An Interview with Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, Ph.D. by Elroy Rendor for The Daily Opium
In October 2013, I attended the Philippine Sociological Society Conference in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. There I was able to meet with my former thesis adviser, Dr. Jayeel Cornelio, a vibrant researcher and academic. I decided to interview him so that he could share with us his ideas on sociology, youth, religion, and why young people should seriously consider taking up sociology or other fields in the social sciences.
THE ROAD TO A PH.D.
Rendor: We want to interview young sociologists like you. I believe the older (senior?) generation had many opportunities that this generation is devoid of. And with fewer studies, it was easier to make studies novel.
Dr. Cornelio: The problems they were interested in then concerned poverty in general. And that is understandable.
Rendor: And now those are the things we have to learn as an undergrad. That’s why we aim to interview younger sociologists who face other contemporary issues in the field. I think I’d begin with asking you to share about yourself, like your bio or something.
Dr. Cornelio: I was born in 1982 and I went to Kindergarten in 1983 hahaha. I have a degree in Development Studies. Finished in 2003, cum laude, Departmental Awardee. And I worked as an English teacher immediately after that for 1 year at the high school where I studied – Bloomfield Academy, Las Piñas.
But the call of economic stability prevailed so I moved to a private corporation, to a multinational corporation called Amcor Technologies Philippines. It’s the biggest semiconductors industry in the world and they are based in the Philippines. One of their biggest factories is in the Philippines. But I also took that job, for the record, because I remember my professor – Dr.Victor Venida – telling me that if I really wanted to be a teacher, I should do something else and see if it calls me back.
I remember my professor–Dr.Victor Venida–telling me that if I really wanted to be teacher, I should do something else and see if it calls me back.
True enough, something called me back 10 months into my new job as a training supervisor and I started looking for a new job. At that time, a job opportunity at an NGO in Batanes opened up for me. And so I did work as a Project Officer for a social health insurance project in Batanes for a couple of months.
I got a scholarship grant to do my Masters in Applied Sociology in NUS–National University of Singapore– hoping I would immediately come back after I finished my Masters, teach in the Ateneo, or work on some new projects in NGOs. But at that point in time, I was encouraged by my professor, Bryan Turner, who was one of the biggest names in Sociology–he was based in the NUS at that time– to pursue a Ph.D.
And I did under him for three years and NUS opened a new joint program with Lancaster University’s Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion and so I went there and Professor Linda Woodhead supervised my dissertation. So after that I got a job to go back to Ateneo and that’s where you Elroy became my student and that was for a year as an Assistant Professor.
After that, I got a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Religious Study and Ethnic Diversity based in Gottingen, Germany. It is a 2-year grant which will end in May 2014 and hopefully depending on fate and faith I may come back next year.
There I think I gave a brief bio.
Rendor: Yeah, I think it was really good. How old were you when entered NUS for Master’s?
Dr. Cornelio: That was 2005. So I was 23 year old.
Rendor: 23 years old…
Dr. Cornelio: Was I? I was born 1982. So I was 23 years old.
Rendor: So I’m not yet late. I mean, I’m 21 and not yet in Master’s.
Dr. Cornelio: No, no, no. In fact, I will always suggest, and this is important to those who will read this piece, that it is important for you to work first, explore the world. I think it gives you that conviction that maybe you should do a Master’s degree already, because some people are just waiting for that internal urge.
I will always suggest, and this is important to those who will read this piece, that it is important for you to work first, explore the world… The University is a protective bubble that makes us believe in ambitions, ideologies, and all that and hopefully realise we can accomplish all these things.
Not only that, but working gives you a good sense of reality of how the world works out there. I mean, for all the talk that we don’t believe that the University is the real world. Sometimes we say, “Why? Is the University not the real world?”
If I may be critical, the truth is it’s not the real world.
The University can be a protective bubble that makes us believe in ambitions, ideologies, and all that. And hopefully make us realise we can accomplish all these things. The truth is there are structural and temporal limitations around us and working makes you realise those things. So when you enter a Master’s Degree in Sociology, maybe you are still idealistic but also aware, not necessarily not idealistic but more aware.
Rendor: Less naïve?
Dr. Cornelio: Less naïve. Less naïve. Less arrogant – hopefully…
Rendor: More grounded?
Dr. Cornelio: More grounded. Exactly. So I remember discussing modernity in my theory class in NUS. I had classmates from Singapore and they were talking about McDonaldization, basic McDonaldization theory.
I was talking about how McDonalds was perceived to be in the Philippines, or Jollibee for that matter, as an indicator of development. If there’s a McDonald’s in your town, oh, then you have arrived. I mean, this is mainly because I work in the province and I am from the province, so more or less, when I was talking about those things, my colleagues and even my professor cannot wrap their heads around that. And I thought maybe because most of my classmates were doing Master’s straight from BA. So I saw a difference.
Rendor: It’s a very important case study to deliver that point.
Dr. Cornelio: So I was studying for my Masters for a year and a half under the graduate scholarship for ASEAN nationals. I finished top of my cohort and I received the Lee Foundation Prize.
Rendor: Amazing. Amazing.
Dr. Cornelio: Kaya mo rin iyon. Thank you. 2005, immediately after I did my Masters, I received a scholarship to do my Ph.D. in Sociology – the Asia Research Institute Ph.D. Grant, ARI, which is very prestigious research scholarship. And the rest is history.