An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog
My PhD experience at the University of Reading: a period of my life I enjoyed, and which is coming to an end soon. It is time now, perhaps, to stop for a moment, and think about what it meant to me. What I am going to do here is to tell you something about my experience as a PhD student in Italian Studies in the UK .
During these years, I loved the feeling of discovering things and delving deeper and deeper into my research. Some seminars and talks have been organised throughout the university and the department to create a stimulating intellectual environment, and give you the chance to meet people from different disciplines and exchange ideas. I have made good friends, and have learnt what other students are interested in. Such a multidisciplinary approach to research is very rare in Italian academia, where scholars are more often focused on just one discipline. However, it is also very important to build up a strong background in a specific subject before crossing over to other fields, and the Italian university system helps with this. Getting my first degree in Italy (BA and MA) and then my PhD in the UK has been perfect for me: in Italy I have learnt how to be autonomous and meticulous in my work, and in the UK I realised the importance of criticism and participation. The world of English universities is less formal and rigid than the Italian system. I like the way in which one is free to discuss, to propose and have an effective role even if you are “just” a postgraduate student.
In Reading the librarian services are very well organised, although it is not always easy to collect material if you are dealing with Italian studies. The IT facilities and the space dedicated to students are good. Last year I received a desk on campus in Old Whiteknights House, a building expressly dedicated to graduate students. This is open 24-hours a day, shared with other PhD students, where it is possible both to concentrate and work hard, and to meet other people.
The biggest problem I have encountered during these years, however, has been improving my English, and I am still working on that! It is one thing to speak with people and share everyday experiences in a foreign language; it is quite another to discuss complex topics and write papers for an academic audience. It takes time, dedication and serious effort!
A PhD is about growing up, testing yourself as a researcher and a person, and shaping your future life. During these three years, I have grown up and I believe that this experience will be really useful for my future, whatever that might be.
Valentina Ciciliot is a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Reading. She is researching the policy of canonisations of Pope John Paul II.