Dr Aoife Monks is Queen Mary's Arts and Culture Academic Lead. In her profile she tells us about her role as a Knowledge Exchange Evaluator, Arts and Culture at Queen Mary, and directing plays written by nine-year-olds.
I’ve been at Queen Mary since 2014. Prior to that, I spent nine years at Birkbeck, University of London. I’m originally from Ireland and did my doctorate at Trinity College Dublin. I went on from there to spend a happy year working in theatre in New York, before starting up my academic career.
It can be really surprising to discover what people in arts and cultural organisations are interested in: the history of teeth, the laws of gravity, how feet work, or what happens when we touch things. Academics have some of the answers. Artists, curators, craft workers, game designers, producers, community organisations have different, and equally valuable, insights. My job is to help to connect the two together so that our research is made useful to artists, creative industries, and heritage organisations, enabling our academics and students to learn from the expertise of these sectors. That way, we all benefit from the unexpected angles and insights that these sectors bring to our work.
What’s great about my job is that there’s never anything average about it. The work is totally unpredictable. The only thing that’s typical about my day is that there was nothing typical about it - every day is completely different - and endlessly interesting.
The KEF asks universities to account for how their work benefits communities, sectors and industries. This is the first year of the assessment process, and I’ve been appointed to evaluate how universities across the UK are doing this work. What's great about becoming an evaluator in the first year of the process is that it gives Queen Mary a chance to shape Research England's approach and genuinely learn from what other universities do across the country.
One of the best things about this job is the chance to work with colleagues across the University. Most of all, the amazing Professional Services staff in the Arts and Culture Officer role – first Anna Boneham, and now, Alicia George. I also work closely with our Centre for Public Engagement and with our Arts Council funded on-campus organisations like Project Phakama, Wasafiri, and People’s Palace Projects, our legal advice centres and important research centres like Network, the Music and Technology lab, the Wolfson Institute, DERI, and the Centre for Digital Music. We’ve also been collaborating closely with the Students’ Union, Estates, and the Student and Academic Services team. And I’ve had the chance to work closely with Molly McPhee who has been the creative producer on the Conversations project. It has been a genuine joy to get to know colleagues across so many aspects of the University’s work.
This role genuinely fosters innovation and creativity by helping to establish interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships that involve the arts and cultural sectors across the University.
A few years ago, I taught a module on the history of naturalist drama, looking at the relationship between Charles Darwin’s theories and 19th century plays in the Lock-Keepers Cottage, which overlooks the canal. Teaching Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck while actual ducks swam past was a highlight.
You are very lucky – you are getting the most interesting end of the Russell Group – east London, the cutting-edge version, full of staff and students who care deeply about what they do, and have great ideas.
I was very close to becoming a theatre director in my twenties, but now I’d be very happy with an allotment and a rescue dog.
I’ve been a volunteer for the children’s theatre charity, Scene & Heard, for 16 years. I mentor children in Somers Town in Camden to help them learn the art of playwriting. Their work is then produced to a professional standard and performed by adult actors. As a result, I have directed plays written by nine-year-olds featuring East Enders stars, National Theatre actors, and stand-up comedians in roles such as an Eton Mess, a warthog with magical powers, a beard, and a UV lamp who’s a bit dim.
The same people as for a real one – friends and family. I’ve met a fair few famous people over the years, purely by virtue of the work I do, and they tend to promote indigestion.
Read more about Aoife's work.
See the Arts and Culture Website.