By Manette Kaisershot
In my undergraduate degree at UCLA in English Literature I asked for advice from a teaching assistant (TA) I admired. I was debating if I should go on to study literature at the doctoral level. The TA’s advice was in the realm of: only do a PhD if you feel like there is nothing else you want to do more. As it turned out, though I enjoyed my studies in Literature enough to do a master’s degree in it, I lacked the passionate engagement that is a prerequisite for the doctoral study of any subject.
After doing a subsequent master’s degree in finance I had enough righteous indignation and academic interest to make the decision to study it further. I had developed a distaste for finance, but also an insatiable curiosity for the subject that the only logical conclusion, in my mind at least, was to study finance from a human rights perspective. My TA’s advice was solid: it takes a certain amount of passion and dedication to the research to complete the challenge of a doctorate.
What I have come to discover is that, in academia at least, there has been limited engagement between the two disciplines I research – finance and human rights –and, as such, it was a challenge to find a willing supervisor for my doctorate. However, Dr. Damien Short and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICwS) as a whole were very receptive to my research proposal and, thus, I became a doctoral researcher at ICwS.
The ICwS is part of the School of Advanced Study (SAS), which is a collection of institutes that offer research-based degrees to postgraduate students. The location could not be more ideal: SAS is located in Russell Square in Central London in the austere and impressive Senate House building, and is a stone’s throw from the British Museum and several other universities. The proximity to the other universities means the environment is one of constant activity and learning. Additionally, there is a wealth of resources available to the student as the universities run schema, which allows the students to use the facilities of other institutions.
The School of Advanced Study is also home to the Human Rights Consortium (HRC), a multidisciplinary research consortium for human rights-related research. For ICwS, who offers interdisciplinary master’s and doctoral degrees in human rights, the HRC is an invaluable resource.
When I started my PhD research in October 2012, my supervisor encouraged me to get involved with the HRC and as a result of this recommendation I have, as part of a collaborative effort, developed a research project with the HRC. The Corporate Power and Human Rights Project was developed over the course of the first few months the start of my course in October 2012. By the spring of 2013 we had launched the project on the HRC’s website.
Almost immediately after the launch the Corporate Power and Human Rights project team began working on a call for abstracts for a special issue of the International Journal of Human Rights on Corporate Power and Human Rights.
This year we will begin hosting a series of four academic events at Senate House.
The relatively small size of the School of Advanced Study has meant that, as a PhD student I have more resources available to me for developing projects, which may be much more difficult in an institution of a larger size.
The availability and location of Senate House means that it is easy to host events and attract an audience.
Developing an academic research project with the HRC opens up opportunities that writing my thesis alone would not have offered, such as the chance to collaborate with other academics to apply for research funding, to be involved in editing the special issue of an academic journal – all activities that help me engage with academics and research institutes during my PhD in a way that emulates the experiences of a professional academic.
My time thus far at ICwS has been exciting, intellectually stimulating, and full of opportunity. In my first year at ICwS I have, aside from the construction and launch of the Corporate Power and Human Rights Project, engaged in numerous activities related to my studies.
This last academic year I attended seven academic conferences; two of them hosted at Senate House, the HRC’s biannual Human Rights Research Students’ Conference, hosted in collaboration with the University of Essex. I have traveled all over Europe for conferences where I have engaged with other academics from around the globe to discuss the new developments in academic research in the areas of politics, human rights, economics, business, and sociology. These conferences and the related discussions robustly challenge my own research and, as a result, help develop and strengthen my own arguments and academic opinions. The chance to promote our call for papers for the International Journal of Human Rights has made me very popular at these conferences, and is a great way of making contacts at other universities around the world.
As well as academic conferences, I attended a debate on fracking at the House of Lords in Westminster, as a guest of my supervisor. I have met countless other academics, some of whose works I have been using in my research. I have also, through my research projects, met several other like-minded people whose company and conversation I enjoy which is rare enough in itself to justify a mention. I have also become involved in local politics, through attending an event on finance and social justice. All of these elements of my first year as a doctoral researcher have contributed to the development of my research and to me as a researcher.
Having studied previously at large universities I had no preconceived idea about what it might be like to study in a small research institute, but I have been very happy with my choice. The size of ICwS, as I mentioned earlier, has afforded me a lot of opportunity that might not have been available had I chosen to study in another large university. For someone who is passionate about their research and who is eager to take the lead in their own educational experience, the School of Advanced Study is a great option as it allows its research students the freedom and support to engage in academia in any number of ways – making the research experience a rich and diverse one.