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PhD in sociology in Prague

HSE Prom is over, but we already have glad tidings from our alumni! Master of the "Modern social analysis" program Olga Senkova received a full scholarship to study at Charles University. Olga narrates us about her professional career, sociology master at HSE, and about the thorny path for PhD application.

HSE Prom is over, but we already have glad tidings from our alumni! Master of the "Modern social analysis" program Olga Senkova received a full scholarship to study at Charles University. Olga narrates us about her professional career, sociology master at HSE, and about the thorny path for PhD application.

Tell us why you decided to go into sociology?

It's a difficult story! Generally I am  alumni of the State Pedagogical University in 2009 as a linguist and French teacher. In 2007, first in my life I met sociologist, Anna Zaitseva, in Paris. She was working on a story about rock music and enthusiastically told me about her study: I was very inspired and the following year enrolled at the Collège Universitaire Français in St. Petersburg at the additional educational program "sociology". There was my first (quite the adventure) field experience: our student group went on sociological practice in Yaroslavl, and as a case for mini-research we chose felt boots plant. During the week we went every day into the field: wandering around the factory, learned the secrets of creating boots, talked to the workers, transcribed interviews and discussed the first results. It was like a fascinating journey, giving a unique opportunity to experience and understand the world of factory production.

After graduating from College I immersed in the work: taught children and adults French and English languages, wrote and translated texts, organized trips for Japanese tourists in Paris and Nice, worked as a receptionist in hotel and in wine and cigar club.

I changed my jobs quite often in search of a new experience: I wanted to find a fun job that would completely captivate me. At some point the profession of researcher-sociologist started to seem perfect: I have always loved to work with text, share ideas, meet and communicate with different people, to be in new and unexplored social worlds, to find new and unknown in the everyday world.

How did you choose your Master?

First I heard about HSE in 2014, from fellow undergraduates and graduates of the HSE: all in one voice spoke of the progressive University, which gives the opportunity to do real international level science. At some point it dawned on me: "That's it, happiness is in academic life". I knew that in order to (maybe in the far future) get a PhD in sociology, I need to start with admission in a good graduate school with a decent reputation. I decided to try my luck: put together a little portfolio, applied for the program "Modern social analysis" without much hope and entered! I was happy, but not for long: to study after a long break was so difficult that I almost gave up my dream to engage in scientific work. Work at the Centre for Youth Studies (CYS) during education helped me a lot: support from senior colleagues, the constant involvement in new projects, the opportunity to use my new skills in practice – all this gave me strength and motivation to not throw the business.

Tell us about the experience of admission to PhD: how was it?

I started to prepare for admission only on the second year of the course, in the fall of 2016. As my degree work was devoted to the study of feminist initiatives of St. Petersburg, I wanted to continue to study gender issues. When I decided to study in the Czech Republic, I immediately turned to the Prague gender center and get the contacts of my current study advisor, an employee of the Czech Academy of Sciences. We agreed to discuss my future research project: I prepared the questions and picked out a few interesting topics for further research. As a result, we have focused on the study of the concept of "corporeal citizenship" in the context of new reproductive technologies.

I decided to apply to Charles University by two different PhD programs: "Historical sociology" and "Sociology". The latter was more promising, more interesting education, longer for one year and with greater scholarship, so I chose it.

Both programs provided an interviews - presentation and discussion of the future research project in English: in the first case it was necessary to appear in person at the Charles University, the second – I was given the opportunity to defend the project on Skype. However, the connection was constantly interrupted, and the Commission immediately went on to the questions, which, however, was quite simple: I was asked about speaking at conferences and publications, and then asked to tell about my experience in sociological research: I was lucky that I have such experience thanks to the work in the CYS.

However, the  PhD project was crucial in admission process: I put the most energy in writing the text. I'm sure that I would be unable to cope with this task without weekly research seminar "Field research: methods, practices and emotions", in which we learned to write the synopsis – this was very useful!

Why these PhD programs?

Choosing a program, I focused primarily on the quality of teaching, the opportunity to learn English and get a scholarship. Charles University is one of the oldest Universities in Europe, has a decent academic reputation and almost a perfect place to expand research horizons. The training will be entirely conducted in English. The scholarship I got is not very big, but life in Prague (compared to other European cities) is pretty cheap, and foreign PhD-students have the opportunity to earn money.

What can you advice those who are going to apply for the PhD?

Despite the fact that I attended a preparation for entrance in fall, I made my PhD-project at the last moment: during the sleepless nights and frantic writing of Master thesis before the deadline. It all cost me a lot of effort and a lot of nerves. So my main advice to those who are going to apply for the PhD right after the masters: it is better not to proceed with the dissertation project and write it in advance, to avoid the nightmares of trouble (which become a harsh reality for me at the end of April). Keep in touch with the training office of selected PhD programs; ask questions as many as possible. A preliminary search of the future supervisor is questionable: this strategy is not encouraged everywhere. The best strategy is to find the contacts of the graduate students who are already enrolled in program and ask them an advice personally. Motivation is the main thing: you should not afraid of difficulties, communicate with inspiring people and not lose faith in your own strength. And then you will succeed, and the flight into the unknown academic life necessarily will end with a spacewalk!