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Christine - deciding against an academic career
Name: Christine
PhD discipline: French Literature
Area(s) of work: University teaching; arts; charity
Year of graduation: 2003
Date of Interview: 18/06/2008

Now Playing: Christine - deciding against an academic career
Christine recalls applying for research fellowships and other academic posts at the end of her PhD.

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Had you been doing any academic career-building activities like tutoring and teaching and presenting at conferences and writing papers for journals?

Yes, yes I had. I'd done all of those things. I'd done papers at conferences, seminars. I'd done small group teaching. I'd done undergraduate lecturing, leading some graduate seminars, writing papers for journals, yes I'd done the full gamut of preparation for continuing in that academic vein.

Where did you start to reconsider whether or not you wanted an academic career?

Well it was probably in the last year of my PhD and particularly nearing completion. There were various elements but one particular thing that probably affected me and started to plant the seed in my mind of whether I was on the right track, it's probably quite specific to the fact of having done a PhD at Oxbridge. Part of the system or the expectation there is that the prestigious next step after a PhD is a junior research fellowship and I felt a certain level of expectation to make applications to one of those fellowships. And I started that process which in itself is quite an intensive process. But part of that means putting together a research proposal for another three year period starting immediately following the PhD and this application process starts just as you're in that phase of trying to complete your PhD. Although I went through the process and I put together a proposal I did feel that I probably wasn't ready to go into another period of research and I felt under pressure to put together a proposal which I really felt that I wasn't sure I was ready to do at that stage. And I think that process really started to make me think about whether this was really the right track for me.

Did you apply for teaching positions?

Yes. I also applied for teaching positions and I did experience that as I think many completing PhD students will find that within my particular subject field that the jobs were pretty thin on the ground and competition was very fierce and it was also that process of applying for jobs which again made me start to think about whether this is really what I wanted to do because in order to get a job you just had to apply for absolutely anything that was out there no matter where it was and I started to think, although I went ahead and applied for quite a few posts the process did make me start to seriously consider whether I was really willing to move anywhere to get any kind of teaching job. And then also there was another aspect. Because my original degree was in modern languages my MPhil and PhD work had really taken me more in a multi-disciplinary direction, working across literature, history, art history. Yet my primary degree was still in modern languages and I felt I didn't quite neatly fit into sort of a department, as it were, in university teaching. So what would be most obvious was to go and work in a modern languages department which inevitably would entail a lot of language teaching and really my PhD had taken me in quite a different direction and I realised that I probably wasn't so keen on going back and teaching both languages and literature.

Did you have any interviews for academic jobs?

Yes. Yes I did.

What were they like?

Erm, they were, the interviews were, they were very good. They were quite challenging experiences. I mean there was a variation according to different types of university. I had some Oxbridge interviews as well as other universities and they varied. You know a lot of them were very challenging involving various different elements. Presenting to groups of students, presenting to interview panels and, you know, I think I learned a lot and gained a lot from the interview experience.

Can you think what?

Well, I actually think, certainly some of those interviews I think were probably about some of the toughest interviews that you can have really and certainly because I was applying to modern languages departments, you know, some of the interviews were in a foreign language so I don't think you can get a tougher interview than having to present a range of skills and part of it not even being in your mother tongue and yeah I think they were challenging. I got through some of the interviews thinking 'well, if I can get through that interview then I can pretty much handle anything.' Didn't mean I got the job but just getting through with dignity intact was quite an achievement I think.

Did the interviews in themselves put you off an academic career?  If you'd been offered one of those positions you would have taken it do you think?

Erm, yeah it's easy in hindsight, knowing how my career's gone, to think back. You know, if I had been offered one of those jobs or certain of the jobs I think I would have taken them, and knowing what I know now I think that would probably have been the wrong decision, but at the time most of the jobs that I went for, I could say all of them, well some of them I felt, you know, I should probably just apply for this anyway. I had a slight fear that I might get offered them and then I would have to move to somewhere that I wasn't 100% convinced that I wanted to be. But yes, certainly, the majority of the jobs that I went for, if I had been offered the post I would have accepted it.
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