Researcher Profile at Royal Holloway

My university library is running a campaign about research students and I was asked to write a short profile in response to some of their questions. Here it is!

Please start by introducing yourself:

My name is Fiona Redding. I started at Royal Holloway in 2007 on a BA English Literature programme, graduating in 2010. After my BA, I started working at the College as an Alumni Relations Officer. I am now the Change Communications Officer, and have just completed my Masters in Modern Philosophy.


How long have you been at Royal Holloway?

This September marked the beginning of my seventh year at Royal Holloway!

What is your role at Royal Holloway?

Creating a cohesive and beneficial staff culture is critical if we are to succeed as a university in the long term – you cannot underestimate the importance of gaining acceptance of proposed changes amongst your colleagues across the College. My role involves writing communications strategies for the major change projects we have going on, including the Governance Review, the Masterplan, and staff engagement more broadly.

What did you want to be when you were little?

I really wanted to be a figure skater. Unfortunately I was completely lacking in the co-ordination and grace to achieve such a goal!

Do you have any hero (es), and why?

I really admire my Dad. He could easily have gone to university and trained to be a doctor, but when circumstances prevented him from doing that, he found other ways to develop professionally. That kind of flexibility, not being disheartened if the route you wanted to take isn’t an option, and ultimately succeeding in spite of these obstacles, are all traits I really admire.

What’s your degree/masters etc. in? Could you explain a bit about a MRes?

My Masters is in Modern Philosophy. My tutor was Andrew Bowie in the Politics, International Relations and Philosophy Department. He tutored me for a final year course and I got on with him really well, so he was the obvious choice when it came to applying to a supervisor for my Masters.

The difference with an MRes is that you are working pretty much independently the whole way through your course, so you have to create opportunities to interact with other researchers. I was studying part time over two years, so I had possibly even less interaction than one might expect on a Masters programme. As well as optional tutorials given by Andrew and Neil Gascoigne, another Philosophy Lecturer, I attended a reading group, seminar programmes, anything that brought me into contact with people working in my area of interest.

The whole way through, I was working towards completing a 35,000 word dissertation, on a topic of my choosing. There was a short 5,000 word essay mid-way through the course – to check you are on the right track – but apart from that there was everything to play for on the dissertation.

What advice do you wish you’d known when you were studying for your MRes?

The best piece of advice I can give you is to write something every day. That doesn’t have to mean a 5,000 exegesis closely related to your dissertation; it could be 500 words. The key point is that you are engaging your brain. For me, that came through writing a blog:

What was the hardest thing you found about studying?

I’ve alluded to the independent study, which can be tough at times, particularly when you just need to talk things through with someone whilst writing a key paragraph, or talking more broadly about your argument to ensure you have an overarching theme. But this can be overcome. Of course, your supervisor is also a key part of the feedback process as well.

Could you give your top 5 tips for researchers?

–        Write something every day

–        If you find yourself panicking and staring at a blank page, try handwriting a couple of paragraphs instead of typing

–        Congratulate yourself on achievements – remember that you don’t need to be working all of the time and in fact it makes good sense in the long run to give yourself a break

–        Use as many library resources as you can lay your hands on – electronic, going to Senate House, using the British Library reading rooms

–        Get involved in the wider research community by participating in reading groups and attending seminars – you never know what you might learn!


100+ Club!


Officially part of the 100+ club with over 100 posts on my blog!

Also, thank you to the 3,000+ people who have so far visited. I hope that you have found the information as useful as I have found it interesting to write.

Here’s to the final countdown, with only 14 weeks until I submit my Masters dissertation.

Turning a Corner


Happily, I seem to have turned a corner from the impasse that I had reached a couple of weeks ago. Having taken the courage to read through the four chapters I have so far written, I realised that a) it isn’t as bad as I thought and b) there is scope for the remainder to be good, given the ground work that I have laid over the past few months. With that in mind, I rather furiously typed up notes for the remaining two chapters and am hoping to meet with my supervisor by the end of the week so that I know if I am on the right track. The nature of the last two chapters will hopefully be along the lines of: if we give up on a normative concept of objective truth, how are we to justify continuing commitments to institutions like democratic governance, equal rights and solidarity not just with those in our immediate social group but beyond that, and beyond the bounds of sovereign states to encompass global considerations that will shape the future. So not too much then…

I’ve been busy today…


signs-473x473It is so difficult to arrange all of your thoughts sometimes, particularly when you have reached a junction where there appear to be multiple directions open to you. Which one to take?

I remember speaking to a friend of mine about how he proceeds when he is writing ‘academic stuff’. He said that he reads, thinks and then the words come to him so he tends to spend less time on the writing. I can only hope that the same will be true for me and that this period of apparent inactivity has actually been productive in the sense that thoughts will translate to words.

I should hopefully be meeting with my supervisor by the end of this week, so maybe then I’ll have a better sense of direction! On the other hand, I always seem to come away from those meetings with more questions than answers so perhaps wise to not hold one’s breath.

Philosophy as Literature?


I just came across this conclusion from Michael Fisher in a collection of essays about Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. As a former literature student, I found it to be quite interesting. How do other people feel about Rorty’s attempt to align philosophy with literature?

Despite Rorty’s considerable interest in literature, he still allows philosophy to decide its fate. Even when literature succeeds in Rorty’s argument – when it presides in triumph over the rest of our culture – literature does not win; philosophy defaults. Literature is less a force in Rorty’s argument than an inert category, represented by a list of titles and names that Rorty’s theory gives him no reason to analyse. Instead of doing constructive work in Rorty’s writings, literature, like a junk yard, just sits there, waiting to claim philosophical texts that cannot achieve what they set out accomplish. Rorty’s point, in short, is not that literature is cognitive, serious, powerful and responsible, but that philosophy (without admitting it) is like literature: imprecise, capricious and methodologically dishevelled. Instead of strengthening literature, Rorty leaves it impotent, which is why, among the consequences of Rorty’s pragmatism, I do not find a convincing rationale for literary study.

Unworthy Preconceptions of Truth


We know that truth belongs in a certain way to our daily affairs, and we know quite naturally what this means. It lies so close to us that we have no distance from it, and therefore no possibility of having an overall view of it and comprehending it.

So the first thing must be to distance ourselves from this self-evidence, to step back from it so that what we so readily conceive as truth can be left standing and resting by itself. But where are we to step back to, from where are we to observe the self-evident?

(Heidegger, The Essence of Truth)

I’m trying to go back to the beginning myself; the way forward in this project will come through a careful consideration of what is essential to a definition of truth. Heidegger teaches us that when he talks about going back to the beginning, back to the Greeks, back to aletheia, to unhiddenness, to see the eroneousness of our path from aletheia to adaequatio. More from Heidegger coming up shortly.

I’m back!


So I did something a little ridiculous and took a part-time job in order to, what else, earn a bit of extra cash. It wasn’t good for my sanity, or for my dissertation schedule. However, after a six week hiatus, I am officially back in Senate House Library and will hopefully be posting a few more articles based on the stuff I am reading over the coming weeks. I am very pleasantly surprised to see that my all time highest number of views has increased since last checking the site, so will take that as a sign I am doing something right and press ahead.

Thank you for bearing with me, and for reading!

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Quote


It is so much a part of “thinking philosophically” to be impressed with the special character of mathematical truth that it is hard to shake off the grip of the Platonic Principle. If, however, we think of “rational certainty” as a matter of victory in argument rather than of relation to an object known, we shall look toward our interlocutors rather than to our faculties for the explanation of the phenomenon. If we think of our certainty about the Pythagorean Theorem as our confidence, based on experience with arguments on such matters, that nobody will find an objection to the premises from which we infer it, then we shall not seek to explain it by the relation of reason to triangularity. Our certainty will be a matter of conversation between persons, rather than a matter of interaction with nonhuman reality. So we shall not see a difference in kind between “necessary” and “contingent” truths. At most, we shall see differences in degree of ease in objecting to our beliefs. We shall, in short, be where the Sophists were before Plato brought his principle to bear and invented “philosophical thinking”: we shall be looking for an airtight case rather than an unshakeable foundation. We shall be in what Sellars calls “the logical space of reason” rather than that of causal relations to objects.