Passing the Torch: Thoughts on legacy

This will be my last post as the resident blogger for SGSAH before passing it on to Brittnee. I’m excited for both you all and her. I have no doubt you’ll find her posts helpful, insightful, and interesting. I think just like the changing of the seasons the change will be refreshing, but it’s with a wee bit of sadness that I’m writing this. This opportunity provided me with much more than I was expecting. It gave me a way to begin to workout and talk through my own struggles. It also gave me a sense of community and purpose that I had been missing, which I’ve wrote a bit about in The Benefits of Blogging During Your PhD. It’s an opportunity that I’m incredibly grateful to SGSAH for providing and the support they’ve given me along the way. Really, it’s a group of amazing people that are passionate about what they do and truly care about all of us, so if you have an opportunity to go to a SGSAH event I highly recommend it.


However, it’s at the end of things that my mind tends to ponder ideas of legacy. Now I’m not seeing a 6 month residency as a monumental moment cementing a legacy, but instead I’ve been thinking about it in terms of the small acts that form one’s legacy. I think in many ways the idea of impact and legacy have a lot in common, while often focuses on the more material and the other more humanist, they both look at the mark we leave behind. In that sense I’ve seen myself as part of the SGSAH legacy, the influence that this opportunity has had on me, my thinking, and possible future opportunities. They may not be monumental, but they’re not insignificant, especially when multiplied by the 1,000s of postgraduate researchers they interact with, support, and fund on a yearly basis. That quickly becomes quite a legacy.


I think that perspective also adds purpose and meaning to our work and our daily interactions. I see it in my hopes for my PhD and the hopes of my colleagues and peers. Many of us pursue our areas of research because we’re interested in it, but also because we think it’s important; because we want to make a difference. I think this adds pressure and creates motivation, especially with the world as it is at the moment. At least it does for me. That idea of having an impact and changing things for the better gives my work a sense of purpose, but also the feeling of an overwhelming task that I can never accomplish. Not to mention highlighting possibly a form of arrogance masquerading as disinterested duty to the common good.


However, thinking about legacy in this context has helped change my perspective to something slightly more reasonable and realistic. I think much of a persons legacy comes from the more common and seemingly normal tasks and work we do every day. While SGSAH itself is an innovative idea, much of what they do can seem relatively standard: running workshops, funding opportunities for PhD candidates, and creating resources to support postgraduate researchers. It’s not insignificant by any stretch, but I would say it’s in how they do it that they’re legacy is formed; it’s in their motivation and focus.


I think learning from that and seeing our own work and research in that light is a helpful perspective to have. Will my research transform the discipline, impact politics, influence society? Almost certainly not. But could it be one more voice, one more hand pushing the wheels of the world in a better direction, yes, I think or at least hope it can. It could inform, encourage, or maybe even inspire someone in the future, as many current and past academics’ work has for me. It could be in my interactions with students or even something I’ve written in one of these blogs that just happened to be what someone needed to hear that day. None of these are monumental in their own right, but they all makes an impact. It helps me to see a sense of purpose in what sometimes seems fairly standard and mundane activities of reading and writing, especially with the sometimes more esoteric bits.


So, just like in our own work we stand on the shoulders of giants, adding our own unique piece to the body of knowledge, others will stand and build on that, seeing a little further. Legacy is a communal and collaborative task, it’s not up to us as individuals to change our discipline, society, or even our wee corner of it, but to be one more set of hands building and pushing in the right direction. Getting to be a blogger was one small way that SGSAH did that for me as did many of your comments along the way. I hope too that I’ve added my own small contribution to that communal project over these past 6 months. Granted this might be over dramatising or romaticising a fairly standard task, but I guess that’s my point, the small things add up, giving them purpose, value and meaning, creating impact, forming a legacy.


At the very least, this is my small way of saying thank you to SGSAH and all of you for the opportunity and for your encouraging words along the way. Good luck and I hope to run into you at events and online in the future. And don’t forget to stay tuned for the new blogger in residence Brittnee!


We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with David via email at or connect with the blog on Twitter

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