In this month’s newsletter, we would like to introduce PhD student, Katerina Bryant from the College of College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Her supervisors were Dr Kylie Cardell and Dr Lisa Bennett.
Katerina recently submitted thesis, “The Art of Falling and Looking for Loretta” received outstanding results from the examiners. Her thesis’ creative work is a speculative biography of the life of Loretta La Pearl – America’s first woman clown – merged with essays exploring the search for Loretta’s story fifty years after her death. In the exegesis, Katerina looked at hybrid approaches to contemporary Australian biography, the ethical implications of writing biographical history and writing speculative biography during the pandemic.
We asked Katerina to share what led her to a PhD and what her thesis is about along with the best part of the journey and advice to fellow students.
Katerina was also a recipient of the Best Higher Degree by Research Student Publication award in 2020 for the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences with her publication on ‘Hysteria: A Memoir of Illness, Strength and Women’s Stories Throughout History‘.
What led you to undertake a PhD and what inspired or motivated you?
Mostly, I was excited by the opportunity to spend three years exploring a topic that had captured my interest. It felt like such a gift to be able to focus (mostly) single-handedly on writing. Writing the creative manuscript and what that entailed – archival research, travel and learning about speculative biography – also felt like such a big endeavour, so I was excited to have my supervisors’ support and advice throughout the process.
What is the topic of your PhD and why is it important to you?
My thesis tells the story of an unknown woman, who some have called the first woman clown in America. As I learnt about her life – and the little recognition she received – I felt compelled to write about her. Her story feels urgent to me. At the same time, I was intrigued by this sense of urgency. And so, the thesis explores what it means to be a biographer. How can we tell another person’s story ethically? Especially if, like my subject, that life has few archival traces.
What has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the journey?
Just before the pandemic begun, I was able to spend a summer in Canberra for the National Library of Australia Summer Scholarship. I loved spending every day in the archive, looking at old circus posters and listening to oral histories of Australian circus performers. It was also wonderful to connect with other scholars and learnt about their work and approach to writing history.
What advice would you give to those who are about to undertake a PhD?
My biggest piece of advice would be to choose a topic that you are excited by. While parts of the thesis were difficult to write, and the last few weeks of edits were a slog, I was always excited to learn about circus history. I also appreciated the slower pace of a PhD compared to Honours or an undergrad. You can sit with the material, which is such a gift. So, I would say, remember the best parts of doing a PhD when the tricky patches come around.