Student Spotlight: Sitah Al-Qahtani Defends her Dissertation

Student Spotlight: Sitah Al-Qahtani Defends her Dissertation

Sitah Al-Qahtani defended her dissertation entitled "The Biopolitical Dimension of the Representation of Images of Atrocity: Newspaper Coverage of Serbian-run Concentration Camps and Abu Ghraib Prison." She has worked with Dr. Alison LandsbergDr. Jessica Scarlata, and Dr. Hatim El-Hibri. Here is a brief interview with Sitah conducted by Severin Mueller in which she reflects on her time at Mason.


How have your research interests changed from the time you began the PhD program to now, and in which direction do you envision your work moving upon graduating?

When I started the Cultural Studies programs in 2014, I was quite new and unfamiliar with the field. As an English major graduate for both my bachelor’s and master’s degree, I was interested in literary analysis, postcolonialism, and feminism. However, as I paved my way through the program, I took another direction. This was in part due to the coursework that I have completed in the program. I registered full-time (9 credits) until I successfully defended my fields and began the dissertation proposal stage. I would have to say that the courses that I took shaped my fields. My two fields were on Visual Culture and Race and Biopolitics. My fields consequently led me to conduct research on racialized bodies, photography, and the envisioning of biopolitical spaces.

My dissertation is entitled “The Biopolitical Dimension of Images of Atrocity: Newspaper Coverage of Serb-run Concentration Camps and Abu Ghraib Prison.” The vast amount of work I did on my dissertation made me very interested in the analysis of images and the double-edged sword of photography, in both revealing and making visible the spaces of atrocity, but in doing so, furthering its work in biopolitics. I will continue to work in this field of study after graduation and hopefully learn more about it.

What kinds of professional development did you pursue while a student and which do you think will best position you to get the job you want: publishing, presenting, teaching, service in the department, engagement in non-university service projects, acquiring particular research skills?

As a Cultural Studies PhD student, I took active part in both attending and presenting at the annual Cultural Studies Association. These conferences helped shape my research interests, gave me the opportunity to meet professionals in the field and exposed me to different thoughts and ideas.

Upon graduation, I will be moving back to my home country in Saudi Arabia where I will be teaching at Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University. It is the same university I graduated from in 2007 for my bachelor’s degree. One year after I graduated, I worked at the university for a couple of years and was granted a scholarship to complete both my master’s degree and PhD. I am excited to go back, reunite with my colleagues and begin teaching in Fall 2020.

What is one of your best memories from your time in the PhD program in Cultural Studies?

My time spent in the PhD program in Cultural Studies was all memorable despite the struggles and obstacles that I have faced. However, I would have to say one of my best memories was the time I spent meeting and speaking with my chair Alison Landsberg as well as my committee members Jessica Scarlata and Hatim El-Hibri. Reaching that stage in the program is quite exciting and fulfilling. I used to always look forward to meeting with my committee to discuss the feedback they have given me on my chapters. I always felt a sense of accomplishment after my meetings with them which, in turn, gave me a boost of energy to work on my revisions and move forward.