Postgraduate Student Celeste Thorn Reflects on Her PhD Journey

Celeste Thorn is a postgraduate student in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her thesis is a comparative analysis of sites of traumatic history and the politicised memorialisation and commemoration of sites in Poland and Tasmania. Celeste is an Academic Co-ordinator of the Contemporary Histories Research Group, and teaches undergraduate history units at Deakin University. In this piece, Celeste reflects on her PhD journey:

There have been many surprises along the way through the PhD journey so far. In the early stages of 2015, I felt a sense of utmost happiness that I had reached the starting line of my ultimate goal of postgraduate study. I felt overwhelming relief that the ‘thing’ I had worked so hard for was what I had hoped it would be. Being granted this period of time to focus on an area of special interest, spend years researching, and develop and construct an original body of research feels like a gift rather than an intense period of incredibly hard work (although I am sure that this will ebb and flow in the months to come!) I received the Renee Erdos Memorial Prize in 2015 (best Honours student in the Faculty of Arts & Education, more than half in off-campus mode), and I received an award from the Faculty of Arts and Education for Excellence in Teaching, Sessional/Contract 2015. Both awards were very encouraging.

There is a strong sense of collegiality among the postgraduate students and the academic staff too, with plenty of genuine support and encouragement. As a previous off-campus student, this was both surprising and welcoming, and being aware that you are surrounded by others in a similar position and place in their studies is both reassuring, and slightly terrifying when you see postgrads in their final weeks prior to submission looking grim and drawn!

The work as a sessional tutor and Academic Co-ordinator have been yet another pleasant surprise over the past 12 months. My role with the Contemporary Histories Research Group has taught me new skills in website development, social media connectivity and given me the opportunity to develop networks and professional relationships. This role has also instilled in me the importance of a solid online presence that is developed and built over the postgraduate years. In particular, through my work for the Contemporary Histories I have seen the value of social media in academia, which led to me creating my first ever Twitter account after many years of shunning the Twittersphere!

I began my PhD on a part-time basis based on the need to continue working while studying. Building momentum when studying part-time can be very difficult, and you feel as though research is constantly put aside for paid employment, and grabbing only odd hours here and there to work on your literature review, define your topic, meet with your supervisory team, work towards colloquium, attend workshops and all of the other components that go into a PhD programme.

In December 2015 I was lucky enough to be awarded a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship allowing me to increase to full-time study from 2016.  I did feel a certain sense of apprehension when I discovered that I had received the scholarship, along with the (more normal) reaction of gratitude and relief! I was unsure about how I would manage to juggle full-time study along with other paid employment, and still manage my family responsibilities. Upon reflection, this has been a process of trial-and-error; one that we as a family are still refining, and I think will be a continual evolution throughout the rest of the PhD. Having an on-campus office has been an unexpected bonus of candidature: a clearly defined boundary between home and work which does make finding a semblance of balance a little easier. While it is inevitable that I still undertake a lot of research off-campus given my family commitments, I find myself genuinely looking forward to the days that I am able to shut myself in my office at uni and focus single-mindedly on the thesis only.

You can follow me on Twitter @celeste_thorn


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