The Happy Return

Lucie Kotesovska portrait
Kotesovska. Photo: UVic Photo Services

Twelve years and three children after completing a second master’s degree, Lucie Kotesovska fulfilled her long-held dream of returning to the academy to begin a PhD in literary studies.

Now a highly acclaimed researcher with a stellar record of success, one might not believe that she had ever doubted it was possible at all.

Deciding to pursue a doctorate was not straightforward for me, because I am a full-time mom with three kids under the age of nine,” Kotesovska explains. “It had been quite a few years since completing my master’s, during which I spent most if not all of my focus on my children — their interests, their education, their personalities. I had to put my own ambitions on hold for that time.”

With several credentials under her belt already — a double master’s degree in English and French philology from Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic; a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Northern Iowa in the US; and a professional certification in Pedagogy from the College of European and Regional Studies in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic — Kotesovska was able to put her education to great use during this period nonetheless.

“After graduation, I moved back from the US to my home country, the Czech Republic, and started teaching in institutions varying from high school to adult evening classes, occasionally teaching academic English to prospective medical students and nurses at the University of South Bohemia. I also did some translation work for a bit,” she recalls. “It was all quite interesting, but not the path I had envisioned for myself.”

Getting back on track

As her children grew and became less dependent upon her, Kotesovska began thinking about going back to school once again, yet several barriers remained.

“I didn’t really feel confident that I could go back to school. I didn’t know if there would be interest in my research, and maintaining a home for my kids required so much time and resources,” she states.

Even without children in tow, Kotesovska knew first-hand the challenges of trying to earn an income while pursuing an advanced degree, having worked in the service industry during her final year at the University of Northern Iowa when funding provided by the university had run out.

“It is exhausting and chaotic trying to combine studies and work. It creates an immense, day-to-day stress about finances,” she says.

When Kotesovska finally did apply for a PhD in English at the University of Victoria in 2019, she was pleasantly surprised to receive with her letter of acceptance an offer for a Murray Dawson Fellowship, which is awarded to academically outstanding students entering or enrolling in any graduate program in the Humanities.

“Receiving the Murray Dawson Fellowship in Humanities really helped me return to my studies, which I had dreamed of for some time. Awards like this one are important because they help different people in different ways, giving students the space they need to focus on their studies.” 

 — Kotesovska.

An attitude of gratitude

Kotesovska moved with her husband and three children from the Czech Republic to Victoria in 2020, after working remotely overseas during her first year of coursework because of the pandemic.

Although this period was far from idyllic and not quite what she had envisioned, she remains grateful for the opportunity.

“I stayed with my kids during the day while my husband worked, which left me evenings and nights for my studies. I would then work from about 5 p.m. until midnight or 1 a.m.,” she recalls. “Maybe this is not how I would choose to do it, but I was just so grateful for the opportunity to do my PhD while raising my family, because of that award. This was my biggest feeling — of gratitude.”

Since that time, her hard work has paid off in spades.

Just one year into her PhD, Kotesovska has completed her coursework, presented or been accepted to present at six national and international conferences, edited a complete series of teaching resources for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, and published one peer-reviewed article, with another two currently under consideration.

In July, she was named a Vanier Scholar — Canada’s top graduate scholarship, designed to attract world-class doctoral students who have demonstrated leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement.

“Lucie's commitment and focus are matched only by her natural brilliance,” states professor Stephen Ross, Kotesovska’s supervisor. “Still only in her second year of study, she's publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, winning national fellowship competitions, and presenting her research around the world. Her story perfectly illustrates the importance of removing financial barriers for our graduate students."

“I hope my story can inspire other women who wish to pursue an advanced graduate degree while raising children on the side. Being able to support my family and work on my research is totally unexpected for me and unheard of in my community back home in the Czech Republic. I still feel like I’m dreaming or that it’s not really happening. But it is.”

— Lucie Kotesovska, Vanier scholar and 2019 recipient of the Murray Dawson Fellowship in Humanities


Author: Philip Cox, Humanities