Dr Nick Caddick, a Senior Research Fellow and Deputy director of the Veterans and Families Institute, Anglia Ruskin University.

What are you currently working on?

I’m about to start a really exciting Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project called ‘Stories in Transition’; working with three unique military charities to explore how veterans are using the arts, culture and sport to help them transition to civilian life. Part of the project involves documentary filmmaking as a way for veterans – as peer-researchers – to become authors of their own transition narratives, rather than slotting into the pre-defined stories told about them in the press and by government and academia. It’s a big multi-disciplinary, multi-institution and multi-partner project and I can’t wait to get started on it. Aside from that, I’m also working on my first book ‘The Cultural Politics of Veterans’ Narratives’ for the Advances in Critical Military Studies series (co-edited by Sarah Bulmer and Victoria Basham) with Edinburgh University Press. In the book I’m exploring the moral and political work performed by the stories veterans tell about war and military life, and arguing that we need better ways of listening and responding to these stories. It feels like a really big undertaking but I’m trying hard to keep making steady progress with it!

What was your path to where you are now?

My path is probably best described as winding. I started off as a sport and exercise science undergraduate, and from there gravitated towards psychology. I ended up doing a Graduate Diploma in psychology before studying a masters in sport and exercise psychology at Loughborough University. I then started my doctorate looking at veterans’ stories of surfing as a means of dealing with post-traumatic stress. That was a fascinating project (not least because I got to go surfing for my PhD), and sparked an interest for me in working with veterans. Around the time I finished my PhD, I learned of the Veterans and Families Institute (VFI) starting up at Anglia Ruskin University. I applied for a job as a Research Fellow and joined about a year after it started, when we were still a very small research institute. So I’ve been with the VFI almost from the beginning and watched and helped it grow from 2015 onwards. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful colleagues there, and there is a real focus on doing excellent research. We’ve been fairly successful in getting funded to do various bits of research, which has helped us to grow and attract more research staff. I’m currently senior research fellow and deputy director of the institute, and I’m enjoying the challenge of leading bigger projects and mentoring junior colleagues. I’m no longer a ‘psychologist’ though, and have come to feel far more at home in sociology, and lately politics/IR.

What are you currently reading and is it any good?

I’ve got a lot of books on the go at the moment, as I can never seem to stick with one at a time; there always seems to be so much relevant material it’s hard to prioritise. A lot of the stuff I read is to inform the book project I’m working on. I’m currently part way through David Olusoga’s ‘The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire’, which definitely challenges common assumptions of who ‘British veterans’ are imagined to be in a historical context. I’m reading Afua Hirsch’s book ‘Brit(ish): On race, identity and belonging’, as part of a wider effort to figure out how veterans’ stories fit into our frayed sense of national belonging and culture. I’ve recently finished Kate McLoughlin’s book ‘Veteran poetics: British literature in the Age of Mass warfare, 1790-2015’ for an understanding of literary treatment of ‘the veteran’. It’s a little outside my disciplinary comfort zone but I enjoyed it. Soon I’m also hoping to open my copy of Catherine Baker’s edited volume ‘Making war on bodies: Militarisation, aesthetics and embodiment in international politics’ – which has such a varied and exciting contents page I’m really eager to get to it after I’ve finished some of the above.

How are you finding working from home?

I’m fortunate enough to have a decent office space at home so it’s not been too bad. I know colleagues that have struggled to create a peaceful home working environment, and it has been really tough. I miss my colleagues, having not seen any of them face-to-face since March. I also miss working in the library on occasion, and my walk home at the end of the day. Normally that’s my chance to unwind before launching into playtime, dinnertime and bedtime with the kids. Now that happens as soon as I power down my laptop!

What advice would you give to PhD students and early career researchers that you wish someone had said to you?

I think I underestimated the importance of having a vision/mission for my career at the outset. By that I mean a strong sense of what are the key ideas that are shaping my work, and where I want my contribution to sit. That can be really difficult to achieve for an early career researcher when fixed term contracts seem to be the norm (a very problematic situation for ECRs and academia in general). It took me a while to figure out what my career vision/contribution was going to be. I suppose that was a journey that defined the ECR period of my career. I’m emerging out of that now, and have developed a clearer idea of what I want to do in academia.

Who have been the most influential academics on your professional career?

There have been a few that really stand out. Brett Smith was an incredible mentor during my five years at Loughborough University. He taught me to embrace the notion of ‘scholarship’ in an academic environment where the institutional pressures and demands often work contrary to that ideal. I miss our informal chats in the Swan in the Rushes; they were often as helpful as the formal supervisory process. Theoretically, Arthur Frank has been a big influence on my career. His creative and innovative thought on narrative has consistently nurtured my own thinking and research. I’ve also found an extremely supportive community of like-minded scholars within Critical Military Studies (CMS), who provide a vital source of challenge and debate. There are a lot of people helping to build networks and generate ideas, and whilst CMS isn’t ‘led’ by any one academic, Victoria Basham has certainly done a lot to support people like myself working in this area.