Santiago Leyva-Botero

Country of origin: Colombia

Political Sciences department, EAFIT University, Medellin

I initially came to Lancaster in the autumn of 2002. That first year, while I was doing my MRes in ITMOC, I began to feel that one year wasn't really enough time to reflect on and develop some of my own ideas about change in the public sector that were emerging through the classes and essays.

At that point – at the end of my Masters degree – I knew that I didn't want to return straight away to work in industry, since I felt that I was not yet sure of the career change that I wanted to make – having previously spent five years working for the biggest financial group in Colombia. At the same time, new interests about developing an academic career were starting to emerge, but they were not yet completely clear yet.

During 2003 my Masters dissertation on urban change management, I started to feel that research as an occupation could be exciting, liberating and very challenging. Moreover, I felt that making a career change and passing to dedicate all my energies to research could take me beyond the bureaucratic routines that are typical in a 8-to-5 job.  I started to discover that there were many aspects of the world that deserved further analysis and debate, and that research itself could make a difference in terms of how things are understood and new ways of intervention in the public sector are developed. 

All this led me to decide to pass straight from my masters to my PhD in public management.  At this point, I had understood that Lancaster was an ideal place to live for four more years, given that its relaxing atmosphere and its excellent academic quality, made the perfect combination for a career switch, allowing me to be 100% of my time focused on my research project, as the University is located away from big cities and close to the Lake District, giving to its student and staff a sense of isolation that ultimately is ideal for academic life.   

So at this point, I decided to apply for a LUMS PhD scholarship, and an ORS award from the British government, presenting a research proposal that built on my MRes dissertation research. Then one day, somewhere in May 2003, I received an e-mail from the PhD Administration Office confirming both studentships. It was probably the happiest day of my life, and definitely one that changed me forever. The studentships were generous and unconditional, allowing me to be fully committed to research. They also made it possible to attend multiple academic conferences in countries such as Holland, the USA and different parts of the UK, and to travel back to Colombia to develop my fieldwork.

Day-to-day life was also made a lot easier by the facilities and conditions provided at LUMS. Indeed, I never felt like I was being a student again, but rather like I was working in my new research job in the UK, since LUMS provided me with my own office and computer. Moreover, I'd say that working in a corridor where there are over 50 other fellow doctoral researchers from five continents makes socialising and maintaining high morale a lot easier, and means the everyday routine is always interesting.

But perhaps the most interesting experience of all was to develop my work between the Management School and the Sociology Department, doing research in the field of Urban Political Economy. Indeed, unlike most other doctoral students, who were based in one of the academic department at LUMS, doing the PhD in Management with a focus on public governance allowed me to interact with people in many other disciplines, but especially Linguistics, Sociology and Politics.

This was possible thanks to the existence of Lancaster's Institute of Advance Studies, which also allowed me to develop this sort of cross-disciplinary, cross-boundary, and anti-scholastic research. In fact, while my main supervisor was Bob Jessop (from the School of Sociology, and widely known for his work in state theory), my other supervisor was Antony Hesketh from the Management Learning department (and known from his participation in the debates on the knowledge-based economy). Moreover, this sort of interdisciplinary programme allowed me to take classes in the departments of Politics and Sociology, as well as in the Management School. 

I think these opportunities to work in politics and public management within LUMS are unique. Many departments of public administration or political science produce a type of research that is extremely rigid, disciplinary and mutually isolated. So the advantage of researching this within LUMS was precisely to break with those walls and bring the best work of the departments of sociology, politics and management learning together, while looking at topics such as urban governance, political hegemony, state restructuring, and the management of urban economies. Moreover, this allowed me to develop a PhD project in urban politics/management that crossed these areas in quite a novel and exciting way, understanding urban transformations in terms of urban politics, and thus leaving behind the technocratic explanations that are often present in the canon of public management.   

Finally, after finishing my PhD in 2010, and spending six continuous years in the UK, I started to work at EAFIT University in my hometown, Medellín in Colombia. I got a job in the politics department, and now teach subjects such as local politics, local government, and local planning. I believe that all these reasons are more than enough to recommend doctoral study at LUMS to anyone interested in devoting four years of their lives to the pursuit of her/his personal search and future career.