From politics to Korean film studies: meet PhD student, Min-Kyoo Kim

“People always ask me how I went from studying politics to film – I’m not entirely sure either, but I certainly don’t regret it!” First-year PhD student, Min-Kyoo Kim, opens up about his experience of the research culture here at Wolfson, as well as his role as rugby captain of the All Greys.

Min Headshot

Min-Kyoo Kim is a first-year PhD candidate in Film and Screen Studies, who was born in Korea, but spent most of his youth in London. He studied for a BSc in International Relations at LSE, before moving to Cambridge to do an MPhil in Film Studies, where he investigated the history of North Korean cinema.

Min took a year out to travel through Korea before launching into his PhD, and now is a keen member of the Wolfson community, engaged in everything from research events organised by the Wolfson student society, WCSA, to inter-collegiate rugby.

Can you briefly summarise your PhD in your own words?

My PhD explores photographic and cinematic representations of nuclear power, interrogating the aesthetic and political complexities of archiving the forms and victims of slow, structural nuclear violence. I look across a diverse range of media, from experimental cinema to documentary to moving image installations, and I draw these materials from different geographical contexts, including the Congo, France, Ukraine, and North Korea.

Why did you choose to study this topic; why did you think it was important?

Through analysing the media representation of nuclear violence, I seek to criticise the complicity of the image archive in occluding, and sublimating, the threat of nuclear war – a moral concern and anxiety that has re-surfaced in recent months with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Currently, I am working on the publication of my reading of The Terminator – here, I analyse the time-travelling cyborg as a figuration of Jacques Derrida’s ‘spectre’, who returns to the present-day as an embodied warning of nuclear proliferation

What made you decide to apply to Wolfson for your PhD? (N.B., a ‘mature’ College is a College that exclusively admits students 21 years or over!)

It was a no-brainer to stay at a mature College, to remain within a research-oriented environment for the PhD. I was drawn to Wolfson because it has the largest student body of the mature Colleges, and more importantly, it takes real pride in being very internationally diverse. It’s exciting – and important too, I think – to get to study and live alongside people with a range of experiences, to speak of and share beyond just Cambridge or the UK. Finally, the College is also in my favourite area of Cambridge, near Newnham. It’s quiet, surrounded by lots of nature (with the nearby option for a lovely walk to Grantchester), and it has the bonus point of being close to my faculty on Sidgwick Site as well as the University Library.

How have you found settling into College life as a new PhD student?

I’d say that Wolfson is uniquely friendly and open. Wolfson offers all the traditions (including the eccentricities of ‘matriculation’!) and the full array of activities of a ‘Cambridge experience’ – from formal halls to rowing to choirs – but it all feels distinctly unfussy and welcoming.

What is the atmosphere like at Wolfson?

There’s a truly relaxed atmosphere to the place, with lots of ways to fit in and take part: WCSA organise everything from the Howler comedy nights to film screenings; there’s also gardening to do (I’ve baked a series of crumbles with the apples from the orchard) and reading groups to attend (very often catered for with pizza). Although I technically live on the other side of Cambridge, I find myself cycling in and out of Wolfson all the time – there’s always lots going on, lots to do!

What extra-curricular activities are you involved in?

This year, I’m captaining the All Greys, Cambridge’s inter-collegiate rugby team for mature Colleges. We’re maybe not as fit as other, more youthful, College teams, but that didn’t stop us from reaching the semi-finals of Cuppers last season – we’re hoping to go just a few steps further this year!

Why is being involved in these activities important to you?

While we do take rugby seriously, it’s also the most fun, easiest way to meet people, and make memories to reflect on; few things, I think, are better at forming a sense of community than freezing together in the muddy depths of the British winter… I’m also taking French classes at the Cambridge University Language Centre, which are subsidised by the College and by my Department – I find it’s refreshing to be learning beyond things directly related to your research, and it provides more structure to my week.

What advice do you have for new PhD students for getting involved in University/College life?

My advice for new PhD students would be that your College at Cambridge isn’t just a library or somewhere to eat. The College system provides us with a unique opportunity to be part of a community during our research – and Wolfson is rarer still in being a particularly inclusive, relaxed environment so that we can take a step back from our work, and involve and immerse ourselves in all that Cambridge has to offer.

What are you most excited about for the remainder of your PhD? Is there anything new you’d like to try?

I’m not sure how happy my mum is with me continuing to play rugby! I know Wolfson has a strong reputation for rowing, which has less collisions but would involve me having to confront my fear of water – or maybe my phobia will propel me to the Boat Race? Watch this space…

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This article is part of the PhD Student Profile Series:

You can learn more about the funding available at Wolfson and how to apply to study for a PhD at Cambridge University as a Wolfson College student on our website.