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Helen - did you ever think about giving up?
Name: Helen
PhD discipline: Chinese and German
Area(s) of work: International relations and research council work
Year of graduation: 2005
Date of Interview: 17/06/2008

Now Playing: Helen - did you ever think about giving up?
Helen recalls moments where she thought seriously about not finishing the PhD.

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So after I'd come back from Taiwan I spent one year back at university doing some part time research annotation work and a little bit of teaching and tutorials, but before that year was out I saw a new job opportunity that was just circulated around my networks for working at the British Academy as their China Assistant. Again it was using Chinese and it was an office job, which I knew I'd like.  

So I took that job up, against the advice of my supervisor really, who knew it would slow down my progress on the PhD, and decided that I would just try and finish my PhD part-time.

So this was clearly because already at that point I knew I really wasn't enjoying my PhD that much and  I'd already decided I probably didn't want to be an academic, I just didn't want to not finish my PhD.

Did you ever think about not finishing your PhD?

Yeah, at various stages during the two, three years employment at the British Academy I thought I could or should give it up and it came to crisis point in something like Christmas 2003 where I knew I would either have to give up my job for a while in order to finish full time or I'd have to just decide I wasn't going to finish the PhD.

My employers did give me an unpaid sabbatical of nine months so I took that and spent it in London, so relatively unconnected from my university and from my base, so I didn't have any other colleagues around me. I did go to a few lectures and seminars at universities in London who run these sorts of courses, so I wasn't totally isolated in an academic sense, but relatively isolated.

I did a lot of work on the PhD in those nine months but still didn't quite finish it by the time I went back to work. I think at that stage I knew it would be possible to finish but it still took me another six months from that date. The only thing that really pushed me to actually finish was that there was a university deadline and if I hadn't submitted by Christmas 2004 I wouldn't have been able to get my PhD.

How important was it to you to finish it?

Clearly it must have been quite important to me. I think the factor was failure and the feeling of guilt if I had given up on it, because my parents had helped fund me for one year and I had a kind of two years Arts and Humanities Research Board studentship, so I would have felt guilty about wasting their money if I hadn't finished. And there was the nagging doubt that if I gave up I might myself feel like a failure later, I've never not achieved anything that I set out to achieve before so I did just want to do it, but I really did want to give up at many points.

I can remember hearing Robin Cook on the radio saying that he had started a PhD and given it up and how glad he was and that nearly, nearly did it for me, but in the end I didn't, I managed and I'm very glad about that, but it wasn't easy.

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