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Lois - the meaning of the PhD
Name: Lois
PhD discipline: Archeology
Area(s) of work: University teaching
Year of graduation: 1997
Date of Interview: 08/06/2008

Now Playing: Lois - the meaning of the PhD
Lois talks about what the PhD means to her.

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When you look back at the PhD now do you think that you see it differently than you saw it at the time or near the end?

The PhD experience, hmm, don't know. Occasionally I have colleagues that haven't got PhDs because of the nature of life long learning not everybody will have a PhD before they become a lecturer in life long learning and they very often say oh I'm thinking about doing a PhD, and I always say to them well you know think very carefully about it, you know, obviously I have one and I'm glad I have one but it is a huge, huge commitment and I say to them I'm not sure that it actually will help you in your job that you currently have because you're already doing this job, so I'm not sure that you need to do it in terms of developing the skills to do this job. There maybe other reasons that you want to do it which is absolutely fine but you know, it's a big project, it's a big thing to take on especially if you're thinking about doing it part-time which my colleagues would be considering doing. It's a big chunk of your life and do you really want to take that on?

So in that sense what does your PhD mean to you?

I suppose in many ways it's a badge of honour. I've been through that, I've had that experience and survived. I think it's very hard actually doing a PhD. Its one of the hardest things I've ever done I think. So, you know, it's a symbol that I could do that, I've done it, I've survived and I think it built my confidence actually, it really did build my confidence because I wasn't a very confident student, undergraduate student. I was not the kind of student who asked questions or you know I very much kept to myself and my friends, but doing the PhD did really build my confidence and I think that's one of the big things – actually I hadn't thought about that until now but it did do that.

Did you feel differently as you were going through the PhD or was it once you'd been through your viva? I mean, was there something about your sense of identity that was changing through the thing?

Yes I think so I mean I think I was probably still quite timid and not very confident as a person, but also in my academic abilities at the beginning of it and then that did develop and towards the end of it I was much more confident. So yeah I did develop, but then after the viva it sort of leapt ahead. It was quite different then looking back on it.

How did you feel that in different contexts people responded to you as someone who was a PhD student? so for example at home or amongst non-academic friends?

I think I was a bit of a mystery really because I suppose there aren't that many people in the world that are PhD students are there. So I think they just hear the word student and assume that you're a student and that you go to classes and you take exams. So I don't think they really had much of a concept really. I think most of my friends that I would meet on a regular basis in the place where I lived, they were all either PhD students or Masters students so they would have a good idea of what it was about. Friends say like school friends or something, when I'd go back home to my parents at Christmas, that sort of thing, they would have no concept of what it's about. They'd ask me a bit about it and what was I going to do in the future, I would say 'I don't know'.

Did it bother you that you didn't know?

I don't remember it bothering me. I really don't and I find that incredible that it didn't bother me. I don't know what I thought I was going to do. (laughs). But, I don't know, I suppose if I was desperate I probably could have gone back and lived with my parents while I thought about it. I suppose there was always that security there. But I have no memory of it bothering me at all. I do remember worrying about money but that was during my PhD, coming towards the end of term and there was no money left, and having to get overdrafts and I do remember being very worried about that but not about what I was going to do when I finished.

And was there any pressure externally from anywhere about what you should be doing?


No. Because your father's an academic?

Yeah, no he didn't pressure me at all. No, my partner at the time pressured me quite a lot because he thought I should be doing a 'proper job', a 'real job.' And yeah, so he didn't understand actually, that's an interesting case in point actually. He did not understand. I'm now no longer with him but he did not understand my reasons for doing it and I think he begrudgingly accepted that I was doing but that I was just going to do it for three years and then I was going to get 'a proper job in the real world' and I think when I actually got a job in a university he just couldn't cope with that. He didn't – he had no respect for what I was doing actually I now realise. So that was a bit of pressure that did make me quite unhappy for a while, but I'm well over that now.

Did it affect any decisions you were making at the time or your sense of self or purpose?

I think if he'd been more supportive it would have been much more comfortable and I probably could have been a bit more productive in my work. So it would have been nice if he had been much more supportive and I don't know what really, what that would have led to but he wasn't and – but I don't think it really affected any of the decisions that I made because I knew that that's what I wanted to do: I wanted to complete the PhD and that was it really. In a way I suppose I recognised that that was kind of more important than he was, if he was taking that view so ...

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