Daniela Fazio Vargas, Sociology, University of Manchester (2021 Cohort)
As first-year PhD students, we have repeatedly been told that starting a PhD journey is not easy. It requires us to be organised, not miss deadlines, be open to changing ideas, devote ourselves to a single topic for many years, be guided by experts in our field, and meet the most diverse students. But it is also an extraordinary opportunity to research something you are passionate about, develop skills, challenge yourself, and constantly learn from your supervisors and peers. This first year has been enriching for me as a Sociology PhD student at the University of Manchester. I consider that this has been made possible by the support I have received from the School of Social Sciences, my department, and the NWSSDTP. One of the reasons why I am eager to write this entry for the scholarship’s blog is to be part of the organising team of the PGR conference: “Social Movements in a Changing World: Disharmony, affinity, and solidarity at the intersections” (to be held online on the 1st of June).
My mentor, a third-year student that has helped me throughout my first year, invited me to participate in this activity. In the beginning, I was not sure, I was afraid of being involved in something new but also with people that, at that time, I barely knew. However, her enthusiasm convinced me, as well as the chosen topic for the conference: “Social Moments in a Changing World” – which is aligned with my own research topic. I am studying the 2019 Protests in Chile and their relationship with music. Over time, I started to discover how much you can learn from experiences such as this one. Not only in terms of logistic and organisation skills, but also in learning more about how Academia works, and how important it could be to create spaces for the diffusion of knowledge.
As I said, this experience was new for me. Before, I had the opportunity to participate in conferences and congresses as a participant and speaker. Nevertheless, I had never realised how much effort and work is happening “behind”. To organise a conference requires time and dedication. Together with the other students, we have been learning how important it is to write a concise but appealing call for papers, how important it is to choose the right keynote speaker (and how difficult it is to deal with other people’s schedules!). We have talked several times with professors within the department who have offered us their advice. We have spent many hours discussing whether it is better to have online or in-person events (a lesson that the pandemic has left us). I have seen how important it could be to be active on social media (especially for me, that I am not active at all), have contacts, spread the word, and invite more and more people to join our conference. The constructive dialogue I have had with the other students and the abstracts of potential speakers have taught me so many things that I will need more than one entry on this blog to delve into all I have learned.
There is another aspect that I would like to highlight that drove me to participate in the organising team of this conference: I wanted to meet the other students. When you are first arriving at the University, and especially if you are an international student, as is my case, it could be challenging to meet new people. Socialising and developing a sense of ‘belonging’ or ‘fitting in’ is a crucial, but sometimes difficult, aspect of the PhD. I saw in the conference an opportunity to meet and share experiences with other students from my program.
Organising a conference requires motivation but also patience and resilience in the face of frustration. The big day has not yet arrived, but throughout this process, I have been learning something new each day it passes. Participating in the activities, especially when you have support from the University and the NWSSDTP, is a fantastic opportunity to learn and enhance your experience. As I see it, the experience is not something fixed, nor is the PhD; it is an opportunity to learn, encounter what is different, and return to oneself enriched. This is what I have been experienced during these first months of my PhD, and as time goes by, I have convinced myself that doing the PhD at the University of Manchester has been the best opportunity for me, since I consider that I have the best supervisors, but also from the support I have received from the NWSSDTP, the different departments at the Uni, the resources it provides and my peers.