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Chris - connections between your PhD and your current role
Name: Chris
PhD discipline: Languages - Russian
Area(s) of work: Audit; independent writing
Year of graduation: 2005
Date of Interview: 17/06/2008

Now Playing: Chris - connections between your PhD and your current role
Chris identifies several continuities and some discontinuities between his PhD study and his current work at the National Audit Office.

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Do you feel you are using your PhD experience in your current job?

Very much so. Obviously one couldn't be sure in applying for a job that one would be. The only certain way of knowing you're going to use what you did in your PhD is to get an academic job in the department that does the same thing that you did your PhD in. However, this is an organisation that requires and relies on high quality research and whose reputation is only as robust as its ability to reach robust conclusions that stand up to scrutiny by the media and by parliament. So it is very much a research-based institution. There is an emphasis on innovative methodologies for research and so there's a lot of – it's not value-for-money audit by numbers. It's not a set template of different methodologies that have to be applied in a certain order each time and it's quite the opposite. There's a lot of opportunity to think about the questions that you're faced with and devise your own route, ie, your own methodologies to an answer so I feel very much that that is the case.

Another things that's probably worth saying is that the drafts, the reports that we draft use very careful language in order to achieve this factual accuracy, fairness and balance that we are committed to achieving and there's a lot of similarity between that and the way that PhD students carefully choose their language to make sure that their theses say exactly what they want them to say and no more and no less, and I enjoy that. It's very much the case that people in the National Audit Office doing value for money work feel a great degree of ownership over the studies that they're working on and that to me has echoes of doing a PhD. You feel that your thesis is your own and that you want to make it as good as possible and sometimes that will involve working harder than other people are working, or longer hours, staying later after work and there's an understanding in the office that that's the case. I think that one of the most enjoyable things about working here is that no-one is trying to take away the ownership that you feel over your work. It's absolutely respectable and normal for you to feel 'this is my project and I want to conclude it as well as possible'.

What do you feel are the continuities and discontinuities between your current job and your PhD experience?

The one thing I would say is that the discipline of coming in everyday at 9 or around 9 and staying till 5, even on the days when you don't have a lot to do or the days when the things you have to do aren't very appealing is something I find very useful after many years of doing research where I had to be entirely self motivating. I think it's true of more people than me that one of the unpleasant aspects of doing PhD research is that there are periods when you feel a lot of guilt about not working hard enough and the only person you can blame is yourself because you're the person who listened to the radio for an extra half hour or read the paper from cover to cover before starting or went to the cinema instead of working late when you hadn't started working early. There's something very refreshing about the externally imposed discipline, not imposed in a tyrannical sense but externally imposed discipline of turning up for work and knowing that you'll work on through and then go home and your evening will be your own.

The other discontinuity is that people feel in academia often what I would describe as an unhealthy competition with their peers where there's a sort of competition for a – it feels sometimes like there's a competition for a limited amount of knowledge that may run out before you manage to get your hands on enough of it to make a unique contribution. That's very different here. Obviously there are elements that are competitive in terms of internal promotions and things but working on the studies as we do there's much more of a sense of camaraderie than I felt in academia – so that is something I enjoy. People, thought they feel the ownership of their work that I described earlier, they don't feel it in a way that is to the exclusion of all others. We're all working on separate projects. The projects come to an end and in a sense that – and then we move on to another project and that depersonalises our relationship with what we're studying.
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