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Tim - career building during the PhD
Name: Tim
PhD discipline: History/American studies
Area(s) of work: Academic research support administration
Year of graduation: 2000
Date of Interview: 19/06/2008

Now Playing: Tim - career building during the PhD
Tim reviews the career-related activities he engaged in during and after his PhD.

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Did you engage self consciously in any kind of career building activities with a view to going into academia?

I think the reason for – to go to conferences certainly and to give papers at conferences certainly because that was what one did as a step along the route. So I was really, I was terribly nervous about doing it to start with. I started at a post-grad conference which was fine in retrospect and I was really nervous about that and then the next conference I went to was actually quite a major conference in the field that I was working in at the time and that was a real culture shock because there were these people who were asking me quite difficult questions. I was quite taken aback by the change there.

But yes I kept sort of forcing myself to go back and do it again because it was what one had to do. I think I thought I hoped it would get easier but it didn't seem to get much easier.

Did you enjoy it?

Not really – well sometimes I enjoyed it. I usually enjoyed it afterwards. There were certain bits of it where I mean I don't remember why, sometimes it seemed to go very giving the paper.  But even on the same paper, sometimes it would go well and sometimes it wouldn't. It was one of those things that you just have to accept. I mean I don't know why this is, whether its interaction with an audience or what the circumstances are, but there is this variation really. Sometimes it was quite good yes, I'd quite enjoy it but other times I found it quite difficult.

Did you do much networking at those events or any other time?

Not enough I think. I'm not a natural net worker. I find it very difficult to go into a room of people I don't know and sort of talk to people, well generally, but particularly with a view to working towards a goal so working a room and networking officially I think is – again it's a very difficult thing to do I think if you've got no experience of it.

Did your supervisor help you, give you any advice in terms of what would come after the PhD?

I think he's a very good supervisor in lots of ways, but I don't think he realised how difficult it was for me compared with him. He was a very confident person and had worked very easily through is PhD in terms of making contacts and networking and these sorts of things. So there was very little in the way of structured advice I think. He was – we got on very well. I mean we spoke a lot but I don't think he quite accepted the difference in our personalities and how that affected the way we would have to go about doing things. He would just do it, which is not terribly helpful advice really.

Did you do much teaching?

Yes, quite a lot of teaching. And yes, almost throughout the PhD starting with first year, one to one tutorials, and then doing seminar groups and lectures.

How did you get the teaching and did you enjoy it?

I got the teaching, I think it was because there was a great emphasis on getting post grads to do teaching, I mean the numbers of students was going up so people started to realise it was quite a sensible option to do that. The university I was at then had the tutorial system, and that was very difficult to manage with the academic staff that they had. The first bit of teaching I was offered was teaching 1st years on this basis. And then the next year after that there was a restructuring in the university so I switched to a different department. I was supervising (…) and because it was a newer department and they had quite a lot of students but not that many staff we had an opportunity to do more teaching. Which again was quite a big step up.

Did you enjoy it?

Sometimes. Again it was a real "in at the deep end" experience because we didn't get any training or anything like that. There was no – well there wasn't really any training, we had one 1 hour seminar which was not aimed at people who were doing undergrad supervision so it was all health and safety advice and that sort of thing. And the advice we got was well you've got an undergraduate degree, you can teach. And that was it, it wasn't (……) staff didn't get that much formal training then either. And the training that was offered to them, we weren't allowed to do as post grads even though we were the people that probably most needed it. So the people that had 10 years experience were being forced to do post graduate certificates and we weren't trained to them, we had to learn to, so yeah that was quite a step up I think. And it was good a while for me personally to get the hang of it. So over a few months it got easier but I was going into teaching two hour seminars every week, there was very little background in it so yeah – in at the deep end.

At what point in the PhD did you reconsider whether an academic career was for you?

I think probably two-thirds, well there was a year or two to go, I started to think about this but not very hard because I didn't really like the implications of that in terms of where to go, what else to do. And so I probably didn't seriously think about it until after I submitted, when I submitted I sort of went into the career service and talked, and restart thinking about alternatives and back-up plans.  On completing my PhD I did teaching in several different departments in different institutions so it was a living for a year, but it was quite high intensity so the number of hours and the amount of preparation involved was a lot - if there're four or five different courses in three different disciplines, it's not great when you're also trying to put together articles and go for interviews and this sort of thing.

During the PhD did you access any careers advice?

Not during I don't think. But I mean I occasionally went off the Careers Service and had a wander round to see if anything leapt out at me but – well no my experience was – it was quite off putting because the day I, literally the day I got my thesis in I thought I'd go to the careers service to see what they can do and saw somebody reasonably high up in it, and he looked at the subjects there and he said 'oh so you thought about IT' I thought that's what you would have said to me five years ago, which is just so kind of soul destroying there was just nothing that seemed to be there and there was no sort of obvious place to even start looking, so I did say I just want to think about this, and it was just a kind of 'yeah another arts graduate' which was really annoying.

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