All 105 entries tagged Work-Life Balance

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November 27, 2013

Dance dance revelations

This post starts, as so many do, with a confession: I have recently become a dancer in the dark. No, this does not have any great metaphorical meaning, nor is it a reference to Lars von Trier’s millennial masterpiece. Of late, I have literally and physically been turning off the lights in my kitchen cum dining room cum living room, perching my headphones around my ears and careering around to the various tempos of my iPod. Sometimes I do it wearing socks, sliding up and down to the rhythms of new wave indie pop, and sometimes I go barefoot and pogo to the discordant beats of classic punk. More often than not, however, I just hit random and see where the mood takes me. This lasts anywhere from thirty seconds to a full hour, and seeing as my housemate has recently disappeared back to the mysterious climes of Gloucestershire, I anticipate doing it much more over the next few weeks.

Three facts about me are pertinent here. First, I am not a good dancer, no, not a good dancer in the slightest. I have little to zero sense of rhythm. Case in point: I went out in Leamington a few weekends back, determined to shake my stuff to the best of my ability. The whole debacle was slightly shattered when a stranger at the bar told me that I danced as if I was wearing high heels and I was worried I might fall over at any point. My sister once told me to dance as if no-one were watching, but I dance like the floor is slowly melting around me.

Secondly, I have form when it comes to dancing in the dark. In the summer of 2008, I used to cycle back from Cambridge late at night (to my eternal shame, without lights, the sound of my clunking unoiled chain my only company), and then, hyped up from who-knows-what, I would boogie in the backyard, behind my father’s studio. Sometimes the cats would come and watch me, and perhaps wonder why I was moving as if there were a wasp trapped beneath my clothes.

Third and finally, I am not averse to dancing with others. As already mentioned, I will go out and get down without any concern but my own inabilities, and I recently had a very moving episode where some friends taught me how to tango (after a few neat whiskies, I should add) at two in the morning. My sister and I have even devised a signature Bray-family move, and even if our parents refuse to participate in the genealogical choreography, we plan to perfect it step by faltering step.


If you've ever wondered like I look like when dancing, then wonder no more.

But why, you might wonder, am I telling you all this? What could my penchant for going footloose away from the lights have to do with PhD life? Why, the audience murmurs, is he dancing around the topic?

Aside from my newfound love for dancing in the half-light, I have also been pulling a few late nights recently. Not the extraordinary undergraduate ‘one-more-Red-Bull-™-and-I-pass-out’ kind of late, but certainly the kind where I am sat alone in the office, a single lamp illuminating my notes, only to glance at my watch and think ‘My, is that the time? I should cycle home while I can still balance on two wheels.’ These late-night sessions, on a campus which is politely humming with people coming and going outside my window, have been something of a revelation. There I am, just me and my research trying to produce something better than ourselves, the spotlight from the Ikea lamp (which I bought from my Mexican neighbours, so it always reminds me of drinking their very expensive coffee whilst playing darts) and the incoming Premier League results (I have taken to Fantasy Football like a duck to water, or like Alan Shearer to punditry) my only company.

I have talked in the past of how the PhD needs to be a social experience, how there must be a component of discussing ideas, mistakes, and revelations. I stand by this, and I always will: for me, there is nothing like presenting a paper at a conference and seeing people’s faces light up with excitement. But there are also moments, as I have recently discovered, where losing oneself in the strange and wonderful world of your own research, seeing all the pieces come together and watching an argument, really quite a good argument, emerging from your computer screen, is a deep and personal pleasure. You’ll sometimes slip, of course you will, and sometimes you’ll miss the beat and the break-down. You may doubt your ability to do this again, putting this flight of fancy down to luck, kismet, serendipity. But you will enjoy it in the here and now, this peculiar strain of brain-tango.

In the darkened office, your mind is dancing. There is no-one to watch you, no-one to applaud, but you don’t need anyone else to recognise what’s happening. You can’t wait to show off your moves. For the first time since I learnt to solve quadratic equations and perform a backhand winner on the tennis court (they did indeed happen on the same day, almost twelve years ago), I am making friends and sharing abstract pitchers with the technicolor ramblings of my fevered mind. It’s quite the sensation.

P.S. As a last minute aside, I want to share the most terrifying thing which ever happened to me whilst discussing the joys of academia. My mother did a PhD herself when I was in my mid-teens, so we’ll often trade experiences. Once, when I was ruminating on the pleasures of chasing an idea through to its conclusion, my mother chipped in with the immortal phrase, “Oh, Tom, it’s an amazing feeling, it’s almost like…(long pause)…almost like sex.” Thanks Mum, that was an easy image to get out of my head during late nights in the office.

October 28, 2013

Virtual Campus Life

This post originated in a reflection on Thomas Bray’s excellent PhD Hub blog post on the values of getting involved in campus life. This evoked a mixed response in me, being in the second year of a fulltime PhD, yet – for a variety of reasons – living over 90 miles away from campus in North London.

alone, beautiful, big windows, city, cityscape

I manage this 90-mile displacement with a variety of techniques and networks I refer to (in the quietness of my own mind!) as my ‘virtual campus’ – and far from being a poor compensation for the benefits of full-time Warwick life, I’ve come to think of it as a distinct advantage. So I want to introduce you to my virtual campus, and invite you to create your own, regardless of whether you live in Coventry, halls of residence or even further afield than me.

So WHERE is this virtual campus of mine? Apart from trips to Warwick for training, supervisions, and resources, I have to carve out a study space elsewhere. Mostly the libraries and buildings of other universities. Now I’d admit I’m spoilt for choice here, with the big smoke on my doorstep, but armed with nothing but a SCONUL card I’m able to regularly make use of my favourite study spots:

British Library

  • City University – The ‘everyday’ space; closest to home, accessible and friendly, with the wicked CoffeeWorks Project nearby!
  • The British Library - Feels like the academic equivalent of a spa day; check everything in your locker apart from books, papers and a pencil and indulge in some old school scholarship
  • Goldsmith’s College - Satisfyingly arty campus and close to many of my South London friends and work commitments

I get the advantage of accessing books that might not be easily available in Warwick (many universities will let SCONUL card holders you check out a small number of books) and get wind of a variety of seminars and events which have enriched my research and which I never would have come across otherwise.

Visiting these other universities allows me to also make links with academics in my field (theatre education) across London. I feel this network is vital in developing a robust career, and I know not being able to knock on my supervisor’s door each day has made me much bolder about approaching other relevant academics in London and beyond. In my experience they are usually only too happy to help.

So, apart from this motley crew of professors, WHO is my virtual campus populated with? Other students! I’ll admit that I have a stroke of luck here: one of my closest friends started a PhD in London the same time I started at Warwick. So we regularly meet for study days, and she’s put me in touch with another group of London students (at a different university again to hers) and we run reading groups and attend events together.

There are also my Warwick colleagues – several of which I’ve become firm friends with though the necessity of having to beg a sofa to crash on in times of multiple Warwick commitments. But the other fellow students in my virtual campus are also more ‘virtual’ in nature, through twitter and social media channels (recent posts on the PG Hub blog here and here cover where to find these) Yes, there’s the general chat and sharing of links you’d expect, but what’s surprised me is how ready people are to provide detailed, practical and sometimes very subject-specific advice. Via judiciously-tagged twitter requests I’ve been advised on audio and video equipment for field research, had texts recommend for everything from ethnomethodology to social theory, and attended conferences I never would have heard of if relying on Warwick networks alone

I’m not going to lie, being a 2 hour commute from campus is tough sometimes, with a definite element of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out – don’tcha know). But ultimately, the necessity of having to carve out this independent and inter-dependent world for myself has made me develop as a researcher. I’ve often heard academics describe the process of making a contribution to knowledge as like that of joining a conversation – and I think it’s eminently worth remembering that conversation is not just happening at Warwick.

Are you based off campus? Do you have an equivalent ‘virtual campus’? If so I’d love to hear from you!

August 19, 2013

Heart of Darkness; or, how I learnt to stop worrying and embrace third year

Edit: Since publishing this post, I have been informed by a few learned people (some real, some less so) that I in fact spent a week on a narrowboat, not a longboat. Before you write a new batch of disgruntlement-mail, please be aware that I have recognised this slip-up, but that I have decided to keep the references to 'longboats'. This is because Vikings used longboats (Vikings are cool), and because my cleverest joke in this article, detectable only by 0.427% of the population, revolves around the word. Thank you for your comments, and I apologise for any inconvience it may have caused to you or your PhD.

Please excuse me my long absence. I have just returned from two very confusing holidays, and it has taken me a while to recover. Even now my eyes are slightly glazed over, and I have a near-morbid fear of prime numbers. It’s a long story. If you stop me on the fifth floor of the library, I’ll tell you and then run away.

The first holiday was to Sri Lanka, and was all the various shades of interesting and eye-opening and oh-my-days-that’s-a-monkey-with-a-cricket-bat you can imagine. I will leave that one aside for my memoirs. My second holiday, and by now everyone I know has been well briefed on this one, took place on a longboat with four of my oldest, dearest friends. Before I went, I had visions of an easy, relaxing week, laying on top of the boat reading books and perhaps occasionally giving a thought to my PhD. In the evening, maybe we’d stop at a canal-side inn, where we would play cards and amuse the locals with our humour, charm, and dashing good looks.

I was wrong. So, so wrong.

this is a longboat

This, by the way, is a longboat. It is NOT, as several rather fussy locals reminded me, a barge. Don't say I never teach you anything.

In hindsight, the maths is simple. Five fellows in their mid-twenties + rather cramped longboat x an interesting amount of fun-inducing juices to the power of seven days = …well, I can’t do everything for you, use your imagination. Needless to say, my memory of the week is very clear in some places, and slightly hazier in others. My initial vision was not actually all that far off, except that I neglected to include the profanities, the partial nudity, the sheer, sheer debauchery. I am not ashamed to say that not once during the endless games of Risk, the constant jumping off boats and across water, and the omnipresent searing of meat and burning of toast, not once did I think “Ooohhh, I wonder what will happen next with my research?”

It might come as no surprise that by the end of the week, things were getting a little…tense. We happened to spend the final night in Leamington Spa, and since I once, in another chapter of my life, happened to live there, I thought I could keep a lid on things. I was wrong (seriously, why do I keep making predictions? This is why I’m an historian, because I am so useless with the future). In all honesty, proceedings were unfolding at a relatively civil level, until we walked into the final pub of the night (which shall remain nameless). My friend, who, incidentally, is about to get married, walked up to the bar, his face contorted with barely-contained glee, and announced:

“We shall have five pints of your worst ale, and all of your packets of crisps.”

All of our packets of crisps?” asked the slightly bemused bar-staff.

“ALL of your packets of crisps!” my friend thundered in response.

The night went downhill from there, culminating in a half-hearted punch, a bottle of half-finished Diet Coke being thrown into the Grand Union canal, and a voicemail message which may confuse future generations of the NSA.

When we were all safely off the boat the next morning, having returned it to a very relieved proprietor, I found myself sitting on the edge of the water, and taking check of my personal state. Body: pretty much decimated. Mind: none too sharp, dulled by excess. Soul: utterly destroyed, its last fragments jettisoned somewhere around Tamworth. Happiness: through the frickin’ roof.

And then it dawned on me. I didn’t need a week on a longboat with four old friends to achieve this particular state of affairs. Oh no, for the last two years I have willingly, perhaps even enthusiastically, been on a different kind of longboat, an academic longboat made up of pieces of paper, Internet searches, and cups of tea. If there is anything which batters me, mind, body, and soul, and yet keeps me coming back for more, it is my PhD. Little did I know, but all that time floating through the Midlands not thinking in any way whatsoever about my research was actually preparing me for a third year in which I am assured that my resolve will be put to the ultimate test. And now I am back on campus, back in the archives, back in the strange abstract world of what happened once and may never happen again.

And yet, every morning, cycling over fields with the sun rising over the blooming corn, dodging dogs and freewheeling down hills, my mind is on only thing: what will those dusty old journals tell me today? Sometimes, at the end of a long day with little to show for it, when the wind is strong and the path back home seems a bridge too far, they seem to say, ‘Mate, darn lucky that you made it through that longboat holiday’. They may have a point. Bring on third year, I say, I have already looked deep into the abyss…and darkness, thy name is barge.

P.S. Inspired by my friend’s crisp-related antics, I tried walking into the archives and announcing, ‘I would like to order ALL of your documents’. They didn’t take it to it so well.

July 28, 2013

Intermittent access – Helen Palmer

Well I've finished my first academic year at Warwick though I'll start the second year still as a first year! So I guess it's naturally a time for reflection but also looking forward to what the next year will bring.

Thinking about my first day at Warwick, it was nearly as nerve-racking as my first day as an undergraduate student 25 years ago - not knowing anyone, the campus or what the study would entail; only this time I also had to work out how I was going to achieve any kind of balance between full-time work and part-time study.

Reality bites

I can't say that I've managed to get the balance right between work and study and with the nature of my work, I can't see that changing any time soon. So instead of being able to have a regular consistent focus on study, it's more an intermittent approach with concentrated bursts of activity. I know that will need to change as the years roll on. I had started off with a day/week during the working week devoted to study but that was quickly eroded as my companies took on more work as an economic necessity. I'm already a Co-Director of a consultancy business and I took on another Director role with a new consultantcy business last year - not the best timing in relation to study, but definitely good timing in relation to my professional work.

I'm lucky that I chose a subject that I already know well and am genuinely passionate about, I suspect that I may have given up by now had I been tackling a completely new subject area. It's a natural progression from my Masters dissertation and that has been brilliant grounding for my PhD work.

Support structures

I am relieved to discover that I'm not that far behind the full-time PhD students in my year. I've done a tranche of writing for which my tutor has given me positive feedback and I've now got the chapter structure in place too. I feel very well supported within the department, not just by my tutor but all the tutors and administration staff, right the way through to the Head of Department. They have been incredibly accommodating in relation to my rather haphazard availability and always make me feel welcome and are genuinely pleased that I have been able to attend additional sessions. I also have a great family and set of friends who rally round and keep up my enthusiasm for my PhD, and my brother/business partner has never faltered in his ongoing support.

Travel ahead

Though I've had to delay going on my study trip to the US due to an ever-increasing workload, I am looking forward to spending next term preparing and researching the virtual archives before my trip to the physical archives in January 2014.

I was hoping to spend some of the summer months working on my PhD. That now looks unlikely with an impending festival in the autumn for which I work on the marketing and communications, lots of projects building to their conclusions in September, and a work trip to Australia to give a keynote address at a cultural conference in Queensland on the subject of cultural tourism, plus the opportunity to meet with the Commonwealth Games 2018 cultural programme team (I worked on the North West Cultural Programme for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002). All good experience if I ever get the chance to speak at film related conferences although it's a very different style of presentation. If I'm not too tired I'll try to dedicate some of my flying time to PhD reading rather than just catching up on my paid for work.

I realise that I may start next term feeling a bit rusty and will need to immerse myself in the world of study and film terminology and language again after an enforced break. I'm already earmarking Christmas and New Year as PhD time...

May 24, 2013

REx Fest – A Festival of Exchanges

If you closed your eyes, it was like Elton John truly was in the room, belting out his classics. Open your eyes, though, and yep, you were definitely in the Terrace Bar, where Elton ain’t been seen in years, listening to an otherwise-diminutive PhD student from Economics belting out ‘Bennie and the Jets’. After he lifted his fingers from the final chord, there was a second before the applause, a second of silence as everyone looked at everyone else, and mouthed one word: Wow.

There’s nothing to bring postgraduate students together quite like one of their own getting up and doing what they non-academically do best. Watching someone who by day builds robots shooting off down the wing on a football pitch, or eating the freshly-baked cookies of people who spend their days elbow-deep in algae: these are pleasures which I and countless others have enjoyed. REx Fest was no different. For a few hours that night, it didn’t matter which department you were from, what you were researching, or whether you had a list of publications longer than the piano: what mattered was whether you could make the audience sing along. And sing along they did, a sea of arms all swaying in time to the closing euphorics of ‘Hey Jude’.

Step away from the front-line of the audience, where the tone has now changed from an indie cover of ‘Call Me Maybe’ to some strain of Portuguese folk-rock, and you would find postgraduates dotted all around the Terrace Bar, and indeed, a swarm on the balcony, sharing lighters and stories of days, weeks, years, spent in the archives or the lab. People who lived together in their first year got a chance to catch up after five years and two degrees apart: one guy whom I knew when he was eighteen had to leave early to see the girl he was dating back then, and whom he is now marrying.

Back inside, stood around a table now littered with empty pint glasses, is a postgraduate football team, discussing their latest nail-biting match, occasionally forgetting themselves and repeating the kicks and jumps which sealed the last-minute winner. In another corner, people are exchanging stories of their first years of teaching, lamenting poor excuses and late-night marking, laughing over spilt chemicals and seminar faux-pas. Meanwhile, at the bar, there is a tussle to buy new companions drinks, often culminating in a bizarre comedy of errors, with everyone insisting that it’s their round. I spent many an hour in a Terrace Bar as an undergraduate at Warwick, and never did I know it as lively, as fun, as pleasant as at REx Fest.

Back in the union building, meanwhile, I spotted several heated games of table football, with people compulsively depleting small piles of fifty pence pieces in the pursuit of victory. The same went for the pool tables, where the atmosphere was a little quieter but no less heated. Much like an excellent musical performance, there is nothing to bring postgraduates together quite like a shared ineptitude at a game. I learnt that night that doing a PhD in Physics is not necessarily an advantage when it comes to playing pool. I guess you might need a calculator.

rex this

Needless to say, the whole event worked a treat, and I must admit that despite my own initial scepticism at the whole thing, it was quite the night. I couldn’t believe that amongst the small circles of postgraduates there exists quite so much musical talent. At the end, I found myself giving a guy whom I had only met in the last three minutes a lift back to Kenilworth. In the car he talked candidly about his recent break-up. It really was that kind of evening.

One of the issues with the postgraduate lifestyle, certainly an issue which often gets mentioned on this blog, is how easy it is to find yourself isolated, cut off from the real world. It is essential for your sanity (and for your research) that you get the opportunity to put your studies to one side, even if just for an evening, and enjoy some music, some sport, some chatter. Sure, talk may well eventually turn back to your work, but that’s part and parcel of the whole shebang. If you imagine the world of research as a quiet one, full of plain green fields and the occasional hill, then REx Fest is like a dinosaur of fun and sociality, a tyrannosaurus REx, if you will.

Sorry. Sorry I wrote a whole blog post just to make one awful pun. You’ll thank me one day.

May 20, 2013

PG TalkFest is back!

Would you like to meet postgrads? Do you having nothing planned for Tuesday evening? Then come along to PG TalkFest!

PG TalkFest is back after a successful start in March. It is a great meeting place for postgrads and a way to listen to interesting and lively talks. The aim is to keep the style informal and to engage with the audience.

For this version of PG TalkFest, there will be a Masters student and two PhDs who will be presenting talks about Batman, video games, and evolution.

It is being held on Tuesday 21st March from 6pm-8pm in the PG Hub. Talks don’t start until 6:30pm so you have some time to socialise before the event begins. There is also an interval. Light snacks and drinks are provided from 6pm.

The speakers of the night are:

Sebastian Averill (History)

Joanna Cuttell (Sociology)

Steve Norton (MOAC)

For any queries, please contact Sarah on

Sign up here to help with catering numbers:

May 06, 2013

Work, life, study balance by Helen Palmer

There are a number of questions that I'm regularly asked about doing a PhD part-time whilst working full-time - how is your PhD going and how do you manage to balance work and study (never mind a social life!)? Well the answer to those questions is always the same - to the first question - slowly, and to the second - if I ever find the balance I'll let you know!

Clocking the hours

A colleague of mine who had completed a PhD whilst working full-time advised me to allocate a minimum of 15 hours per week to dedicated study, recognising that this will build over time, particularly in the last year. In my first term I took advantage of some of the free training sessions available to post grads to help with developing my approach to study and picked up a lot of useful tips, particularly with reference to note-taking, setting out the parameters of my research and planning my approach to study. I had a four year gap between completing my MA and starting my PhD so felt a little rusty to say the least. Of course what I discovered was that I needed to allocate dedicated time in the week to study, so at Christmas I took the decision to ringfence a day in my working week to focus exclusively on my PhD. My business partner (also my brother!) has been great in respecting that day and all was going well until a couple of months ago.

Impacts of success in work

As a marketing consultant working in the arts, no two days are ever the same and work naturally ebbs and flows with no recognisable pattern. Just to get political for a moment, the arts sector has suffered greatly due to national and local government funding cuts and my business has felt the impact of such measures with a difficult start to the year. But it's like buses, you wait for one to come along and then three turn up! My brother and I are actually directors of two consultancy businesses plus Joint Head of Marketing for a biennial festival taking place this autumn, and in the last couple of months we've been successful in winning new clients too - great for our businesses and our bottom line but not so great for my PhD studies. My precious one day a week has all but disappeared in the last two weeks due to the pressure of work and having to travel around the country to work with clients.

Getting back on track with time management

I always thought that I'd have much more flexibility as a consultant, hence fitting in a PhD in the way that I'd managed to complete a Masters whilst working full-time. But a PhD is a different beast and requires a different approach and particularly a different writing style. So to claw back some time I took a week off work at Easter to dedicate to research and writing as well as recharging my batteries. I anticipate that most bank holidays, like today, will be spent as PhD days, so no enjoying the glorious sunshine for me...

I'd like to think that I could spend one or two evenings a week working on my PhD but I'm either out a work related event, travelling home late or frankly just too tired. So I try to allocate one day at the weekend for PhD study, as well as the day in the week, as there are no work phone calls and I can ignore work emails too.

I'm the only part-time PhD researcher in my department (film and tv) so I've learned not to compare my progress with anyone else. I'm glad that I chose an area of study that I already know well as it's related to my Masters dissertation, that certainly makes a difference. I fear that if I'd chosen a completely new topic I'd have had thoughts of throwing in the towel by now!

It's good to talk

I've had to make a difficult decision in the last two weeks and that is to defer my planned summer archive visits to Los Angeles and New York to January 2014. I'm thankful to my tutor, department and the Graduate School for being so understanding and supportive. My professional workload is such that I simply can't fit in the trip and the pre-trip required research. I'm lined up for a busy summer and autumn so I'm aiming to keep plugging away at the PhD in the snatched time slots I've allocated so as to not slip too far behind.

I've found that it's helpful to flag up concerns early to my tutor so that we can discuss my priorities and arrange appropriate deadlines to fit around my busy work life. So today I'm finishing rewriting my first chapter and my aim for this academic year is to complete that first chapter to a standard that my tutor and I are happy with, and to have agreed the thesis chapter structure. The literature review will probably have to wait until autumn when I'll be in my second year but technically I'll still be a first year!

Top tips for time management

I wish I had a great list but my main advice is to not sweat the little stuff! Every PhD is different and everyone has to deal with unexpected turns in their lives. Whilst we all may have an ideal way that we'd like to complete our PhD, the reality is very different and that's all part of the experience. I'm a completer finisher by nature so I'm determined that I will go the distance and submit a thesis even if it takes me the full 5 years - I completed my Masters over 5 years due to work interruptions. Having to earn a living, run my own home, deal with family commitments and maintain some sort of social life helps me to put things in perspective when I'm feeling stressed about my lack of available time for my PhD.

March 21, 2013

PG TalkFest


Do you want to meet other postgraduate students? Fancy a going to a new event with a different flavour? Look no further - check out a brand new event: PG TalkFest!

PG TalkFest is about meeting new people and listening to 10 minute informal talks. The speakers are allowed to talk about whatever they want, whether it is about their research or something related to it.

There is a good reason for the speakers to do this: to practice public engagement skills. It is about practicing presenting in a very different way to what they are used to as well as trying out different ways of engaging the audience.

It is being held on Tuesday 26th March from 6pm-8pm in PG Hub 1&2. Talks don’t start until 6:30pm so you have some time to socialise before the event begins. There is also an interval. Food and drink is provided from 6pm. Please sign up on to help with numbers.

Our amazing speakers of the night are (in which there are a couple you may recognise!):

Jack Heal (MOAC)

Tom Bray (History)

Tomi Oladepo (Theatre Studies)

For any queries, please contact Sarah on

Hope to see you there!

March 15, 2013

Guide to Employability: Step 3. The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making

Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for Warwick Business School. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).

In my previous two blog posts I underlined the urgency of turning one’s attention inwards in order to understand who they are and what they wish to pursue, while also identifying their strengths, needs and drives and building a robust skillset. Now it's time for action!

In this blog post, I will focus on action towards academic routes. We know for a fact that academic jobs at the moment are as effortless to find as a Hobbit under your bed! No surprise there! Yet, it’s easy bemoan the competition and toss the responsibility there. The question is, what do YOU do about it? What can YOU control in the process? And, trust me, there is a lot!

The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making

If you are really serious about an entry level academic position, it is paramount that you start thinking, breathing, talking and acting like an academic. The following are your new 10 Commandments:
1. Research agenda:

What you have done or are currently working on is not enough. What are your future research plans? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Don’t take this light-heartedly. The PhD experience has been uncertain enough! The traineeship is over! You’re a professional now and if you’re serious about your career, you’ll have to be a strategist. The more conscious you are of your research plan, the more clearly and coherently you can articulate it, the more convincing you will be about your reliability as future expert in your field.

2. Research Dissemination/Publications:

Be specific about the journals you wish to disseminate your research in; the publishers you wish to target; the conferences you wish to speak at.

3. Funding:

It’s all about the money and you know it. Any successful funding bids so far? Which funding bodies are you planning to approach? Have you thought of research projects that can attract funding? Time to start planning!

4. Impact:
If you are looking for a job in a UK (research-led) institution, you have to be able to demonstrate how your work is likely to engage wider audiences outside the academe. This could include:
  • Media/Press Engagement
  • Consulting
  • Policy input/Workshops for practitioners
  • Input to Industry

Now, except rather vague guidelines, there is no specific way of measuring the actual impact of one’s research. This is the farcical irony of the whole affair. Still, the more impactful your research is, the more likely it is to attact interest (and get you that promotion!) Consider how your work can have a tangible influence, implement an institutional change, or alter the way people think or act in a demonstrable way.

5. Outreach/widening participation:

Can you create collaboration links with institutions within and outside your country of work? Where are you pointing your antennas towards? The key here is proactive networking!

6. Teaching:

What’s your teaching experience? What elements does it entail? Have you got the potential to design and deliver an original/innovative module that pertains the tradition of the institution you wish to apply for? How do you render your teaching more engaging and experiential for students? In a climate where students pay yearly salaries for their education, the bar of expectations has been raised dramatically and rightly so! (Note to all: students are rarely interested in an academic’s research outputs!) Moreover, have you pursued formal teaching qualifications? Many institutions are asking for professional qualifications now.

7. Technology

Bet you haven’t thought of that one, right? How do you plan to use technology to enhance your research prospects? Do you blog? Podcast? Prezi? Think 5 years ahead... If, at the moment, we are shopping online, socialising online, researching online, even dating online, what does this mean for academia? More cites and quotations will most probably entail more technological involvement! Be proactive, things are bound to transmogrify!

8. Networking:

It’s a dirty little secret that connections are key in the current job market and beyond! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how you utilise such connections for your progression. So get involved!

9. Mentoring:

Every young professional could benefit from a good mentor, someone who can share the secrets of the trade, whether this involves navigating publication landscapes, exploring funding opportunities, or sharing their leadership experience. A mentor can be an enormous source of support (and at times more benefits), so don't underestimate their usefulness.

10. Finally, can you talk the talk?! If you want to be part of the academic elite (and by this I mean obtaining a permanent academic job) you will have to learn, and convincingly regurgitate, the contested and, more often than not, sensationalist academic jargon that will consolidate your credibility amongst your peers and superiors. So come on, repeat after me:

· ‘In five years’ time I will be a “world-leader” in my field!’ Now, imagine telling this to Barack Obama! How does it feel? Are you convenced? Is he?!
· ‘I am a pioneer in the field of…’ and visualise winning that Nobel Prize!
· ‘My research agenda has a robust impact strategy’ and it will rock the world!
· ‘My dissemination strategy entails…’ touching hearts and souls in all corners of the globe!
· ‘I am a/the world leading expert/authority in…’ and everyone else is using my work as a forefront for theirs. Hmmm. How do you substantiate this?!

Yes, sophistry and self-image are increasingly going hand-in-hand in the current academic entry climate and beyond!

Bottom line:

Academia is your corollary; you have to breathe it, think it, be it! Now is the time to switch from the, at times, myopic mind-set of a Phd to a well-rounded ‘research leader’ conviction. Don't get me wrong, you'll still live in your academic bubble, but this time you really need to think of your research agenda, your impact strategy, your networking policy, and your academic career development plan. Create your ‘academic excellence’ in the making self-image and gradually project it to the world! Start believing in who you are becoming and the rest will follow! But have a plan, have a strategy, and follow it! Be visionary, be strategic, and be open to collaboration! In other words, be the Principal Investigator of your academic career project!

Stay positive!


February 20, 2013

Part–time – if only!

Am I really halfway through my first year as a PhD Researcher? I don’t feel like I’ve achieved a great deal yet but then I must remember that I’m not on the same timeline as the rest of my PhD colleagues.

So how does it work being a part-timer? I’m not sure I fully considered what it would be like trying to do a part-time PhD at Warwick, when I live in South Manchester, and am a co-director of a business that means working all over the UK. I managed to complete a Masters whilst working full-time so what’s the difference? Well now I know, it’s like comparing apples with oranges!

Balancing act

After the first term of attending seminars, skills training sessions, research methods group sessions, talks, conferences and tutorials, I wasn’t getting much time to really get stuck into the research, let alone kicking off the writing. So in discussion with my business partner, who also happens to be my twin brother, from the start of 2013 I decided to allocate one day in the working week to devote to my PhD, as well as trying to grab time at the weekend and the odd evening. In doing so it has given me much needed focus but has also meant there have been some weeks when I’ve spent every evening and weekend catching up with my paid work, but that’s the joy of being self employed…

I deliberately chose to do my PhD as a follow-on from the work I’d done for my Masters dissertation, which in hindsight was clearly a smart move, as I would definitely have struggled with a new topic. Many friends and colleagues assume that I’m doing a PhD directly related to my work or to further my career, when in fact it’s for purely selfish reasons – I just love film! It’s been my passion since I was a kid, and that’s a long time ago, and I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to indulge that passion.

In two minds

I know that trying to achieve a work-research-life balance may never quite be realistic, particularly when work or PhD deadlines are looming. I’d never really achieved the work-life balance before starting my Masters or PhD. I’m lucky that my chosen professional work is in the arts, heritage and tourism sectors so no two days are ever the same, but it does often mean that my social life is spent going to the theatre, museums, galleries etc alongside colleagues – otherwise commonly known as ‘networking’. It can therefore be difficult to switch off from my busy work schedule, multiple paying clients and constantly delivering marketing and communications activity, and switch into a quieter reflective mode, focusing on reading and writing about the same subject.

I now realise that I need to use the skills I’ve developed in my work life and adapt them to my research – setting deadlines, being task oriented, organised and multi-tasking, skim-reading, scan-reading and writing – but that will be the topic for another blog post...

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only mature part-time PhD researcher at Warwick as there aren’t any others in my department – Film and TV - but if there are any others out there, what’s your experience?

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