Student blog – Fenna Hoefsloot

I participated in the CERES Phd training past spring as part of the Research Master International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Participating in the Ceres course has been a great learning opportunity and it has been inspiring to be part of the PhD community and learn from their research.

I have to admit, I was initially a bit hesitant in participating in the Ceres PhD training programme. My main point of concern was the timing. How useful would it be to participate in the programme right now if I did not have a PhD position? Nonetheless, looking back now I am very happy I was granted the opportunity to participate and went through with it. The training has improved my knowledge of analytical methods, academic positioning and the process of conducting research. Specifically, it has taught me to critically evaluate my own work, thereby emphasising the importance of coherence amongst the different parts of a research proposal. Moreover, exchanging experiences and stories with current PhD candidates has further sparked my interest in pursuing a PhD myself. Participating in the Ceres PhD training and assisting with the Ceres communication committee had helped me build a network of PhD students in all fields of development studies as well as established academics. I hope this will help me in finding a PhD position in the future.

However, the interaction with my peers in the Ceres programme also made me realize even more than before, that, although I might have the academic skills to conduct a PhD, I lack experience. Many of the students participating in the programme have been working in the field which they are researching previously as practitioners, policy makers or consultants. This gives them a deep understanding of what the issues are that they encounter and what the questions are that need to be asked. The research proposal that I wrote as part of the Ceres course is predominantly developed based on a theoretical question, not a societal question. In my opinion, especially today, with the emergence of post-truth politics and “alternative facts”, academia has a responsibility, and perhaps even a duty, to engage with public debates. Research can contribute by adding an intellectual and nuanced voice to the discussion. This is specifically relevant for the field of international development studies. I believe that, specifically in development research, science should have a social relevance in addition to the theoretical relevance: research questions should be born from a societal need rather than only a theoretical enquiry.

Nevertheless, I plan to further develop the proposal and apply for the NWO talent grant in the future. Part of that process will be finding a potential promotor and critically reflecting on the relevance of the research question as it is now. Aside from this, I recently got the news that I am accepted for a part-time position as junior lecturer at the Future Planet Studies bachelor programme at the UvA. I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to lecturing. Also, as Future Planet Studies specifically focusses on sustainability from and interdisciplinary perspective, I hope this position will help me stay up to date about the debates concerning sustainable development globally.