My Third Semester: Research track at Uppsala University

Interview conducted by Felix Lengers

Clara Citra Mutiarasari (2019-2021) is Indonesian and studied Euroculture at Uppsala University in Sweden and the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands. Before starting the Master, she studied German Studies at the University of Indonesia. She decided to apply for Euroculture because she felt she would gain more knowledge on the topic of migration and migrant integration. She would also like to work in this field in the future. Currently, she is doing the research track at Uppsala University for her third semester.

Euroculture Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied for/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?

Clara Citra Mutiarasari: There are certainly some things that matched well with my expectation. I expected to meet many inspiring international friends and I did. I also had some fun cultural exchange moments and knowledge- enriching discussion with them. The program also fulfilled my expectation of studying Europe from a multidisciplinary perspective. As expected, I also had the opportunity to experience more independent and egalitarian studying culture in Sweden and the Netherlands; both are completely different from my country. Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research track at Uppsala University”

Gender and danger: the ‘good girl persona’ in institutional fieldwork

By Ines Bolaños Somoano

I have spent hours formulating my questions, over and over again, so that they are precise but cannot be interpreted as provocative or too critical. Despite my intensive preparation, we reach a crucial point in the interview and I am nervous. I want to confront my interviewee, ask him why he says X thing happened, when official memos quite clearly state Y event was key instead. The look in his face tells me he doesn’t think I know about it, nor that I am likely to put him in a sore spot.

I ask him an easy question first, let him paint a pretty picture, before I move on to the meaty stuff. Then I aim my metaphorical weapon. I make sure my posture, face expression and voice all reflect an adequate sense of gratefulness and respect for his time and knowledge. My efforts are rewarded as I get a somewhat honest answer, if one that also vastly underestimates my knowledge in the subject.

When I exit the office, however, I do not feel exultant or accomplished; I am actually angry with myself and with my interviewee for the charade. For having had to feign ignorance and slow thinking in front of officials I have researched. I know, however, that others approaches (confident assertiveness or jovial camaraderie) would have not worked. As a female researcher, the ‘good girl persona’ is my only realistic approach to interviewing powerful institutional elites.

Of course, even using the ‘good girl persona’ hinges on me being a young, middle-class, female Spaniard with good command of English. If we travelled away from this positionality to a, say, black gay male German researcher, we would find other strategies for protection. While this piece is rooted in my experience as a woman, I hope it will motivate other minority researchers to come forward and discuss the “personas” they use in their fieldwork.

The ‘good girl persona’ introduced

As the name indicates, the ‘good girl persona’ is a performance, on the part of the researcher, of a predetermined set of traits: class, education, and most importantly, a gendered attitude that panders to traditional power dynamics. The ‘good girl persona’ is receptive, and changes according to the values of those attributes in your interviewee and surroundings. Its performativity, however, travels very well across a multitude of fieldwork and identity perspectives. The purpose of the persona is to allow the researcher to pursue gender unfriendly areas of research, and to protect her from the backlash of standing up to well-established power structures.

It presents female researchers as professional, well informed (“homework done”) individuals. Educated enough to be competent, but not so much so that they come across as intimidating or overly intelligent. It shows a diligent female academic, collected and with just the right touch of naiveté (a favoured trait in women), so that the interviewer will feel at ease, willing to talk and impress, and will not fear intellectual or professional competition from her.

The main advantage of the ‘good girl persona’ is perhaps the same thing that annoys most of us who have to use it. It shields the researcher using it from being seen in certain ways. It projects a very specific and gendered attitude, so that female researchers employing it might come across as harmless, respectful and deferential to the interviewee’s knowledge and position of power. The “adulating inquiry” mood that the ‘good girl persona’ performs, though, is not an easy on the ego. As a woman in academia, you will have already learned how to phrase your intelligence correctly, so that men (particularly older men in positions of power) won’t feel intimidated. In institutional settings, this is also an invaluable tool, for it ensures access to actors and knowledge that would be closed to an assertive, better informed woman.

It might seem that playing the ‘good girl persona’ is a simple choice not to make, if researchers want to avoid the dangers outlined. This is, however, a lie. Most working women, be it academics or professionals, have had to perform a certain degree of ‘good girl persona’ attitudes in order to be successful, navigate office politics and achieve their goals. It is not as simple as being, instead, forward, self-assured and unapologetic. Such an attitude, as a woman or other minority, is not likely to get you anywhere in most institutional environments, where unjust power hierarchies and gender gaps abound. This is, therefore, not a choice to be punished for, but instead a technique, with advantages and disadvantages.

Health and safety implications

So, we may wonder, what are the disadvantages? And what is the link between the ‘good girl persona’ and institutional research risks? Institutional fieldwork tends to take place in official, generally safe locations; furthermore, access to policy and political figures is highly regulated and guarded, so you are very likely to secure interviews weeks in advance, and be screened upon arrival to the premises. Some physical risks, then, can be avoided, such as open violent assault. Instead, researchers in institutional settings will be most seriously affected by mental health issues and sexual assault.

On one hand, researchers’ mental health can very seriously degrade in stressful fieldwork scenarios. This is especially true for female and minority researchers, who might feel even more pressured to make a good impression on interviewees and “prove” themselves. This leads to the first serious drawback of the playing the ‘good girl persona’: performance pressure. Doing fieldwork, being away and isolated, is already a stressful and alienating experience for the researcher.

In a way, the ‘good girl persona’ implies actively undermining your own intelligence and assertiveness. This display may seriously damage a researcher’s mental health, for it too often conflates with the all-too-prevalent “impostor syndrome” that plagues female researchers in academia (Bahn, 2014). These factors, combined, drown researchers’ self-esteem and can lead to abandoning fieldwork or suffering from depression.

On the other hand, the ‘good girl persona’ exposes researchers to the uninvited guest of every social gathering: sexual harassment and assault. There is a very real risk that one of your interviewees takes your ‘good girl persona’ (and it’s soft, appeasing air) as permission to openly flirt with you; tell sexist jokes; ask you out; corner you in an office; and any and every variation of sexual misconduct.

The fact that you are in an institutional setting doesn´t mean its actors aren’t part of the same patriarchal system perpetuating gender stereotypes and gender violence. In fact, given the hierarchical nature of intra-institutional power dynamics, you might find yourself in rather conservative and inflexible power environments. If you interview policy making and political elites, you are likely to deal mostly with men, far older than you, who are used to exercising authority and occupying prestigious or powerful positions.

We should remember that even when experiencing outright assault or harassment, it can be very difficult for victims to report or openly admit it. It may also seem impossible to confront the perpetrators if they are protected by their own power. Importantly, it is often the perception of our own powerlessness in contrast to the perpetrator’s power, which stops researchers from reporting sexual misconduct. 

Mitigating Risk and Handling Aggression

So where does this leave us? I hope the answer is on the path to change.
As a necessary first step, we must stop fetishizing fieldwork in general as a necessarily painful and lonely experience. Fieldwork is not a rite of passage, it is our work, and it should not be peppered with sexual harassment and feelings of uselessness. At the end of the day, such a change demands an active effort at the university level. We need to provide researchers with things like fieldwork preparation sessions, pre and post fieldwork counselling, and peer-to-peer exchanges on the realities of fieldwork in various scenarios.

That’s not all, however. We must also explore and discuss the specific hurdles of institutional fieldwork, mental health and sexual harassment, and find better ways to overcome them. I find that reflexivity and preparation help a bit. Researchers have to become aware of their boundaries, their willingness to endure or not certain discriminatory attitudes. This is, do you want to use the ‘good girl persona’ or not? Academics engaging in institutions need to talk and write about their experiences, encouraging other researchers to be forthright and honest about it too. No longer can we afford to tiptoe around these issues in university classrooms.

It also generally helps to thoroughly research your institution prior to your fieldwork. Identify their Anti-harassment Committee or Human Resources equivalent, so in case of sexual misconduct you will immediately know who you can go to for support and next steps. Almost every government or NGO has, at least on paper, a set of guidelines to communicate sexual harassment, and now it is the time to remind them why they were put into place.

Finally, I think the easiest way to survive the performance anxiety and burn out of the ‘good girl persona’ is to maintain a network of support. For a start, you can find a liaison/mentor person in your target institution. They will constitute an invaluable ally within the institution, to navigate institutional conduct and etiquette, facilitate access to difficult interviewees, etc. Additionally, institutional liaison figures can and should be your first point of contact for reporting sexual misconducts and other discriminatory incidents. The difficulty of communicating sexual assault can be made easier by having an intra-institutional ally, a person with whom you can drop your ‘good girl persona’ act and demand help and respect.

Another good way of building a network of emotional is to maintain regular counselling sessions. Preferably with someone you have worked with before and who can counsel you remotely during your fieldwork. Many universities nowadays offer counselling services, and in the current pandemic, conducting therapy over Skype has become common practice for counsellors. A therapist can help you navigate the feelings of anxiety, worthlessness and insecurity associated with institutional fieldwork, whilst providing an extra source of emotional support in case of more intense negative experiences.

I want my final words to be an exhortation to the academic community in general. We need to acknowledge how gender discrimination affects researchers’ experiences and ability to gather information and progress in their careers. Not only in renown dangerous or “exotic” areas, but in our everyday routines, governments and institutions. Gender discrimination is perhaps the biggest risk to female researchers’ careers, and there are no methodology manuals to help us with it.

References

Bahn, K. (2014, March 27). Faking It: Women, Academia, and Impostor Syndrome. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://community.chronicle.com/news/412-faking-it-women-academia-and-impostor-syndrome

Kirby, Vicky (1994) ‘Response to Jane Gallop’s “The Teacher’s Breasts”: Bad Form’, in J. J. Matthews (ed.) Jane Gallop Seminar Papers: Proceedings of the Jane Gallop Seminar and Public Lecture ‘The Teacher’s Breasts’, June 1993. Canberra: Humanities Research Centre.

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About the author
Ines Bolaños Somoano is a former Euroculture Student who is now a PhD researcher at the Social and Political Sciences Department of the European University Institute in Fiesole, Italy. This article was initially published in the online magazine The New Ethnographer.

About The New Ethnographer
The New Ethnographer is an academic project about making fieldwork safer, healthier and more ethical. For more information visit www.thenewethnographer.org

Photo Credits
Article: CoWomen, Pexel
Ines’ photo: personal file

SOS Thesis! Alumni4Students: Maeva Chargros (Olomouc – Krakow)

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?  Continue reading “SOS Thesis! Alumni4Students: Maeva Chargros (Olomouc – Krakow)”

Prof. Janny de Jong “The reason why MA Euroculture is not an ordinary European Studies Programme?”

Prof. Janny de Jong
Prof. Janny de Jong

The Euroculturer has invited Prof. Janny de Jong, Director of Studies of Euroculture Groningen, to ask how to describe MA Euroculture when asked by a stranger, why Euroculturers are perfect candidates for jobs in EU institution, human rights NGO or cultural organisation, who should (or should not) go into PhD after graduating from MA Euroculture, what were her own Master’s years like, and lastly, which books and movies she recommends to Euroculturers who are at the crossroads of their lives.

Q1. Hello, Prof. Janny de Jong. How long have you been involved with MA Euroculture? Could you briefly introduce yourself and your job as the Director of Studies of MA Euroculture at the University of Groningen?

Hi, nice to get in touch. I am a historian, specialised in Modern History and with particular interest in political culture in Europe and East Asia. I have been involved with the MA Euroculture programme since 2005. Since 2009, I am Director of Studies (DoS) in Groningen. Briefly put, the DoS is in charge of the smooth-running of the programme. The DoS, for example, chairs the Groningen Euroculture Board that meets frequently to discuss the state of affairs and possible (solutions to) problems. By the way, there is always a student representative on this Board.

The Groningen team has a course coordinator and a course manager, Marloes van der Weij and Eloise Daumerie. Marloes is also internship supervisor and student councillor. The members of the teaching staff come from different academic disciplines ranging from Modern and Contemporary History, Cultural Studies, International RelationsTheory, Sociology, to European Law. The majority of the staff have been teaching in this programme for several years. This already indicates that they enjoy teaching a group of international students with different academic backgrounds coming from different cultures! I, myself, am also involved in teaching: with my colleague of Contemporary History, Ine Megens, I teach a course in Cultural History: Domains of European Identity (1stsemester). With another colleague, Herman Voogsgeerd of International Relations/International Organisation, I teach a research seminar on the comparison of integration in Europe with integration processes in East Asia (2nd semester). Furthermore I am involved in a tutorial in thesis writing (4thsemester). This is a nice way to get to know the Euroculture students who are studying in Groningen in person, which of course is very important.

Euroculture groningen staff
Groningen Staff of Euroculture
(From left to right)
1st row: James Leigh, Marloes van der Weij, Eloïse Daumerie
2nd row: Janny de Jong, Margriet van der Waal, Ine Megens,
Ron Holzhacker, Herman Voogsgeerd

Q2. What is the best way to describe MA Euroculture to a stranger? According to a recent Euroculturer poll, it was ‘European Studies’.

Well, yes, I think ‘European Studies’ would be the first description that comes to mind if asked what Euroculture is about. But Euroculture is different from more conventional European Studies programmes. I think the approach in which citizens and culture, instead of structures and models, form the central point of attention and reflection stands out. This is the key element that differentiates it from any other European Studies programme. We pay special attention to the breaking up of previous political loyalties and (collective) identities and to the constitution of new ones. One of the learning outcomes of the programme reads as follows: “a deep understanding of European identity, civil society, the ongoing European unification process in itself, its cultural and social dynamics and the consequences for its citizens and the wider world”. The fact that ‘identity’ and ‘civil society’ are mentioned ahead of‘the European unification process’ is, of course, no coincidence.

There are also other elements that are specific in Euroculture: the attention to specific skills, Eurocompentences, and of course the option to choose either a work placement or research track. The fact that a selection of our students also have the opportunity to study for a semester in India, Japan, Mexico or the US is also an important asset of the programme.

So, even though I would give the same answer as the majority of the students in this survey, it certainly is not an ‘ordinary’ European Studies programme.

“One of the learning outcomes of MA Euroculture? A deep understanding of European identity, civil society, the ongoing European unification process in itself, its cultural and social dynamics and the consequences for its citizens and the wider world”

Q3. If you were the employer in an EU institution, human rights NGO or cultural organisation, why would you hire MA Euroculture graduates?

Perhaps it is best if I refer to an independent survey that was conducted from December 2010 to March 2011 among Euroculture alumni and internship supervisors. The internship supervisors of several different institutions that were interviewed had quite positive opinions of the skills of their Euroculture interns. Euroculture students especially scored high because of their high level of academic skills (including analytical, research and writing skills) and their theoretical knowledge. Those are exactly the qualities that I would mention to employers, together with their interdisciplinary and intercultural skills.

Q4. Why do you think the MA Euroculture degree is also valuable to students from non-European countries who have relatively limited access to the European job market?

That is an interesting question. I think the degree is valuable for a number of reasons. First of all, Euroculture is not only about knowledge of Europe, but it also teaches what is often called ‘soft skills’. In 2012 the International Herald Tribune released a highly informative Global Employability survey. The importance of skills like adaptability, communications and teamwork were considered of particular importance by international recruiters. These are the competences that Euroculture graduates certainly have acquired during their stay at different universities.

Then, let us not forget that knowledge about Europe is not only useful and important within Europe but, of course, also ‘in the wider world’. Global institutions and organisations come to mind, but of course also governments or companies that relate to Europe. The ongoing economic crisis should not let us forget that Europe is still the world’s largest economic zone. It is, for instance, the largest trading partner of both the US and China.

Lastly,the fact that you study Euroculture does not necessarily mean that you can only be employed in Europe.

“The ongoing economic crisis should not let us forget that Europe is still the world’s largest economic zone. It is, for instance, the largest trading partner of both the US and China.”

Q5. Approximately how many students have pursued a PhD after graduating from MA Euroculture, and how many have completed it successfully? Judging from your extensive experience working in a university, what are the good attributes of successful PhD candidates and who should NOT go into PhD?

According to our knowledge, about 10% of the Euroculture alumni are currently engaged in a PhD programme or employed in a research function at a university. As well as these current PhD students, 7.7% of the alumni have in the past completed a PhD.

A PhD track can be very helpful and is of course necessary if you want to pursue an academic career. A successful candidate needs to have an inquisitive mind, analytical skills and most of all, needs to like doing research. Furthermore, tenacity and perseverance are necessary qualities. Never start a PhD if you are not convinced that you really want to research a specific topic for a number of years. Also, but I think that it is self-evident, it is necessary that your grades were above average, and it certainly is helpful if your thesis can act as evidence of your academic writing and research skills.

By listing these qualities and skills it is also evident who should not pursue a PhD track. Which, I hasten to add, by no means implies that these alumni are of a ‘lesser quality’, they just have other interests. Many Euroculture students (about 75 %) opt for the ‘professional track’ with a work placement instead of the research option. A recent American report on what employers are looking for when they evaluate graduates for a position, stresses for instance the importance of internships and work experience. Both academic and practical skills and competences are important.

“Never start a PhD if you are not convinced that you really want to research a specific topic for a number of years.”

Q6. How were your own Master’s years like? Looking back, what’s your impression of your academic journey to date? What were the challenges and how did you overcome the difficult times?

Ha! Well, when I graduated ‘Bologna’ had not yet been invented, nor a credit transfer system called ECTS. Almost nobody studied abroad. So the system was very different from today. Times have really changed now and I always advise history students to take the chances they have to study abroad. Somehow they are not always eager because of girlfriends and boyfriends, or fear of getting homesick.

When I graduated I was extremely fortunate that my research proposal was selected and I was able to start with a PhD project in the same year. At that time there were no graduate schools, so it was a project that basically involved my promoters and me. But the topic was very interesting and I really enjoyed the experience. I became a member of the staff of Modern History at the University of Groningen and was involved in various European projects, such as Clioh-World.

Sometimes it was a challenge to combine a full-time job with the care of two children. But on the whole I did not encounter major difficulties. So I am a happy person!

Q7. Any last advice to MA Euroculture students and alumni who are at the crossroads of their lives? (Good quotes, books, films, other tips, etc.)

Well there are a few books that I think everyone should read. Somehow only this year I came to read Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. A classic masterpiece. Very different but absolutely wonderful and stunning is The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, first published in 2010. Films are even more difficult to choose. There are some films that I find particularly important, such as an anime called Grave of the Fireflies, about the effect of war on two children. A very different approach, even humorous, to the same topicis John Boorman’s Hope and Glory. All these examples relate closely to history, I am afraid. Let’s just say that is a coincidence! I would like to add just one specific history book: Tony Judt, Post War. Absolutely one of the best books written about the history of Europe since 1945. Most definitely a must read.

But really, there is so much to see, do, read and watch! Of course sheer fun, without any serious undertone whatsoever, is also important. Allow time for social activities, sport or just to relax. My own experience is that this tends to be quite difficult…

“Tony Judt, Post War. Absolutely one of the best books written about the history of Europe since 1945. Most definitely a must read.”

Thank you so much, Prof. Janny de Jong, for sharing your MA Euroculture insights with us. We wish you the best in everything you do!

Thank you. It was really nice talking to you.

Editor’s words: We express our sincerest gratitude to Euroculture Mentor Prof. Janny de Jong who gladly agreed to share her extensive knowledge of academic and professional aspects of MA Euroculture and also her invaluable personal experiences with The Euroculturer.