Inspiring Nottingham Research Fellows
Teresa Baron is a Nottingham Research Fellow based in the Department of Philosophy
What makes someone a parent?
In 2019, I presented a paper on surrogacy at the Philosophy In Progress conference in Nottingham – the question it focused on was more of a side project at that point, separate from my main line of PhD research.
What I didn't know was that this question would stick in my brain, and eventually become the centre of a whole new research project. It seems beautifully poetic that I would get to dive into that project at Nottingham, where that seed first started growing!
This fellowship offers an incredible opportunity to pursue an independent research project while encouraging multidisciplinary collaboration, and the link to a permanent position following the fellowship represents genuine investment in early-career scholars by the university, something I think is increasingly rare in modern academia.
The link to a permanent position following the fellowship represents genuine investment in early-career scholars by the university
What challenges are you hoping to tackle?
I started working in the philosophy of parenthood pretty accidentally – I began my PhD with the Better Understanding the Metaphysics of Pregnancy (BUMP) group in Southampton and stumbled across a paper from 1984 by a philosopher called Edgar Page, talking about the distinction between surrogacy and adoption. His focus on the genetic aspects of reproduction (and neglect of pregnancy) annoyed me enough to distract me from my original research and dive into this whole field of literature – I wanted to learn enough about it to be able to articulate why his account felt so intuitively wrong to me.
My research broadly asks what it is that makes someone a parent, a question we can understand in multiple senses – as applied to biological, social, legal, and moral parenthood, not to mention the intersection of these concepts – and is crucial to understanding and critically evaluating developments in assisted reproductive medicine and social practice.
I'm interested in some of the philosophical and legal issues raised by proposed changes to surrogacy law in the UK and in Ireland, which challenge not only some of these understandings of parenthood, but also the distinction between assisted reproduction and adoption. Insofar as any changes to surrogacy law (and/or adoption law) may have consequences for legal parenthood more generally, this could impact a huge number of people and have longer-reaching implications for the way in which we think of parenthood and family life.
I'm hoping that I'll be able to play a role in critically assessing the proposed Surrogacy Bill and influencing its development, and I'm hoping to tap into the expertise of colleagues at Nottingham (especially the Institute for Policy and Engagement) to do that, but I think it'll be the most challenging part of this work.
What has been the greatest moment of your career so far?
I'm still very early in my career – I finished my PhD in March 2020, and only have a couple of years post-doc research under my belt so I still feel pretty green. At the same time, I've been really fortunate in the experiences I've been able to have in that short time, especially considering how much of that was constrained by the pandemic.
Some highlights would be the visiting fellowship I spent at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, and the process of getting my first book contract with Cambridge University Press. I'm really grateful for the support I've had along the way.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Invest in relationships: take the time to find colleagues and friends who will inspire and encourage you (and who you can do the same for!).