Originally a medical graduate, John Rumbold eventually converted to academic research in the legal field. He had been working for the NHS for several years and a chance conversation with a colleague inspired him to research the legal aspects of sleep walking and other parasomnia cases. He is doing research into non-psychiatric conditions and mental condition defences - automatism, unconsciousness and insanity - and has a wider interest in criminal law theory. John is now a senior PhD student within the Research Institute for Social Sciences at Keele University. His project is looking at the way expert witnesses present their evidence about parasomnias in criminal trials to see if this is justified.
John’s field of research is not only fascinating but also extremely narrow. There are only a handful of experts dealing with these topics, and none at all in his university. This is why John pointed out that Academia.edu was a good environment for creating his own mini-community of researchers with overlapping interests:
“I think anyone in a small field and not involved with the major research groups will find Academia more useful than those who have colleagues at the same institution involved in similar work. You can create your own virtual research community. I’ve connected with the main other person involved in similar research on here. It’s good to be able to discuss the issues with a fellow academic sometimes.”
John found through the topics feature a fellow researcher, Gethin Rees from the University of Southampton, who was equally interested in parasomnias. Academia.edu’s topics are not fixed so one can create a new topic if it hasn’t been listed by other users before. If the topic is already created, one can discover researchers from the same area just by searching for specific keywords. John typed “sleepwalking crimes” and found out whenever other people joined the topic. This topic now reunites 4 followers, while “automatism" attracts 5 researchers. He also got in touch with a law professor from South Africa with whom he exchanged some articles in law as well as forensic entomology, another niche field.
John is currently organising a conference and he is using the website to measure potential interest and to invite keynote speakers.
“At the moment I’m organising a conference, so [Academia] is helpful in trying to find people who know about this particular topic [and wish to participate]. I’ve also managed to track down some people as speakers.”
The conference will take place at Keele University in June 2013 on the topic of automatism.
While previously solitary in his academic endeavours, John now has online chats with his peers, shares his current research online, while following and reading papers uploaded on his very specific topics of interest. He has created his own virtual academic space, a space where he can always bounce off ideas with someone.