Why did you choose to study for a PhD in Modern Languages?

One of the reasons I chose this course was that it would enable me to further develop my research, writing, and critical thinking skills. As a research student you really do use these skills every day and, as well as being extremely valuable in their own right, these skills will be invaluable in my future career. Speaking of careers, I chose to undertake a PhD because I intend to work in the education sector post-PhD. Whichever route I take in this sector, my experiences and the knowledge I gain as a PhD student will (hopefully!) be of great value in the workplace.

However, the biggest motivator behind my choice was the opportunity to contribute something new to my academic field. Nobody is going to reinvent the wheel, but studying for a research degree gives you opportunities to share your own original findings with researchers from around the world. Every conference paper or presentation takes our collective knowledge another step further, and that prospect was extremely enticing for me.

Why did you choose to undertake research at the University of Birmingham?

One of the major, subject-specific factors that made me choose Birmingham was the Institute for German and European Studies (IGES). The IGES is a large research institute draws together researchers from different fields who have common research interests. As a PhD student in German Studies you are automatically a part of the Institute, and you are able to attend its lectures, seminars, and other events, so the opportunity to be part of such a broad and supportive research network definitely drew me towards Birmingham. In addition to the IGES, my supervisor was one of the main reasons I chose Birmingham. As a PhD student one of the most important people involved in your project is your supervisor. Before applying I met my now supervisor to discuss my potential PhD project and possible supervision arrangements and, after discussions with him, it was clear that my project would complement his area of expertise nicely.

What are the best things about your course?

One of the best things about my course is the freedom to read widely. When beginning a new chapter or new part of a thesis there are so many possible angles to approach it from. This variety gives me as a research student the intellectual freedom to try out different methods of research and to find new perspectives from which to approach my thesis, and I find this freedom both extremely enriching and enjoyable.

What is life like as a researcher at the University of Birmingham?

In a word? Flexible. As a researcher you are free to structure your days and weeks as best fits you. I generally try to stick to a 9-5 working pattern for routine’s sake, but I am free to rearrange commitments and working hours as I see fit, which is one of the big advantages of a research degree.

Life as a researcher also provides you with lots of choices as to which activities you pursue away from your thesis. There are lots of extra events going on, ranging from careers talks to research training seminars, and research students are encouraged to attend extra events that will help both their academic work, and their wider personal and professional development. I find it is good to attend these events to break up the day as well. As a PhD student you spend a lot of time with your thesis, and taking breaks from thinking about the same topic or few pages of writing can really help you keep fresh and return to your thesis with a clear mind.

What support have you received during your PhD?

The academic staff I have encountered in the course of my first year have been a constant source of support. The past year has by no means been easy for them either, but they have been very attentive to how my research is going, been very keen to help me out where possible, and have also checked how things are going for me personally too. Additionally, my fellow research students have also been a source of camaraderie. Though I have not yet been able to meet any of them in person, I have maintained contact with a few of them and we have been able to support each other from afar!

Aside from these groups, I have always been met with an answer and offer of further support from any University services I have contacted, from the library to IT services. I was new to the University of Birmingham for my PhD and navigating such a large institution was made easier by the staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the University running. It is nice to know that there is always a human at the end of an email address in these very digital times!

Outside of your research, what experience have you gained and how will it help you in the future?

In my first year I was a student representative for my course. This meant that I was tasked with gathering feedback from other PhD students in the School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music (LCAHM), passing this feedback onto academic and non-academic staff alike, and representing students in meetings with staff. This role helped me to gain experience in representing the interests of a specific group in meetings. I, the other representatives, and staff were able to mutually implement changes based on student feedback, and the communication and negotiation skills I gained through this role will serve me well in work and wider life.

In addition, one of my favourite experiences in my first year was helping to organise the LCAHM Annual Research Conference. I worked as part of an organising committee that planned, prepared, and ran the Conference online in May 2021. I enjoyed playing my part on this committee because as a team we worked together very well to make sure we held an enjoyable event that in the end also ran very smoothly (thankfully we had no technology-related issues on the day!), which gave me great experience in working as part of a focused team. I also had the chance to moderate the Q&A session held after the Conference’s keynote lecture. I had never done anything like that before, so moderating the session was a great lesson in facilitating and managing a discussion in front of a large number of people. These experiences will serve me well in the workplace post-PhD, whether I am helping to organise events or whether I am mediating in discussions between different groups of people.