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Liz - finishing up and moving on
Name: Liz
PhD discipline: English Literature
Area(s) of work: Heritage
Year of graduation: 2004
Date of Interview: 30/06/2008

Now Playing: Liz - finishing up and moving on
Liz talks about the final stages of her PhD and the experience of looking for a job within the heritage sector.

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Please can you tell me what happened during the final year of your PhD? 

I'd got to the point where I'd nearly written up, apart from really the final rewrite I think. Of course in English literature which is the area I did my PhD, very fine nuances of the language are very important, so it did need a final rewrite but I'd got the body of the PhD written, I guess there were probably 65,000 words out of 80,000 thousand words written. In other words there were probably the introduction and the conclusion to write and sort out all the endnotes and everything, it was about six months before I submitted and I was finding it very very solitary at home and my oldest son had left home and gone to university himself, just the youngest one at home but of course he was out and about living his own life. I found it very solitary and I was getting quite stuck in it and it was making me quite depressed being at home a lot, writing it up. I saw advertisements for visitor assistants in local, small museums, what we call community museums in this area and I thought that would be an interesting job. I'd actually studied museums when I'd been an undergraduate on the cultural studies course, museums in a contemporary context and found it very interesting and while I'd been watching the newspapers and looking for academic jobs through my PhD, I realised that heritage appeared to be an enormous growth sector because there were endless jobs in heritage being offered in the Guardian and there were a lot of them in the national press. So I applied for one of these jobs and got the job and it was while I was there that I realised that in heritage there are enormous amounts of opportunities at the level of curator and you can undertake research. A lot of curators in museums write for academic journals just as conservation, conservators might write for academic journals about their area of heritage work. In short I think I realised that working in heritage was not closing me off from doing academic research and it was only part time. I think I worked about twenty five hours a week which was great because it wasn't full-time so I had time to finish off the final writing up of my PhD.  I submitted my PhD in the September of that year and then had the viva in the December and by that time I was into my second contract at that museum. It was quite a low level entry post, I had to grit my teeth because I was employed alongside quite young history graduates and such but I think now, when I look back, it was worth it. I actually had a friend who was doing a PhD in heritage at another institution in this area and she had realised she didn't want to go into heritage because she said 'Oh they're only six month contracts, the pay's awful, I don't want to do that.'  I kept looking at her and thinking 'Yeah but you're mad because there are hundreds of jobs in heritage that look quite well paid to my mind and quite exciting.'  So yes I'd realised by then that that was possibly where I was going to attempt to build a career. I wasn't a hundred percent certain I was going to be able to do it because I knew that I'd be up against a lot of younger people who'd got volunteering experience, who'd perhaps got three, four years experience and all I'd got was my PhD but I just trusted that I was going to be able to do it because the PhD give me the skills to do it.

And then you were able to tie it into the last year of your PhD by working part-time?

Yes, yes.

So it gave you the foot in the door?

Yes, yes it did and of course a foot in the door is very important wherever, whatever you're going into, isn't it? And whatever you're going to do it gives you the chance to show what you can do and I think once people see that, opportunities start to come.

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