7 – Find your people (and your voice)

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For all the talk of collaboration and support, sometimes you have to call things out.

Research is rarely (if ever) free from ideology and/or politics. This applies to the specific fields in which you study and the overarching realm of academia. If you don’t have particularly strong opinions and experiences of these when you start on your Ph.D journey, you probably will be the end of it!

You might start off in one field and then end up somewhere completely different. This could have something to do with your findings, or there might be deeper motives, such as questioning whether an area of study is right for you. For instance, there have been countless times where I’ve had to question my position as a hearing researcher working with a community that have been repressed due to the actions of the hearing population. The things that need to be considered in such situations are too broad for any one blog post to treat in sufficient detail, but it was through constant questioning and communication that I found my positioning: as one of many ‘bridges’ acting to facilitate awareness of Deaf culture and British Sign Language, while working with the community to understand the language, and to tackle the issues that can be solved using my position of privilege. This realisation didn’t happen immediately, though; it took a lot of time!

In some areas of study, you may immediately be welcomed with open arms, inquisitive questions and a huge amount of support. I was lucky enough to experience this as I worked and communicated with people from particular research areas; a worldwide community  in which I felt comfortable, where even my first naïve questions were met with superb guidance. Similarly, my supervisors, the linguistics team at my institution, and countless academics on Twitter have been there to support my endeavours. I knew from very early on that I would be able to work with these communities and, most importantly, that there was mutual trust.

However, while I truly hope the vast majority of experiences are like those above, life isn’t always that nice. There are those who believe that the academic hierarchy is alive and well, and because you’re ‘only’ a doctoral student, you’re also the underdog. They might reject your work because you don’t happen to be in one of the so-called ‘correct’ institutions. They might refuse to talk to you, even actively avoiding you at conferences because, in their eyes, your work is a ‘waste of time.’ You might try reaching out to them in person and online, only to be met with silence. You might even be coerced into believing that you’ll be ‘academically blacklisted’ if you don’t “do as you’re told” when, in fact, you didn’t actually do anything wrong in the first place.*

Do not let your position as a Ph.D student or early career researcher make you feel as though you are susceptible to these things. Call these things out and remember those names. Find your people, find your support, and find your voice.

* Each of these are instances of things that I have experienced over my time as a doctoral student. They are also, sadly, some of the experiences that have stuck with me the most, for better or for worse…

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