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Professor Claire Connolly, School of English
Claire Connolly, Professor of English
College: Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences
Research Interests: Modern English, Irish Studies, Romanticism & the Environmental Humanities
What first attracted you to your academic discipline?
I was drawn to English for the usual reason: I loved (and still love) reading. At the end of a week of meetings, I remind myself how amazing it is to have a job where absorption in a good book remains a key part of my work. Of course, this didn't happen by accident: being attracted to an academic discipline is one thing, thriving in it is quite another. My parents nourished my love of literature (even though they didn't allow me to read at the table) and made sacrifices in order to support me through periods of further study. From the very start, my husband Paul O'Donovan supported me - it's difficult to convey the myriad ways in which he has helped and I can't imagine my career without his support.
How were you drawn to your current research interests?
My first degree was in English and History and I remain fascinated by the interrelationship between literary and historical forms of representation. I was lucky enough to have been taught by Professor Tom Dunne here in UCC, who moved us past an understanding of history as a record of events and challenged us to think about the ways in which narratives realise past events. At the same time, in the English department, Professor Patricia Coughlan and Professor Anne Fogarty introduced me to the searching and scrupulous practice of feminist theory. All of my work is in some way informed by an ongoing effort to understand what literature makes of history, alongside a fascination with the complexity of women's lives in the past.
What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?
I've appreciated every keynote invitation, promotion and award. I was recently invited to chair the first book prize committee for the British Association for Romantic Studies and am very glad to have the opportunity to help advance other careers via this competition. I despair of the current lack of promotional opportunities in UCC. At present, I'm rather proud to be co-Principal Investigator (with Dr Rob McAllen, School of BEES) of an interdisciplinary research project that joins the concerns of marine biology with those of cultural history (Deep Maps: West Cork Coastal Cultures). My husband and son, along with their accomplice David Attenborough, must take some credit (or possibly blame) for this particular professional achievement. It's thanks to them that I've spent time staring into tide pools, traipsing through aquariums and reading about natural history.
What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?
All those times that I regard as our core activities: reading, writing and teaching. Time spent in the library is precious. It's a particular pleasure to receive invitations to present new research in seminar and conference contexts. I don't think I could do the job without these opportunities for rigorous and focused conversations about books and ideas. At the same time, I'm aware that there's a tendency for women to take on aspects of academic service that men don't always notice and I'm by no means exempt from that pattern.
Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?
I'm not sure about balance: my work and life are closely knit together, but perhaps this is a privilege of the kind of secure academic employment that is now so scarce. Having a child made me more conscious of setting aside time away from the laptop, but that's a bit of a work in progress. More broadly, I think that it is absolutely vital for women to have supportive friends and partners so I'd warn my 18-year-old self away from egoists. I'd like to find a good way to tell women students and younger female colleagues that bias exists, conscious and unconscious; that sexism is everywhere; and that they will face real challenges in their careers, especially if they stay in Ireland. But I'm not sure how best to communicate that message without sounding old and sour, so perhaps I'll just advise them on the importance of making real friends in the profession. Oh and sunscreen - apply every day, no matter how cloudy.