PhD Spotlight Competition 2019, by Anna Détári

Earlier this year, Anna Détári was crowned the overall winner at York’s PhD Spotlight competition, in addition to winning best presentation in the Arts and Humanities. Here, she reflects on the competition and what it meant for her research. Congratulations, Anna!

Anna Détári

Department of Music

University of York

My research looks at Musicians’ Focal Dystonia (MFD), a debilitating neurological motor disturbance affecting professional musicians. As a professional musician, and former sufferer, I’m very passionate about raising awareness of it, especially since it is relatively unknown, and many sufferers might be misdiagnosed or remain undiscovered. The idea that I would be able to educate a general audience about the condition at the Ph.D. Spotlight competition got me on board immediately. I had only just started my studies as a research graduate and viewed the opportunity as a challenge to clarify my goals and research questions.

Being selected as a finalist was a huge surprise: I was told by my peers that first-years are not often chosen, given that their project is usually not ripe enough to be convincing. Yet, here I was, participating with 11 fellow students from three different subject areas: Arts and Humanities, Science and Social Sciences. The competition itself took up the best part of the day and was exhausting, but also exciting and inspiring. Talking to so many people from very different backgrounds and listening to their ideas, thoughts, and opinions was an invaluable experience. Communicating my research to them was a huge challenge because it required a carefully chosen nomenclature, but it also crystallised my project with every single conversation. Seeing the interest my topic sparked was encouraging and thrilling.

The event in of itself would have been a cherished memory, but the award ceremony held more surprises for me: I won not only the Arts and Humanities category, but I was also chosen as the overall winner of the entire competition. I’m especially happy that my supervisor and my fellow Ph.D. students attended the award ceremony and I could share this joy and achievement with them.

Apart from being extremely grateful for the opportunity and the honour, I also learned a lot from this event. First of all, I learned to put my research out there, even if it felt half-finished, or not yet ‘there’. As a musician, I would have never dared to step onto the stage with anything less than 100%, but in this environment, interesting ideas and inspiring plans are rewarded. Sharing these start-up conversations proved to be equally fruitful for both me and my audience. Secondly, I learned that talking to a non-specific audience (alongside repeating the introduction to my research several times) builds up a crystal-clear framework, simplifies the goals and enhances the entire project.

I highly recommend participating in the competition to everyone. Apart from all the benefits I listed above, you also get to know and work with dedicated researchers from different fields. We all supported each other during our training and the entire competition: we listened to everyone’s flash presentations, gave and received valuable feedback, and formed new friendships along the way.