Impact on personal life – Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 2/3)

6 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 2: Impact on personal life

All of you conduct research on quite problematic issues like violence, organised crime and corruption, how does it affect you personally?

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Jenna Murray de López

Jenna Muray de López: The focus of my research is examining obstetric violence and maltreatment of women in the health system which has always been very personal to me. Working in a militarized environment and an area where violence against women and kidnapping are common place affected me because I had my children with me in the field. Upon reflection I think I avoided more situations and opportunities if I felt I would be putting them in danger. Having to explain images and talk of gendered violence, presence of soldiers and brawls in the street to an inquisitive five year old made me question my priorities a lot.

The 'pacification' of Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro

Complexo do Alemao in Rio de Janeiro where Verena did her field research

Verena Brähler: What affected me most was this constant notion of fear that I had never felt growing up. Fear that I would visit the wrong place at the wrong time, say the wrong thing to the wrong people, and put research participants or myself in danger because of the information I held. Fear is very powerful. It is good because it made me be careful and alert, and it is bad because I never had peace of mind. I think a part of this fear and mistrust will stay with me for the rest of my life, no matter where I will go.

Natalia Cervantes: At the risk of sounding very idyllic, researching issues of violence for me worked as a booster. It encouraged me to try and communicate people’s experiences on the ground to grasp a little better what we can do about violence. However, I also found that researching violence can take a toll on you. Listening and transcribing interviews recounting very violent experiences has a clear emotional effect.

How does doing a PhD impact on your family and private life?

Local police station in El Salvador where Susan did her field research

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: This is an interesting question because usually I think about it the other way around – how does my family life affect my PhD? I heard people saying, if you do a PhD, you do not have time for a private life. That certainly was not true for me. I always found it important to have a balance between my private life and the PhD. Otherwise I would not have found the strength to face the various challenges of doing a PhD.

Jorrit Kamminga: I did my PhD part-time which meant that it did not really affect the family and private life. During the last year of the PhD, the writing process was quite intense, but that year I was not combining it with work, so that also was quite manageable.

Verena Brähler: My experience was that there are no free evenings, weekends and holidays when you do a PhD. Or maybe there are but you cannot enjoy it because you know that every hour you are not working on your research project, is an hour you need to add at the end.

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Jenna Murray de López with her family

Jenna Muray de López: I would also say that the PhD has had a significant impact on family life. I have worked fulltime and studied part time for the last six years. When at home I have not been as ‘available’ to my family because I have been locked away working. During the nine months of fieldwork I left my husband and three year old son in the UK whilst I went pregnant and with my five year old daughter to carry out fieldwork. I have had two more babies through the duration of my studies (affectionately referred to as fieldwork baby and write-up baby!). I think ultimately my children and husband would answer this question better. But, overall I am glad my children have witnessed how hard you have to work for something. Ultimately it is the thought of the family sacrifices we made that got me through to the end.

Natalia Cervantes: My husband started his PhD six months before me so at times we were both under massive amounts of stress. Nevertheless, it was nice that we both understood the processes we were going through, so we were able to provide a lot of support to each other. Needless to say, the dynamic changed again last year when we welcomed our baby boy into the world.

Read the full interview here.

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