Julia Peters

There could hardly be a better preparation for a PhD in cultural sociology than the Research Master.
PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology at Ghent University
Research Master Alumnus

Why did you choose for studying the Research Master in Rotterdam? Was it a choice for a PhD career or did other factors count too? If yes, which ones?
I was enrolled in the BA Arts and Culture Studies, also at the EUR. During the first year, I heard about the Research Master programme at a presentation on Master possibilities. I was drawn to the Research Master programme, but then kind of assumed I wouldn’t be able to reach the level in grades and motivation that was needed to be selected. An ‘expert’ on career choices once urged me that I should never do A PhD, as I would be too unfocussed and “carpe diem”-minded (which is quite true). 

But during my Bachelor’s, I became thoroughly fascinated with cultural sociology and sociology of culture, and turned into a quite diligent student. The Research Master quite perfectly fit my interest. A lot of strands in sociology seem rather boring to me, and here I would get to do almost exclusively my favorite form of sociology: not about how the world is, but about how different groups of people think the world is. I have never learned as much in two years as I did during the Research Master, and I have to admit I rather miss these very exciting, engaging, intensive and challenging days.

You are currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology at Ghent University. How long did it take you to find your present PhD position after graduation and through which means did you find it?
It took me about a month. I was working on proposals together with professors I knew from the EUR in order to retrieve a PhD scholarship (don’t put all your eggs in one basket, I was told). Suddenly, I received an email from a professor at Ghent University asking me if I wanted to come in to talk about a PhD project for which he was looking for a suitable candidate. A EUR-professor whom I had worked with on a research project during my bachelor’s had recommended me. That was great. I know a lot of people who got their PhD position by applying to jobs that were posted online, getting refused 9 out of 10 times. So I was a bit surprised that the job “came” to me instead of the other way around. I think it shows that working together with professors and others in the academic field early on can be really helpful in eventually finding a PhD.

What is the (working) title of your PhD project? Could you briefly explain what your PhD project is about? Is there any relation to the topic of your master’s thesis or research traineeship or to other elements of the research master’s programme?
The working title of the project is ‘Aesthetic regimes, social characteristics of visual artists, and cultural consecration: A diachronic sociological analysis of artists’ subsidies between 1965 and 1999 in Flanders.’ I did not come up with this project myself, which was (and still is) a bit problematic for me, as coming up with research ideas is one of the best parts of doing research and, moreover, when the project is already outlined by others, you have to get a feel for the project post hoc. The project has little to do with my thesis (on polyamory) or traineeship (on existential irony), but I am definitely able to employ a variety of elements of the Research Master program. First off, the cultural sociological approach can be applied to any subject matter, and secondly, the art world is among the topics that are of greatest interest for cultural sociologists, as it is all about meaning.

Would you say you were well prepared for conducting this particular PhD project, and for PhD research in general? Why/Why not?
There could hardly be a better preparation for a PhD in cultural sociology than the Research Master, with its hands-on focus on academic research, from the idea-making to the publishing stage, and its classes that are led by some of the best and most enthusiastic scholars in the field. What it hadn’t prepared me for, was that it is very different to do research when you aren’t constantly discussing articles and ideas and methods with others – it is a quite solitary profession (although this will differ from PhD position to PhD position), which I do not mind, but you often have to be your own sounding board and really have to be able to motivate yourself all the time, which can be a struggle in such a “free” line of work. There are few deadlines, few meetings, no compulsory office hours, and freedom to read what you want and choose pretty much any direction in your analysis you like – a blessing and a curse! 

Do you have any tips and tricks for current research master students?
Before your PhD, you should try to already immerse yourself in the academic field by talking to its players (including about your favourite beer brand), partaking in conferences, and maybe even publishing. During your PhD you have to do your best (of course), but don’t be too harsh on yourself when you don’t immediately get into the swing of it (some PhD’s never do and still finish).