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What is it like to be a PhD student in our department?

Dr Ruxandra-Silvia Comănaru blogs about her experience at Birkbeck.

Dr Ruxandra-Silvia Comanaru has written about her experiences whilst studying a PhD in Applied Linguistics within the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck, University of London.

Doing a PhD is known to be very stressful, but what I always tell people who ask me about my experience doing a PhD is that it all depends where you do it. The Applied Linguistics and Communication Department at Birkbeck was a perfect fit for my studies.
First of all, Birkbeck welcomes students from all around the world and from very diverse social  backgrounds, but specialises in providing a welcoming environment for mature students. Birkbeck encourages people who work or have a family to continue their education. The maturity and experience that the students bring with them into the lectures and seminars make the learning environment extremely stimulating and interesting. I have had the great opportunity to meet many lovely people here, at Birkbeck, and I am sure the friendships we formed will last well beyond our time at the college.
The Applied Linguistic Department embraces interdisciplinarity and innovation. This was very important to me since by background was in Social and Cultural Psychology, having previously completed an MA degree in this field. At Birkbeck, I found a lot of support for developing the skills I had acquired in my previous studies, but also for acquiring new skills. Working under the supervision of Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele, I was given the opportunity to participate in other research projects and to meet researchers and academics from Birkbeck, and many other national and international universities. Our department is keen on disseminating the students’ research outputs and throughout the years I spent here students have always been encouraged to participate and present their research at national and international conferences.
Coming from another social science, Psychology, my dissertation topic was quite interdisciplinary: I tried to understand the role of attitudes and practices of multilingualism in the emergence of European identity. I read literature in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics, sociology, psychology, political science and even history, and attempted to converge all these disciplines into my research. During my supervision sessions with Prof. Dewaele and during the research seminars and annual reviews, I found support and guidance from my mentors and peers for narrowing down my research questions to more specific ones and developing my ideas in a coherent manner. I was encouraged to explore various methodological approaches, and I received a lot of help in collecting my data. I also felt supported  during the long months of writing up the dissertation and in the weeks leading up to the VIVA, which I passed with minor corrections. I am sure that this supportive environment was what helped me and gave me the creative energy and discipline to complete my studies.
Since then, I have taught a few courses and lectures at Birkbeck and SOAS, I am working on publishing my dissertation’s findings in academic journals and looking forward to the next step in my academic life. All the support, guidance and encouragement of the staff and students at Birkbeck played an incredible role in my development as a researcher and I will always be grateful for that.