DPhil Student Spotlight: Jamie Shenk

DPhil Student Spotlight: Jamie Shenk

Jamie joined the Department in 2018 after studying a BA in History at Princeton University, and an MSc in Latin American Studies here at Oxford. Her DPhil, supervised by Professor Leigh Payne, is supported by a Clarendon Scholarship.
Jamie Shenk
Why sociology?

I come from an interdisciplinary background in area studies, but I knew that I wanted to pursue my doctorate in sociology to gain the disciplinary training in research methods and analysis that I wanted.

My research really spans the disciplines of sociology and political science, and in the subfield of political sociology, I’ve found an intellectual home that allows me to draw from both fields in my research.

What attracted you to the department in Oxford?

A major draw for me to the Sociology Department at Oxford was the opportunity to work with my supervisor, Professor Leigh Payne. I admired the type of work that she has done on human rights in Latin America using rigorous qualitative methods.

Moreover, I knew from other students that she has supervised and that I got to know during my MSc at the Latin America Centre that she was an incredible mentor and partner in research. I jumped at the chance to work with her for my doctorate. And I was not wrong!

Where do your research interests lie?

My research interests lie in political sociology, with a particular focus on the social and political effects of armed conflict and a regional emphasis on Latin America.

My DPhil research looks at civil society’s use of participatory democracy to contest mining and oil projects in regions affected by the Colombian armed conflict.

Has any of your research been published?

Yes! My research has recently been published by the Journal of Comparative Politics: “Consultations and Competing Claims: Implementing Participatory Institutions in Colombia’s Extractive Industries.”

Who is your academic hero?

I have far too many academic heroes to list here! One notable one is the late Lee Ann Fujii. I constantly refer to her methods articles on interviewing and ethics. Her work on social ties and the performance of violence is also so creative and thoughtful—it pushes me to think harder about my own research.

Another scholar I admire is Marie Berry. I love the kind of sociology that she does, and her commitment to academic collaborations is one that I aspire to emulate. There are many others: Elisabeth Jean Wood, Ana Arjona, Mili Lake, Abbey Steele… I could go on.    

What do you hope to do when you finish your course?

In the short term, I hope to find an academic position that allows me to continue and complete the research I started for my DPhil thesis. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted my fieldwork in Colombia, and I would love to return to complete the qualitative research I had envisioned at the start of my project.

Over the long term, I hope to build a career that applies social science research to policy—be that in academia, government, or the private sector.

What piece of advice would you give to prospective students?

I would advise prospective students to carefully consider potential supervisors as they are preparing their applications. It is not just about whether your research interests align. Different supervisors have different styles of mentorship, approaches to research, and working styles. All of these are important to know before you embark on the journey that is the DPhil.

Favourite Book:

'The Sound of Things Falling' by Juan Gabriel Vásquez or 'Missionaries' by Phil Klay. Both are somewhat related to my research and are beautifully written accounts of the impacts of violence and politics in Colombia.