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School of Geography

Maxim Samson

Project title: Faith schools and identity

Why did you decide to study for a PhD, and why Leeds?

After working as a teacher for several years, I had become aware of the challenges faced by many parents in securing secondary school places for their children, and I was keen to explore the reasons why parents select certain schools in particular. Having come across some anecdotal concerns regarding Jewish schools and their impacts on synagogues, I was also interested in investigating this relationship further. I had long been keen to contribute to the creation of knowledge, especially in identity research – an area that had fascinated me at undergraduate level - and so PhD study appeared a natural progression for my academic career. I considered a few universities for PhD study, but Leeds’ School of Geography became my first choice because of its excellent reputation for topics relevant to my own study, including social identities, multiculturalism and citizenship. In addition, I was very impressed with the support available for PhD students and cognisant of the stimulating research environment palpable at Leeds.

What is your experience of PhD study in the School and what skills have you learnt?

I have enjoyed the freedom to design a research topic of personal interest; one that would not be covered within a taught course given its relative obscurity. The research community at Leeds is vibrant, friendly and cosmopolitan, and the resources within the Geography department and the university libraries are excellent. My supervisors have been very supportive by offering me regular feedback and outstanding advice, whilst also challenging me to undertake research roles and responsibilities beyond the thesis itself. For instance, I have been composing articles for peer review, led seminars for an undergraduate module, and will soon be studying at the Library of Congress in Washington DC for three months in order to deepen my research. These opportunities have been instigated by my supervisors’ determination to further my academic progress and have enabled me to hone a range of transferable skills, including written and verbal communication, project management and proficiency in intensive research methods. I have also valued the training workshops provided at Leeds, which are invariably comprehensive and engaging, covering a range of topics from research ethics to networking skills. Overall, I feel that PhD study at Leeds has increased my employability and enthusiasm for further intellectual development.

What are your career aspirations?

I hope to attain an academic role where I can combine my intertwined interests in contributing to knowledge creation and teaching others. I believe that the skills and confidence I have developed throughout my PhD at Leeds will support me in this aspiration.

More generally, what would you say to someone else who may be considering studying a PhD in the School of Geography?

PhD study is challenging, but this challenge only serves to benefit your own research. If you are self-motivated, organised and committed to your topic of study – and believe in its pertinence – PhD research can be a highly rewarding enterprise. Make the most of your PhD study: not many people are given the opportunity to shape and study an issue of personal significance for three years! I would unreservedly recommend Leeds as an academic institution for prospective PhD students owing to the support and expertise available within the School of Geography and the University more broadly.