The first-year PhD cohort at the LSE’s Department of Social Policy includes students in the Social Policy and the Demography/Population Studies programmes. At a recent seminar, they discussed why they chose this programmes, and the pros and cons of being in a multidisciplinary department. The conversation generated six posts that will be posted on the Social Policy Blog over the coming weeks, which together demonstrate the wide variety of research topics the department accommodates, and the intellectual, practical, and personal factors that contribute to choosing to study here. This may prove useful for future students who might be deciding whether a research degree at LSE’s Social Policy department might be right for them, too.
In conversation with Ilona Pinter
What are you studying? I’m a first year PhD student in the Department of Social Policy
What is your background? An Undergraduate degree in Communication Studies and Art Theory & Practice and a Masters’ degree in Social Psychology. Over the last ten years I’ve worked in policy and research for a UK-based children’s charity, leading on poverty and inequality policy. My particular focus is on how poverty affects children and young people within the asylum and immigration context.
Did you apply to other schools? No. I considered other universities but I really wanted to do my research at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) which has expertise in poverty, inequality and social exclusion, and is affiliated with the Department of Social Policy.
Why did you choose the Social Policy department?
My research is on children’s experiences of the UK’s support system for asylum-seeking families so I considered other programmes focused on children’s rights, sociology, migration studies and so on. But having worked in social policy, I’ve become really used to thinking about issues through a policy lens. I also wanted to make sure that my research could inform policy development and reforms. I want to help provide a platform for children’s views and experiences to be heard by decision-makers. I also hope to inform policy and practice that affects children’s lives and contribute to the academic debate.
The other benefit is that within the social policy context you work with a range of researchers looking at issues in different ways, asking different questions and using different theoretical and empirical approaches. This provides a fascinating learning environment.
How is the experience so far? What are the pros and cons?
Getting to meet so many different academics and fellow students and hear about their projects and experiences has been a big highlight. But the same is also true about being able to take classes, attend seminars and participate in workshops on how to apply different methods and approaches to complex social issues. I’ve learnt about how to use longitudinal data from Understanding Society, and I’ve started learning how to use Stata and R to analyse quantitative data. It’s been quite a earning curve but totally thrilling.
I feel incredibly lucky to be at the LSE and to have access to so much support, expertise and resources. The PhD Academy is a unique hub which brings together students from across the LSE and provides us with training, support and networking opportunities for skills development as well as career advice for after the PhD. There are numerous reading groups organised by students to provide peer support on specific issues like qualitative approaches or racial theory. I haven’t been able to attend all but I’ve signed up to a lot of mailing lists.
It’s hard not to get a bit overwhelmed by all that’s on offer, to pace yourself and crucially find time for reading. Also, as a parent, adjusting to the new routine has taken up some of my bandwidth. I think the PhD programme can give parents a good deal of flexibility to work around family life, which is great. My son finds it hilarious that mummy also goes to school now. But at the same time, there are some additional challenges when you have small children and leave a paid job. For example, moving from paid employment to being in training means that I’m losing access to important childcare support which is so expensive in the UK. So that brings with it additional stresses and financial pressures. Being able to speak to other parents about how to balance academic and family life has helped me.
Note: This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Social Policy Blog, nor of the London School of Economics.