Julian Schaap

You have ample opportunity (internship, master thesis) to develop ideas at length.
PhD Candidate at the Department Arts and Culture Studies at the Erasmus University Rotterdam
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?
While finishing my Bachelor programme in History I grew an interest in how historical processes continue to shape current societies. This caused a shift in my focus from history to sociology. Due to the combination of cultural sociology and the sociology of media and the arts, I thought the research master was one of the best international programmes available to develop my knowledge on this. Although I started the master with the idea of pursuing an academic career only in the back of my mind, it only took a few weeks into the first courses to make me realize this is exactly what I wanted – and still want – to do.

When did you know you wished to pursue a PhD degree? Could you explain why a PhD trajectory was appealing to you?
I wanted to pursue a PhD degree for two intertwined reasons that continue to push me today. First, on a more personal level, I decided I never wanted to stop learning about society. Becoming an academic researcher was the most logical choice in that regard. Second, I wanted to share this knowledge with as many people as possible instead of keeping it for myself or a few like-minded individuals. Thus it was the prospect of teaching and bringing research to and beyond the city that motivated me. Teaching is not a one-way process - you can really learn a great lot from students - so my causes for doing this became entangled to a high degree.

You are currently a PhD candidate at the Department Arts and Culture Studies at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. How long did it take you to find your present PhD position after graduation and through which means did you find it?
Together with dr. Pauwke Berkers and prof.dr. Koen van Eijck we started an application for a PhD-grant at NWO around half-way in my second year of the master program, while I was on exchange at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. We heard that we received the grant in May 2013, so I just started writing my master thesis at that moment. Although it was a lot of extra work during an intense year of studying, I could start my PhD project right after graduating in August of that year.

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 title of my PhD project is “Elvis has finally left the building? Boundary work, whiteness and the reception of rock music in comparative perspective”. As the title already reveals, the project deals with why rock music is such a ‘white’ music genre, meaning that most of its musicians and fans are white. Whiteness is relatively understudied since it is a – what we call – ‘unmarked’ racial type in society which makes whites rarely aware of their own ethno-racial background, as compared to non-whites. Think of hip hop for instance, which is usually immediately marked as a ‘black’ type of music. Popular music can bring people together – the common saying goes – but it actually rarely is a cause for complete social cohesion beyond gender, sexuality, age, race and ethnicity. In the end, the core question is whether Elvis as the rock ‘n’ roll prototype - the male white rocker - is still center stage in rock music reception.

The topic was developed by Pauwke Berkers, my co-promotor, and I wrote my master thesis on the same topic since we were working on the application for the project at the time.

Would you say you were well prepared for conducting this particular PhD project, and for PhD research in general? Why/Why not?
Yes, I think the research master was the best possible preparation to start a PhD project. Apart from teaching me how to read critically and write well, the programme helped me to delve into all kinds of practicalities that I wouldn’t have thought of before. For example, we had sessions on submitting articles to journals and also on how to pursue an academic career while maintaining a private life as well. Although it might seem odd, these kinds of questions are the first to arise when you start such a career and having some of them already answered made me handle the ropes a bit better, I think.

Do you have any tips and tricks for current research master students?
Enjoy it as much as you can! In hindsight I realize how amazing it was to be able to read about so many different interesting topics while being in an intellectually stimulating group of peers and being guided by experts in the field. When you start your PhD your reading and thinking becomes much more focused on a couple of topics. Of course this is nice – it helps you become an expert yourself – but it does at times prevent you from really being open to all kinds of research and disciplines. In addition to that, I can recommend to really grasp this ‘openness of your brain’ as long as you can and not decide at the start what you want to focus on. You have ample opportunity (internship, master thesis) to develop ideas at length, so use the different courses to write papers about various topics. It helps you to become truly inter-disciplinary and make the most of the two years the program offers. It goes without saying that going on international exchange is an absolute must.