Graduate profile: Lydia Hiraide, MA Postcolonial Studies

We caught up with Lydia Hiraide, who recently graduated from her MA in Postcolonial Studies at Kent. Lydia is now studying for a PhD in Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, after receiving CHASE funding following a glowing reference from the School of English.

What are you doing now?
I am studying for my PhD in Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

What attracted you to your course, and to Kent? Where did you study prior?
Prior to studying at Kent, I completed my undergraduate degree at SOAS, University of London with a year abroad at Sciences Po Paris. One of the reasons I wanted to study at Kent was to return to France and take up the opportunity to study at the Paris School of Arts and Culture. I was excited about taking my research and ideas across borders, particularly as my MA was to be in Postcolonial Studies. The chance to think about themes of diaspora and exile whilst actually exploring different geographical spaces was a definite pull.

Which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why?
Of course, one of the aspects I enjoyed the most of my degree were my classes. With the seminars being so small, we had a real chance to fully discuss and explore the key themes and ideas each week. Teachers encouraged us to be critically open-minded, giving us the opportunity to learn as deeply as possible. One of my modules was delivered in partnership with the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London which was great because it allowed me to engage with practitioner as well as academic perspectives. It also meant that I could pop into the exhibitions and bookshop after class which was terrific! I also really enjoyed taking up all the extracurricular activities that Kent had to offer both in Canterbury and in Paris. Whilst I was based at Canterbury, I undertook short Study Plus courses on things like art history and languages – a fantastic way to broaden my thinking and step out of my disciplinary box a couple of times a week. As a student in the School of English, I regularly attended creative writing evenings where faculty shared their work in a wonderful, open, and dynamic atmosphere. At Reid Hall in Paris, there were often exciting evening talks and events where I got to think about my interests from different perspectives and meet new people too. There was always something extra to do or see!

How has your time at Kent helped you in your career so far?
Whilst I was at Kent, I received the Ian Gregor Scholarship and I most definitely would not have been able to complete my MA without it. My MA has been indispensable to my doctoral research because it gave me the ability to self-direct and carry out research independently. The ideas and themes I explored in my classes have also greatly informed the content of my research today. I was encouraged to think deeply and critically about each issue and discovered a range of new thinkers. During my time at Kent, I also massively improved my language skills as I was able to take advantage of the Language Centre to brush up on my French – a language which I now use in my doctoral research. 

Were you actively involved in any research centres or projects? 
I co-edited the sixth volume of Litterae Mentis, the School of English’s postgraduate literary journal, which was recently released. It was challenging to get it together during a pandemic but it was so fantastic to work with other students, get to know the peer review system, and finally see the project fully realised.

What impressed you most about our academic staff?
I was in the middle of my MA at Kent just as the Covid pandemic first broke out and we had the first lockdown in France. Our teachers worked extremely hard to keep our classes going and make sure we still got the most out of our studies whilst remaining deeply compassionate, warm, and empathetic. I have also been very touched by the way that the support of the staff at Kent has stretched beyond the end of my course. I am still in touch with some of my teachers and they have also supported me to secure my place on a PhD program as well as a funded studentship for it. 

Are you still in touch with any of your friends from University?
I am in touch with one or two. 

Did you undertake any work experience whilst at Kent? What did you do? Did you find it was helpful in your studies and has it benefited your career to date?
I didn’t undertake work experience as such but was due to assist on a university project collaborating with a local secondary school where the students were supposed to come to Paris for a few days. Unfortunately, the project did not go ahead, but I got some good French practice in helping to sort out museum tickets and planning a picturesque tour route!

Could you describe a typical day in your current role?
Each day varies quite largely for me as a PhD student. My schedule is almost entirely self-designed so I have to put quite a bit of time into planning my week in accordance with my monthly, termly, and yearly goals. I meet with my supervisor every two weeks, so I normally spend the time in between these meetings doing some reading and writing. I’m generally an early riser so I spend the mornings handling any admin tasks, sorting and sending emails, managing my bibliographies/reading lists, and getting a bit of exercise in. Then, usually I spend the rest of the day reading, watching documentaries, and making notes before finding some time to do some writing. Some evenings I take language courses online but if not, I will always find some time to relax, watch a silly film, or spend time with my family.

What are your future plans/aspirations?
After completing my PhD at Goldsmiths, I hope to secure a lectureship teaching in a university.

Are you currently working, or have you recently worked on any interesting projects that you would like to tell us a bit more about? 
I am currently working on my PhD which looks at intersectionality and the environmental movement in Europe. I am exploring the ways that activists organise in the UK and in France in order to think about what it means to move towards a Black feminist theory of ecology. The project works with mixed methods and thus includes archival research, interviews, and theoretical work. Alongside my PhD, I have also been working on other research projects – one being based at Utrecht University which looks at inequalities in work-life balance, and the other based at the British Library on thinking about the role of the library in environmental policy. 

What is your favourite memory of Kent? 
It is difficult to choose just one but perhaps seeing rabbits ambling along the grass on campus! Being from London, this was quite rare and exciting for me. Being on campus in general was a wonderful and refreshing change from the greyness of the capital.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?
I would say to have a look at everything the university has to offer. Of course, you come to Kent to study your degree course but there is so much more available than that! From short Study Plus courses to SU events and activities to student organised research initiatives, there is so much to do both on and off campus. It’s worth finding out what is available as there is definitely something for everyone! (Also – that there is a free shuttle bus running between Medway and Canterbury. This was crucial to me as I was commuting!)

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?
Challenging, exciting, eye-opening.