Name: Dr Lyndsay McLean Hilker
Research institution: Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex
Research career length: 10 years
Research Council: Previously funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Location: Sussex, England
Brief summary of research: Conflict and violence, ethnic relations and ethnic violence, reconciliation and peace building, Rwanda and Africa
9 GCSEs, 5 A-levels, 2 S-levels
BA Geography, University of Cambridge
Post-graduate Diploma in Economics, University of London
PhD in Development Studies, University of Sussex (researching the reconciliation process in Rwanda)
Started first degree in engineering at Cambridge in 1992. After two years, changed course to geography. Graduated in 1996
1996–2000: Civil service administrative Fast Stream at the Department for International Development (DFID) Roles included:
This experience directly led to interest in conducting research in Rwanda on the reconciliation process for a PhD
In addition to academic post, consultancy on conflict, violence and gender issues and to attempt to bridge research, policy and practice
It can sometimes be hard to see how research links directly with improving lives. This cannot be said of the work of Lyndsay McLean Hilker, whose experiences of working and researching in Africa, both as an undergraduate and graduate, helped shape her choice of career in international development. Lyndsay’s work, focusing on the causes and consequences of different types of violence and how people can rebuild their lives and transform their relationships and communities in a way that prevents future suffering.
My research investigates the causes and consequences of different forms of violence – especially violence that takes place between different ‘ethnic’ groups, and how societies recover after such violence. The process of ‘reconciliation’ occurs when people are able to come to terms with what has happened and rebuild relationships of exchange, respect and trust with others with whom they were previously in conflict. My work has focused mainly on Rwanda, a country in Central Africa that experienced terrible violence and genocide in the 1990s. I am particularly interested in understanding the role that ‘ethnic’ differences and stereotyping play in causing violence and how ‘ethnic’ relations transform after such violence. I believe that this knowledge is important to understand how to bring about long-term reconciliation and avoid future violence.
My career path has not been linear and has been heavily influenced by my personal experiences and the support of others. During my undergraduate engineering degree, I made a 10-week trip to Africa, which sparked my interest in international development – how people in poorer countries can be supported to transform and improve their lives. This experience almost certainly altered the course of my future working life, leading me to make a substantial change in my degree subject from engineering to geography. I also have to thank a very supportive Lecturer at Cambridge for taking time to discuss my career options.
I was interested in research, but I wanted to firstly get some practical experience, so after graduation, I joined the Department for International Development (DFID) through the Civil Service Fast Stream - a scheme designed to attract and promote graduates considered to have the potential to become future leaders in the Service. I worked for DFID for 4 years in a number of interesting posts, including working on conflict, governance and HIV/AIDS issues across Africa, and a secondment by the UK Government to work for a European Union peace envoy in Central Africa. It was this experience that motivated me to research the reconciliation process in Rwanda for my PhD.
My experience has led me to opt for a career combining research and policy roles. I have chosen to take a half-time post as an academic and to spend the rest of my time working as a consultant.
At the University of Sussex, I teach first and third year Undergraduates and masters students on a range of development studies courses. I also supervise a number of PhD and MA students, as well as continuing my research, presenting at conferences and writing articles for publication.
I feel really fortunate that my work is so closely linked to my fundamental passion - to improve human wellbeing - in particular to understand and prevent violence and help individuals and communities to recover after violent conflict has occurred.