Meet IBS Ph.D. student and IBS lecturer John Robertson
Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up and went to school in the Scottish Highlands and have now been living in Budapest for some years, which I think is a diverse and evolving city right in the heart of central Europe. I feel that living here gives me the chance to experience and observe the real socio-economic and political changes that are happening around us and how these have an impact on and shape the whole region.
I have always had a keen interest in how people engage and interact with their physical and social environments, which led to me studying Human Geography and Environmental Planning at university in Glasgow. When I finished studying I worked as a development consultant in Edinburgh for close to three years, working on some major regeneration and environmental projects in central Scotland. This experience gave me the chance to work with national policymakers, helping guide development through the creation of masterplans and urban design guides. Since being in Hungary, I have worked in both adult education and with grant proposals seeking EU funding (research and innovation projects) for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These experiences have given me great exposure and invaluable insights into the different layers of Hungarian society.
I am a keen sportsman and play football with a few different teams and groups in the city. I also play badminton and squash, and try to go running or cycling as much as I can. I really enjoy traveling (combining it with photography) and learning about different cultures and societies and have visited many fascinating places around the world. For example, this summer I spent a few weeks in the Caucasus and had the chance to experience the kindness of local people as well as being able to spend time with some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from South Ossetia and Abkhazia and hearing their stories and seeing where they lived.
How did you choose IBS to study for your Ph.D.? (How did you learn about IBS, what bought you to Hungary, etc.)
I had been thinking about doing a Ph.D. for quite a long time, and for one reason or another, I always ended up putting it on hold. A few years ago though, I was made aware of the new PhD programme being offered by IBS and I decided to make an application, as it afforded me the chance to study from here in Budapest, while receiving a degree conferred by a well-respected British university. The whole process took a few months and included a couple of interviews and the submission of a strong research plan/ proposal, but it was very smooth, and I received clear instruction from the outset from the admissions team on how to navigate the application process.
What is your dissertation topic?
The title of my research is ‘Subjective well- being: a main driver of inverse migration’ and is essentially investigating the links between subjective well-being (loosely defined as a person's cognitive and affective evaluations of how they see their life) and non-traditional forms of migration (i.e., west to east), specifically looking at British citizens migrating to Hungary.
The selection of my research topic was heavily influenced by recent major world events including the migrant crisis, Brexit, growth of the EU, repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, and strong swings in political ideology. I think these events have caused international migration to become a key part of contemporary academic discourse and policy debates, which I hope my research can add value to in the future.
How do you feel, where are you now in writing your dissertation?
Currently, I am about halfway through the whole Ph.D. process and have a projected hand- in date (fingers crossed) in February/ March 2021. Over the summer I have been mostly working on the pilot research study, carrying out observations and interviews. Having the chance to get out in the field and start the primary data collection phase has been really interesting: it has been a good challenge and has helped me develop my skills.
What were the comments, events that especially helped you to be more focused?
The basic structure of the Ph.D. here at IBS is designed in such a way to help you maintain your focus, as there are numerous workshops to prepare for throughout the year. These are planned to ensure that your reading, structure, methodology, etc are all moving in the right direction and that your research is going to be suitable for Ph.D. study. The whole team here at IBS maintain contact through the year and give encouragement, feedback, tips, advice, and any other support you may need. On top of this, there are regular meetings (monthly) with your Ph.D. supervisors who provide invaluable support through active discussions, challenging you to think critically about the implications and outcomes of your research and engage with the broader issues of your topic.
You are not only a Ph.D. student but you also teach. What do you teach? For whom do you teach (BA, MA, Ph.D. level)?
Last year I was given the chance to teach at the university, which I thought would be both beneficial and rewarding for me. I taught the World Geography and Economic Development (WGED) class to two different groups, which is a new module at undergraduate level, covering issues relating to demographics, world conflict, climate change, etc. I think this course is an intriguing addition to the undergraduate course option list and it gives students a real chance to discuss and learn about contemporary world issues. As the WGED course was only introduced last year, there was a great deal of background preparation required, working with Alan Godsave (the module leader) and Marta Bartha-Rigo (seminar leader) to put together a challenging and stimulating module for the students. This was hard work at times, but I think the final outcome was very successful and it was enjoyable for me to see the students engaging with the different subjects and topics in the course.
This semester I will continue teaching undergraduate courses including the Business Ethics class, which I think will be fascinating.