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Tamson’s path to academia

Tamson Pietsch

2003 Rhodes Scholar Tamson Pietsch nurtured her love of ideas and scholarship during her undergraduate days at the University of Adelaide. Whole afternoons spent in the Union Building, drinking coffee and debating ‘the big questions of life’ with fellow students set her on the path to a career in academia.

Name: Tamson Pietsch

Secondary and tertiary education details:
Cornerstone College, Mt Barker
University of Adelaide – BA Arts (Hons) History & English
University of Oxford – MSt Modern History & DPhil

Why did you choose Adelaide for your undergraduate degree?
I wanted to do a liberal arts degree and I wanted to live in Adelaide (I grew up in the Adelaide Hills). Adelaide University seemed the obvious choice!

Apart from your academic qualifications, how did your experience at the University of Adelaide shape you as a person?
I loved my time as an undergraduate at Adelaide. For the first time I felt like I had permission to get excited about the stuff I was reading and to experiment with ideas and concepts. At the same time I was learning lots of other life stuff – how to live away from home, how to make new friends. My memories are all about these twin aspects: ideas and sociability – I remember afternoons spent drinking coffee in the Union Building; discussing notions of faith and belonging at the Lutheran Student Fellowship; and encountering new ideas in a reading group with Dr Wayne Cristaudo, who used to be in the European Studies Department. I think I’ve taken this excitement for ideas and people with me and it animates my whole approach to my work as an academic.

Details of scholarships (including Rhodes and any others)
University Medal, University of Adelaide (2000); Rhodes Scholarship (2003); Australian Bicentennial Scholarship (2006); Lothian Research Studentship in History, University of Oxford (2006)

Describe your time at Oxford – what were the standout memories?
I had a wonderful time at Oxford – in fact I ended up spending eight years there.

What has been your career path since then?
After finishing my DPhil I held a Junior Research Fellowship for three years at New College and a Lectureship in Modern History at Corpus Christi College at Oxford University, and am now Lecturer in Imperial and Colonial History at Brunel University, London. From September 2013 I will be based at Sydney University as an ARC DECRA Fellow.

How has the Rhodes Scholarship changed your life?
The Rhodes Scholarship has changed my life in two ways. First it enabled me to pursue doctoral study at Oxford, which has laid the foundation for my academic career. Second it brought me into contact with a wide variety of wonderful people from all over the world, who now work in a diverse range of fields. These academic and social dimensions of the Scholarship have expanded my intellectual and professional horizons, bringing me unexpected opportunities and a rich group of lifelong friends.

Advice to incoming students to gain the most from their time at university
Get involved in extra-curricular activities. Work hard at your degree. Learn a language. Do internships. Be adventurous with ideas – they will reward you.

Any tips for new graduates on choosing their employment path?
The advice that people are often given is to keep your options open. I think this is all well and good for a while, but at some point in your mid to late twenties it ceases to be sound advice: then it becomes necessary to limit your options and learn to do one thing well. That might later take you in unexpected directions.

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