The first year of my PhD studies is coming to an end and the next one (of four in total) looms just around the corner. Much more has happened than I was able to imagine in early 2021, and I hope that will be a constant trend also in 2022. I have promised many a time to write in English as well for my (rather limited) international readership, and recapping the year soon over as well as prospects for the next one seemed like a promising opportunity to do so. In order to shortly introduce both myself and my research to potential new readers and in fashion of a true historian, I shall do all this through the 5 W’s.
I’m a Finnish PhD student at University of Helsinki and a historian by training. I began my doctoral research in January 2021 after finishing my master’s degree in 2020. I have always been quite interested in education, its power and impact on both individuals and societies, so I became a university-educated historian of universities who works at a university – you can see a pattern there. As a side project of sorts I’m slowly completing a bachelor’s degree (and later hopefully also a master’s degree) in Political Science to broaden my expertise in questions and structures of power and education.
Outside academia I enjoy reading and writing as well as contemplating aspects of work as they appear to the recent graduates and young adults in early stages of their careers. These ponderings were the impetus behind starting this blog: although my perspective stems quite strongly from my own experiences on the more academic path, I’m lucky to have some great and talented friends in various fields of life who are kind enough to share their thoughts and viewspoints with me. Thus my aim is to take part in the conversations on working life with my peers, while trying to articulate here my views on meaningfulness, career-building, and the uncertainty faced in these early-career days.
What, when and where?
My focus on my doctoral dissertation is history of American higher education and more specifically ideals behind education in single sex colleges in turn of the 20th century. My research centers around five universities, two of which, Harvard and Princeton, were at the time all-male Ivy League universities, and three, namely Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, and Bryn Mawr, were Seven Sisters colleges open only to women. Diving deep into the world of these educational institutions, I analyze why the gendered borders were drawn, how the concept of gender was also tied to categories of racialization, and how the assumed necessity to uphold white American civilization was the ultimate goal of education.
Here on my website I then write about my research, discuss the academic world in the past and present, and narrate my experiences living in new surroundings, as the answer to my ”where?” is currently in Cambridge in the United States, where I have lived for the past three months. For the duration of the current academic year, I am holding the title of Visiting Fellow at Harvard University and conducting archival research both at Harvard and in the other four universities. Living and working in the US poses its new adventures and challenges, which I hope to share here both with a more analytic viewpoint and just for my own pleasure. The ”when?” of my time in the US is from last September to the end of June 2022, after which I shall continue with dissertation work at University of Helsinki.
The ”why?” of everything is, as I have learned, the most important question, but it is also often the most difficult one to answer. The ”why” of my dissertation can be approached by arguing how education has the immense potential to shape individuals and nations, how education is always ridden with power structures and thus always carries expectations and goals within itself, and how especially in the US higher education has been an important force upholding racist and unequal structures. Or then the ”why” can also be answered through a more personal lense: research and especially research that focuses on production of inequalities gives me a sense of purpose, while the practical work of research is tremendeously fulfilling at its best and always at least somewhat interesting at its worst.
The ”why” of this blog falls somewhere between these answers. Here I have the chance to combine both viewpoints and add also all the thoughts on work, academia, and young professionals to the mix. As a both personal and professional outlet, the blog serves as my platform for narrating my thoughts, sharing my American experience, as well as popularizing my research to a wider audience. Outside these lofty goals, I also just enjoy the process of revelling in the curiosities of Harvard and the American society at large.
So also my non-Finnish-speaking readers: welcome aboard and let’s enjoy the ride of 2022!