What attracted you to studying social anthropology at Master’s and then PhD level?
I had previously spent some time in Cuba and had been inspired by the culture and religious practices. This led me on to pursue MA research on matrifocality within Santería, a locally dominant religion. For the MA, I spent three months in Havana living with a local family and taking part in everyday life.
I planned to continue work in Cuba at PhD level, but another opportunity arose in my own local community in Canterbury. I had been working for a local homelessness charity, Porchlight, as a youth support worker, and found that there were significant numbers of LGBTQ young people at our accommodation projects. Porchlight and the University of Kent subsequently funded my PhD research into this issue and I spent a year as a support worker with young homeless individuals and travelling around Kent to meet with LGBTQ homeless youth.
What aspects of your postgraduate studies did you most enjoy?
I mostly enjoyed being able to steer my own research and follow my instincts. It was a whole new experience compared with being an undergraduate student in that you become a researcher in your own right. Being out in the field and getting raw data to then analyse from every angle and developing the right language to convey this to academics and the public is a fantastic experience.
How did you find the supervision process?
My supervisor always went above and beyond to support me in every way, and pushed me to write better, think deeper and to question everything. When I felt I had done a good job and covered everything, she directed me to new eye-opening and thought-provoking literature that made me analyse everything all over again. I relentlessly wrote and rewrote my thesis, changed my tone, adjusted my angles and edited seemingly minute details. As a result I learned to refine my style of writing and ability to convincingly carry an argument. The supervision process was what taught me the most and guided me to a PhD dissertation that passed with no corrections.
What are you doing now?
I now work for Porchlight (www.porchlight.org.uk) as a manager for the Young Persons’ Supported Accommodation Service; we support around 200 young homeless people every year, both in our accommodation projects and in the community. I have also been working with our Head of Youth and Family Services to create a new service for LGBTQ youth in Kent, the Be You Project (www.thebeyouproject.co.uk). One of the outcomes from my PhD research was finding that there is a significant gap in provision of support for LGBT+ youth in Kent, which leads to high levels of mental health issues, self-harm, suicidal ideation and homelessness within this group. The Be You Project brings together practitioners from across the county in order to provide appropriate support in a way that has never been seen before.
Can you describe a typical day at work?
I’m in charge of line management of my staff team, as well as the health and safety of all of our accommodation projects, safeguarding all the young people in our projects and in the community that we support, as well as managing budgets for the projects. I liaise with local councils and Kent County Council to advocate for our service users and give them a voice in decisions. The work I do directly with the young people can at times be very challenging: I often have to deal with violent incidents and I listen to traumatic and distressing life stories on a daily basis. It is incredibly rewarding to see even just one of our young people progress and do well in life and it makes it all worthwhile.
How do you think your social anthropology studies help you in your role?
Social anthropology has enabled me to think outside the box, to analyse situations and to see the broader political picture of the environment that I work in. On a more practical note, throughout my PhD I attended numerous academic conferences and presented my work to various audiences, including on radio and in media, which has prepared me to feel confident in whichever work-related situation I am thrown into.
What are your career plans?
I would like to continue to work with vulnerable youth and eventually have influence in wider policy decisions for marginalised young people. I am currently working on articles and a book proposal from my PhD dissertation and hope to be able to bring light to an issue that until now has not been highlighted or discussed in academia or elsewhere.