Short Story

PhD program at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy

In the fall of 2012, I took my first steps in the world of professional academia when I started a PhD program in political and social sciences at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy. My topic is the rise of the United States under Roosevelt and Truman, in which I first developed an interest as an intern at the RSC. Situated in the picturesque hills of Tuscany which overlook Florence, I enjoy splendid views of the city’s domed Renaissance skyline every time I have a coffee after lunch. One would be hard-pressed to think of better places in which to work!

One of the great assets of the Institute is its multilingual, multicultural environment. Researchers from almost all of the countries of the European Union work here, together with many from beyond. This has given me the wonderful opportunity to speak four languages a day – English, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve learned a smattering of Catalan, Polish, and even the dialect of Naples through the friends I’ve made here, too! The Institute’s diversity is also reflected in its academic environment. The political and social science department is one of Europe’s best, and part of the reason for that is its eclectic approach to research. No particular approach is forced on you here. Indeed, researchers are encouraged to reflect on the standard assumptions they’ve taken from their diverse academic backgrounds. Historians, sociologists, political scientists, psychologists, and lawyers – I’ve taken classes with all of them, and it’s broadened my view immensely.

Living in Italy is of course a great privilege. Florence is a small and quiet city – I began running into people I know after only two weeks here! But though this can feel a little like a village to a city dweller like me, it’s actually an advantage when you recall that you’re here to do a PhD, not get lost in a global metropolis. And this is the city of Dante and Boccaccio, Guicciardini and Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. This is the country called il belpaese – the beautiful land. How can I complain? As Theodore Roosevelt might say, being a PhD researcher at the EUI is ‘work worth doing.’ And, I might add, Florence is a place worth working in!