Dr Jennifer Anderson wins the 2018 Faculty of Arts Prize for best thesis

Dr Jennifer Anderson with her PhD supervisor, Professor Gloria Davies.

‘I started conceiving of my PhD thesis in 2002,’ says Dr Jennifer Anderson, recent PhD graduate in Literary and Cultural Studies. ‘It insisted on me. I had to do it.’

Seventeen years later, Jennifer’s thesis – titled ‘Writing Transcultural Memoir: Ganyu – moving encounters in early post Mao China’ – has been recognised with the 2018 Faculty of Arts Prize for an outstanding PhD thesis, donated by Emeritus Professor John Rickard FAHA, as well as the Mollie Holman Medal.

Split into a creative memoir and exegesis, Jennifer’s work draws from her experiences as a young Australian woman at Nanjing University from 1979-1983. Using dialogue, poetry and ruminations on Chinese literature, culture and politics, her memoir explores the concept of self-transformation and the multilingual encounters that made a lasting impact on her experience of the world. Her exegesis unpacks the key literary features of her memoir.

‘Looking at my lived experience through an academic lens was excruciating,’ Jennifer laughs. ‘It doesn’t come easily. Yet at the same time, the process was incredibly valuable. I found it sustaining and interesting the whole time.’

Jennifer credits her phenomenal PhD experience to the support and encouragement of her supervisor, Professor Gloria Davies, Chinese Studies. ‘The role of a supervisor is so important,’ says Jennifer. ‘My kind of work is deeply personal, with a focus on transformation. There’s no easy route when it comes to introspection, and she prodded me to take the harder road.’

‘There’s an expression in Mandarin: zhiyin. It translates into ‘knowing the sound’ – meaning having a deep and profound understanding of another. That’s how I’d describe Gloria’s relationship with my work.’

For Professor Davies, working with Jennifer proved an immensely rewarding experience. 'The student-supervisor relationship is a deeply reciprocal one, and I have learned a great deal from reading Jen's work,' she says. 'There is perhaps no greater pleasure than to see one's PhD student develop their initial tentative ideas into a masterful argument over the course of their candidature, and I find the work of PhD supervision very rewarding for this reason.'

'Jen is a powerful writer whose memoir will work its transcultural magic on readers when it's published.'

With no plans to stop writing anytime soon, Jennifer’s time at Monash Arts has heightened her passion for learning. ‘Monash is a marvellous place. Universities are extraordinary. If I could sleep in them, I would.’

Her advice to future Arts PhD students is simple: ‘Believe in what you’re doing. You need to be nourished by your work.’