Monday, 11 June 2012

Older and wiser? Musings from a ‘mature’ PhD student

Posted by Amy O'Donnell

Recent posts from Martin White and Dorothy Newbury-Birch have sent me musing (and no, before you ask, this isn’t yet another PhD distraction, I promise!).

On the one hand Martin’s first tip in his "From PhD to PI in ten easy steps" is to do your PhD young; on the other, Dorothy writes convincingly about how you might juggle 'mature' study with the domestic stuff that grown-ups tend to have to manage.

So where does this leave me I wondered? I've just turned forty, have two school age children, five pets (do they count?) and to throw into the mix, am currently facing a somewhat challenging time due to my partner's (lack of) employment situation.

Times are indeed tough. And believe me I often look at my younger, child-free peers rather enviously, imagining all the amazing progress I’d achieve if I didn't have after school activities to organise four nights out of five, weekends packed with football matches and Stagecoach, and general mortgage related-stress.

But when I seriously ask myself - “Should I have done this sooner? Could I have done this sooner?” - the answer to both questions is a resounding "No".

For starters, I think that the long and confused path I've taken to get this far has provided me with an invaluable skillset and bundles of what they call ‘life’ experience. I've worked in public affairs so I have a keen sense of the need to stay policy-relevant; I used to manage the BBC corporate diary (yes really) so bureaucracy and seniority doesn't faze me (mostly); and I spent most of my thirties at the rough end of the contract research wedge: bid-writing and mega-quick project turnarounds were my bread-and-butter.

Along the way, I think I've become a better and more seasoned writer and I've developed a deep-rooted passion for tackling social and economic inequalities. In particular, as a mother, I feel a sense of urgency to see things change for the better before my boys have to go out and face the big bad world. Personally, I really don't think I was ready before now. And I also think that with the current focus on translational research, those of us who have actually worked outside academia might have a valuable role to play in bridging the cultural divide.

Of course I understand this will undoubtedly limit my long term opportunities (unless I plan on working to 80…which is possibly not too ridiculous a prospect under the current government). Things haven't always gone quite to plan with the PhD either, so I haven't (yet) rattled off those all-essential publications. But, future academic employers, I do think I've still got lots to offer. Come January 2013, let's hope someone else does too.

No comments:

Post a Comment