Professor Jools Gilson, School of Music & Theatre

Jools Gilson, Professor of Creative Practice

Jools Gilson, Professor of Creative Practice

College: Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences

School: Music & Theatre

Research Interests: Making provocative and haunting poetic spaces across different forms of practice and publishing in the fields of Feminist Theory, Visual Culture, Gender and Sexuality,  Performance Studies, Performative Writing & Affect Studies

IRIS profile:

What first attracted you to your academic discipline?

After completing an MA in Theatre & Dance in Boulder, Colarado, in the late 1980s, I came home to Kent in the UK and applied for dozens and dozens of jobs, from those directly related to theatre & dance, to publishing, arts administration and teaching.  Eventually (after a year), I got a nine month contract in the Drama Department at the University of Hull; a Department in which I was the only woman, and between 15 and 35 years younger than all of my colleagues.  They called me Twinkle.  I didn't plan to become an academic, but this was my journey to the start line.

I'm a creative artist who works across multiple disciplines.  I'm deeply interested in the limits and possibilities of disciplinary boundaries.  I originally trained in theatre and dance, then expanded this to make installation work for galleries, and more recently broadcast radio.  In all of these disciplines, I also write creatively.  Whilst it might seem that these are very different practices, my process in making and developing work is similar whether I'm choreographing a dance, or recording a radio documentary.  Right now, I'm training to become a Hanna Somatics Movement Educator, which is difficult and extraordinary.

So, my discipline is broad and not only academic - it's an embodied and practical knowledge and knowing.  As a young child, I was drawn to creative practices like theatre and dance, but also loved science.  When I was 16, I took A levels in Zoology, Chemistry and English, because I wasn't sure if I wanted to study Theatre or Medicine.  Now I make documentaries and other work which tangles science and creative gestures.

How were you drawn to your current research interests?

Through wonder, longing and the slowness of self-belief.  That phrase 'current research interests' doesn't quite sit comfortably with me.  I don't feel I have much of a choice about the kind of work I make, because it's the work that comes.  I chase that moment when something touches me, nudges my curiosity.  And then it brews.  Sometimes I need to write it out, research more, dig harder.  Sometimes, if it's a radio programme, I need to pitch for it.  If it needs other kinds of funding, then I try and find that, usually through grants.  I have a raft of projects waiting on the back boiler - things that still make me wonder widely and worldly.  Things that won't give up their hold on me.

Besides this, of course, I write about my work, and those of others.  What I see is driven by my deep interest and reading in gender and performativity, in theatre, dance, visual art and radio.  In the ways in which meaning is made in creative art practices, on what reifies and resists, on what might transgress.

What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?

I was at home with young children for three years from 2009-12, and I couldn't do what I'd been doing up to then (running around the world making dance theatre), so I started making radio.  Amazingly, I got an award for my first try - Los Preciosos (  This was hugely affirming, at a time when I was focused on family, and my professional life had taken a back seat.  I couldn't afford to go to New York to pick up my award, but then my godfather stepped in and insisted I go - it was brilliant.

Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?

I didn't expect at all to become a professor.  I was a lecturer in the English Department when I applied for the post I hold now.  I'd always admired Professor Nuala Finnegan at UCC.  I was and remain impressed by her straightforwardness and energy to progress change.  She personifies how it is possible to be a kind and funny human being, a mother and a professor all at once.  So many of us struggle with entwining mothering and a professional life, that to see someone who just got on with it, and who worked through as well as laughed at its challenges was hugely important to me.

What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?

Working and collaborating with colleagues who are dedicated, compelling, funny, challenging professionals, who make, compose and write work that knocks my socks off.

The promise and potential to make lasting change in infrastructure, resources and profile for Creative Practice at UCC.  To make the connection between gestures of original thinking/creativity necessary for research in all disciplines, and the expert disciplines of Creative Practice.  To locate Creative Practice disciplines not at the periphery of the university, but at its centre.

Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?

I feel I generally had good support for the period of adopting my children and caring for them when they were small, with the odd hiccup:

After adopting my daughter in 2005, I arranged with my Head of Department to return to work on a 0.5 contract for 12 months.  There was then a change of Head, and I asked if I could use Parental Leave to reduce my working hours for a second year.  This application was refused - I was only allowed to take Parental Leave as a block of time.  We couldn't afford to do that so I returned to work full-time.

I'm really pleased that there are now funds available in UCC for staff returning from maternity/adoptive leave to support their research.  Like many new mothers, I found returning to work a physical and mental shock.  Doing teaching/admin and managing childcare was as much as I could cope with.  I was lucky enough to be accepted onto a one-off three year incentivised leave scheme at the height of the crash, which enabled me to stay home with my two children when they were very small.  I could not have afforded this without this incentive funding.

I've experienced some challenge through being female in my professional life, mostly as a young woman in the 1990s.  I had no language for some of the things that happened to me then, and because I was so used to being treated in these ways, I didn't pay much attention to them, except when they made me cry.  Thankfully we live in a different world within universities now, and sexual harassment and bullying are no longer tolerated.

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?

Listen to your heart.  Find what you love and do it to the best of your ability.  Be playful and brave.  Be irreverent.  Be willing to ask different questions, in different places, in different ways.  Trust what you know in your belly and bones.  Eat well.  Exercise.  Be kind.  Listen.  Work hard.  Be willing not to know.  Wonder at ordinary things.  Yearn for impossible things, and make them happen.  Don't believe in what you can't do.  Make tea.  Listen.

Athena SWAN

G01 EDI Unit,South Lodge,