From RGPP to an International PhD program

February 22, 2021

Ionut Cioarta Romania, currently UK Enrollment: RGPP (2012/13), Public Policy tutorial Academic background: BA in Social Work, MA in Social Work, currently enrolled in a PhD program in Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde

Securing your place in a master’s or PhD program at CEU or elsewhere is a competitive process. At RGGP we do our best to support our students throughout the application process and improve their chances by providing the essential skills they need for succeeding in graduate programs. The majority of our students study further at one of the programs offered by CEU, but certainly not all of them do, or wish to do so. The reasons vary on an individual basis. Some of them, like Ionut from Romania, has always been passionate about social work. He knew that after graduating from RGPP his academic path must lead him back to Romania, where he could finish his master’s in social work and he would not stop until he graduated from an international PhD program in social work. Over the years we have learnt from our amazing students like Ionut that our RGPP students are most proactive and future-oriented individuals and are excellent at seizing an opportunity when it presents itself.

To our knowledge, about 10 alumni either are doctoral candidates or have already earned their PhD title. Their success is an extremely important milestone in our history. We are proud of each and every one of them. Today we would like to introduce Ionut from Romania, who is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. We admire the smart planning that Ionut exemplifies and the perseverance that this soft-spoken yet determined young Roma man demonstrates.

How would you introduce yourself to a new person?

Ionut C.: I am Ionut, I am Roma from Romania and currently I am doing my PhD in social work in Glasgow at Strathclyde University.

What is the first word/feeling that comes to you when you hear: "CEU Roma Program/RGPP"?

Ionut C.: Community! In every sense of the word: academic community, Roma community, and activist community. This is what comes to my mind when you say: “CEU RGPP”.

What is your most remarkable/favorite memory from your time in RGPP?

Ionut C.: It’s difficult to reduce and narrow it down to a single memory. As I told you, I have so many nice memories from this time related to my academic, activist, and social life. I do remember our RGPP community from 2012–2013, including those Roma students who had already enrolled in master’s programs at CEU, counted around 50 people. It was such a nice community. Experiencing such a wonderful thing and being in this environment is not something you can easily explain to others, not even to other CEU students. One thing I vividly remember is the CEU Intercultural Day, when our group presented our Roma culture. I remember the flashmob we organized in front of the Basilica on the occasion of April 8th, the International Roma Day. I also recall memories when some of us got together to express solidarity with various ongoing protests against human rights and Roma rights violations.

On a personal level I also remember all my fears about presentations, preparing papers, and sleepless nights. I also remember the support we gave each other in our group to overcome these challenges.

Can you recall why you applied to the Roma Program?

Ionut C.: I was in my final year of studies at the University of Bucharest, and I was also working at Romani CRISS, when I found out about RGPP and the call for application. I also had the chance to talk with friends who had been students of the Roma Program, so I saw it as a great opportunity to develop personally and academically.

Why do you say that you are in an international PhD program thanks to the Roma Program?

Ionut C.: I say that because the program showed me all different faces and aspects of academia. I gained new knowledge and skills, the most significant of which was English. The program offered me the opportunity to go out of my comfort zone so many times. For example, I had always had anxieties about talking in English and articulating complex ideas in English, but RGPP constantly required me to do both of these. Because of these exposures, I became much more confident.

What did the program give you? Is it still present in your daily life?

Ionut C.: I have many very good friends that I met on the program. The program also gave me the skill-set that is essential for academic studies. I still follow the news about RGPP and whenever the program reaches out to alumni, I am there. I attend as many alumni webinars as I can, and I try to stay informed about whatever happens in the RGPP community, including the impact of CEU’s relocation on the program.

In the end if you ask me what RGPP was about, I say friendship, academic skills, and confidence – things that are still with me today.

The program helps you develop your interpersonal skills and academic skills. From time-to-time the program goes through changes, and it includes a variety of ways of discussing topics such as Roma history, culture and language. Anyone who is interested in learning more about these should consider applying. But I really want to encourage those who want to continue their studies in MA or PhD programs. For those, RGPP would be an amazing opportunity.

Did you always want to go for a PhD program?

Ionut C.: I do remember that I have had the same aspirations since RGPP: I have wanted to study in a graduate program and pursue an academic career. Now I am much closer to this. I did my BA in Social Work and I was really passionate about it, so I always wanted to pursue MA in this field. CEU does not offer an MA program in Social Work, but Public Policy is a related field, that’s why I chose Public Policy as a tutorial subject. As I finished RGPP, the next autumn I enrolled in a Social Work master’s program in Romania, and I am in the last year of my PhD studies now.

What made you so dedicated to social work? Why is it so interesting for you that you are pursuing a PhD?

Ionut C.: In the first place, I enrolled in a Social Work program with the desire to help and bring a positive change to society. Later, when I understood some of the more in-depth aspects of social justice, human rights, oppression etc., I realized that this profession can play an important role in building a fairer society for those who are part of marginalized communities. In the end, my PhD represents a way to explore the potential of social workers as agents of change.

Do you need to pay for your PhD studies?

Ionut C.: I am currently writing my dissertation. During the first year of my studies I supported myself from my savings, and I also worked, but I still needed some financial support. I received a grant from REF in that year. Through these I managed to survive the first year. Later, I received a scholarship from the university.

Are there other Roma PhD students in your program?

Ionut C.: As far as I know, I am the only Roma in the PhD program here. My research does not focus on Roma, my topic is about activism in social work. Although my research topic doesn’t involve Roma, I never stopped being an activist. I am involved with the local Glasgow Roma communities; I volunteer in the community whenever possible.

I do believe that not all Roma with higher education degrees should focus on Roma, that is, do research on Roma or work in Roma organizations. In the end, it is not even possible: the number of vacancies is limited. What is essential, I believe, is that we always remember that we are Roma and with the resources we have, we all try to contribute to the Roma community. The important thing is that whenever you have the opportunity to show solidarity with Roma activists, you do it.

Anything else?

Ionut C.: I try to stay informed about our RGPP community, and I would love to have a more vibrant relationship across all the RGPP generations.

And where are YOU now? Let us know.