In Dependence, not Independence

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Monday 26 August 2019

Both research and leadership concentrations of the Laidlaw program heavily promote self-direction, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance. In short, Laidlaw is an exercise in independence. That said, reflecting on my summer’s experience, I appreciate that while research and leadership are inherently self-driven activities, they are not activities that must be completed by one’s self. For all the focus on independence, Laidlaw showed me the dependence present (and needed) in research and leadership.  

Five weeks in the St. Andrean summer, spending eight hours a day reading ancient epics and historiographies alone in coffee shops led me to rethink my self-identification as an introvert. To overcome the challenges accompanying the loneliness of independence, I depended on forging relationships with my fellow Laidlaw scholars. 

St. Andrews out of term time is a hotbed for golfers, seagulls, and academics immersing themselves in work. Initially, other Laidlaw scholars appeared to be loving the solitude research permitted. I feared I alone struggled with being constantly alone. However, as I formed friendships and met regularly with the others in the cohort, I realized that few of us had escaped the occasional disillusionment with independent research. I am grateful for the time spent with my cohort – especially the Friday afternoons we met to eat cake and check in on each other. Towards the end of the five weeks we met for more social activities outside of Laidlaw as well. However, I believe that every scholar could have benefitted still from more cohort cohesion. The action learning sets were a break from solitude, as were leadership lunches. That said, more institutional aid in gathering the cohort is needed. Many scholars — high achieving bunch that we are — felt guilty to take time in the research day to spend time with each other. This is unfortunate because as I learned, we depend on each other to understand the triumphs and challenges of independent research. 

(Fellow scholars, Lottie Doherty and Geraint Morgan, one Cake Friday)

I could not reflect on the work I produced this summer without acknowledging my dependence on my supervisors, Dr. Alice König and Dr. Nicolas Wiater, and the gratitude I owe them. Applying under a predetermined Laidlaw project title, I joined Dr. König and Dr. Wiater’s established research project: ‘Visualising War.’ As an International Relations (IR) student, I was drawn to their project’s analysis of war – particularly, its exploration of the interplay between the differences and similarities in the depictions and discourse surrounding war. The problem was, their research was in a department completely foreign to me. Dr. König and Dr. Wiater are Classics professors. 

The interdisciplinary nature of my research resulted in a relationship of mutual dependence between my supervisors and I. Dr. König and Dr. Wiater relied on my unique background in IR to deliver fresh insight and research directions to their project. In a way, their clear dependence on me for this task promoted my own independence. Treated as an expert, I was allowed free rein to explore issues I found important and offer suggestions for their project to include more IR theory. 

Meanwhile, I depended on their expertise to guide me through unfamiliar Classics territory. Dr. König and Dr. Wiater brought me up to date on their past research to promote synthesis between my interests in IR with Visualising War. As my research evolved, I relied on my supervisors to introduce me to relevant materials, authors, and histories of the ancient Mediterranean. We met weekly in an excited dialogue of offering new ideas and resources to one another. My research stimulated theirs just as their stimulated mine. This summer has revealed how research is cooperative. 

Finally, I would like to reflect on how my research and leadership development depended on the Laidlaw scholarship. I was heavily considering entering academia after university. But with my many commitments during term time, I found it difficult to research either independently or as an undergraduate assistant; I had never had the opportunity to see if research was an avenue worth continuing. With Lord Laidlaw’s scholarship and the faculty members I met at St. Andrews, I was gifted the time and money to test my capacity for research and leadership. I also depended on the leadership lessons from the CAPOD team at St. Andrews. And as I reflect now on my summer experience, I find I am more intrigued by the leadership and management aspect of Laidlaw than the research. I am grateful for such an opportunity to be exposed to both fronts.

 I could have written this about my experiences with independence this summer. About how through research I learned how to plan and subsequently change plans. About how to honour my own intellect and prioritise information. How I cooked for myself for the first time. But I think I saw all of those coming. What I was most surprised about was the delicate balance between dependence and independence in research that I experienced through Laidlaw.

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