Researcher Blog by PhD Candidate Ghayda Al Juwaiser: The Reward of Academic Networking – SHU @ Paris and Troyes
About the author
Ghayda Al Juwaiser is doctoral student in C3RI where she is in her 4th year researching the use of social media by Saudi women to represent and communicate their identity. Ghayda is supervised by Professor Luigina Ciolfi and Dr Geff Green.
Ghayda has recently returned from two engagements at universities in France. In this post Ghayda describes her excitement at unexpected invitations to speak at the Sorbonne in Paris and beyond, and reflects on how her networking skills have developed during the course of her PhD.
Number one in frequent tips given to newbies in academia is improving their networking skills. Since 2015, I’ve been an active-networker and PhD student, attending probably all forms of academic events including conferences, workshops and seminars. I have built great face-to-face relationships through these avenues, although I never thought social media would bring me an invitation to a trip to the Sorbonne in Paris as a visiting researcher! Furthermore, because of this visit my lovely supervisor Luigina helped me – through her academic network – to arrange a visit and invited presentation at another French University: the Troyes University of Technology (UTT).
How did I get to the Sorbonne? A Saudi colleague on Twitter introduced me to Léda Mansour, a post-doctoral researcher at the Sorbonne who is working on the Saudi Twittersphere and a member of The Chair of Dialogue Between the Cultures. Following several Skype conversations Leda said:
Ghayda I’m inviting you to Paris as a visiting researcher at the Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, as part of a study-day (UK academia would call this a one-day conference 😅)!
Well, I was both shocked and excited – panic came later when the “Tic-Toc started to knock knock”!
As usual I had a visa to apply for, trains and accommodation to book, etc. …and finally, the day came! I arrived in Paris on the evening of 8 February 2018, and it was snowing 💝. Though I had visited Paris three years ago, this visit was totally different. Besides the luck of seeing Paris under the snow, I had one week to spend having fun in Paris between my visit to the Sorbonne and the one to Troyes.
On the night before my talk, my panic reached its max: I was revising my slides, preparing my note-cards but figured my clicker/pointer was useless because I had lost the attached USB connection :(. Fortunately, presenters all allocated to chairs (to sit on) on the panel, what a relief.
On the Friday morning, 9 February, I took a taxi despite my zero proficiency in French, arrived at an ancient square, so breath-taking that I took a picture.
I was welcomed by two Arabic speakers, Leda Mansour and Mohammad Tawaf, and Philip Pétriat – a French historian who speaks both English and Arabic! I was overwhelmed that I could speak Arabic in Paris although for some reason in the beginning I used more English than Arabic (I’m still figuring out why?).
At the Sorbonne, I found an attendee portfolio with the Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne logo and my name listed inside: I can’t describe my feelings at that moment, I think I’m still emotional about being invited to present at the Sorbonne. The question that almost everyone asks me about this visit is: how could you understand the presentations in French? The Centre was very kind to offer a French-to-Arabic translator, Mohammed Tawaf, who did his best to translate discussions in an academic field outside his expertise.
My presentation was in the last session. I talked about part of my ongoing PhD thesis, on Saudi women online practices on Social Media Platforms (SMP). Luckily, I managed to stick to the 15 minute limit, and I was almost satisfied – almost – with my performance. Questions and comments following my presentation were constructive and informative; I now have them firmly on my mind whilst writing my thesis. Thanks, French academia!
After my presentation, Philip was kind enough to translate the last presentation and the closing discussion for me. This meant I was able to participate in the closing talk with a comment about how online practices have more similarities across cultures than we think, mentioning the wonderful Social Media research project by Miller et al: How The World Changed Social Media. At this point, my visit to the Sorbonne has reached its end, and the centre has invited me to a wonderful dinner with great researchers to end the day.
Four days later, my supervisor’s colleague, Prof Myriam Lewkowicz and I met at Gare de l’Est at 7:25am and took the train to Troyes together, and then travelled by car to Troyes University of Technology (UTT).
As you can never fully trust technology, we had some ‘issues’ with the presentation. I had to throw in a joke as part of my presentation until everything was sorted out. This was a life-saver for me, as I wasn’t prepared to present without a PowerPoint (my fault). The joke, which I used several times, can be found in this article’s title on the pace of change in Saudi Arabia.
My host was Khuloud Abou Amsha, a lecturer at UTT whom I first met three years ago at the 1st EUSSET summer school on Lake Como, Italy. Khuloud was kind enough to take me to lunch and a tour around Troyes, as I was eager to visit the Troyes historic quarter and other sights around the city centre. We caught up with each other speaking Arabic.
At the restaurant, a beautiful 3-year-old girl approached me and asked in French (which Khuloud translated for me) why I was wearing a headscarf :D. Her mother was so kind, she used the girl’s scarf and put it on her adorable daughter’s head as a semi-Hijab. We (Khuloud, the girl’s mother and me) laughed and the gorgeous girl was amused too. It’s something that I will never forget. Khuloud then kindly drove me to the train station, where again I accompanied Myriam on her trip back to Paris.
Here’s the take-away!
Looking back to my visit and two presentations, I am thrilled and delighted that I both presented myself as a Saudi woman and as a SHU PhD Candidate. I do regret not taking a photo of myself at these events, but all the same I have recorded the visit in many other ways.
I guess my take-away message for postgraduate students at the beginning of their projects, and especially to international students, whose chances of academic networking maybe smaller than their British/European peers is:
- take chances,
- network both offline and online,
- circulate your thoughts and work,
- make yourself visible …
… and I would hope such networking ‘deeds’ will eventually pay off one day!
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SHU, C3RI or the C3RI Impact Blog.