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I am Matt Lawson and This is How I Work

Today, I am inviting Matt Lawson in the “How I Work” series. Matt is about to submit a PhD thesis in musicology at Edge Hill University, UK. His doctoral research, which examined the use of film music in German Holocaust cinema, has been presented at conferences across the UK, and internationally in Germany, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Australia and New York City. During the course of his PhD, Matt also spent ten weeks in Germany on funded Fellowship programmes, supported by the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and the Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). He has recently worked as a consultant for the BBC, producing a website iWonder feature on the use of classical music in films, television shows and video games. Although Matt is a musicologist specializing in music for film and television, he has an academic grounding in many aspects of music theory, history and analysis. Having completed his undergraduate honours degree in Music at Huddersfield in 2009, Matt has since gained an MA with distinction from the University of York (2012). He was also a postgraduate participant in a HEA collaborative project between Edge Hill University and the University of Roehampton. Matt has taught at Edge Hill on four different degree programmes across the faculty of Arts and Sciences, and has recently completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PGCTHE), granting him Fellow status of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA). Visit his website at

Current Job: Sessional Music Lecturer at a HE College
Current Location: South Yorkshire, UK
Current mobile device: iPhone 5C (8GB)
Current computer: Laptop. My lovely gaming/work PC is poorly and is in for (an expensive) repair.

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I’m about to submit my PhD thesis following a three-year GTA studentship programme at Edge Hill University. I’m in the strange post-PhD, pre-Getting A Job stage of life. I’m a musicologist, and my doctoral research examines how film music is used in German Holocaust cinema. More broadly, I’m interested in differing uses of music and sound in cinema and television. I’ve been lucky to get some sessional teaching work at a HE college very local to my home, and there’s a few other irons in the fire which will hopefully come off too. Fingers crossed!

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
I’m fairly lightweight when it comes to this. Microsoft Office. I don’t use any referencing software, as I find it adds more complexity to my working patterns. Microsoft Word has been at the core of 99% of my PhD process.

What does your workspace setup look like?

As I’ve moved home, and am about to submit, I guess this question is in the past tense! I had my own shared office with other GTAs, but often preferred to work in the postgraduate room. I found it a more productive working atmosphere, and being able to vent with other PhD candidates was always helpful. I struggle to work from home, as it’s too familiar. I spent 10 weeks in Germany during my PhD on funded Fellowship schemes, and I found this to be very productive. I probably wrote just shy of 30,000 words in those ten weeks.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Just do it. Even if you’re not in the mood, just write anything down. This ties in with my answer to the question on the best advice I’ve ever received. I think you’ve got to be passionate about what you do, too. Writing a journal article, or making changes to a literature review, are not always going to be exciting, but you’ve got to make them exciting, and remind yourself why you’re doing it in the first place. Also, be strict with a working pattern. Especially if the PhD is full-time, and you have no other commitments, treat it seriously. Set your alarm for 7:30am, even on a cold, dark December morning, and get in to the office with a tea or coffee by 9am. Take a morning break, a lunch hour, an afternoon break, and then go home at 5:30 or 6pm and RELAX. I burnt out during my PhD, and it was quite serious at one point in terms of my mental health. If I could go back and change anything, it would be to look after myself. I’m still recovering from the mental exhaustion I caused myself by taking too much on, and not allowing myself to have some ‘me’ time.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Just a simple folder ordering system on my PC desktop. Folders with titles such as ‘PhD’, ‘Misc’, ‘Journal Articles’, ‘Funding Applications’ and so forth keep me fairly organised. I could improve though…

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
I have an iPad which is useful when reading bits and bobs on the sofa on an evening, but it’s never really been a huge part of my academic life. I use it to watch Netflix films though, and to browse the internet generally. The computer is the main tool really.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?

Ambition. When I started my PhD in 2012, I’d only presented at one conference, and that was tied in to my Masters programme. Three years later, I’ve presented across the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, the USA (New York and LA) and Australia. I’ve also applied for, and received, four different scholarships or fellowships. I love talking about my work, and am passionate about it, so travelling to exotic places is a mix of two of my passions: travel and academia! Some say I’ve overdone it, but my CV looks fairly strong as I enter the job market, and I think this striving to constantly disseminate my research and travelling large distances to do it will help me in the long term.

What do you listen to when you work?

Embarrassingly, as a musicologist, nothing! I find music while I am working very distracting. However, on the rare occasions I do, I would either listen to some rousing film music to get me in the mood to work, or my absolute favourite band, Muse.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I’ve just finished reading the biography of the aforementioned band Muse. I’ve not read a novel in quite a while. I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and have read both again recently. However, I feel that academic reading has put me off ‘normal’ reading for a short while!

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

I’m traditionally fairly quiet, shy and conscientious, but presenting at academic conferences and teaching have led me to be far more confident and outgoing. I wouldn’t say I’m the life and soul of a party still, but I’ve definitely come out of my shell, and feel very comfortable with public speaking now.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Better than during some stages of my PhD. Due to the flexible working hours of doctoral life, I found myself at one stage watching TV or films until 2am, and waking up at 9:30-10am the next morning. Now I have moved home, I have got into a more respectable pattern. I usually nod off between 11-11:30 and wake up at around 8am.

What’s your work routine like?

As I’m in the strange purgatory of PhD/Work, I’m fairly flexible at the moment. Before too long though, I’ll begin working Tuesday-Thursday at the HE college, and then use Monday and Friday to continue building my research profile by adapting my doctoral work into journal articles.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
If you’re struggling to write, just write something s*** and the next day, go back and make it less s***. It’s better than ending the day with a blank page.

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