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Monja Stahlberger

Monja is a German international student currently studying a PhD at the Institute of Modern Languages Research.

Please introduce yourself and provide a short overview of your experiences at the Institute and the School of Advanced Study.  

I’m a first year MPhil leading to a PhD at the Institute of Modern Languages Research. While I have not been blessed with visiting Senate House much this year, the staff at SAS and Senate House Library have been brilliant. Whether I had issues accessing material for my research or needed to catch up on the many different events and research seminars, someone was always there to help.  

Why did you choose to embark on the PhD at the Institute? 

Firstly, the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies is the perfect place for me to conduct my research on children in exile. But not only did the research centre provide me with a good environment to conduct my research, it also offers outstanding networking possibilities and has strong links to leading academics in this field. I couldn’t think of a better place to do the project I’m doing.  
Secondly, I love how the School and individual institutes are set up. There are so many specialist research centres that there is something for everyone. The way SAS works encourages constant academic exchange and interdisciplinary discussions. A research degree can be quite isolating but SAS with its school wide events makes it possible to connect people from some many disciplines and backgrounds.  

What aspect of the course have you enjoyed most so far? 

Having started my programme in the middle of a pandemic things were different to what I hoped they would be. However, the shift to most events being held online is a blessing in some ways. I am able to attend so many more seminars, talks and discussion groups which enriches my study and research experience immensely. There is no single aspect that I enjoyed most but it is rather the sum of opportunities at SAS that make my course and studying here so great.   

What facilities and resources are on offer and have you made use of at the Institute and School of Advanced Study? 
Senate House Library is brilliant, and I cannot wait to make full use of it. For my own research, the Exile Archive offers amazing resources and material. But I also want to highlight the location of the School of Advanced Study: in the heart of Bloomsbury, many archives and the British Library are all in walking distance.  
Working from home during the Covid crisis, the access to some many databases has been a blessing. I was able to start my research without many restrictions and even if I find an article or work, I cannot access, the staff is super helpful and often manages to provide me with access.  

What is your experience of the supervision at the Institute? 

The supervision here finds the right balance between encouraging own creativity and initiative and guiding a new researcher through the first steps of a PhD. The regular supervisory meetings at the start of the programme are very helpful and give me structure for the next weeks and months ahead. The fortnightly meetings also help me during the pandemic to concentrate on my research aims and to set myself smaller goals. Personally, my supervisors are not only academic mentors but also help me to keep in good spirits and encourage me on finding my own voice and path within academia.  

I think it is amazing to have one supervisor at the IMLR and one who is at another university but associated with a research centre within the institute. This gives me so many more opportunities to engage and experience academic work.  

How do you think your experience of studying the PhD course will help you in the future? 

It’s not so much the PhD course itself but the whole experience at SAS that will help me in the future. The many opportunities to grow as an academic and researcher that SAS offers introduced me to so many aspects of the work of an academic that I have not considered before.  

The career advice service as well as the multiple research training opportunities teach me valuable skills and help me figure out what I want my academic pathway to look like.  

What was your funding experience? 

Securing funding for a PhD project is often stressful and time consuming. The members of staff at the IMLR were very helpful and accommodating for any questions I had during the process. There are actually so many internal funding opportunities that are a great alternative to the big funding options like LAHP.  

The trust who provides funding for my studies is heavily involved in one of the research centres at the IMLR. The events of the centre are really useful for my research but also provides excellent networking opportunities.  

What would you say to someone who is considering studying this course? 

I’d say: I was really anxious about starting a PhD in London. But SAS is a great place where you don’t feel isolated or alone. The supervision at the IMLR, and I’m sure that is the same for all institutes, is amazing. Specialist in your field of research will guide you through your PhD journey that is not only focused on your project, but it is a whole academic experience. You can take part at some many different events, have the opportunity to present your research at one of the many seminars or maybe even a conference that is hosted by SAS and one of the Institutes.  

Any final thoughts? 

As a member of the SASiety committee, I just want to highlight that SASiety is a great initiative to unite all students at SAS across all institutes, be that full-time or part-time students, on-sight or distance learners. Social and academic events alike help to not only have a constant exchange with fellow researchers but also enables to see beyond one’s own disciplinary boundaries. The blog is a great place to share and discover study tips, current debates within academia or to unwind and share your personal or country specific stories.