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Heather - deciding against an academic career
Name: Heather
PhD discipline: English Literature
Area(s) of work: Self-employed writer; dyslexia support tutor; tutor in creative writing
Year of graduation: 2002
Date of Interview: 07/05/2008

Now Playing: Heather - deciding against an academic career
Heather explains why she decided against an academic career.

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You said that you never really wanted to go into an academic career. Were there ever any moments where that was difficult to square with yourself or with other people - that you were doing a PhD in English and that you didn't anticipate an academic career?

Yeah I felt some people in my department were very clearly sort of directed towards an academic career. That's absolutely what they wanted to do and they didn't seem to have any questions about it and they didn't seem to question the process or what they were doing and sometimes I did find it slightly disconcerting and that sometimes I felt like I had to hide the fact that I wasn't wanting to do it but actually I realised that there were lots of people, you know, I think it was a bit of a posture by some people in fact and that lots of people had doubts and have gone on to do a variety of careers after it so I think that there's no necessity to become an academic if you do a PhD but at the time I think that wasn't necessarily made clear by the department or fellow graduates. But often myself and other people I knew doing PhDs, we didn't really think about it. We were so preoccupied with getting the thesis done that we couldn't even really think about what we were doing next and I think sometimes, once you're in the middle of a thesis, you can't actually really think about the future. Your whole brain is preoccupied. So that was often the case – that we just didn't really think about it. 

But you're doing a PhD and there's a pressure on you, an implicit pressure on you to be posturing as someone who is going to be going into an academic profession

Yeah I think that's right. Yeah that's right yes I think there is pressure to do that and I did feel that. I did feel slightly embarrassed about the fact I didn't, and that I wanted to write creatively and I sort of had to kind of come out towards the end of the thesis to the people around me that's what I wanted to do. It kind of felt like that. But actually lots of people were really nice about it and were really supportive and lots of them actually had harboured these other interests that they were pursuing on the side so in actual fact it was fine. It wasn't a very open feeling while people were struggling to achieve their PhDs about exploring future possibilities. It didn't really feel like that was a particularly flexible sense of the future really.

Why didn't you want to be an academic?  Is it just because you wanted to pursue more creative things or are there other things you had to take into account when you were thinking about the future?

No it wasn't really an intellectual decision. It was an intuitive and emotional decision and it just was obvious. There wasn't really even any room for debate about it. I've just always wanted to be creative in my work since I was a very young child. I don't really remember not feeling like that and the only question for me has ever been do I want to be a visual artist or a writer and that's the only question so it's taken me a while to find out that and I feel like it may even change at some point but I think I'm just unusual in that I've always had a very clear sense of purpose in the way I think about myself and what I'm doing, you know? And there's always been an underlying agenda that this is what I've been moving towards and I never wanted to do academic writing as a profession or teaching as a profession - in terms of criticism.

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