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Life after PhD: Fellowship Experiences at the Centre for Urban Studies - by Gökçe Sanul

Published on 2 June 2020

Although completing a PhD sounds like an ending, it is also the beginning of a new story. However, starting the next chapter is not very easy in the current academic field which is highly precarious and competitive for newly graduated PhDs.

I was lucky to start rewriting my post-PhD story at the Centre for Urban Studies (CUS) of the University of Amsterdam. The Fellowship Grant in 2019 funded a research stay at the CUS, during which I could develop a proposal for post-doctoral grant applications. I dedicated this 3-month fellowship to improving my research proposal which aims to explore new practices of living and working in ex-urban communities in the rural settings of Turkey.

In the two months of my fellowship, where I was based at the CUS, I have organized several brainstorming and discussion sessions together with my supervisor Prof. Jan Rath and co-supervisor Prof. Olga Sezneva. These meetings contributed enormously to the improvement the proposal by enriching my theoretical and methodological perspectives. In addition, I was integrated by the supervisors to their working groups with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss a paper draft extracted from my PhD research. The Centre generously provided me an office space and facilities which enabled me to be connected with other researchers and share ideas about our research topics. Being surrounded by a research team composed of curious PhDs and post-docs was stimulating while working on my proposal. In addition to these interactions within the sociology department, I have also developed interdisciplinary contacts. My acquaintance with Prof. Carolyn Birdsall (ASCA Cities Project) at the CUS Network Day enabled me to meet with Prof. Esther Peeren, running an ERC project on Rural Imaginations.

Besides these academic experiences, this stay provided me an opportunity to grasp the dynamics of Amsterdam – a city offering an urban researcher a lot to observe such as a rapidly changing city dynamic due to touristification and rising housing prices. In comparison to my previous stays in Amsterdam as a ‘tourist’, this time I experienced this amazing city from a different angle. I was faced with the challenge of finding suitable accommodation in a landscape marked by the increasing shortage of low-cost housing. As I could only afford one month of rent, during the second month I commuted between Brussels (where I have been based during my PhD studies) and Amsterdam. Although housing and commuting were two challenges of my fellowship period, when looking back, I think that they have also enriched my experiences as an urban researcher.  

The period after a PhD is a crucial one as it comes with the danger of feeling lost when all the pressure of submission ends. Moreover, it also necessitates some serious break to recover and feel ready to engage with the job applications again. In that sense, I believe that my fellowship period at the CUS – with motivating supervision and a stimulating research environment – provided me the necessary power to resume on my academic journey. I hope this fellowship position at the CUS provides an example for other research centres to give the necessary power to recent PhDs for picking themselves up before taking on the crushing academic job market. 






Gökçe Sanul is a researcher in urban studies. Her research interests lie at the intersection of urban sociology and cultural geography. After completing her PhD at the Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Gökçe was a research fellow at the CUS between January and April 2020.