Eva Selenko is a Senior Lecturer in Work Psychology at Loughborough University, where she studies the interplay between work and people’s identity. She was commissioned by Cumberland Lodge in 2018 to support our Working Identities project, as part of our Research Associate programme, which supports academics, and particularly early-career researchers, to build their research and publication profile and extend their networks across academic disciplines and outside of academia.
Speaking a year on, Eva said:
For me personally the time with Cumberland Lodge was mind-bending in many ways. Meeting so many super-interesting, original, inspiring people and working on the briefing document and Cumberland Lodge Report really assured me in my academic confidence.
As an academic, you never know whether your ideas resonate, and it was so great to learn that other people see my work as meaningful and practicable. I am also really proud of the final report, which contains a lot of original thought: it basically forms the heart of my research now.
Eva’s involvement in this project included carrying out independent research to summarise current work and understanding in an interdisciplinary briefing document to inform our conference discussions held in March 2019.
She also attended the cross-sector conference, took part in the discussions, networked with our diverse participants and produced a draft report to summarise the key themes that arose.
This summary formed the basis of the evening consultation we held at Cumberland Lodge in July 2019, involving a broad spectrum of conference representatives and further experts in the field, to refine our final recommendations.
The project culminated with Eva writing our Cumberland Lodge Report on Working Identities, working closely with our Programme team. We published the report in November 2019, with a launch event at Broadway House, Westminster. Eva offered her reflections on the report as part of the guest panel at the report launch, which was live-streamed online, and she had the chance to network with guests at the subsequent reception.
We asked Eva about whether the project had impacted on her career development.
I’ve recently been invited to become a Fellow at the Royal Society for the advancement of Arts, Commerce and Manufacturing (RSA), for my research on work in crisis. I suspect that the publicity my research received through my work for Cumberland Lodge was one reason for that invitation. I now hope to contribute to their Futures of Work programme, which connects very well to the ‘working identities’ theme.
Eva believes her Research Associate role has also strengthened her professional networks.
I’m still in contact with a number of the participants on social media, and we support one another’s work. I was particularly impressed by the work of one of the young Cumberland Lodge Fellows. Now I refer to his research in my own work and try to actively promote what he is doing.
I won’t forget a particular conversation I had with Geoffrey Evans, a Professor in the Sociology of Politics at the University of Oxford, who encouraged me not to shy away from doing the unusual in my research. We discussed my ideas for a paper on job insecurity, identity and political attitudes, which spans different academic disciplines. I have since written two interdisciplinary papers, one of which has been submitted to Political Psychology, and I am currently developing a third on the political consequences of work changes, which unites elements of politics, sociology and psychology.
I met people from really varied backgrounds – and some from highly regarded pockets of society that I wouldn’t normally have access to. What struck me was that we didn’t interact about who we were, but solely about what we had to say, about our ideas. It was a democratic ‘playing field’ of ideas, independent of anyone’s background or professional or societal standing. I really loved that.
I always thought of myself as open-minded and interdisciplinary in my thinking, but this setting reassured and strengthened my resolve to be like that.
We asked Eva how her experience with Cumberland Lodge has shaped her career choices since publishing the report.
I think this work will have a real impact on my own discipline of Work Psychology. My research has really turned towards working identities now. I’ve presented the ideas we developed at Cumberland Lodge to other universities and developed new collaborations with other institutions.
For example, I’ve linked up with researchers from the University of Glasgow who are working on the world of work, identity and extremism, and with researchers from Griffith University, Australia, who looking at working identities in relation to precarity among young people.
Eva hopes to build on this work further, as her career progresses.
In the next few years I see myself exploring this field of study further. The life-changes people have had to adapt to during the COVID-19 pandemic have certainly questioned their established identities. The predicted wave of job loss, furloughing and other dramatic work changes might undermine these self-understandings even further, and this brings the risk of further division.
The Cumberland Lodge experience has made me think more broadly about the role that working identities play in political cohesion, and what we might do to strengthen them. This is a really pressing question for society right now.