Name: Dr Ammon Cheskin
Age range: 32
Research institution: Central and East European Studies School of Social and Political Sciences College of Social Science
Research career length: 4 years
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Location: Scotland, UK
A-levels: English, Economics and Mathematics
BA in Russian and Politics at University of Bath
MA in Interpreting and Translation, University of Bath
MRes and PhD in Russian, Central and Eastern European Studies, University of Glasgow
Lecturer in Central and East European Studies, University of Glasgow
Like many people, Ammon Cheskin only became interested in study leading to research after having experienced its practical applications. Having all-but-failed his GCSE in Russian, Ammon chose to spend a short period in Russia itself, where he was hooked on the language and people. The ‘failed’ school certificate takes pride of place in the office where he now works as a lecturer.
My research looks into the place of minority groups in societies where the dominant group has political power. The minority groups may be ethically different from the powerful group or speak a different language. I explore how minorities are depicted by majority groups and how this affects how they see themselves, their loyalties, and behaviour. I use the specific case study of Russian-speakers in Latvia, where I am especially interested in how the past is interpreted and used to determine current identity. I study how the Latvian authorities attempt to create a particular version of the nation's history, and how they have tried to make Russian-speakers accept this point of view.
I spend a lot of time getting together a research network from different universities and countries. I estimate that 60 percent of my time is taken up with teaching responsibilities, including preparing courses and lectures. Academics have to write and have their work published. As the moment, I am producing an article to be submitted to an academic journal, and am completing a monograph (a sort of academic book) that I hope will soon be published. Another element of my work that people may not normally associate with being researcher is organising conferences, which I sometimes do within my department.
When I was 16 I failed my Russian GCSE...well, strictly speaking I obtained grade E so I suppose it wasn’t an outright ‘fail’, but it was clear that I had not excelled in Russian. Somehow I managed to convince my parents that it would be good to go on a two-week school exchange to Russia. Fortunately they agreed and this decision would alter the course of my career and life. While learning Russian in the classroom had seemed dull and disconnected from life I was suddenly jealous of the students who could speak Russian. Russia amazed me and I promised that I would learn this language. It was too late to take Russian at A-level. Instead I took English, Economics, and Mathematics. I was never really motivated to work hard at these subjects and obtained modest C, B, and D grades. But what I really wanted to do was to learn Russian.
So, following a few years of working and volunteering abroad (in Latvia), I convinced the University of Bath that I was desperate to learn Russian. My four years away from education helped me to demonstrate that I had matured, that I had even learnt Latvian while spending two years in the country, and that I was truly ready to apply myself. Happily Bath accepted my application and I indeed suddenly learnt how to apply myself. I graduated with a first class degree in Russian and Politics, followed by a Master’s MA in Interpreting and Translating at the same place. My next step was to apply for a four year PhD in Russian, Central and East European Studies, including an MRes course (to help develop research skills). Now I am a lecturer in Central and East European Studies, my Grade E Russian GCSE certificate hangs proudly on my office wall.
My research can help inform politicians in a range of different countries about why certain policies will work and others probably won’t. This feature of my work excites me, as does the possibility that my enthusiasm for the subject might inspire another person in some way.
When you conduct research you learn a series of important skills, not just directly related to being a good researcher. Project planning and project management, how to draw on the skills and experience of others, how to create formal and informal networks for collaboration. You have to present your research clearly to a number of different audiences and so you learn presentation and communication skills. In short, you are helping yourself develop not only as a researcher but also by learning skills that are directly transferable to many other professions.
I could have gone to university immediately after my A-levels but I would have studied a subject I was only half interested in. I am so grateful that by the time I did chose to go, I had the motivation, enthusiasm and the experience that comes from seeing and living in another country.