considers how and why, historically, third parties have weaponized foreign conflicts. Czechoslovakia, of course, was far from alone in doing this. As such, Czech and Slovak archival sources -which are quite unique in their accessibility- shed light on much larger-scale processes that are by no means a thing of the past. This project traces, moreover, how the arms industry has fundamentally shaped social relations. It therefore considers stakeholders in arms markets and regulation debates beyond a defined group of policymakers and, in a Cold War context, beyond the superpowers of the US and the USSR.


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

Rosie: Perhaps this shouldn't have been unexpected, but I was surprised to end up in a double-doored safe full of guns at an arms factory as part of my research a few months back, invited by my hosts to take the weapons they made down from their stands and hold them, should I wish. I was surprised at my own aversion to this idea (although I was simultaneously aware how generous my hosts were being)! This episode showed me how an academic career can open (double fortified) doors you never, ever, would have expected. In so doing, it can -and should- force you to confront your own preconceptions. My trip to the armed safe made it abundantly clear to me that you never come to your research as a completely neutral scientist.


What does REWIRE mean to you?

Rosie: Pithily: the chance to live in a part of the world I really like doing a stimulating job.

Less pithily: the time, support and research budget to probe my ideas' validity. I believe, for example, that the story of Czechoslovak arms can be better and more comprehensively told, in some ways, through interviewing the people who actually made these weapons than through government documents outlining their sales. And now there is nothing stopping me (except, perhaps, COVID-19) from testing this hypothesis out over the next two-and-a-half years! REWIRE gives me the time and resources to follow my ideas as far as they take me…


Who is your personal heroine? 

Rosie: I don't have a single heroine. During my dissertation, I became more attuned to the work of some female reporters (East and West, past and present) who have worked to subvert ideas about how women should speak and be spoken to in public. The reporter who got me thinking about this was called Vera Stovickova-Heroldova, but really any morning I tune into the BBC Today programme, I’m impressed by what I hear in this regard. In terms of more concrete models for living, there are a whole host of academic mums who have, most basically, shown me that these two roles are compatible. I find myself asking what they would do (or in many cases picking up the phone and asking them directly) when faced with new and daunting situations that they have already bossed!


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

Rosie: I often think back to what a friend once said about it being hard, but really a worthwhile exercise, to allow yourself to recognize what you have done already, which is invariably more than you give yourself credit for. I am a real list-writer and I am always looking to the next point to tick off the agenda. I do think this approach is helpful and lets you keep lots of metaphorical plates spinning at once. But by stopping, and allowing yourself to take stock of where you are and all that you have done (by that I mean over the course of the day, rather than over one’s whole career!), I think you can start to understand the value of your own work. This is a convoluted way of saying 'retain some sense of the present in a very goal-oriented career.' This doesn’t only apply to female postdocs, of course, but can help anyone feeling that they sometimes lose sight of the value of all that they do.


Quickfire Questions

Keyboard or Pen?

Pen for initial scrawl, then keyboard.

Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?


Early bird or night owl?

Early bird.


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