Jana Frey | 11/15/2018 | 768 Views | Interviews

Quy Thi Kim Tran | "Defining the Transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture and Animal Management in Southern Vietnam: Evidence from Faunal Remains"

Lisa Maskell Fellowships in Southeast Asia

In 2014, the Gerda Henkel Foundation initiated a scholarship programme supporting young humanities scholars from Africa and Southeast Asia in honour of the foundation's founder, Lisa Maskell. It is the largest international support programme for PhD students in the history of the Foundation. The Lisa Maskell Fellowships aim to strengthen universities in the partner countries, to counter the outflow of qualified young scholars and to ensure the doctoral students enjoy excellent academic training.

In the following months, L.I.S.A. will publish interviews with the Lisa Maskell Fellows from Subsaharan Africa and from Southeast Asia, in which they will talk about their research projects as well as their experiences during their academic career and the Lisa Maskell fellowship.

This week, we welcome Quy Thi Kim Tran from Vietnam. After completing a BA at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and an MA at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA, she started her PhD in Archeology with the thesis Defining the Transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture and Animal Management in Southern Vietnam: Evidence from Faunal Remains, for which she spent 19 months at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt.

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"Employment cannot be ensured due to the limited number of jobs"

L.I.S.A.: What is the status of the humanities in Vietnam, your home country?

Quy Thi Kim Tran: Like the social sciences, the humanities have become more popular and received much attention from both the public and the government in Vietnam. However, it is not equally developed across the country. Most universities and institutions which offer training and research opportunities in the humanities are located in the two biggest centers (out of 64 provinces and cities) of the country, Hanoi Capital and Ho Chi Minh City. Almost all disciplines of the humanities are offered at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi. There are thousands of students enrolled in the undergraduate as well as postgraduate programs every year at these universities, resulting in quite a large number of graduates whose employment cannot be ensured due to the limited number of jobs for students coming from the social sciences and the humanities. In addition, there are two research centers for social sciences and humanities, also located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which conduct most of the research projects of the entire country. However, like any other developing countries, lack of research funding is always the biggest challenge of the humanities and social sciences in Vietnam.

"The delay in finding scholarships caused two major interruptions of my education"

L.I.S.A.: Have you ever encountered problems in the realization of your academic career?

Quy Thi Kim Tran: Funding has always been the biggest challenge in my academic career. The delay in finding scholarships to support my studies caused two major interruptions of my education. It took me 8 years (2002-2010) to find funding for my Master program and 4 years (2012-2016) to get this scholarship for my Ph.D. Fortunately, during those gaps, I was granted a job at a local museum in Long An province in southern Vietnam, where I could practice the skills that I learnt from my universities while patiently searching for opportunities to continue my academic career. 

"Significant information on human’s subsistence and economic behaviors and their technological and socio-political development"

L.I.S.A.: What is your Ph.D. project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?

Quy Thi Kim Tran: My Ph.D. project is about “The transition from hunting to animal management in Southern and Central Vietnam.” Within the last decade zooarchaeology combined with improved dating techniques has provided some significant new insights into the initial appearance of domestic animals across Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, recent analysis of animal bone assemblages, and radiocarbon dating of Neolithic settlement sites has indicated that the earliest domestic animals to arrive in the region were associated with the emergence of sedentary lifestyles, but appear to have been integrated into a variety of different economic systems from those focusing primarily on foraging to those where agriculture dominated. My research looks into these different systems by examining animal remain assemblages recovered from archaeological sites in southern and central Vietnam. These animal remains provide significant information not only on past human’s subsistence and economic behaviors but also on their technological and socio-political development.

This is a relatively new topic for me. Before getting into the topic, I had worked as a field archaeologist and museum curator. My main focus had been on the material culture of the Neolithic, mostly pottery and stone tools. However, working at a museum also gives me the access to all kind of different materials kept in the storage of the museum. Those include tens of thousands of animal remains which had barely been analyzed due to the lack of expertise in zooarchaeology. This is not only the case in my province but also across the whole country. The number of well-trained zooarchaeologists in the whole country is less than the fingertips. Most analyses and research in zooarchaeology have been conducted by specialists from outside the country. Fortunately, for the past few years, I have had great opportunities to work in a joint project between Vietnamese institutions and the Australian National University, where I met with my research supervisor, who is an excellent zooarchaeologist and also got me interested in the topic.

"A diverse and international culture which offers new and interesting experiences"

L.I.S.A.: What has your experience at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt been like? Have there been any differences to other institutions you have previously attended?

Quy Thi Kim Tran: My experience at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt has been great so far. I have a very knowledgeable and supporting supervisor, very nice and friendly colleagues, and an excellent study environment, where I can get access to all modern laboratory equipment necessary for my research. In comparison to the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, the university I previously attended in Vietnam, it is quite different. The Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt has better infrastructure, especially the library where I can get access to numerous reading materials related to my research. There are more events and programs/workshops organized for students, especially international students, at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. Between the two cities, Frankfurt has much higher living costs (especially for accommodation), but traveling in Frankfurt is much more convenient because it has much better public transportation system compared to Ho Chi Minh City. In terms of culture, Frankfurt also has a more diverse and international culture which offers new and interesting experiences for one to learn and adapt. Personally, the most challenging part of living in Frankfurt is finding accommodation. Sometimes it takes 5-6 months to find a place to live in Frankfurt!

"Most of the Vietnamese parents cover all expenses for students at the undergraduate level"

L.I.S.A.: What are the opportunities in Vietnam to pursue different degree options (BA/MA/ Ph.D.)?

Quy Thi Kim Tran: The opportunities for students to pursue a BA degree in Vietnam are relatively high because of the cultural factor – most of the Vietnamese parents cover all expenses for students at the undergraduate level. However, gaining an MA or Ph.D. degree, especially in the field of humanities, is much more difficult; since studying at these levels is expensive and in many cases, students cannot self-fund due to low employment opportunities after undergraduate level and very limited funding from the government for the humanities.    

"Zooarchaeological research in Vietnam is in serious need of high-level skilled specialists"

L.I.S.A.: What are your plans concerning your future career once you have obtained your PhD?

Quy Thi Kim Tran: I would like to continue my academic career and pursue post-doctoral studies after obtaining my Ph.D. I also would like to maintain a research network and continue to get involved in research projects with institutions that I have worked with in the past decade and others who are interested in the archaeological research of the region in the future. My ultimate goal is to apply as much knowledge and research experience that I have gained through my education as possible to zooarchaeological research in Vietnam, which is in serious need of high-level skilled specialists. 

Quy Thi Kim Tran has answered the questions in written form.

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