Interview conducted by Gianluca Michieletto
The second interview of the section “SOS Thesis: Alumni4Students” presents Maeva Chargros, who tells us about her Euroculture experience and gives students an insight into her thesis. Maeva is French and was in the 2017-2019 Euroculture cohort. Before that, she did a BA in Nordic Studies at the University of Caen, France, with an Erasmus in Tartu, Estonia. Before enrolling in the MA, she worked for start-ups and NGOs all over Europe, gaining some experience in the field of digital communications. Maeva started her Euroculture path at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, moving to the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, for her second semester. She was so impressed by the atmosphere of the small Czech town that she decided to spend her third semester (Research Track) and eventually begin a PhD there. When asked about the reasons that led her to apply for Euroculture, she simply said that she wanted to get a MA in something related to European Studies, which could lead her to a job in political communication.
Euroculturer Magazine: How would you describe Euroculture to future students? And what does it represent to you?
Maeva Chargros: Euroculture is a cosy bubble – but in a good way. It does not cut you off from the rest of the world, instead, it is quite the opposite. It facilitates your peregrinations, it helps you figure out what you want your next steps to be, and everything is done so that once the bubble pops open, you land on your two feet from a safe height. So, it’s a cosy bubble that turns you into a cat… Sort of…
EM: What do you think is the best thing about the programme?
MC: The best thing about this programme? Well, sorry but it is not a thing: it is the people who are making this programme happen year after year. The commitment and energy of all administrative staff, teachers, supervisors, and students of course, is what makes Euroculture “worth it”. It is directly and positively impacting the quality of courses, and of the overall Euroculture experience.
EM: What would you change or improve within the Programme?
MC: I would say that it is important to find new ways to make sure that all universities within the consortium can shine as bright as they deserve.
EM: Can you tell us more about your thesis? What was your main objective and what were you investigating on?
MC: I will try to summarise this as best as I can! My focus was on the narrative of victimhood within the Czech national discourse during the last phase of the Czech(-oslovak) nation-building process, namely the First World War. My main objectives were to map the use of this narrative and show its importance within the Czech national discourse at the time. For this, I had to use different types of sources, including newspaper articles and private correspondence. The main challenges were catching up with all the secondary literature already available about the topic and related research, as well as learning to read Czech and Slovak languages from scratch within a year!
EM: Why did you choose this topic?
MC: I’m honestly not sure there was a conscious and organised thinking process behind the choice of my topic. I just got curious about Czech history during the first semester. Therefore, I started reading about it and started thinking about making it my research topic, then, the advice and feedback I received from various people both in Olomouc and in Krakow gave me the motivation to try. What made me enjoy researching this topic is that Czech history is truly full of surprises and it is very unique. I know history is always unique, but really, this one is special in many ways and, let’s say, very “inspiring” in terms of research.
EM: Can you describe the evolution of your thesis? For example, when did you decide the topic, when did you start to write it, and when did you finish it?
MC: I started thinking about potential topics right from the start of the programme. I knew it would take me a lot of time to narrow things down and to settle on one specific topic, therefore, I needed a lot of time and quite a few discussions. However, I only decided on the general topic after the IP. Then, after some discussions with my supervisors, I adjusted the topic to its final version during the third semester. At the beginning of the fourth semester I included trips to the archives, and, although I started writing the thesis around March – if I remember well – most of the writing happened in April and May. I finished writing my thesis just a few days before the deadline, having found some interesting things to write in my last research phase in mid-May. However, all timelines are different, and all are perfectly fine as long as you end up submitting it “on time” – meaning when you planned to do it in the best conditions for you. Small suggestion: don’t rush any phase, honestly. But don’t delay the data collection phase too much, trust me…
EM: Because you took the Research Track, do you think you were in a better position for writing your thesis compared to your classmates that were doing an internship? Did you get any help from your teachers at the third semester partner university?
MC: Honestly, I’m not sure whether I was in an advantageous position or not. Most of the time, the research is related to the internship you do, so you have an insight into your topic that is both crucial and helpful. My research track in Olomouc worked the same way: I just needed some additional background to feel confident about my topic and the research I was about to undertake, and this is precisely what I got. In my specific case, having chosen my first semester university for the research track, the main advantage I got was being in touch with one of my supervisors very early in the process, compared with others. Of course, this was very helpful, but that was also related to his supervision and approach style. Moreover, it must be said that the research track can vary a lot within the consortium, so you might get different pros and cons.
EM: In the third semester you had to write the thesis portfolio, which is 5 ECTS worth. How would you explain to Euroculture students what it is? Would you have done it differently or would you have spent more/less time compared to what you did?
MC: I think I would change a few things with the acquired knowledge I have now. For instance, I would deepen more my sources and the methodology part in order to prepare myself better regarding these two aspects. Just think about the thesis portfolio as a research plan for you. It is meant to help you figure things out and to make sure you know where you’re heading. It is like a map which is essential to not get lost and go off the trails at some point of the research. It is cool to explore, but at some point, you’ll have to “put pen to paper” and write a few dozens of pages, don’t forget about it!
EM: It is important to remind students that, when writing a thesis, it is important to spend some time focusing also on other things (sport, friends, other interests). What did you do to distract yourself from writing your thesis?
MC: Uh, does applying for PhD programmes count as a distraction? Honestly, I’m an extremely bad example for that. However, even if a bit late, I followed the advice of the Director of the programme in Olomouc, who highlighted the importance of exercising. It took me some time to actually include sports in my routine, but I wouldn’t have survived my last semester without my swimming sessions. Therefore, I am passing that advice to all of you: exercise! Don’t forget that you are not just a brain… Also the rest of your body needs to train and move!
EM: How did you choose your supervisor? Did the university choose one for you? How did she/he help?
MC: I did not choose my supervisors, both universities chose one for me. In Olomouc, I did not know him beforehand. I hope he won’t mind me sharing this here, but at first, I wasn’t convinced that he was the best option I could have had. However, I very quickly changed my mind and realised he was probably the best person I could have had indeed. Now that he’s my PhD supervisor, I can confirm he most definitely is an excellent supervisor. My point here is: get to know your supervisors and their supervision style or approach before complaining about them. Quite often, the choice is based on the topic and/or the methodology you chose. In my case, I received very relevant feedback and advice regarding both of these aspects: how to narrow my topic down to something feasible for a MA thesis, how to select the sources, how to access these sources, how to navigate the Czech archive ecosystem, how to stay motivated for months on the same topic, etc. Nevertheless, I must admit I was extremely lucky and it doesn’t always go that well, of course. Ideally, your supervisor should not only help you but also support you and respect you. Your relationship with them should be a dialogue, not a monologue – from either side.
EM: Is there something you did not mention that you would say to Euroculturers as regards the thesis?
MC: Supervision and the quality of it is 50% of the work. Not that your supervisor will do 50% of the work for you, but you can hate your research topic, get tired of it, go through tons of personal issues and challenges… If you have a good supervisor, you will manage to finish the “mission”. They will make sure you manage. Also, as I already mentioned, do not postpone data collection!
EM: Would you have done something differently?
MC: I would’ve eaten more chocolate, perhaps. And I would have joined the pub nights more often. On a more serious note, I would probably start the data collection at the archives much earlier if I was doing it again.
EM: Is there something you would like to add?
MC: In case your supervisor starts suggesting you drift slightly off the trails you had originally thought of – just enjoy the drift, do not resist it. They’re doing this for a reason. You’ll find out later, but you can trust them.
Picture Credits: personal file