Close of photo of Connie sitting in a courtyard, smiling at the camera

Your Stories – Meet Connie

Name: Connie

Degree: PhD (Classics)

What made you choose this degree, where did your passion come from?

I’ve always had this passion, ever since my mum read me Greek myths as bedtime stories when I was a child. I’ve always been leaning towards this but didn’t expect I’d take it as far as I have. I didn’t originally think I’d do a PhD, but as an undergrad student in my first year at the University of Sydney I studied Greek myth and enjoyed it so much that I decided to keep going. I was invited into honours by a lecturer in my second year and I thought wow, if they think I’m cut out for it, why not! During my honours I realised how much I loved research and I decided to jump into a PhD, and that’s how I ended up in Newcastle.

Connie soaking up the sun in her favourite study and relax spot on campus

I was looking for a new experience, and with research it’s good to work in different institutions so you can meet a variety of people and tap into their research areas. Uni Newcastle has academics who specialise in my specific research areas, and my PhD supervisors have been so wonderful to work with. It turned out to be better than I ever hoped. I found a real support system and community here, I’m honestly thriving.

Where do you want to take this degree?

If my academic journey ends with my PhD, I’ll still be happy because I learnt a lot and grew as a person, but ideally I’d like to continue with research regardless of the career I go into. I want to keep doing publications on the side like book chapters and journal articles and keep doing conferences. I have a personal goal to do one interstate and one overseas conference every year to share my research and travel.

What do these conferences involve for you?

Conferences are all about sharing your research with other people, usually a 20-minute presentation and speech with a 10-minute Q&A.  It’s a chance to go hey, here’s what I’m contributing to the research world, what are your thoughts on it? Then you get to improve your own work based on their feedback. It’s essentially meeting people and sharing research in a space full of passionate people that love what they’re talking about and you get to bounce off each other’s energy.

Dolphin experience in Kaikoura, New Zealand – Connie’s side trip adventure before the ASCS Conference

I just came back from a week-long conference in New Zealand. It was my first in-person conference due to COVID. I enjoyed reconnecting with people, making new friends, sharing research, catching up for cocktails, having a good time and getting out of my comfort zone. I really love the conference world and I want to stay a part of it for as long as I can. A main reason why I chose to do a PhD in the first place was for conferences, travel and fieldwork and to take my interest to the next level.

Tell me more about your research.

My research blends ancient history, ancient languages and archaeology. I’m near the end of a four year long research project on a character from Greek mythology called Penthesilea. She’s a warrior woman and queen of the Amazons, a female-only society of warriors. My research is a feminist take on her. I’m looking at how she challenged the patriarchal norms of the ancient world and how she’s been reshaped in contemporary and Medieval periods, to see how her changing portrayal speaks to changing ideas of women, warfare and heroism over time.

A replica of a vase painting showing the Greek hero Achilles killing the Amazon Queen Penthesilea, one of the vases that Connie analyses in her PhD. Connie’s friend Ruth gifted her this postcard from the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

I didn’t know much about the Amazons in my undergraduate years, but now I see them everywhere. For example, Wonder Women is a modern-day Amazon. I accidentally stumbled across the Amazons in my honours year when a friend recommended an ancient source to me and the beginning of the source was the Penthesilea story. I was instantly hooked, I stuck with the Amazons and looked no further!

What are you most looking forward to regarding your research soon?

I won a travel research scholarship for ancient history postgraduate students to travel to places that they are studying and experience them in real life. I’ll be travelling to Athens to see Amazon artifacts and I’m so excited! Greece is so beautiful, there’s so much amazing architecture, art and iconography. The Amazons are displayed on many temples and public buildings like the Acropolis and Parthenon, it will be great to see these Amazon artifacts in person and see other people look up and admire them too. I reckon this travel opportunity will be the biggest highlight of my university studies.

I didn’t think I’d be successful in the scholarship but I had nothing to lose so I gave it a go. I would suggest to anyone looking at scholarships, even if you don’t meet all the criteria, if it’s calling out to you just give it a shot. It’ll be fantastic if you succeed but if you don’t it’s nothing personal and you didn’t lose out on anything.

Connie holding a tapestry that her mum made her for Christmas one year, based off a Medieval illustration of Penthesilea

Another really exciting thing is that I was contacted out of the blue by a commissioning editor for a company that publishes academic books on the Medieval period. They want me to write a 50,000-word sole-authored book on Penthesilea in the Medieval period, and I said yes! After my PhD, it’ll be my next big research project. I think it’s amazing that someone from a different country found my research profile and thought I’d be suited for this. It makes me think of what my mum says – when you’re trying to figure out where to go in life, if a lot of doors are opening up in a direction, follow them. I’m excited to see where these doors lead!

Do you have any advice for others?

Be open to all possibilities, no matter what degree you’re doing. Follow your passions and just trust that it will all fit into place. When I first started my PhD, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it but I thought it will be fun in the moment so I gave it a go. Coming near the end of my PhD, I can definitely say it was fun and I want to do more research for as long as I can. I don’t have an exact career path mapped out, but with more conferences and research around the corner I trust that I’m on the right path.

My other advice is to follow your interests, passion and your heart, and don’t overthink the future. Have a bit of a plan in place (if that’s going to be helpful) but focus on the here and now. Be open to change and be flexible. If you find you’re not liking something, just pivot and find something else. Surround yourself with friends or family that will support you. Share your joy and enthusiasm with them because that’s going to hype you up as well. Cheer other people on. We can all help each other find our passion and stick to it.

Connie working on her study

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