With a PhD project, in particular, you need to know you have experts to work with, that you can work with them and that they will support you

PhD student Peter Watson.
Peter Watson
PhD Student
Researching how football has been deployed in Colombia towards nation-building during the presidency
Peter is originally from Southampton, England though has lived in various parts of the UK, as well as abroad in Colombia, Portugal, Chile, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates.
PhD student Peter Watson.

He is a PhD student in the School of Languages and Cultures researching how football has been deployed in Colombia towards nation-building during the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018). He holds a B.A 1st Class (Hons) from the University of Southampton and an M.A in Latin American Studies from the University of Sheffield.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Sheffield?

There were a number of reasons why Sheffield stood out ahead of several other universities that I visited when I chose to do an MA. I really liked the fact I could design my own MA course as part of the Research-based MA - I already had a clear idea of my areas of interest and a way of having an overarching theme for the MA, and being able to select and drive my own studies was a key factor above other universities where the course was much more rigid.

In addition, the expertise and research interests of the staff school, particularly those who investigate Latin American topics, showed the range and variety of the school. I came to visit, met many of the staff, and felt certain that I would get the support that I would need.

Continuing with the PhD here at Sheffield was an easy decision after the MA year and in particular the support of my supervisors David Wood and Lauren Rea. Although I did not get funding on my first attempt, they and several others in the School of Languages and Cultures kept supporting me with my second successful application.

I felt like they really wanted me in the school and believed in my project and work. It was clear that I would be helped with the PhD process and related opportunities such as participating in conferences and publishing articles.

What made the University of Sheffield stand out for you?

In addition to what I’ve already talked about in school, I liked the feel of the University. Having been at university in Southampton for my BA and Bristol for my PGCE, I had already an idea of what I liked and disliked about universities, and Sheffield ticked a lot of boxes.

As a mature student coming out of having taught in secondary schools for 15 years, I felt that there were opportunities to be involved in university life with similar people and sports and activities that catered for everyone. I have coached the University Men’s Cricket teams for three years, have done recreational badminton, as well as several other activities, and have really enjoyed that extracurricular aspect.

The University felt like part of the city too; there are no dividing lines really between city and university, and there is a lot going on in the city to enjoy.

What do you particularly enjoy about your area of specialism?

I genuinely enjoy my PhD project, so it is hard to pick one thing in particular. I feel that perhaps what I particularly enjoy it is that my research is very current and can have a clear impact on what is going on in Colombia. Football is something that can be very banal given how it is hyped, commercialised and mediatised, but it can also potentially have a transformative role on societies at a micro and macro level.

I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing and hearing first hand about the positive impact that football has had on Colombian communities that have suffered from the many violences that blight the country. It’s a topic that many people from any background can talk about, and it really brings people together, which can be very rewarding.

I also love the historical element of my research; going to the National Library in Bogotá and reading old newspapers and magazines from the late 1940s and 1950s was wonderful, not just learning things that I could include in my research, but enjoying the anecdotes, pictures and photos of the footballers and matches of that era. Finally, my topic also has personal links.

I lived in Colombia from 1989-1993, when football was a source of national pride when everything about the country was negative, with the problems of drug-related violence and the internal conflict. I’ve got a lot of memories from that time, and so it is very rewarding to relive them and study the time in more detail.

What are you currently researching as part of your PhD?

At the moment I am writing the final chapter of my thesis which analyses Sport for Development and Peace plans centred on football that have been introduced during the Santos presidency. Perhaps the most important section of this chapter is how football has been used in the FARC demobilisation camps as a way of reintegrating the former guerrillas with the local communities.

During my fieldwork in Bogotá from October-December 2017, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Coldeportes (Colombian Sports Ministry) event where they brought back the coaches involved in bringing sport and recreation to the demobilisation camps.

The 60 or so coaches described their experiences, the problems they had faced and the successes, and it was fascinating to hear the impact that football was having in bringing together guerrillas, villagers, the police, the army and victims (both men and women) to play football on the same pitch together. All of the coaches felt that they were part of something truly historic for Colombia, helping with the peace process to end 60 years of conflict.

How did the School of Languages and Cultures help support you through the whole process from application to settling in?

I wrote to the school when I was thinking about doing an MA, and was invited to come and visit, outside the usual open days for postgraduate study. I had the chance to meet most of the lecturers who I was interested in potentially studying with as part of the Research-based MA, as well as PhD students, so it was a very useful visit.

Caroline Wordley kept in touch when I began the application and was very helpful with any questions I had. There were several induction and welcome events for new students which helped get to know people in the school, as well as what was available at a wider university level.

There is some onus on you after that going and exploring and being proactive, which I feel is how it should be, but there is support if you need it. I know for a fact that several of my friends who have come to Sheffield from abroad have benefitted from help in finding accommodation for example.

The time I felt best supported was when I was applying for the second time for a PhD, with a new project. My project supervisors and several other members of the school were incredibly supportive and encouraging, giving me advice on draft versions of the application for funding and how best to do things. As I have said before, I felt that they believed in my project and wanted me in the school which gave me a confidence boost.

What are your tips for any students thinking about researching in Sheffield?

Come to the school and talk to the lecturers. They are very helpful and will answer your questions and tell you what you need to bear in mind with postgraduate study. With a PhD project, in particular, you need to know you have experts to work with, that you can work with them and that they will support you. It is an important relationship to build.

Tell us about being a postgraduate in the School.

I think there is a good community within the school. Doing a PhD can potentially be a lonely path, as you are doing your own thing and you aren’t really sharing classes with anyone or potentially the same topic. However, in the three years that I’ve been here, we’ve done our best as a PhD languages community to do stuff together (ice hockey trips, pub quizzes, Christmas dinners, etc), as well as the daily chats over tea, coffee and biscuits.

So socially, it is pretty good. Academically, there are opportunities available within the school and, increasingly, the faculty to be involved. I have always felt that the teachers, lecturers and professors feel you have a contribution to make to the academic life and work of the school. There are chances to teach, present, get involved with research clusters and networks, as well as help to run your own events.

What is your highlight of studying and/or living in Sheffield so far?

The highlights have been the opportunities that I have had through the PhD. Being able to do research in Colombia was full of remarkable moments, such as presenting in front of 500 people at a Colombian Olympic Committee event on Sport and Post-Conflict, interviewing a former FARC commander, and being invited to do a talk at the Colombian Interior Ministry on football and violence. I felt like my research was really contributing.

A recent trip to Buenos Aires to participate in a event on women’s football in Latin America was also rewarding, particularly meeting members of the Argentinian Women’s World Cup football team of 1971 and playing football in a tough neighbourhood of Buenos Aires against a team of women from the barrio who are part of a social project called La Nuestra.

Another highlight was having my first article published in a journal recently, something that wouldn’t have been possible without the help and encouragement of my supervisor. Away from the studies, being involved with the University cricket teams in national indoor and outdoor tournaments and in the Varsity competition against Sheffield Hallam has also been memorable, particularly when we have won!

The celebrations of those wins, as well as other promotions gained by several of the cricket teams, have been great to be a part of.

What do you know now about Sheffield that you didn’t know before you came here?

I’d lived in Yorkshire before when I was young, so I knew a fair amount about the area and the city. I think the biggest thing outside the university has been the ice hockey team, the Sheffield Steelers. I didn’t know much about the sport or team, but now I go every week, and tickets for students at the Union Box Office are only £5, so I think it is an excellent night out and value for money.

What are your plans after your PhD?

I hope to do a post-doc and then aim to be a lecturer. I know that competition is tough for these jobs, but I love research and I’ve always enjoyed teaching as well. Before I returned to university to do my MA I taught in secondary schools and so the chance to combine teaching, research, and writing is something that very much appeals to me. I’ve had the chance to teach some modules over the last two years and that has strengthened my desire to stay in academia.

Anything you’d like to add?

I like the city as it feels there is a lot to do and a lot going on. I think that everyone will find ways to explore and practice their interests, whether it is sport, music, arts, academic events or whatever. There are some nice parts of the city to explore, but the countryside around is beautiful, so if you like walking and exploring then it’s great for that.

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