CEMUS Diaries w49#3 – A Small Slice by Morag Ramsey





Morag Ramsey

Doctoral student at the Department of History of Sciences and Ideas, Uppsala University, and is a former Course Coordinator at CEMUS. 



When Sachiko asked if I wanted to contribute to the diary series I thought: “what a neat way to reflect about CEMUS and how nice of Sachiko to think of me. Of course I should contribute!”

That was in August. It is now December and I am bashfully writing a diary entry on the Monday of the week I am supposed to contribute something. I have read through the other entries and there are many insights already: it really is an interesting project. Considering my current state (scrambling to write something the week of) and the aims of this series, I thought I would reflect about how working at CEMUS helped to convince me I could manage a PhD (and I think managing means being a bit behind every once in a while.)


Currently I am working as a doctoral student at the department of the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University. I left CEMUS in January of 2016, and began my PhD that February. I only worked at CEMUS for 9 months, but it definitely helped me commit to a doctoral degree and feel capable of many small, but not insignificant, things.

In my current position I am part of a research project that is historicizing fetal research in Sweden. My specific contribution is examining how Sweden was able to encourage international family planning during a time when family planning was a taboo topic. At a glance, this sounds a bit off from CEMUS’ focus. It is a topic that is closely wrapped up in the history of medicine, and specifically the history of clinical trials, experiments, and reproduction. However, there are many overlaps from CEMUS’ themes and I still find myself mulling over things from an environmental perspective from time to time.

Perhaps I should say: I am interested in sustainability. I think environmental protection is important, I think we should be reflective of our actions, of our politics, and of the general state of the planet. But in this diary entry I focus on the practical side of CEMUS, on how CEMUS pushes you into the academic unknown and how that can help embolden you to strange, adult undertakings.

CEMUS provided me with my first real university job. It was fun, the people were great, and it was completely new territory for me. Designing seminars? Inviting lecturers? Marking assignments? Even just talking to a group of people in a coherent manner seemed challenging. I talk too quickly, too quietly, and from a very average height. Apparently the taller, louder, and more articulate you are the smoother it goes giving clear instructions to a group of 25 students. Luckily, CEMUS throws you in the deep end with a buddy. So you and your co-course coordinator get to face the mysteries of university protocols, meetings, deadlines, and requirements together.


It was great. Looking back, those nine months of tinkering with course syllabuses, literature lists, activities and assignments really helped me with my current PhD position. Getting to do all those things the first time not only with another coordinator (Hi Tom!) but also with a network of people focused on learning, and particularly student led learning, was really rewarding and, it turns out, a space that is not super easy to find when you are outside the bubble.

Shortly after I interviewed for my current position, I was feeling overwhelmed and confused. A PhD? Was that what I wanted? I was just getting to figure everything out at CEMUS. Could I do it? How do you even do such a thing? What if you fail?

CEMUS gave me small bits of confidences that I could actually manage a PhD. I had already given the coordinating thing a try and it was challenging but not impossible. I even knew how that damned studentportalen worked AND how to fit keys into locked university doors. Maybe I could do this.

And maybe it seems minor, but having a supportive, creative space to learn about university mechanisms, to learn about different types of teaching, and to meet a bunch of passionate people was a really good stepping-stone. Even though my academic focus has shifted I am still drawn towards ‘anthropocene’ conference sessions and find a comfort in having more than one academic sphere.

I am contributing to this series at the end of the year and many people have already contributed and expanded on the multiplicities of CEMUS’ meanings. While this perspective that I offer is just a slim slice of what CEMUS can be for someone, I think the practical learning space CEMUS offers is valuable in itself.



This is a part of the 25th Anniversary blog series “CEMUS Diaries: Stories from past, present and future”, where we invite present and former staff, students, work group members, associates, and other CEMUS friends to reflect on their time at CEMUS and shed critical light into the future. Read the other CEMUS Diaries entries here.



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