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Laura - PhD experience
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Name: Laura
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: Youth worker; university teaching
Year of graduation: 2003
Date of Interview: 01/07/2008

Now Playing: Laura - PhD experience
Laura looks back at her PhD experience.

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Let's focus on the PhD now. What did that mean to you at the time? Where did you think it was taking you, how you were developing during your PhD?

Yes. I didn't really want to finish my PhD. I'll start at the end and go backwards. I ran away and got married, then shortly afterwards had a baby about two-thirds of the way in. One could see it as a sort of act of sabotage (laughs). Although actually because I married someone who was incredibly supportive, it meant that I finished my PhD which I might not have done otherwise. I remember my supervisor used to come and supervise me in my local pub or in my house, because I didn't have child care during the day time. And I remember him saying things like 'you've got to get this in by the middle of September, or you'll run out of time'.

I remember being absolutely furious with my supervisor because I didn't actually have any desire to finish it, because I really liked doing it and I didn't have anything else to do and I was really interested in it. I did what lots of part time PhD students do by which I mean I completely over researched. And in effect I was squeezing a full- time research load into part time enrolment, so I spent twice as long researching it. And my PhD was enormous. It was twice the length it was meant to be and in two volumes, I was trying to sneak extra information into the footnotes and appendices. I still have to apologise to both my examiners whenever I see them. They had to work twice as hard for their £15 quid or whatever it is that you get being an examiner.

So I definitely enjoyed it – I enjoyed the feeling of discovering things and I enjoyed writing the stories and I enjoyed having arguments on paper with big important people who I wouldn't argue with face to face.

You were cross that it was finishing.

I was cross that it was finishing and I did finish it, and I finished it whilst breast feeding, resting a laptop on a small table, which has probably done awful things to her. (laughs). It's probably not a healthy thing to do is it. But I did finish it and actually it was, everything that I had been told was true, that in the process of writing and re-writing and re-drafting and re-editing I became an academic. That it wasn't the process of researching that made me academic, it was the process of being forced to lay down and really be disciplined about laying down. And I learnt to write and it made up for having been in the special classes at school and not having qualifications. I'm never going to be a brilliant writer but I learnt to write much more clearly and by that point I was also teaching as an associate tutor and so I felt that things were really starting to turn quite nicely. Then I was getting more and more teaching, although having to beg, borrow and steal teaching and also being monstrously exploited as an associate tutor. And having to work out how long I could afford to put up with being monstrously exploited. At the point when I was finishing the PhD, I had a very small child, a teenage daughter with a very small child, and was working and working preparing teaching and marking, that must have been the point at which I decided I wanted to be an academic because I do not understand why on earth I would have been doing that, if I didn't think there was something at the end of it.

It's not even that long ago but I looked back at myself four years ago and I wonder why on earth I was doing that. (laughs) Maybe I didn't need to be doing all of those things at once. Out of my cohort, I'm one of the people who have got an academic job when an awful lot haven't and partly that's because I self exploited, I was prepared to be exploited. I look at people I know, people who did their PhDs with me who were first class students, funded full time students, fewer corrections on their PhD, probably on paper can spell better than me, and couldn't get academic jobs. I'm not saying everyone who doesn't get an academic job fails to get an academic job, I know lots of people who chose not to get academic jobs for really good reasons. I think universities need to wake up to the idea that doing a PhD is not training for an academic job, it is something itself and I feel exactly the same about the MA. That it's not a recruiting ground for bright PhD students, its something, from my experience, that can completely change your life. I mean we're quite good at understanding undergraduate degrees as being more than a qualification, I think we need to find ways of doing that about post graduate qualifications too.

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