“I found my way in research, but outside the university”

Guidance voice. Megda Bentout, 32, started a thesis in anthropology in 2015. She recounts her disappointments, which pushed her to continue her work outside the university, even if it means wearing multiple hats.

I grew up in the Paris region in a family that liked to debate history, and where studies were valued. A brother in engineering school, another in business school. For my part, Sciences Po appeared to be a good choice, because I did not yet know which path to take. I liked to learn, but at that time I didn’t tell myself that learning could be a job. During these very stimulating studies, I started to question doctoral students about the thesis path. Many were in pain and warned me, advised me to think carefully before embarking on this path.

So, at the end of my master’s degree in public affairs at Sciences Po, I chose to go to the health sector, in the hope of finding a job that would make sense, as I was looking for. But my position as social relations officer at AP-HP is far from these aspirations: a big administration, very heavy, where I have the impression that my work has no impact and that what I produce has little value.

I need to be intellectually stimulated again and I think back to the doctorate, which always attracted me. I quit my job for a year of Arabic studies at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco), where I nurture my project: to embark on an anthropology thesis on female oralities in North Africa.

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Loneliness and precariousness

When I start looking for funding, I am then told not to have any illusions, that doctoral contracts are rare in this field. In 2015, and like many doctoral students [notamment en sciences humaines et sociales], I am starting my thesis at EHESS with a parallel job: a consultant job, which allows me to pay the bills and investments imposed by the doctorate: travel, books to get etc. The rhythm is exhausting. I sacrifice my evenings, my weekends, my vacations.

Very quickly, I face the intense loneliness of the doctorate. Difficult to find spaces for exchange between doctoral students, also difficult to share what we do with an entourage who does not understand it so much. My thesis director is totally absent. Like many of her colleagues, she already oversees dozens of other doctoral students, in addition to her own research. I realize that I will have to do without accompaniment.

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