What is it like to be a student assistant in the DiGA project?

When – more than a year ago – the DiGA project was launched, I also embarked on my journey as a student research assistant. At that time, I was still at the beginning of my Master programme in Religious Studies at CERES. An important side note to my involvement in the DiGA project is that I am not an archaeologist, an art historian, or a digital humanist. Indeed, I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Social Science and Religious Studies, cultivating a keen interest in South Asian religions that precedes and goes beyond the DiGA project. Therefore, this experience in the project offers me the possibility to get a practical taste of my chosen field: bridging historical topics with a contemporary context.

Sarah stands on the podium to deliver a speech. She wears a dark blouse, has long blond hair and moves her hand while speaking
Sarah Rautert at a department event (photo by: Susanne Göhre).

I started this work with expectations that have already been exceeded. I very appreciate working in an international team, and – moreover – this project allows me to meet researchers from different fields all over the world. As a student research assistant, I have fewer weekly working hours than the other team members and less knowledge in some areas, such as the archaeology of Gandhara. Nevertheless, the low hierarchy in the team makes it easy for me to carry out my own responsibilities and I know that the other team members trust me for what I am working on. But I won’t lie, sometimes I encounter difficulties following the discussion. Fortunately, during my Bachelor’s, I had the chance to attend Jessie Pons’ seminars on South Asia in general and Buddhism in Gandhara in particular, and could gain a good overview of the topic. Nevertheless, intensive internal team discussions about generating data and databases or, on the other hand, about the consensus of archaeological vocabulary sometimes leave me clueless. And that is perfectly fine: I am here as a student to learn and get a glimpse into academia by being part of a third-party funded project.

One of the most important things I have learned so far is that working in an academic project is much more than just burying your head in books and papers. I am assigned a wide diversity of tasks, ranging from general project and event organisation, to supporting other team members, researching literature and maintaining our ever growing bibliography on Zotero. Sometimes, I can even take on my own tasks in the everyday life of the project. I was able to learn many new skills, such as using a project management software, photo editing programmes, and have new insights into inter-cultural competence. And last but not least – as a German native speaker – I am also in charge of dealing with German bureaucracy. And if one can rely on a prejudice about Germany, it’s about the complex system of German bureaucracy.

Last February, I took over some event planning and organizational tasks for the DiGA kick-off workshop. And to my surprise, I was also asked to summarise and present the content of a panel in the workshop and co-moderate a round-table. Certainly not a big deal from the outside, but for me it was my first time speaking at an international conference, so it has been a very special moment. As a student in such a project, often the small steps that seem rather invisible are actually important leaps.

The fieldtrips to Pakistan are central to the project. I was very excited to follow Jessie Pons’ and Cristiano Moscatelli’s trip to Swat from home on my smartphone, eager to see every single photo and happy to listen to every story after their return. I am really grateful for this other peek into academic work and I hope to attend such field trips as a religious studies scholar in the future. Being part of this team and partaking of the field trip – even if from a distance – is definitely a valuable experience.

Overall, DiGA teaches me to sharpen my archaeological eye and to focus on new ideas for the preservation of cultural and religious heritage. Moreover, through the project, I discovered the field of digital humanities for the first time, and I am excited about the many possibilities and avenues this field opens.

In addition to the valuable work experience, the DiGA project also reinforced my interest in the region of Pakistan; I have, indeed, now shifted my religious studies focus to this region. I am currently planning a research project on digital Buddhism and my Master’s thesis will focus on the preservation of Buddhist cultural and religious heritage in contemporary Pakistan. Needless to say, I have been able to gather valuable information working for the DiGA project, and I hope to combine my first-hand experience with my social science and religious studies background to develop a solid thesis.

So what is it like to be a student assistant in the DiGA project? To sum it up: Being part of the DiGA project as a student research assistant is exciting, sometimes positively challenging, and educational. It is a fantastic opportunity to gain valuable experience and deepen my understanding of the field. This experience is a perfect practical complement to my mostly theoretical studies at the Ruhr-University.

So, I am looking forward to more adventures and I am ready to virtually join the second field trip to Pakistan from home in a few months as part of the DiGA team. 

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
sarahrautert (July 15, 2022). What is it like to be a student assistant in the DiGA project? Digitization of Gandharan Artefacts. Retrieved July 12, 2024 from https://digartefacts.hypotheses.org/229

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