Ross Deans Kristensen-McLachlan

PhD 2020

HEI: University of Glasgow

Funding: AHRC DTP

Title: Rhetorical effects in illness writing: A coherence-based approach 

Supervisors: Marc Alexander and Catherine Emmott


What was your research about?

My thesis used cognitive-stylistic techniques to analyse rhetorical effects in a collection of non-fiction writing about illness. I drew on a broad range of related disciplines, including discourse analysis and cognitive psychology, and used these approaches to conduct a close linguistic analysis of the texts analysed. The results of this analysis were linked to existing research in the medical humanities, specifically in relation to illness and narrative. In particular, I described how readers utilise certain linguistic features in order to construct a coherent mental representation of a text. I also argued that certain strategies employed by readers to create these interpretations have rhetorical effects which go beyond coherence building.

From a cognitive-stylistic perspective, it contributed to the understanding of the relationship between coherence-building strategies and their rhetorical effects. However, it also aimed to contribute to the ongoing work in medical humanities, which seeks to advance our understanding of the lived experience of illness

What made you apply for the SGSAH AHRC DTP?

Put bluntly, the reason I undertook a PhD was because I wanted to pursue a professional career in academia. I initially viewed my PhD somewhat like an apprenticeship – formal training one must complete in order to be able to pursue that career.

At first, I thought that this apprenticeship entailed simply learning how to conduct large, independent research projects and to present these results in an appropriate way. Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I came to learn that this is only part of the story!

Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed having the freedom to explore exciting and complex new ideas at my own pace, and the freedom to go off on new tangents. The only person to whom I was answerable was myself – and my very tolerant supervisors.

But I most enjoyed the experience working in an internationally recognized department full to the brim of scholars whom I admired (and still admire) greatly. The environment in which I conducted my PhD research continues to influence me in surprising ways which I don’t always realize, such as in the way I interact with students or colleagues.

How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?

On a very practical level, during my PhD I managed to secure student development funding to attend a summer university at Aarhus University in Denmark. This course directly affected the way I thought about many of the problems I was grappling with in my research, and actually altered the direction of my work in a very fundamental way. (I kept in touch with the person who ran the summer school and as a result ended up with a job as a research assistant at Aarhus University when I finished my PhD. So, the summer university I attended is directly responsible for my current career in a very real way!)

On a more diffuse level, the environment in which I completed my PhD training influenced every aspect of how I approach my professional life as an academic. This is both in terms of my individual subject area at the University of Glasgow (English Language & Linguistics), but also the environment provided by SGSAH more generally. This environment showed me that academic research in the arts and humanities doesn’t have to be (only) dusty old books and dark offices. It helped me to realize that I definitely did want to be an academic, and it helped me to clarify what kind of academic I wanted to be.

I often tell people that a substantial part of my PhD training was learning how to take interdisciplinarity as a starting point, not an add-on. I also often find myself talking with students and junior colleagues about the necessity of being open to new ideas and to new people, to building networks both within and across their university. And lastly, I regularly find myself coaching the PhD students I work with on the importance of sometimes taking things slowly for the sake of their work, and for their own sake. These principles – openness, bonding, care – are principles that have helped me on my career path, and are all things I learned as part of the SGSAH.

And now?

I am Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science and Humanities Computing at Aarhus University in Denmark.

These days, I primarily study the similarities and differences between how computers learn to use language and how we understand human cognition and linguistic creativity. I also collaborate with a wide range of scholar from the arts and humanities, helping them integrate computational methods and machine learning into their research.

One piece of advice you would give an incoming PhD researcher?

Never underestimate the importance of kindness – to your peers, to your colleagues, and to yourself.

Where can people find you?

Twitter: @ross_dkm

This article was published on 6 September 2022