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Susan - career building during the PhD
Name: Susan
PhD discipline: English Literature
Area(s) of work: University administration (skills training and career development)
Year of graduation: 2008
Date of Interview: 14/05/2008

Now Playing: Susan - career building during the PhD
Susan summarises the activities she participated in, in order to strengthen her CV for an academic job.

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What kind of things were you doing through the PhD to kind of build up your CV for an academic job? 

I did all the supplementary stuff and so for example I took a teaching course, which was the programme that is in place that we have at my institution, involves mentor teaching and so opportunities to teach are created for you and you are mentored through that process. You write a reflective portfolio on your teaching experience. I took opportunities to teach where they came up and they were quite, relatively, limited as it turned out.

I attended conferences to some degree but again in the first couple of years of my PhD I didn't really enjoy going to conferences. The ones I went to I found very impersonal, they didn't feel like I was talking to people who were interested in the kind of research that I was doing. I just felt like people were coming just to present their papers and leave again just because it was a big national conference. And so I presented when I could and whenever I was invited to mainly for the sake of saying 'okay I have presented at a conference.' In my final year I went to a few more conferences where I actually got to speak to people and we talked about the research and that was really interesting and that was much more fun.

I did quite a lot of stuff, I got very involved in various things. One of the things I did, it was partly because I was asked to and partly because I thought it would be a useful thing, was I worked for a Masters programme throughout the time of my PhD. And so the Masters I had done in Women's Studies, the committee that ran that needed somebody basically to assist the chair literally by doing the photocopying and taking minutes and that kind of thing. I took the job and kept doing it because it felt like it gave me a really good insight into the whole process of running courses and what the kind of administrative side of academia would be like. And so I quite consciously did that for that reason.

I also got involved in organising a conference for the English faculty. I was involved in convening a seminar on gender in history for a while. A lot of the things are the kind of things people sort of say 'oh would you be interested in that' and you know, you say 'sure, sure why not.' But I did quite consciously try and be involved in things partly because I would make contacts and partly because I was procrastinating because I didn't want to go to the library and partly because I thought it would be useful to have a range of activities that I could then draw on and say I've done this and I've done that I know about this and I know about that and try and get insight into the world of research I suppose.

Where did your sort of realisation that those things are important come from? Was it someone you spoke to? 

There was a session on academic careers that I attended in the English Department in the first year of my PhD. They run this every year, they run these very informal lunch time sessions at which you come along and somebody quite high up in the hierarchy says something like 'oh well if you want to get published you will never get published' ha ha. But on this particular occasion it was you know, hard to get a career in academia and they said a lot of stuff that wasn't very helpful but the one thing they said was the Holy Trinity is research and publications, teaching and admin. And you know if you were funded through your PhD that helps a bit. And so I was like 'I tick quite a few of these boxes' you know, I'm funded, I need to get teaching, I need to get sort of administrative stuff. Retrospectively one could conceive of that as networking and I think that people don't understand the extent to which being in admin counts as making contacts and meeting people.

Everyone I met I was always like 'I'm supposed to be networking', you are networking you are involved in organising this. Someone who is involved in things you know, it is the easiest way to network is to get involved in organising because then you are not being you know, a complete lick arse I suppose. Yeah once you start organising things you find that the next thing you know is you are being asked to organise something else or be involved in something else and so it is just you know, making your face known and getting your name out there.

Did you meet anybody in the course of your networking that was particularly helpful directly, maybe by reading a proposal or by giving you advice on what to apply for and all that sort of thing?

Not really but I did find, and I think what I got out of, and I really want to put this in inverted commas, 'networking' was once people know who you are then the next thing you know these other opportunities – and so an example would be because I started working for Women's Studies it meant that I met all the key feminist academics in my institution. And all they knew was that there was this person who sat there taking the minutes but it meant that when they were short of a teacher for the Masters programme everyone looked at me and said 'oh well you could probably do it.' And so you know, I was there and that was handy. Similarly when somebody wanted somebody to present at a seminar then somebody who had worked with the Women's Studies programme said 'oh why don't you ask this person you know she works in the 18th Century' that might be quite interesting. And so in terms of actual concrete help I mean really my supervisor provided all of that. 

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