Starting a PhD Journey

A Blog post by Nerges Azizi (PhD Law)

Diversity100 / ESRC UBEL studentship award holder

My name is Nerges Azizi and I recently started the MPhil in Law at Birkbeck, University of London. My research addresses ways of resisting the European border regime, with a particular focus on the role of strategic litigation. I chose this topic because of the experiences I have had working with refugees as a translator and interpreter. In the course of that work, the law again and again surfaced as an obstacle and an instrument of power designed to regulate their existence, behaviour and expectations. Despite the disciplinary and oppressive function of the law, the people who I was working with were forced to appeal to the law in order to receive protection. This provoked me to question whether there could be alternative uses of the law, ones less geared towards regulating and disciplining the lives of refugees, towards ones that hold states accountable. During my preliminary research, I came across strategic litigation, which describes the tactical use of legal tools to hold states accountable for their human rights obligations.

At present, I am sceptical about the prospects of this tool, however, I am looking forward to examine all the ambivalences and difficulties of engaging with the law. I am particularly interested in what the resort to legal means might be able to reveal about the ways in which the European border regime is constituted and contested. My geographical focus is the Mediterranean Sea, which presently has been transformed into a site of death and racial violence by European policy makers and border guards. I aim to place this sphere into a longer historical perspective, in which the sea was not partitioned into north and south, east and west – nor was it necessarily functioning as a border – rather, it might have worked as a space of encounter, connection or a bridge. At the same time, I will be attentive to the colonial, imperial and racial violence shaping the history of its human crossings. Tracing histories of the Mediterranean, as well as conceptually departing from the sea, hopefully allows me to imagine another function for it and opens the possibility of an alternative future. I am very excited to work on the project and look forward to the writing that will emerge from it.

When applying for the PhD, considering who my supervisors would be, and who else would be working at the department and at the school where I would be based, was of high importance to me. This is because I consider my environment to shape me intellectually; we learn from the people around us. A PhD is a long project and is potentially accompanied with some anxieties and self-doubt, therefore working with supervisors whose work I am familiar with and respect ensures that I can trust that my research will be guided in the right direction. Of course, having the financial stability of a scholarship is indispensable and crucial to be able to concentrate on researching and writing. This is particularly so for students of working class background and ethnic minorities. I would recommend everyone to apply to existing scholarship opportunities.

Diversity100 Studentships – applications open

Apply now for Autumn 2021 entry

Birkbeck is offering a number of fully funded Diversity100 PhD studentships which actively address under-representation at the highest level of research, and encourage Black and Minority Ethnic students to consider academic research in all disciplines. 

The call for Diversity100 PhD studentship applications is open until Monday 10 May. You can find further details about these studentship opportunities here including how to apply and about briefing sessions for prospective applicants where you can hear about the application process and what it is like to be a doctoral researcher at Birkbeck.

Debi Lewinson Roberts

In the video below we hear from Debi Lewinson Roberts who was awarded a Diversity100 PhD studentship and began her doctoral research in Autumn 2020. Debi speaks on the subject of bereavement, her family’s influence on her education and why she chose Birkbeck.

National Archives: Introduction to archival research days

You may be interested in the following announcement from the National Archives which includes information about online ‘Introduction to Archival Research’ sessions.


The National Archives holds one of the largest collections in the world, containing over 11 million historical government and public records. From Domesday Book to the Leveson Enquiry, our records offer students a myriad of untapped research opportunities across a wide range of time periods and disciplines.

With so many options, however, getting started in the archives can be a daunting prospect. Many students have questions which they are too afraid to ask. How will I know where to go? What do I need to bring with me? How do I find records for my research? How do I order documents? Do I need to use gloves? How can I be sure I’m not wasting my time?

This introduction day will explain how to get started with archival research, the importance of knowing the history and structure of a collection to navigate the records, and how to make the most of your time on site.

Our upcoming events

Our next ‘Introduction to Archival Research’ sessions will be held entirely online on the following dates:

Monday 1 February 2021: Find out more and book your place

Monday 8 February 2021: Find out more and book your place

Monday 15 February 2021: Find out more and book your place

Monday 22 February 2021: Find out more and book your place

These sessions are are aimed at third year undergraduate and postgraduate students. Registration this year will be at a reduced rate of £5. While this workshop will be entirely presented online, we hope that students will be able to join us back at Kew for our Skills and Methodology workshops, which will be held in June 2021.

If you have any questions, please email past@nationalarchives.gov.uk. 

Women & the Climate Crisis Symposium

Call for proposals

The Birkbeck Students’ Union Women’s Network, in partnership with the SU Environment Society, the Birkbeck Unison Environmental Representative and the Birkbeck UCU Environmental Officer, is organising a symposium to hear from women researchers on the climate crisis, to be held at Birkbeck in early 2021. 

Proposals for papers from researchers in any discipline are encouraged – we want to hear about the innovative and unique ways you can contribute to this discussion, especially those who are not traditionally given space in discussions about the environment but have meaningful contributions to make. 

Topics

To that end, scholars are invited to submit papers on any subject relating to the climate crisis, with a focus on proactive solutions.  

Topics may include but are not limited to:  

  • Feminism/gender & the climate crisis  
  • Intersectional environmentalism  
  • Politics & the climate crisis  
  • Race & the climate crisis  
  • Climate change & the law  
  • Media/journalism & the climate crisis  
  • LGBTQIA+ issues & the climate crisis  
  • Technological approaches to the climate crisis  
  • Ethical investments  
  • Neoliberalism & the climate crisis 
  • Environmental activism 

Length: Individual paper abstracts should be no longer than 500 words. Papers which require the distribution of pre-prepared materials, such as drafts, videos, podcasts, posters, etc, will also be accepted.  

Deadline

Proposals should be sent to naomi.smith2@bbk.ac.uk, no later than 31 January 2021

LGBT History Month and International Women’s Day

For LGBT+ History Month in February and International Women’s Day in March, the Access and Engagement Department is looking for two Birkbeck PhD candidates or early career researchers to deliver an accessible public lecture or workshop for an audience with little to no experience of Higher Education. If you are interested in doing this please get in contact by 12 February.

Our public lecture series, Get Started: Big Ideas, was previously delivered in Stratford Library, in collaboration with Newham Council. Through the pandemic we have been delivering the talks on Zoom and broadcasting using YouTube live.

The themes this year are ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’ (for LGBT History Month) and ‘Gender Equality in Eudcation’ (for International Women’s Day), so we will be looking for pitches that take these themes into account.

WHO? 
We’re looking for Birkbeck academics, particularly PhD students and early career researchers, whose research touches on topics relevant to LGBT+ History Month or International Women’s Day.

WHAT? 
Our audience consists of people with no experience of Higher Education, or those who have had a long break since their last HE experience. With that in mind, we will work closely with the academic to ensure the lecture is accessible to these audiences. More information on our department’s work.

We are open to pitches of lectures (roughly 20 minutes in length), workshops, virtual walks, or other formats that you feel would be engaging. This would usually be followed by a Q&A.

PAYMENT 
We are able to pay PhD candidates or academics who are not on full-time contracts. The pay is at spine point 31 (£21.15 per hour) and we would usually allow for 2 hours’ prep time and 1 hour delivery. In this case we will also be adding 1 hour to allow for familiarising yourself with any software needed. Please do get in touch if you have a proposal which would exceed the allotted time.

If you have any questions, please drop us a line at getstarted@bbk.ac.uk

Highlighted AHRC CHASE Training Opportunities

The following training opportunities are open to all Arts and Humanities PhD students at Birkbeck.

Coming up in CHASE Essentials

Copyright and Creative Reuse
Thursday 17 November | 1100-1215

Finding and Using Audiovisual resources in your research
Training is over 3 days – 8, 9 & 15 December | 1000-1230

See full CHASE Essentials programme

Working With Marginalised Communities: Towards an Ethical Practice for PhD

This webinar takes place over two dates – 12 & 13 November 1500-1700 each day

A growing number of PhD students and Early Career Researchers have shown interest in pursuing research with and for communities who have traditionally been viewed from an abstract distance if, indeed, they have been viewed at all. The scope of these projects is wide and includes researchers working with women in domestic violence refuges, teenagers in socio-economically deprived areas of London and Afghani refugee communities caught in the limbo of the Aegean islands.

What these projects all have in common is that they bring academic scholars into contact with individuals and communities that are likely to have experienced trauma as well as disempowering if not explicitly violent interactions with institutional and state authorities. High levels of professional and personal sensitivity and ethics are essential if the researcher is to avoid replicating the participants’ experiences of marginalisation and creating an abstract rather than rich, nuanced picture of their lives and experiences.

This is a two part webinar series delivered by Fred Ehresmann, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health at the University of the West of England and Dr Jade Lee, director of Aurora Learning and UK Programme Lead of School Bus Project, an NGO that supports educational programmes for young refugees in Europe.

Register here

The Liquidity Cohort

A group of researchers who work with various notions of liquidity from the body (in the broadest sense, human and otherwise) to material infrastructures. We are interested in “liquidity” as an immersive experience of being-in-the-world and its implications for practice; questions of how to write from states of immersion, how to work from the body immersed in experience. We are also interested in hydrological and technological infrastructures and their impacts on the body and its worlds.

Current workshop dates below:

Session 1: Saturation Epistemologies and Oceanic Media


Wednesday 18 November | 1700-1900 | Online

In this session, Melody Jue will discuss saturation epistemologies in her book Wild Blue Media: Thinking Through Seawater and the forthcoming collection Saturation: An Elemental Politics (co-edited with Rafico Ruiz).

Register here

Session 2: Liquid Gold

Wednesday 25 November | 1500-1700 | Online

For this session Melanie Jackson and Esther Leslie will present a performance reading that draws on thematics from their recent collaborative works Deeper in the Pyramid (2018) and The Inextinguishable (2020).

Register here

Session 3: Bodies that Weather: Hurricane Katrina and ‘Viscous Porosity’


Wednesday 2 December | 1500-1700 | Online

Christina Sharpe writes in ‘In the Wake: On Blackness and Being’ (2016) of the climate of anti-blackness that black bodies continue to weather.

Register here

Session 4: Liquifying Selves: Toxicity, Tales and Transindividuation

Wednesday 9 December | 1500-1700 | Online

As the pandemic forces us to adopt new hydro-hermetic praxes, we will examine some other ways in which liquid has already presented counter-ontologies to those of the Cartesian self.

Register here

The Liquidity Cohort was initiated by Dr. Bridget Crone (Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths) in 2018, and is open to researchers from CHASE institutions.

Material Witness

Fake! The role of watch forgery in the making of the modern world

27 November 2020 | 14:00 – 16:00 | Zoom

This talk will explore how the objects history leaves behind can be used to explore the world they existed in. Using forensic analysis to look for hidden clues inside early C18th mass-manufactured watches – practising-watchmaker Rebecca Struthers will reveal the moment access to portable time started its journey towards democratisation. By weaving the physical evidence in with archival sources, this talk will explore the transformative social impact watches had in the UK during the Industrial Revolution.

Register here

2020 Annual Cumberland Lodge Dialogue, Arts and the Union (Online)

6pm on Thursday 5 November.

Birkbeck students and staff are invited to join the virtual audience for the 2020 annual Cumberland Lodge Dialogue, Arts and the Union, taking place on Zoom from 6pm on Thursday 5 November.

In partnership with Goodenough College, London, this public panel discussion examines the cultural bonds that unite the UK’s four nations and the role that the arts can play in building social cohesion across the British Isles. The panellists will explore topics such as: how national identities are expressed within the rich artistic heritage of the UK; the role of the arts in building bridges within and across communities; and how the power of the arts might be harnessed to bring the four nations closer together.

Screen Studies Research in a Pandemic

Annual Postgraduate Training Event by the UoL Screen Studies Group, co-funded by CHASE and LAHP

23rd and 24th October & 20th November

Day 1: Friday 23 October, 14:00-20:00

Day 2: Saturday 24 October, 10:00-13:00

Day 3: Friday 20 November 14:00-17:00

Register on Eventbrite