All entries for Monday 18 April 2011

April 18, 2011

Fingers crossed – by Bernie

Well, it's now Mondayafternoon, and the lovely ethics people have had my application since last Wednesday.  I have done as they said, and have glued myself to my phone in case they have any queries, but so far nothing.  I wonder if I can feel hopeful yet?

The proportionate review committee meet tomorrow, but I won't be able to worry about that because instead, I'll be worrying about speaking in front of lots of NHS people.  On that subject, I was putting a Power Point together last night, and that gave me a whole load more stuff to worry about (can you tell yet, I'm a bit of a worrier?).  For example, should I do an entirely sensible presentation, or can I get away with my favourite 'stressed cat' image?  What if the stressed cat just induces a sea of confused faces instead of the hoped-for hilarity?  But then I thought, this talk is about identity, and that cat depicts my midwife self at about the time I left to start the PhD, so I've left it in.

Yes, this cat is stressed

That, by the way, is another first for me - putting an image into a blog.  I'm impressing even my children, now...

And then there's the eternal question of what to wear.  It comes down to who I am tomorrow - am I a relaxed, semi-casually dressed PhD student, or am I trying to convey business-like trouser-wearing woman?  I'm undecided as yet, but it's worth noting that this might be the only time it would be easier to be a man.  Trousers, or... trousers.  Shirt, or... shirt.

I find myself wondering why I'm attaching so much importance to this presentation.  I've done plenty of similar things in the past, after all.  But I know what it is, and it's two things.  Firstly, it's in front of my previous employers.  And secondly, I'm talking about a personal journey.  Those two elements together, make this the most exciting, nerve-jangling, worrysome thing I've done in a long time.

Wish me luck, because by the end of tomorrow I will have exposed myself A LOT (not literally, that would be odd), and I may have ethical approval for the study.  Mind you, I'll be fine, because I'm off to see Kassidy in the evening!

Dear Aunt Rex. The self–funded PhD: is it worth it?

Dear Aunt Rex,

I just found out that I got a fees-only grant to do a PhD. I had promised myself that I would only do a PhD if it was fully funded, so I have no idea what to do. I've always wanted to do a PhD but I don't want to take on more debt. Help!


Dear Unsure,

Oh boy, this is the million-pound question, isn't it? Only you can really know what's right for you, but here are some issues to consider.

First of all, have you talked to the head of postgraduate admissions in your department? Sometimes departments just need that extra push to find funding for you from somewhere. Make it clear how keenly you want it, but tell them honestly that you're just not sure if you can do it without full funding. They may have a rabbit up their sleeve.

If that fails, keep this in mind: lots of people do self-funded or partially-funded PhDs. It is more risky from a financial standpoint: some might say that if it doesn't lead to a research job then it is a 'bad investment'. However, there is more to life than finances. Many people find PhDs to be wonderfully rewarding experiences, taking their lives in whole new directions - even if this doesn't happen to be the traditional academic path.

On the other hand, a lot of people (perhaps especially in arts/humanities subjects) seem to see doing a PhD as some kind of deep artistic self-expression, worth sacrificing everything for. This is not true either. Even great artists have to eat. Practical considerations are not 'dirty'. The key, really, is trying to find a healthy balance between desires and reality.

Another way to put this is: do you want it bad enough to work harder and give up more than other people have to?

Because that's what you'll have to do. There are ways to avoid going into debt: Consider taking a part-time job (and then living relatively frugally), for example, or working as a residential tutor to get free rent. Aunt Rex works answering your questions for two days per week, and works on her PhD the rest of the time. Sometimes it is frustrating to see colleagues enjoying more free time and more money, but it's ultimately worth it.

Good luck! Just remember: this is a big decision but it is not life-and-death. Either way, there is room for talented people in this great big world and you will find your place.

-Aunt Rex

You can ask Aunt Rex a question here.

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