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Russell - coping with uncertainty during and after the PhD
Profile
Name: Russell
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: BBC archives; university teaching
Year of graduation: 1998
Date of Interview: 02/06/2008

Now Playing: Russell - coping with uncertainty during and after the PhD
Russell talks about the moments of intellectual insecurity he experienced during the PhD, his financial worries whilst searching for academic jobs.

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When I started it seems like a long time, three years to do this thing and it's a cliché but it goes very quickly and then once you realise, you've invested all this amount of time and energy and money and everything into specialising in something and then you've got to apply it and that becomes quite daunting because on the one hand you're thinking, or suddenly you realise, 'well there's not millions of jobs out there and they're quite hard to get and get into', and on the other hand you're thinking 'what kind of employer's going to look at someone who's just spent three years looking at British communists'? I mean it doesn't really apply, there are transferable skills of course but essentially it all just seems a bit kind of like you might have gone too far out there to ever get back in, if you see what I mean. So there was that feeling of uncertainty. There's the constant worry about money and about how you can pay the rent and eat properly and also maybe go out once every now and again which is a kind of running concern. And then you also get, and I think everyone gets this kind of slight uncertainty, you kind of get your own personal intellectual uncertainty that you do in your PhD, that you'll go through crises of like 'I can't do this, there's too much information', or 'I don't quite know what the argument is', or 'that historian over there's done this even better than I could ever do and how am I ever going to be on the same playing field as they are?' those kind of things. So there's quite a lot of insecurity I think involved but it's, I think it's a universal thing and you know, obviously it feels very personal but I think it's something that everybody goes through to some degree.

Does that uncertainty, do you think, affect your academic job search?

It did a bit to me because my approach, and it worked, kind of, was that I just thought right I'm going to have to blanket bomb every university within eyesight saying here I am, I do this, if there's any teaching I'm willing to do it and which is how I kind of got my first job beyond the institution I did my PhD at because I sent out speculative letters to universities just saying 'I research, I can teach on twentieth-century British history, if there's anything in that area that you, if you need or if any people are away on maternity leave or people who've got a new job, I'd be happy to fill in and stuff like that', so it kind of encouraged me to be quite pro-active and wide-ranging in what I applied for, that uncertainly. I don't know if that's a good thing, it felt like being at the end of a bayonet point rather than kind of being gently lead into something but it did push me in that direction.

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