Simon Rushton

In discussion: Simon Rushton

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We recently announced the election of new members of our Executive Committee. We hope this interview series, one with each new trustee, will help you get to know them a little better.  This week it's the turn of Simon Rushton who is based at the University of Sheffield.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you are from

I was born and grew up in Cumbria, in the north-west of England, before leaving to do my undergraduate and masters degrees in Hull, followed by a PhD in Aberystwyth. I worked in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth for several years before moving to the University of Sheffield in 2013.

Why did you want to be a BISA trustee and what do you hope to achieve during your term?

I’ve been a member of BISA for many years – since I was a PhD student – and have always thought it plays a vital role in creating a sense of community in British international studies. I think that’s really important for fostering intellectual exchange and collaboration, but it is also essential that we have a powerful collective voice to forward the interests of the discipline in a very challenging Higher Education environment.

I was keen to become a BISA trustee because I thought I’d reached the stage in my career where I was in a position to contribute something meaningful to BISA. As a researcher whose work is inherently interdisciplinary, I’m particularly keen to support BISA’s efforts to strengthen connections with other disciplines, and to ensure that BISA continues to be a space that is welcoming of work that pushes at the boundaries of what we might think of as ‘IR’ narrowly defined. I’m also really supportive of the amazing work that BISA does to provide opportunities for early career researchers. I benefited a great deal from that, and hope to be able to contribute to it during my time as a trustee.

What is your area of research and how did you get into it? What are you currently working on?

I’ve long had a bit of a split personality in terms of my research focus, and that reflects the way that I found my way into the discipline. My PhD examined UN peacebuilding and just as I was finishing writing up my thesis I was fortunate to get hired by (former BISA Chair) Colin McInnes as a Research Assistant on a project looking at the role of the health sector in post-conflict peacebuilding. I knew nothing at all about health, but I presume I managed to fool Colin into thinking I at least knew something about peacebuilding…

Through this, I became fascinated with the global politics of health. This became the main focus of my research agenda for many years, working on global health governance and issues around security and health. More recently, this has shifted to a more ‘bottom-up’ approach to the global politics of health, looking in particular at issues of health inequality and access to health services through a series of projects in Nepal. I’m still working there with colleagues from Public Health and other disciplines, and also continuing my work on the politics of health security through an in-progress book project on technology and disease-related bordering practices.

Alongside this, over the last five years or so I’ve returned to working on issues of post-conflict peacebuilding, specifically through a series of collaborative projects in Colombia. This has been a great opportunity to further develop my interest in participatory, community-based work (which I originally began using in Nepal). A co-authored book coming out of that work – Participating in Peace – was published by Bristol University Press a couple of weeks ago.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far? Do you have any advice for colleagues just embarking on an academic career?

I’ve been hugely fortunate throughout my career to have really great support and advice from many, many great friends and colleagues - sometimes those more senior than me, but also more junior colleagues who I’ve had the chance to learn from. At the same time, I’m certainly not naïve about the huge advantages that I’ve had in terms of race, gender, sexuality, native language – and the period in which I entered the profession, in the early 2000s.

I worry greatly that academia has become a less kind and more competitive place. We talk more about career and skills development, but give early career scholars less time to go through that development process. We expect them to be world class researchers, teachers and administrators before getting their first job. I was certainly none of those things at the end of my PhD (I’m still not some of them!) and don’t think I would have ever got my start in the current environment. I don’t know what that adds up to in terms of advice for individuals at the start of their careers. I suppose it is: take every opportunity you can to build your skills and experience. A brilliant PhD thesis will help you, but on its own won’t be enough.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

If academia doesn’t work out, I’ve always thought I would be very happy as a pizza chef.


Next week look out for our interview with Una McGahern (Newcastle University). This will be published on Tuesday 29 August.