If you were to tell a younger Catherine Lynne Jenkins that she would find her vocation in health literacy and digital services in the NHS, she would be ‘very surprised.’ Whilst reading English at Keble, Catherine had imagined herself ‘ending up in a more conventional English graduate career.’
Born and raised amidst the ‘protective’ hills of the Welsh Valleys, the desire to explore beyond her boundaries arose early, as Catherine was selected for a Fulbright scholarship for European youth after studying for her A levels. The scheme took her abroad for the first time, travelling to Philadelphia for what was a life-changing experience: ‘it made me realise there’s a whole world out there.’
Inspired by her Fulbright experience, Catherine went to Oxford and then into the world of publishing, an initial career that might count as ‘more conventional’ for an English graduate. But it was through her time spent working at the publisher Springer Nature, which prioritises open research and specialises in bringing scientific research to a broader audience, that Catherine became immersed in the medical humanities, sparking an interest in health literacy that has since become a career and the focus of her research.
Catherine realised that she ‘wanted to work more on the ground with people,’ so she stepped back from publishing to take on the role of Health Literacy Project Manager at an NHS trust. This role allows her to work directly with her community to make clear and reliable healthcare information accessible to everyone and working with public libraries towards the aim of empowering people through better healthcare knowledge.
Thanks to an impressive talent for time management, Catherine juggles her NHS work alongside her PhD research. Whilst undoubtedly difficult, feeling at times ‘like a three-year-long essay crisis!’, her research is rewarding, focusing on critical health literacy from the perspective of children. Her research is founded on an approach called ‘institutional ethnography, which has its roots in social justice and political activism’ and ‘basically rewrites how research can be done,’ meaning that Catherine seeks to ‘take the perspective of a marginalised community, in this case children’ to understand their experiences and understanding of healthcare.
And Catherine retains her love for literature, demonstrated as she continues to work part-time in publishing, alongside her other commitments. Inspired by an obsession with the wave of Nordic Noir literature and television over the last decade, Catherine took a role at Norvik Press, a publisher of Nordic and Baltic literature in translation and scholarship. Her work in publishing, and in health literacy, combine Catherine’s love of communication and deep understanding of how to adapt messages to different audiences. Whilst working in a field quite distinct from her undergraduate studies, then, Catherine finds that the skills she picked up studying English continue to inform her professional and academic work.
Catherine’s advice to students includes keeping a reading list: her favourite part of the English course at Oxford was receiving the termly reading list from tutors, and Catherine has carried this tradition through to her personal and professional reading, keeping track of novels, narrative non-fiction, articles and Twitter threads of interest by capturing their metadata in Zotero (reference management software), Goodreads (which helps make reading more sociable), and a good old-fashioned notebook (‘Because I can never remember the pearls of wisdom gained through reading if I don’t write them down!’). Catherine is also a fan of listening to audiobooks and podcasts on dog-walks to give the eyes a bit of a rest – both definitely count as reading in her book!