By Sarah Downes
When I first heard about the Joint Ph.D. Scholarship between The University of Hong Kong and King’s College London, my mind was far from academia. Having (finally, thanks to the recession) settled into a job as Editor’s Assistant at the BBC World Service, I felt as though I was at last utilising my English degrees in some capacity, albeit not via the educational route I had hoped for. But when KCL Head of English Josephine McDonagh mentioned during a brief lunchtime catch-up the new Ph.D. scholarship with HKU — a joint scholarship which would enable me to split my time between London and Hong Kong — I knew immediately that this was the opportunity I had been looking for.
The Joint-Ph.D. between KCL and HKU offers the chance to complete a Ph.D. project (approved by both institutions) under the supervision of two professors, receiving a joint degree from both institutions upon completion. A few months after applying I began at KCL, and my decision to spend my first year at my home institution, working with Dr. Anna Snaith, enabled me to begin the Ph.D. process with a degree of familiarity. With guidance from my supervisors and the scholarship committee, I have been able to tailor my plan for the three-year project —which considers the relationship between literary modernism and visual culture in the work of Caribbean novelist Jean Rhys — to fit around my working pattern, an invaluable flexibility which proved its worth as I completed my upgrade within the first 12 months of study, just in time for my move to Hong Kong.
So now I am at HKU, starting my second year as a Ph.D. student, with nearly two full chapters written and a renewed confidence in my ability to produce a decent thesis. I aim to complete a significant part of my thesis with Dr. Otto Heim, working specifically on more theoretical notions of spectacle and performance in modern urban spaces and how they influence ideas of identity formation. Writing this as I come to the end of my first month in Hong Kong, I know that the next fifteen months are going to pass far too quickly. The help and support from the Faculty and School administrative staff, CEDARS, academic staff and fellow students has been fantastic — I couldn’t have been welcomed into the School with more friendliness and enthusiasm. I have a desk, an office (luxuries all too many of us Ph.D. students know are few and far between), and a place to stay close to campus. I know how to use the library catalogue, where the ATM on campus is, how to print my work from the computers in the School, how to get from the Main Building to Starbucks in the least amount of stairs and I have about 8 new Facebook friends and people to get lunch with.
Being the first student to participate in the scheme has meant that this has been a learning process for all involved. It’s too early to say how my time at HKU will improve my thesis. But I know that the School has the academic expertise related to my subject, and I know there is a library upstairs full of books I really need to start reading. I also know that this scholarship has given me an opportunity that is incredibly rare. The chance to study in a new country at one of the best universities in the world and immerse myself in an academic environment that clearly generates exciting and innovative research? I couldn’t ask for anything more.