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 Fiona Teodora Gogescu.
What are you studying? PhD in Social Policy
What is your background? Undergraduate in Political Science and Master’s in Social Policy – also at the LSE. Before embarking on my PhD journey, I worked as a researcher at NatCen Social Research – Britain’s largest independent social research institute.
Did you apply to other schools? No, I submitted a PhD proposal only for this programme, as I did my Master’s here. The department’s multidisciplinary approach to analysing the causes of socio-economic inequalities and thinking of ways to address them really resonated with my way of thinking. I knew I wanted to return, this time to be involved in the research life of the department. I felt that scholars and faculty members in Social Policy would challenge and support me to make a contribution to knowledge that is not only academically robust, but also policy-relevant.
Why did you choose the Social Policy department?
When I was studying Political Theory for my undergraduate degree in Political Science, I was very interested in analysing issues of distributive justice. I was an avid reader of different theories about what individuals deserve and earn, as opposed to what they are granted by the lottery of circumstances. But when it came to coming up with my own answers to what really constitutes equality of opportunity, I realised that constructing any sort of high theory was not appealing to me. I felt that my thinking would be too influenced by the environment I grew up in to comfortably present my ideas as a detached analysis on what was fair or unfair.
I realised I was better suited for the role of a social critic — which Michael Walzer described as someone ‘standing only a little to the side of society’ . I wanted to test my ideas and hypotheses by involving a range of diverse individuals in the conversation and finding out more about their understandings of issues related to inequality. I think my desire to integrate insights from individuals’ lived experiences into the process of understanding social issues informed my decision to study Social Policy and helped shape my approach to research.
How is the experience so far? What are the pros and cons?
I can sincerely say that the experience has exceeded my expectations regarding the quality of the intellectual exchange – and my expectations were quite high to begin with. The LSE is a very lively intellectual environment for discussing social issues and inequalities.
As a PhD student in the Social Policy Department, you are encouraged to attend a wide range of seminars delivered by distinguished academic and researchers and discuss your research plans with them . This exchange of ideas has enriched my understanding of research and has helped me see more nuances in my topic. The proactive attitude towards seeking feedback from fellow doctoral students and faculty members has been cultivated by the Doctoral Programme Directors in our department, who have emphasised from the very beginning that we are intellectual partners in knowledge production. Moreover, I have joined the International Inequalities Institute doctoral programme, which brings together PhD students from different departments to enhance understanding about what connects economic aspects of inequality with their social and cultural dimensions.
A challenge for anyone doing a PhD in a multidisciplinary department such as Social Policy is that it is more difficult to develop niche expertise. Adding the fact I am conducting mixed methods research to the equation, it results in a more difficult task of developing proficiency that is recognised among specialists who might have different disciplinary backgrounds. There is the risk of being perceived as a generalist even after completing the PhD. However, the encouraging insight I can share with anyone facing a similar reluctance of narrowing their interests is that more and more academics now acknowledge the importance of interdisciplinarity and mixed methods in analysing complex social issues. I believe that the LSE and the Department of Social Policy are very well placed to produce research that overcomes the limitations of insulating debates that may otherwise be confined by discipline-specific terminology.
This article gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Social Policy Blog, nor of the London School of Economics.