Ten years ago when I partnered with Social Science Research Council to start the Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop, the Korean studies field faced a challenge. Even as more graduate students took up study of Korea for their dissertations, outside of a handful of elite universities, few graduate students had access to mentors and fellow students that shared their country of scholarly interest.

The Korea Foundation shared this concern, and we designed the Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop to help graduate students navigate the uncertain terrain of their various disciplines, and build a real scholarly community with others who study Korea. Korea’s political and cultural significance in the world has swelled since then, and so has the urgency for serious scholarship to engage it. Now there are robust networks of Korean studies scholars that span disciplinary and geographic boundaries, and we are heartened to know the workshop has contributed to this in some small part.

So far, we’ve seen over 100 graduate students through the workshop, and 23 faculty that have volunteered time to mentoring them.  A discussion of this initiative would be incomplete without an acknowledgement of Nancy Abelmann, who left us far too early in January 2016. A brilliant anthropologist and colleague, she spent four of the workshop’s 10 years working late into the night with our students. Her extraordinary dedication and energy left an indelible mark not only on our participants’ careers, but on the field of Korean studies. To tell the story of this program, we asked one participant from each cohort to write about the significance of the workshop in their careers. The KSDW makes personal impacts for each young scholar. But the results are universal, too. For many, improving the dissertation becomes secondary to the dedicated mentoring this workshop offers, or the emergence of lasting friendships. For others, the workshop is a moment of intellectual reinvigoration and dedication.

Few aspects of my career are as rewarding as supporting the young scholars that have come through this workshop, and I hope it continues for years to come.                                   –Theodore Jun Yoo (Yonsei University)

 

Hae Yeon Choo (2008)
Assistant Professor, Sociology
University of Toronto

The KSDW workshop was transformative for my scholarship and academic life, and I remember the four days as the most significant moment in my graduate school. As a graduate student in social sciences, I was previously not connected to area studies scholarship or community, since doing so was not encouraged within the discipline. Having met with peers and mentors across social science and humanities at the KSDW completely changed that for me. The connections formed at the workshop  enriched my scholarship and helped my career, as my faculty mentors Nancy Abelmann and Kyoung-Hee Choi read my dissertation chapters, guided me through the fieldwork, and later read my book manuscript. Having the support of peers has also been invaluable, as we supported each other through the writing process and navigating the academy as a junior faculty. I am very honored to have served as a faculty mentor for the KSDW to give back the incredible support I have received to the future generation of Korean Studies scholars.”

Hae Yeon Choo was also the recipient of a 2008 International Dissertation Research Fellowship.

 

Saeyoung Park (2009)
Assistant Professor of Modern Korean Studies
Leiden University/Universiteit Leiden

I think it is unlikely that there can be another workshop that could offer as much positive impact as the KSDW. Before the KSDW, as the only student writing a Korea-centered dissertation in my department, I felt rather isolated. But after the workshop, I had a ‘band of brothers and sisters’ in the field, whose positive influences on my intellectual life and career are innumerable. As the 2009 KSDW cohort, we had to navigate a job market whose terrain was marked by the Great Recession. A kind, cheery voice at the other end of the phone, a silly joking email, detailed comments on a draft, advice on cover letters, someone to commiserate with after a rough interview—the workshop gave me all of this and so much more. Intellectually, I am a far more interesting thinker because of the KSDW. The workshop was where I learnt how to learn from Koreanists of other disciplines, and discovered how much fun that could be. The work of my cohort continues to inspire me every day; the frisson of pleasure that one feels at reading your friends’ words and recognizing an earlier conversation in its pages is simply delightful.

 

Bonnie Tilland (2010)
Assistant Professor, East Asia International College
Yonsei University

The Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop came at a crucial time for me. In summer 2010 I was about one-third of the way through eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork for my dissertation, and did not feel like I had found my way yet. I was trying to cram far too much into one dissertation project, but fortunately I was assigned Nancy Abelmann as my faculty mentor. She swiftly and decisively persuaded me to focus my project and drop the extraneous pieces. Through fellow participants I not only gained camaraderie, but also generous introductions to resources and people in Korea. I also gained important perspective on the process of ethnographic fieldwork itself, as several other participants who used ethnographic methods for their dissertations had already finished research and were at the “writing stage.” After the workshop I returned to the field for the rest of my fieldwork, with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.

 

Sohl Lee (2011)
Assistant Professor, Art and Art History
Stonybrook University

One too many times to count, I have in my mind returned to the small room, where I sat on the floor with 3-4 other PhD candidates and Professor Nancy Abelmann, one of the faculty mentors for the 2011 SSRC Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop. That summer I had just passed my qualifying exam, and was grateful for the opportunity to meet a dozen graduate students and scholars working on Korea, especially because my home institution did not offer a strong Korean or East Asian Studies Program. Perhaps it was the intimacy of crouching together with our prospectus drafts tightly held to our chests, and Nancy’s electrifying enthusiasm each time she spoke about the strengths and challenges of our work. My closest allies and friends whose company I cherish today—at conferences, via Skype chats, and over summers in Seoul—came from that small room and that summer.

The KSDW offered exactly what it promised—such as a strong network, an opportunity to converse with eminent scholar-mentors in the field, and a determination to complete the dissertation—and beyond. It showed me a glimpse into what academia does best: nurturing a community of intellectuals across disciplines, across regions, and across generations. It was an initiation of sorts to the warmth and generosity of scholars in the Korean Studies community that I am grateful, and thrilled, to be part of.

Sohl Lee was also the recipient of a 2012 International Dissertation Research Fellowship.

 

Mi-Ryong Shim (2012)
Assistant Professor, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures
Northwestern University

The SSRC Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop challenged me to envision a broader and longer horizon for my research.  It gave me an opportunity to present my research to a broadly interdisciplinary audience, and it introduced me to some of the latest and most exciting research coming out of the field of Korean Studies.  The need to communicate my dissertation research to mentors and other dissertation writers coming from diverse disciplinary backgrounds – ranging from communication, anthropology, geography, history, to literature – pushed me to articulate the significance and methodology of my dissertation research with greater clarity than I had before.

Mi-Ryong Shim was also the recipient of a 2010 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship.

 

Stephanie K. Kim (2013)
Program Director, Center for Korean Studies
University of California, Berkeley

I participated in the 2013 workshop when I was writing my dissertation on the internationalization efforts of a Korean university. Though at the time I was a graduate student at UCLA, a vibrant hub for Korean Studies, as someone from a non-traditional discipline (education) within the field, I felt left out of scholarly networks that primarily catered to those within textually driven disciplines like history and literature. By participating in the dissertation workshop, I was able to sharpen my ability to engage with diverse scholarly audiences and develop important networks in Korean Studies that previously I lacked. Beyond the workshop itself, my workshop faculty mentor (Robert Oppenheim, The University of Texas at Austin) joined my doctoral committee as an outside member. Later I was awarded the Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and affiliated with the UC Berkeley Center for Korean Studies, where eventually I became the Program Director—all achievements that I attribute to the point at which I became better integrated into the field of Korean Studies through my participation in the dissertation workshop.

 

Chi-Hoon Kim (2014)
PhD Candidate, Indiana University

Participating in the 2014 SSRC Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop was a transformative experience as an anthropologist studying the heritage politics of globalizing Korean food. While I expected to receive valuable feedback on how to improve my dissertation, I didn’t foresee that I would develop strong professional relationships and friendships. The workshop fostered a collaborative environment that rooted for the success of our respective projects. Receiving feedback from mentors and peers from various disciplines also challenged me to critically analyze my project from different angles. I remain in touch with mentors and peers and we have held mini-reunions at conferences and cheered one another on from afar. I am grateful for KSDW for creating a community for me to turn to and grow with.

 

Dongoh Park (2015)
Senior Policy Specialist, Trust and Safety
Google, Japan office

The Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop was much more than a workshop- it was a great learning experience. The SSRC created a unique environment and put me in a cohort with amazing mentor faculty and student peers. Mentors and students gave deeply insightful comments and feedback and the workshop left me feeling empowered and inspired to complete the long journey of dissertating.

 

Michael Prentice (2016)
Korean Foundation Post-doctoral Fellow
Korea Institute, Harvard University

The KSDW had a huge impact on my dissertation and writing process. SSRC created a unique atmosphere of scholars working on Korea-related topics but who came from different fields and theoretical commitments. This created a valuable challenge to see how others interpreted my topic and made me think about how I could translate my arguments to those outside my own sub-field. Outside of formal discussions, interactions with students and professors provided opportunities to talk about writing strategies, research methods, the vicissitudes of the job market, and Korean politics. After the workshop, I found a lot of inspiration for writing and editing. Four days of close interaction provided a solid basis for ongoing relations with all the participants – many of whom I still speak with regularly.

The Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop was funded by the Korea Foundation from 2006-2016. Since 2016, it has been funded by the Academy for Korean Studies.

Feature Image Credit: Jiwoon Yulee, Jae Won E. Chung, and Birgit Geipel (left to right) at the 2015 Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop. Photo credit to Dongoh Park.