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Liz - background to the PhD
Name: Liz
PhD discipline: English Literature
Area(s) of work: Heritage
Year of graduation: 2004
Date of Interview: 30/06/2008

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Liz explains what obstacles she had to overcome in order to study a PhD.

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When did you complete your PhD? And how many years did it take? 

I completed my PhD in 2004 and it took me five years or thereabouts.

How old were you when you started it? 

I started in 1999 so I was 40, when I started.

Did you do the bulk of it full-time or part-time?

I did it all full-time.

And how did you fund your study?

I was fully funded by the AHRC throughout the study.

Did you work at all before your PhD?

Yes obviously because as a mature student. My PhD was in English Literature, I went back to university as a mature student and did an undergraduate degree before I commenced on the postgraduate study and I had worked before I went back to university but in science whereas my PhD and my undergraduate degree were then in arts. I actually worked as a laboratory technician when I first left sixth form college when I was eighteen for the public analysts in Birmingham and then I went  on to work for Severn Trent, the water company here in the West Midlands as a chemical analyst.

Did you have to overcome any obstacles before embarking on your PhD?

Well I should imagine to most people the obstacle is the funding, how are you going to live especially if you're studying full-time? And how are you going to pay your fees? But of course that obstacle was overcome by obtaining the funding from the AHRC. When I did mine there were the two competitions, A and B, where you would get funded for the masters year and then you could upgrade, you could apply to upgrade straight away to PhD without writing anything up and so I was very fortunate to get that and it was. The funding did overcome the largest obstacle but I was, when I went back to university for my undergraduate degree, already divorced from my ex-husband and I'd got two sons who were living with me. They were quite young at the time when I started on my undergraduate study. I started in 1996 so my elder son would have been at the point sixteen and the other one would have been twelve so they were both still in full-time education so obviously getting the funding from the AHRC was good because it meant that we could get the dependence allowance. That was very helpful because it meant I could keep my family together, I could support the boys, keep them through school. There are other sorts of obstacles, it's hard to think about them now because it's a way back in the past but things like, how on earth are you going to fit in postgraduate research, which at PhD level, let's be honest, takes up most of your space in your mind and time? How was I going to accommodate the boys and their educational needs at home and spending time together as a family with everything else that I've got to do? Because I'd been an undergraduate directly before it, I think we'd fallen into a pattern of study being the common thing that we had together as a family. They were very much interested in my work. I did my undergraduate degree in English literature and cultural studies so of course, they loved it because I used to write essays about Eastenders or Coronaton Street, the boys used to get involved in that. Then they'd be doing essays on books that maybe I hadn't read or studied so I'd get involved with their work. The PhD just carried on and that was a really good way, I felt, it happened by accident and not by design, but it was a good way of overcoming those fears of how am I going to fit all of this together because it just sort of happened through the actual studying.

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