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Sarah - PhD experience
Name: Sarah
PhD discipline: Architectural History
Area(s) of work: Heritage administration; freelance writer
Year of graduation: 2004
Date of Interview: 19/06/2008

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Sarah gives an overvoew of her PhD experience.

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You said you enjoyed the PhD process. Was it easy to write up and to get through the viva?

I'm not going to say it was easy to write up, I think I did it quite gradually. I was very, very lucky to have a superb supervisor whose motto was to get through the PhD you have to be businesslike. She said from the outset to me that a PhD is not your life's work, it is just a PhD. That was incredibly valuable. At the point when my funding fell through, it really made me think about why I was doing it and what I wanted to achieve from it. I realised that if I did get my funding I would have a finite period to do this work. I accepted that I wouldn't be able to do everything I wouldn't be able to tell the entire story that I wanted to because there was just too much information and I only had so many hours. It was really useful to come to that realisation and to have a supervisor who was saying 'Have you done this?  But be careful, you know you have got this amount of time. This is good let's just keep going with this. You don't have to know every single thing about your subject.'

I think that was really important in allowing me to enjoy it in a way as well because I wasn't being a perfectionist about it. I could see that there were things I would have to set aside and come back to and that was fine. I think that helped me to enjoy it.

And the viva? 

I was obviously very nervous about my viva before hand. I don't see how you can't be really. But I had met one of my examiners before and I think they were very fair I think I was given every opportunity to answer the questions and justify why I had written what I had written. It was somehow enjoyable because when you are doing a PhD you are working on such a specialised subject and there aren't that many people in the world that you can have a hour and a half's conversation with about the particular subject of your PhD. And my two examiners knew it in great depth and so we could have a proper significant discussion about everything I had written. They knew what I was talking about. I didn't have to explain everything, they knew it all already and so we could get into the minutiae. There are so few opportunities in your life where you will ever be able to do that. If you think about the Viva in that way, it becomes less scary I suppose. I think once you get past the initial nerves it is possible to enjoy it!

Did you do a lot to prepare for it?

No I didn't and perhaps I ought to have done. I did reread through my PhD. I handed it in in May and I had my Viva in September and I had gone back to live with my parents and I had had a job over the summer working in a restaurant and it was really physical and no thinking about anything. It was just doing quite basic tasks and that was liberating after spending all that time deep in thought; that was really good. And that helped me put a bit of distance by the time I had got to the Viva. I still remembered everything and I knew what I had written etc, I went back over it. I didn't feel that I had to do a lot of extra work. I had set it to rest almost.

And then were there corrections to do?

Very few I had maybe four or five a few spelling mistakes and I had to add one thing, I was very lucky I didn't really have much to do. 

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