All entries for Friday 06 May 2011

May 06, 2011

Many, many PhDs – by Bernie

I can remember people telling me, when I started the PhD, that it's a very lonely process, that I would probably go mad, and that I would certainly develop an unhealthy obsession with my chosen subject.

So, loneliness:  I guess it's like a lot of things in life - the PhD experience is what you make it.  Meeting people in the Research Exchange, I discovered that some faculties are unable to offer office space to their doctoral students, so many of them work at home.  Yes, that would make it lonely, but only if you actually did work at home, alone, in isolation, and never met anyone.  I make the 130 mile round trip to Warwick twice a week, and work at Nottingham (where I started my studies) for another couple of days of the week.  That way, I'm sure to meet up with people I can actually converse with about the research.  But I also have coffee regularly with my former midwifery colleagues so that I keep in touch with that part of my life also.  I'm really one of those people who struggle to work at home, mostly because of the large number of children I seem to have produced (actually only three, but it seems so many more, at times...), and the amount of 'stuff' that helps me to procrastinate at home.

As for the madness thing, I don't think so yet, but then I'm only half way through, so there's plenty of time for insanity to show itself yet...

And obsession?  Well yes, I expect I am a bit obsessed, but that's what drives me to continue and finish the study, get it out into the world, and hopefully make a difference to midwives.  Obsession is perhaps a negative word - I'll try to think of a different one at some point.

For me, I think doing the PhD respresents one part of my life, and a massive part it is at the moment, but there's so much else filling my head, that hopefully I'll stay sane, keep up with my old friends and make new ones, and find a better word than 'obsession' soon.  As a social constructionist, I really do think that doing a PhD will be whatever you want to make it.  But as I say, ask me again in a year's time.  Til then, I'm loving it!

Dear Aunt Rex: I'm terrified of public speaking

Dear Aunt Rex,

I'm a second-year PhD student in the humanities but I've never done any conferences. I hate the idea so much. It's not just the public speaking but also the 'networking' or whatever you're supposed to be doing. Everyone says conferences are an essential part of being an academic but is there any way around it?

-Not a networker

Dear Not,

Conferences are maybe not as essential in the humanities as they are in, say, maths, but they're still important and I would encourage you to find a way to do them. They're an important way to stay on top of the latest developments in your field, publicise your own work and meet potential collaborators.

Finding a way to do them will mean, first and foremost, finding a way to NOT hate them! You might consider taking one of the public speaking workshops offered by the Research Student Skills Programme. This can help build your confidence about being in front of people.

If you have a conference paper already written and would like some practice, the Research Exchange Advisers offer a service where you can book time with one of them to deliver your paper and receive constructive feedback. Email

As to networking, my advice is not to think of it as 'networking' at all - this word has become so overwrought with images of slimy, insincere hand-shaking. Think of it instead as interacting with other people who have similar interests and expertise to you, whom you just happen not to have met yet. Talk business with people you sit with at lunch - discuss the things you've heard at the conference, for example. Introduce yourself to people whose papers you liked, and tell them why. Have useful conversations - don't just 'network'. The Research Student Skills Programme (link above) also has occasional Networking workshops and this can help as well.

Remember: being successful at conferences doesn't have to mean gritting your teeth and doing something you hate - it means figuring out what you hate the most about it and finding ways to adapt your experience so that you enjoy it more.

Good luck!

You can ask Aunt Rex a question here.

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