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Kathrin Wunderlich (G16) is in the second year of her PhD in German Studies at Churchill but she first arrived at the College in 2016 to study for an MPhil in European, Latin American and Comparative Literatures and Cultures.
Originally from the village of Sasbach in the Black Forest region of Germany, Kathrin’s journey to Cambridge began when she came to the UK to attend a language school and ended up staying in the country to complete her A levels at Impington Sixth Form College. Kathrin then completed a BA in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent where she received multiple awards for her work, including the Roger and Agnes Cardinal Prize for the best final year dissertation and a University prize for the best degree in Comparative Literature.
Keen to continue her studies in the field of Comparative Literature, she applied to Cambridge in the hope that she could secure the funding she urgently needed, and was overjoyed to be awarded fully funded Studentships for both her MPhil and PhD. The impact of receiving the funding has been profound.
I never expected to be accepted onto a postgraduate programme at the University of Cambridge. The application process is very competitive and with so little funding available, a scholarship is even harder to obtain than a place to study here. Receiving funding, first for my MPhil course and now for the PhD, has not only meant that I was able to come here, it also puts me in the very rare and privileged position to be paid to do something that I thoroughly enjoy. Moreover, funding does not only have a financial aspect, although that is crucial. Funding serves as recognition and reward for past work but also signals belief in the value of work that is yet to come. Especially in arts and humanities subjects – where research does not have an immediate monetary value attached, as it does in some sciences such as medicine, for example – funding is a crucial indicator that my department, my supervisors and my College recognise the value and worthwhileness of the work that I am dedicating three years of my life to.
Kathrin’s MPhil was supported by the MML (Medieval and Modern Languages) MPhil Funding Award and the Cambridge Schröder MPhil Scholarship at Churchill College and her PhD is supported by a full Studentship jointly funded by Churchill College and the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The AHRC funds her tuition fees and Churchill College funds her maintenance costs (living expenses). Kathrin is very clear that without the funding, she would never have been able to come here.
Without the funding provided by the AHRC and Churchill College I would not have been able to accept my place at Cambridge. My family is not able to support me financially. I was raised by a single mother, who supported me as much as she could but even with a part-time job, I would never have been able to afford studying and living in Cambridge without a scholarship. I am the first person in my family to be awarded a university degree. When I first came to the UK, I worked part and full-time while doing my A Levels – otherwise I would not have been able to stay here. This was exhausting and stressful, and I do not think a graduate schedule, which beyond the academic work towards the completion of the PhD includes conferences, academic seminars, lecturing and supervision, leaves enough room to earn a living in a city as expensive as Cambridge.
Kathrin’s PhD research focuses on contemporary German-language writing on war and conflict, specifically the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the war on terror which resulted from the events of September 11th, 2001. She is particularly interested in literature that engages with these events and narratively negotiates them against the backdrop of the lasting legacies of National Socialism. She relates that in essence, she is asking the question: What can we learn from German literature about coming to terms with the past at a time when Germany’s present involves fighting wars again?
Initially she did not choose Churchill College – it chose her. She came to Churchill because of the MPhil funding and when she applied for her PhD she chose to remain at Churchill because of the supportive environment she had experienced; ‘I knew the College would continue to support and encourage me through my PhD.’ She also greatly enjoys the vibrant academic community fostered by the College, as well as the openness of the site:
I don’t know what it’s like to study at a different Cambridge College, but to me Churchill seems more relaxed in terms of traditions and hierarchies. The College makes a continued effort to bring students and staff of various stages together to create a community and fosters an exchange of ideas between the many different disciplines assembled here at Churchill. I also like the openness of the architecture. The transition from the indoor and outdoor spaces of the college seems very fluid. Between the buildings and the grounds there are so many places to just sit or to read and work.
In fact, the highlight of her time at Churchill thus far has been people she has met. She hugely values how welcome she was made to feel from her very first day and praises the mentoring scheme run by the College that brings postgraduate students and members of the SCR together:
Churchill College offers a very supportive environment where everyone from fellow students, admin and support staff to senior academics is always willing to listen, to help and to offer encouragement. Especially when I was a new student this openness and approachability of everyone I encountered helped me adjust to this new and – for me – rather different environment that is the University of Cambridge. The mentoring scheme run by the College, which pairs postgraduate students with members of the Senior Common Room is a great example of this.
In her free time Kathrin endeavours to enjoy as much of an outdoor life as possible, walking and cycling to off-set the time she spends working indoors.
Looking ahead, her interest in the interactions between art, in particular literature, history and politics is not limited to her PhD project. A new research project has already emerged out of the work she is currently doing and her plan is to develop this into a viable post-doc proposal. There are also research strands she started developing during my MPhil that she would like to explore further after her PhD.
Of the utmost importance, however, has been the funding that has enabled her to come to Cambridge in the first place, and she is clear about the vital importance of providing similar opportunities for other postgraduate students in future:
I think the financial support offered by the College is important not only for recipients like me. Studentships ensure that the College retains its invaluable and enriching mixture of students from different disciplines and from different socio-economic and demographically and culturally-diverse backgrounds. I think it is the coming together of the various disciplines and of different people with different backgrounds that creates the personal growth experiences we all benefit from as part of College life.