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

Now Playing: Lois - PhD experience
Lois describes her PhD experience, including life outside of writing her thesis, and she recalls the kind of supervision she received.

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Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences doing a PhD?

Yes. I think I was lucky to be doing a PhD related to a wider project where there was at least one or two other PhD students that were doing their PhDs related to this project so we very much had each other to talk to about how things were going, which I think is quite unusual for an arts and humanities PhD, we're normally fairly isolated apart from your supervisor maybe. Certainly in terms of the content of your PhD. So that was very useful to me. I think at various points in your PhD I think everybody struggles, sometimes at some stages it goes brilliantly, you get good results you find something really interesting you're reading and it all fits together, but at other points it's a real struggle and I think many people go through that – 'oh I can't do this period' – and I definitely went through that. I made the decision I wasn't going to do it, I was going to stop. But my friends, my supervisor, and these other students talked me round and said 'you know, just carry on for a while more,' and that was the right thing to have done, to carry on.

So it was useful having that support and it was challenging at times, very challenging at times. I think PhDs are difficult things to do. I think PhDs test your perseverance and your stamina as well as your academic ability, and there's – I don't think there's anything else like doing a PhD. I think it's a pretty unique experience, certainly the sort of arts and humanities type of approach where you're a lone researcher doing a project for three years, which, you realise after doing it, it's quite a luxury to have had that length of time to do it full-time.

But you know I certainly developed the stamina I think through doing it. And the research skills obviously just the basic research skills which I now realise that I hadn't very well developed those before I did my PhD. I did a lot of learning about sources and how to track things down and that sort of thing. And, of course, when I was doing my PhD the web was just taking off and so we didn't really have the whole internet sources to – and E sources you know E-Journals and things like that we didn't have those and gosh I wish we did have them at the time. It's great to be able to sit at your desk at home more in your office and to be able to access journals.

But yeah, I mean I found parts of it challenging, parts of it very enjoyable just being able to immerse yourself in the research, sit in the library day after day reading things, discovering new things.

What was life like outside of the thesis writing?

Hmm, I don't really think there was much life outside, I think it was pretty all absorbing really.

Did you do any extra curricula stuff?

I did things that weren't involved with my PhD but were involved with archaeology. But that was really all in support of the PhD. I didn't do that many extra curricula things. I think it's really difficult as a PhD student coming into a new institution to find out about all those things. You know, as an undergraduate, or even as a taught postgraduate, you're with a group of people and you're all new, all at the same time, so you're all discovering things and you share that I think, you go and queue up to register for something or other, and you talk to people in the queue and you discover what kind of clubs they're joining and they're going along to and you think 'hmm maybe I'll go along too' because I'll know that person and so I think that's much easier. You know, I've been to three institutions as a student now and I definitely found it much easier to get into those things as an undergraduate and a taught postgraduate. And I didn't do that at the institution where I did my PhD. I didn't get involved in clubs and societies and other activities in the university. And again maybe it was something I should have done but I didn't.

What was your relationship with your supervisor like?

(laughs) Do you want the honest answers to that? At the time I thought it was very difficult. Looking back now it probably wasn't that bad. I probably didn't have any appreciation of the pressures on him being a lecturer in a department having to teach courses and to do research, having to do all those things now that are pressurising me. And maybe I expected more from him than he was actually really in a position to give. On the other hand, you know, he did – he was quite good at getting me to talk about what my plans were, so he was quite an active supervisor in that respect. And what my plans were, what I was working on, when I was going to produce material, whether that was chapters or whether it was papers or just some material that might then be useful at a later date for the PhD and actually getting it written down to deadlines. And he would come along and say 'how's it going?' which was quite good.

And then he would go through it with me in quite some detail. Which was very useful and it was especially useful towards the end, when I had all this material already written down.

I did a bit of fieldwork because it was archaeology and the project was involved with this bigger fieldwork project that was going on. I didn't find my supervisor very easy to deal with in the field. But then again he had all the pressures on him. He was responsible for a lot of students and things like that. So good and bad. He was there for me when I needed it, you know, whenever I was thinking about not continuing he was there. And he let me get on with things. And of course it was him that pushed me in the direction of doing a bit of demonstration with computers to the other students, so it was him who actually provided those opportunities for me to develop my confidence in teaching. So that was useful.

Do you think he gave you career direction?

No I don't think so.

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