Placement spotlight: 'Horrible Histories'
By Fleur MacInnes and Cat Watts
How did you hear about the placement?
Fleur: I saw the email from the DTP and I remember thinking “Oh my gosh, that sounds like the most incredible placement ever!” as I read more of the details for it. I was so excited at the prospect of applying because Horrible Histories is such a beloved part of my childhood.
Cat: It was actually the second reminder email we got! I saw the first email and thought “That sounds amazing, but I’m not a historian, I can’t possibly go for it”. But once the reminders came round I figured I might as well take a shot.
How was the application process and setting up the placement?
Cat: I actually found even filling out the application really helpful. Writing a cover letter and doing a CV made me realise what I’d already got from the PhD. I didn’t realise I had history-skills!
Fleur: Similarly to Cat I really found the application process helped me think about the skills I had gained since starting the PhD. It was also the first time I had applied to something where my public engagement work on TikTok was something I could write and talk about really passionately.
Cat: We had a Zoom interview with a couple of producers from the show, which was very intimidating since they both have BAFTA awards, but they were really friendly! I remember I had a race later that day so I just put a fancy shirt over my rowing kit.
Fleur: After my initial interview I actually ended up calling Matt, one of the producers, because I had so many excited questions about how the placement would work. It was only a couple of days afterwards that I found out I had got the place and I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy!
How did you get to the placement? What were the logistics?
Fleur: I decided to go into the office in London three days a week and work from home in Oxford for the rest. The DTP and production company covered my travel costs, so it was really nice to have that flexibility and the dual experience of office work and working from home.
Cat: I knew I wanted to live in London and try out being a Real Commuter. The DTP were very kind in supporting me with paying the rent for my AirBnB - I had to talk them down from a hotel so I’d actually be able to cook. It was a great choice – I could go to museums and galleries and festivals in the evenings and at weekends. Not living in Cambridge meant I could completely switch off from my PhD and just take in the new experience.
How did you find the placement?
Cat: It was absolutely fantastic! I felt like a total imposter when I arrived, but we settled in really fast. It was wonderful to experience that kind of social environment that I think we can lose at PhD.
Fleur: I keep telling everyone how much I love it, totally unprompted. I’m sure it’s getting a bit annoying at this point. I have ADHD and I’ve always worried that I wouldn’t be able to work in an office. The office ended up being my favourite place to be – I was sad on my work from home days because I enjoyed the atmosphere of the team so much.
Cat: We got given small topics to research – and we often only had two hours. The episodes get turned around in about a month – two weeks of researching to put a pack together, then the writers get it, then their scripts come back to us several times to make sure everything’s correct – and the “final” script is done! And you’re always working on like four scripts at once. Fleur and I got to sit in on writers’ meetings and pitch meetings. We could point out that the history maybe wasn’t quite right or that there was a funnier option, and changes would be made. We talk a lot about impact in the DTP, but I think I had more impact in those five weeks than I have so far in my whole PhD! The changes we suggested will directly impact literally thousands of kids across the country.
Fleur: I found it really valuable to take a break from my PhD research while still being so involved in historical research every day. I talked about this a bit on my TikTok account, because I realised that the placement was igniting new ideas for my PhD research. Also, as a historian generally, it was so nice to learn about new parts of History! Especially, with the nature of the PhD, feeling like I’ve not thought about anything else for the last two years. I learned so much on the placement – I feel like I might actually be useful in the History category at a pub quiz now.
Cat: It’s made me realise how much I can get done in two hours! I think I hadn’t been giving myself enough credit for how hard it is to do such a long-term project.
Are you taking anything from the placement into the future?
Cat: Definitely! For the moment, I’ll be breaking the PhD down into much smaller chunks, and trying to structure my chapters like episodes. I’ve got more confident writing when I don’t have all the answers yet.
Fleur: Absolutely. The placement is the first time I’ve been able to work from home effectively, because I enjoyed what I was doing so much. My relationship to working has changed a lot since being so involved in a process that I was experiencing so positively.
Cat: I couldn’t agree more. Now I have a really clear-cut example of how working in a team can improve my wellbeing, I’m establishing a group of study-buddies. I’m also insisting on a 9-6 workday, because I massively valued the activities I did in the evenings and on the weekends.
Cat: Long-term, I’ve found something even more precarious than academia to set my sights on! This felt so meaningful whilst also being a lot of fun. I’m hoping to keep up both once I become a postdoc – working for TV in the summers when research and teaching contracts end.
Fleur: Piggy backing on Cat, I’ve also realised that there are other avenues I can explore. It’s really helped my anxiety about post-PhD life. I used to be very worried that if I didn’t get a postdoc that I wouldn’t be able to use the skills that my PhD has given me, but I’ve realised now that there are other industries that value my skills and that I could really enjoy working in.