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The Ph. D. student Giulia Giubergia studies graffiti and memorials

Being a PhD candidate can be lonely – but conferences are fun, and the future holds exciting options for you! Giulia Giubergia is a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies at the University of Gothenburg. We spoke to her about studying and career issues.

giulia giubergaWhat will your thesis be about?

– The aim of my thesis is to understand, on the one hand, how the concept of the sacred is shaped, and in turn is shaped by, the process of memorialization of the Egyptian uprising of 2011 and its aftermath and, on the other hand, how these sacred memories are negotiated and contested in the public, urban space of the downtown neighborhood of Cairo. My material includes photos of graffiti, spontaneous and official memorials as well as online and offline narratives surrounding the uprising and its aftermath.

Why did you choose that subject?

– The choice of subject was at the same time a hard and an easy one. I had envisioned a completely different thesis when I first applied for the studentship. However, after my first fieldwork in Cairo, I realized that it would be very hard to successfully develop my project as it was. Out of personal interest in public artistic expression, I started taking pictures of the amazing graffiti that have been dotting downtown Cairo since the 2011 uprising. From this personal interest I developed, with the help of my supervisors, my current research project.

How come you started to study religion studies from the beginning?

– The road to the study of religion was not a straight one for me. I began my university studies in Italy learning languages: Arabic and English. When I was to choose a topic for my Bachelor of Arts thesis, I was suggested to read the works of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, an Egyptian scholar writing on Islam. It was fascinating, I felt like I had found my academic passion. After my BA, I decided to do an Master of Arts in Islamic Studies in the Netherlands, which led to where I am now, writing my Ph.D. thesis in Religious Studies in Gothenburg.

How come you applied for doctoral studies?

– I think I have been interested in doing a Ph.D. since my enrolment in university. Although no one in my family had pursued university studies before, I was attracted by the academic environment as soon as I set my foot in it.

What is the most important thing to think about when you apply?

– It is important to be sure you are ready to spend the next four years working on the same project. Being motivated is the key to successfully completing a Ph.D. thesis. Furthermore, before applying I found it very useful to talk to some members of the department. I had never been in Sweden before so talking with another Ph.D. student coming from abroad, as well as one of my current supervisors, helped me taking the decision to apply for one of the Ph.D. positions in the department.

How is it to be a Ph.D. student? Is it like you imagined? When is it tough and when does it feel good?

– Writing a Ph.D. thesis is a job that gives you a delayed gratification. It is often frustrating because, on the contrary to most jobs, the Ph.D. candidates have to wait four years to finally witness and enjoy the results of their efforts. I have learned that it is important to break the thesis writing into smaller, more manageable tasks, culminating into a department seminar, a conference participation or a paper publication in order to get the much needed gratification to be able to continue writing.

– I personally enjoy participating in conferences and workshops the most. After working alone on the same subject for a long time, I usually feel a bit isolated and I start to wonder if my ideas make any sense: at this point participating in a conference helps me to put my ideas into focus, confronting myself with other people who are working on similar projects. Plus, conferences are fun!

Which support do you get from your supervisor?

– First of all, I get academic support. When I am lost in a sea of theories, drowning in my own excess of research material, my supervisors help me sorting out my ideas, finding the best path to a well-researched but also manageable thesis. These are many angles worth exploring in everyone’s research project, but there is just a finite amount of material that can be fit into a thesis, and a finite number of theories one can apply. Together with academic support, I get moral one as well. Self-doubt is part of the writing process and my supervisors are able to show me the value of my work when I cannot see it myself.

What do you want to do/work with when you are finished with your thesis?

– That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? I sincerely don’t know. I have several ideas in mind, one of which is, of course, to apply for a post-doc position. However, I am considering taking a break from academia and searching for a job in education, cultural mediation or possibly becoming a museum curator. As you see, my ideas are not entirely clear but I am trying to see the glass half full: I have a lot of different exciting options in front of me!

Giulia Giubergia is a Ph.D. candidate at the department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion at the University of Gothenburg. She hopes to be finished with her thesis in the autumn of 2017.