What about your sense of identity as an academic or as someone who has got through the PhD? Do you see yourself as an academic?
I see myself as an academic in waiting; I have quite a strong sense that I have more to say and I have a contribution to make to the intellectual community, you know, if one can use such a cheesy phrase. But it is still quite up in the air whether it is going to be possible to make that contribution and whether that contribution has value unless it's coming from you know, it is the position of being in an academic post. And that's what's slightly difficult perhaps is that you need to have that kind of institutional affiliation or stamp to say this you know, for you to feel like what you produce and what you contribute is of value.
Do you mean that if you decided not to carry on in academia it wouldn't be as valuable, your contribution, your publications wouldn't be as valuable as they would be if you were in an academic post?
Mm well I think the answer to that is two-fold and the first thing is they would not be perceived to be of value because you wouldn't have that institutional affiliation. You know, such and such lecturer at the university of just carries more weight in the world of academia. I mean maybe it shouldn't be so but it does. You know there is always the curse of the independent researcher who is very hard to distinguish from like the crank who like loves this particular topic. I think it is important when you are producing research to be a participant in this sort of intellectual culture because otherwise you're just someone – you need to be able to work within that to some degree.
Do you want to be an academic?
I mean do you want to get an academic job?
Yes I do I do. Just briefly to go further I would not say that if I produced… when I say that if I produce something and it wouldn't be of value what I mean is outside of academia it is pretty hard to produce something of value partly because you are not within the culture and so it is just harder to generate material. But also you literally don't have the time if you are working nine to five it is very hard to research outside you know, to pursue research outside of an academic post, which is in theory supposed to build in time for you to do that. And so that would be my perspective.
But yeah I find the idea of academia really appealing because it just ticks so many boxes in terms you know, making a contribution and getting that personal fulfilment and developing people and working with people and you know, having a stake in a public rule I suppose in that you are sort of affiliated with an institution and you have a role of improving that institution. And you know, just from a personal point of view you get to organise your own time so much more and you get so much freedom of action. Maybe that's a romanticised view of the role! I mean I know that academics complain about administration and how they don't have time to research and how teaching takes up all their time and stuff like that but I don't think I would mind.
Because there are so many ways to get fulfilment. If you have an administrative job then you can get personal fulfilment out of that because you know it is good to be organised and it's good to support other people in doing what they are doing. And you know there is satisfaction to be had in a job well done. If you are doing just research then the satisfaction you can get is much more long-term and it is, can be really easy to get bogged down. If you are just doing teaching then you know there is a more immediate satisfaction because you can see the visible results of your teaching and you are getting immediate feedback. But again you can sort of see that might feel like you are a treadmill. You could almost see it in terms of you know the short-term versus the long-term and if you are in academia you have the potential to get something at all levels. And so you have got the most basic kind of organisational getting things kind of level and you have also got that teaching and developing others kind of level. And then you have also got that space to just be in your own head and so you know your own thinking and you have got that sort of long-term aspiration to get the next book out or move up the ladder and you know, become an editor of something. You know you can have aspirations in all these different levels and I think that is what is appealing to me about academia.
Do you have any anxieties at the moment making that transition from PhD student into the world of an academic, a working academic?
Well yes I'm aware that academia is very competitive and so there is always the chance that either I will just not be good enough, that it I won't get the publications because I won't just be able to get around to it; that I will be out of it for too long that I won't be able to get back into it; that the perfect job may come up but it might be in Aberdeen and then, you know, bang goes my social life. But it's just be too big a job to get into academia and then I would have to be satisfied with less and that would be a sad thing to have to do. Or that I might get into it and then I might find that I don't like it as much as I thought I would. I mean that's the same with every job.
Yeah, my main anxiety at the minute is that I wouldn't get published and if I don't get published I can't a job and if I can't get a job then I have to figure out something else that I want to do and create new aspirations.
Have you been applying for jobs and postdocs and things?
No I haven't because I left so much of my PhD to the last minute I literally didn't have – I literally didn't have a project when I was finishing my PhD; I didn't have in mind the next thing I wanted to do. I wouldn't have been able to put together a research proposal you know, if you had sat me down and held a gun to my head I would have just been 'I have absolutely no idea.' The day before I submitted my PhD I was still changing arguments and rewriting and changing even through the whole take on the topic. Which proves it can be done, you can still be kind of generating your arguments you know, the week before you hand it in but it also means that you are not very secure in your own sort of sense of where you fit in in the research world.
And so subsequently finishing my PhD, and I should make clear that I had started my current post three months before I submitted, subsequently to finishing I was able to take a bit of space to think about where I could take it and to think up research proposals and think about you know, what would be the appropriate next step. And so I have an idea about where I would like to take it now but at this exact moment there are no jobs available to apply for. And I have thought about applying for postdocs it will need to be not this year coming but the year after and I think I probably will. But there again there is a limited chance of getting one unless you have a publication and I need a publication and so that's my focus right now.
You started a post three months before you submitted your PhD, what was the post and how did it come up and how did you get it?
The post is what I do now. It is coordinating graduate training for one Arts & Humanities in my institution. And so the post was created to deal with a problem of lack of flow of information between the different parts of Arts & Humanities. And so it was to a large degree an administrative post. I applied for it because it was linked to something that I am very interested in which is the training of graduate teachers and educational development in general partly because I went through a pilot programme to do with that area during my doctorate. I got very interested in the world of teaching you know, I like teaching I find it fulfilling. And I thought being involved with that would be really interesting while I sort of got my head together in terms of you know, where my research is going and what the next step is in terms of my career.
The post has slightly evolved since I took it on because having just done a graduate degree I get very aerated about the lack of support available to graduate students and so I took on quite a lot of – I took it upon myself to try and develop the support that was available when I probably didn't necessarily need to, like that wasn't really part of the job. But I thought that was probably more important and would contribute more to my personal development and to my career satisfaction and so that is what I ended up doing. Unfortunately when you work in you know, research support or university administration in general you are quite often given an awful lot of freedom to basically interpret the role as you see fit and so that's what I did.
And so I think perhaps the form the job is in now is probably more contributing to my academic development in terms of getting me involved and actually delivering training and teaching training and learning more about educational theory and that kind of thing. But at the same time it is also taking up more of my time, which makes it harder to get the research done.
I want to know a couple of things about that: I want to know how difficult it was finishing the PhD in the last three months of it when you are also juggling a job and the PhD. And then I would like to know what the prospects are within this role that you are in and whether it would be something you would consider doing instead of an academic career.
Okay I will deal with the first question first how difficult was it… yes it was very difficult is the short answer. Because I was learning a new job and especially because I was moving into the world of work it was very difficult to at the same time what was to a large degree a complete rewrite of the final draft of my PhD. It required working nine to five, which I wasn't used to, coming home and you know, working on for another couple of hours in the evening every evening and working at weekends. Having said that because it was for a short period of time and because I knew I had an end in sight I just did it. I think I have probably blocked that out because it was really quite stressful but it was for a very a discrete period of time and so it just was a matter of saying 'right well I will pull out the stops and get it done and get it handed in and then that will be that behind me.' And so I handed in just before Christmas. By Christmas I was a complete wreck but I sometimes think that that is worth it just to get it over with rather than just letting it drag on and drag on and drag on. I've known people that have taken up jobs – and I suppose the other thing there was so much satisfaction in that because so many people told me 'oh if you take a job you will not finish your PhD' and I was very kind of like 'well I shall prove you wrong ha' and did. And so that made me feel quite good about the whole thing.
And so I suppose that is what drove me actually to some extent sort of saying 'I have to get it over with I can't have this thing hanging around like an Albatross around my neck' she said mixing her metaphors. And also you know, everyone thinks I'm not going to be able to do it and so I am going to do it. And I think also there is a sort of sense of because what I might have done instead was I had quite a lot of teaching lined up but it wouldn't have been enough to live on and so it would have been like living on Super Noodles and doing teaching. And so for example there is a job at an institution that is close to my institution that isn't my institution that was basically doing their 18th Century English teaching over two semesters and that would have been a really good career opportunity in terms of building up my teaching portfolio. And similarly I had various bits of teaching lined up at my institution but even put all together that would not have been enough to pay my way and so I had to let that go to do this job and so in many ways I suppose I was driven by the sense of that I had my choice and I had to make it work.
But I wouldn't recommend it ideally I would say do try and finish before you take up a job because it is really very stressful but there is a lot of sense of achievement to be had from it as well.
And what are you doing now? What is the job like and do you want to continue doing it?
The job has good points and bad points. Basically because the post is newly created I was taken on to plug a gap. Having been taken on and being in post in many ways it is quite an isolating role because it is very much 'oh well she will take care of everything to do with that.' Because it is a brand new post there is no system in place for me to slot into, there is no sense of what kind of training I would require, what kind of career development would be useful for me. There is no sense of even a sort of set of discrete tasks that I'm supposed to achieve. And so basically I set my own goals and when I accomplish them I pat myself on the back.
I find it less difficult now I found it quite difficult from organising my own time to having it organised for me. Being obliged to be somewhere nine to five. Having to deal with other people so continuously I found very difficult because with academics if you contravene protocol then they can get quite shirty and you have to be a bit sort of you know, careful. Not being able to step out and be by myself because I'm in a shared office that kind of thing it is a big adjustment but you do get used to it. That is the difficult side of my job and it can be very stressful for that reason. But on the other hand I am completely ridiculously in charge of the direction of graduate training, which is brilliant. To my agenda what gets done which is great. And there is a real benefit to be had when you actually like create some kind of support for graduate students and you see them being happy about the fact they are being supported in this way and that is really, really fulfilling and I just wish I could do it more. But with limited funds and limited resources and it being just me it's quite difficult to do as much as I would like to do, which I suppose is back on the frustrating side, but yeah it's swings and roundabouts.
But you don't want to stay doing this?
I would not be averse to staying in educational development and you know supporting people who are researchers and you know, building their skills and building their confidence all that kind of stuff. And teaching them how to teach you know, how to be an academic all of that stuff is really worthwhile and I could probably do it forever. But I would need to do it in a context in which the qualifications that I have are valued and remuneration was quite substantially higher. The fact that I have a PhD would be something that would be seen to be contributing to what I give, what I bring to the job rather than sort of at the minute, which is basically it is an administrative post and it just so happens that I have a PhD which means I can bring some (inaudible) but it is not part of the job. I think I would want to work within a framework where the value of what I do is recognised and my sort of special qualities are part of what the job requires in a slightly different way to what it is right now in that I have an administrative post and it's on the side.
What was your interview like because I guess it was your first interview for a job?
Yeah not since I applied to Tescos have I been interviewed. Interestingly I applied to work in Tescos when I was 20 and the interview I got for Tescos was much more like what I thought an interview would be like than the one that I had for this job. I knew I had got the job because we were giggling through most of the interview and it felt really, really good. No that is actually not true, I had an interview for various jobs for example I had interviewed to be involved with Outreach in one of the parts of the university and that particular interview was just horrible because it was really, really formal. The questions I was asked didn't seem to make any sense to me. I wasn't getting any kind of feedback from the people who were interviewing me I think basically because they were looking for somebody who wasn't me, I think that was quite obvious. Whereas the interview for this job, it felt very informal, they were really interested in what I had to say, they picked up on things that I said and they said 'oh tell us more about that.' When I made a joke they laughed. I walked out feeling like they liked me which I suppose is not what you think is going to be, you know, you don't think you are going to be hired because they like you but I suppose if they are looking for a certain type of person and you happen to be that person then it is easier to generate the sort of warmth that we can work together, we can help each other.
The feedback that I got from the interview was that I was very charming and I'm not sure how I feel about that because I'm not sure if I want to be hired because I'm charming. But I think at the time it was understood that the kind of work that I would be doing would require actually quite a lot of charm in the sense of having to persuade people to do something that they wouldn't necessarily want to do. And so I suppose that was part of the job criteria.
How did you prepare for the interview?
Well I had to do a presentation. I mean the presentation should have given it away; I had to do a presentation on the need for transferable skills training to an imagined sceptical audience of postgraduate students and their supervisors. And so basically I did a presentation very much around what I still think, I tried to find a hook basically because I was really thinking it would be easy to do a presentation about the need for transferable skills training, I mean everyone knows you know, you need to have transferable skills if you want to get the job, fine. What people don't quite understand is the value of transferable skills training during the postgraduate degree and so I had a strategy I suppose I would say. And what I thought most people would be likely to do in that situation would be to direct at the postgraduate students but forget about the supervisors. And so what I tried to do is say this is the value for postgraduate students and then I did a special section about why supervisors should be onboard with it. And the whole idea was that if graduates had training they were more likely to get their work on time, they are going to be more likely to be finished and off your hands at a reasonable time, they are not going to be bugging you all the time with silly questions because you know, they are going to find out the resources of information elsewhere, you know, there is added value to supervisors. And so that was my strategy. And I think I put in a quote and set it in a framework of a critical reflection and so I put in a quote about Pope about making each day a critic and the last and that kind of thing and so I did a bit of quite bells and whistles. And I made out which you know, had the crest of the university superimposed on it it was like a really, really, I went quite far in making it polished. I had my little note cards.
I always feel that is like anything it is better to prepare too much than too little because you might look a bit – I suppose in many ways I probably came across as being quite cheesy because I was like 'it is really important to get people to reflect on these things and that you know, we support them' but it is better to look like you are passionate about something and you have something to offer rather than to try and tick some boxes I suppose.
The condition of me taking this job is I would give up the teaching that I had lined up and I tried to negotiate, I tried to say 'well you know if I did this teaching you know that would contribute to the job.' And they just said you know what it is not going to be possible it is a fulltime job you are not going to be able to prepare teaching and do this at the same time. We want you to teach in the long-term but when you are just starting a new job you can't possibly just take on this teaching.
It was a hard decision but I went at it from the point of view that I want to be offered the job on the basis that then I can think about whether I want to take it or not. There was a lot about the job that was appealing to me and it was more money than I was getting as a graduate student and so as a result that was a good thing and it meant various convenient things like I would be able to stay in my institution and my partner is you know, in the institution and so are a lot of conveniences attached to this job that made it me worth like really putting effort into getting it.
And so how long is the job for?
Oh it's a three year contract but I don't necessarily expect to stay in it for three years I would hope not to ideally I want to find something else.
An academic job?
An academic job. I think it is important to stay in a job long enough so that you can feel that there is something you can say that you achieved in it so that you can then put that on your CV and say that 'in this job I achieved the following.' I think that is my kind of perspective on career management is that you have to be in it for long enough to see through a project of some sort even if it is on a really loose scale that you can sort of say 'that's what I did in that job.' Once you've got that there is no reason to stay really you know, if it is not what you want to do long-term.