PhD History student Zoe Screti says that the History Department’s stimulating research environment is a true joy to be part of. She tells us about her experience as a researcher at the University of Birmingham.
Why did you choose to study a PhD in History?
“I chose to study a PhD in History because history enables you to study such a diverse and broad array of topics, as well as giving you access to a number of different source materials. It’s so exciting to be able to study the past, to see the same concerns which we have today echoed throughout the ages, and to see how life, though very different, was fundamentally the same. Studying history is a chance to study not only events and key moments in time, but life, emotions, and hopes and fears themselves: it’s a chance to explore humanity. The great thing about studying for a PhD is that you are free to study whatever part of that humanity, whatever aspect of the past that you find exciting. There’s a certain freedom to the study that is unlike any other so it’s a fantastic opportunity to delve into something you’re really passionate about.”
Why did you choose to undertake research at the University of Birmingham?
“I chose to undertake research at the University of Birmingham because the history department here is second to none. The diversity amongst the staff with regards their research areas creates an exciting and stimulating research environment which is a true joy to be a part of. This diversity also means that whatever you are interested in or whatever you are studying, there is always someone you can talk to and discuss ideas with. The University also enables you to have access to a number of key sources which is invaluable in your research and its central location makes it easy to travel to most of the major archives in the UK.”
What are the best things about your course?
“The best things about my course are my supervisory team, the postgraduate community, and the research culture here at Birmingham. As a full time researcher, I meet with my supervisory team monthly. I thoroughly enjoy having the time to discuss and debate ideas, build upon my theories, and receive constructive criticism on the work I have produced. It is an invaluable space in which to grow and develop and I always leave feeling a renewed sense of determination and drive to push myself further.
“Whilst the supervisory team help in an academic sense, the postgraduate community is beneficial in a social space. Meeting with peers, holding postgraduate symposiums, and running postgraduate specific events and workshops has been a great chance to discuss life as a researcher, network, and also enjoy some down time with likeminded people. A PhD is, of course, largely about your thesis, but having a space to unwind is often equally as important and being part of the postgraduate community is a chance to do so.
“The research culture is also exceptional at Birmingham, with regular seminars being held across the department. These research seminars have been a fantastic opportunity to broaden my horizons and look beyond my own topic of study to other areas, sometimes even outside of my time period. Furthermore, being able to see eminent historians from both within the department and beyond present their research is a great insight into academia, offering the chance to learn about presenting and networking as much as the topics being presented.”
What is life like as a researcher at the University of Birmingham?
“Life as a researcher at Birmingham can sometimes be chaotic and busy but it is always fun. It is often the case that no two weeks are the same as there are always research seminars, workshops, and other events to keep you busy alongside your study. That being said, I try to keep regular working hours during the day and having access to my own desk on campus has really helped with this, giving me my own research space in which I can work quietly and productively. Being on campus for the majority of the week means that I am able to really feel part of both the research culture and postgraduate community of Birmingham, both of which inspire me to further my study and myself daily. The conversations I have with both peers and academics often prove invaluable, offering the chance to bounce around ideas, build upon theories, and consider arguments from different angles.”
What support have you received during your PhD?
“During my PhD I have received funding from the University through the College of Arts and Law Doctoral Scholarship. This award has alleviated financial worries and enabled me to undertake my studies. I have been supported academically by not only my supervisory team but also other academics who have offered advice, suggested further reading, and directed me to certain sources. Personally, I have also been supported by my peer network, both through the friendships I have formed and the mentoring system, as well as my family and friends.”
Outside of your research, what experience have you gained and how will it help you in the future?
“Outside of my research, I have organised a number of conferences and symposiums, given research papers, been an assistant editor at the Midlands Historical Review, and worked as the Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) Communications Administrator. Organising conferences and symposiums has been a fantastic opportunity to both gain experience in the planning of such events and network with a broad array of individuals, both postgraduate researchers and established academics. As I hope to pursue a career in academia, these experience will benefit me greatly as they have equipped me with the skills needed to plan further conferences and symposiums in the future. Presenting my own research at conferences has also been hugely beneficial as I have been able to not only share my research and gain feedback on it, but also learn about the art of presenting and network with some of the most eminent names in my field of study. I feel I have really grown through these experiences.
“Working as an assistant editor at the Midlands Historical Review has enabled me to gain an insight into the workings of a peer reviewed journal, enabling me to learn more about what editors look for in a piece and how your work is critically analysed by the peer reviewers. I now feel very comfortable with the editing process and feel this will help me to both edit articles in the future and more easily mark the work of students should I be successful in my pursuit of an academic career. This work has also enabled me to think more critically about my own writing, helping me to improve the quality of my writing.
“Finally, my work as the CREMS Communications Administrator has enabled me to consider public outreach to a much greater extent, an aspect of academia currently being emphasised. I have had the opportunity to run the Centre for Reformation Studies’ Twitter account as well as updating the website, both of which have required me to liaise with a number of academics as well as improve my understanding of how to reach and engage larger audiences. This role has thus been invaluable for my future progression as it has enabled me to gain experience in making academic history more accessible to non-specialists whilst also catering for the needs of the specialist audience.”
Find out more studying for a PhD in History over on our course pages.