Your PhD is started with inspiration, from a person or a movement or your background. Whatever it is, this spark is what keeps you going during the difficulties that inevitably pop up during the process. But sometimes, in the midst of the struggles of a PhD, it can be hard to remember why you started in the first place. It helps to periodically check back in, and reflect on what got you interested in your subject in the first place.
So for this month’s committee post, we have asked our committee members to reflect back on what inspired them to do a PhD!
I started my PhD out of frustration. I was annoyed that, despite being the most deadly sanitary crisis of the past two centuries, the Spanish Influenza was reduced to a footnote in history books. In Switzerland, where around 25,000 people died, the Centenary of the Spanish Flu went practically unnoticed ; in Europe, it wasn’t even mentioned during the commemoration of the End of the First World War.
I wanted to know more about this, to understand what impact it had on our societies, how it influenced the political upheavals of 1918 – but mostly, I was annoyed that so many professional historians treated this profound crisis as if it was an accident. Annoyed, frustrated, I began reading, looking for archives and for funds : it was Autumn 2018, and back then, epidemics still seemed far away.
The two things that most inspired me to start my PhD were opportunity and a family tradition of conservation. Growing up, my grandparents managed a museum dedicated to historical preservation of the Susquehannocks, the indigenous people native to my home county, and their legacy. I loved exploring the museum, viewing the artifacts, learning about Susquehannock traditions and rituals, and from there, my interest in history sprouted.
After completing my Master’s of Historical Research, I thought I might be able to find work in a local museum or even teaching at a community college. Unfortunately, my student loan provider came calling while potential employers with liveable wages did not, so I fell into a routine of working an average of sixty hours per week between a full-time position as a primary school teacher and two part-time gigs at a bakery and a baseball park. In an effort to make a change and put my best foot forward, I applied to a university almost 4,000 miles away from home, and when I was somehow accepted, I knew it was an opportunity I had to take! Plus, as a historian, I love the idea of being called Dr. King!
It may sound banal, but I have (unconsciously) been inspired to pursue my PhD by a person – and that person is my professor of Ancient Greek History at university. His class was among the first ones ever I attended during my BA in Classics at Naples. It was a *huge* turning point for me. Both traumatizing and electrifying. First of all, I had never thought about myself as an historian until then; secondly, he structured that course as a methodological challenge. That continuous push to critical thought made me strive for research. The decision to apply for a PhD hence came just natural.
My inspiration to start my PhD was simultaneously inspired by a desire for social change and sheer luck. After completing my undergraduate in psychology at Edinburgh, I emailed a research group in London that had been referenced in my dissertation. By chance, one of their esteemed colleagues had recently moved to my small town and offered to meet with me! Her encouragement directed me towards my PhD program.
Additionally, I have always been interested in reproductive and sexual healthcare and rights. Growing up in the very conservative, religious Southeast Unite States I was very aware of the barriers to reproductive healthcare, specifically abortion. So when a PhD came up with the chance to explore abortion stigma, I jumped at the chance. I have been so lucky to work on a subject near and dear to my heart for the past 3 years!
For a number of years, I have worked in professional services in Universities working with academics on projects, learning about their research and always in awe of their knowledge and expertise. The idea of completing my own PhD was always there but I was always concerned that the time-frame felt too long. My current work role involves the management of research projects. I talked with academic colleagues about ideas I had for my PhD and they encouraged me to explore the EdD programme which is a mix of taught and self-research elements.
I have always been fascinated by people, their identities and how they perceive and present themselves and a large part of my work is understanding individual academics and how to get the best out of them and their areas of expertise. This has led me to undertake my EdD in how academic identities may be impacted by neoliberal policies and the marketisation of England’s higher education. I am exploring this through the use of Photovoice, a creative and empowering methodology for participants.
I was inspired to undertake my PhD by my grandfather, who sadly passed last year. He valued education more than anyone else in my family and was always my biggest supporter – sometime you only need one person to believe in your dream!
My specific topic came about due to reading, and some personal experiences with the people who would be one day positively impacted by my research.