Friday, 9 March 2012

A PhD is hard work, or why I feel the need to justify doing a PhD

Posted by Lynne Forrest

I’ve tried telling people that doing a PhD is just like doing a job, just with slightly more flexible working patterns, but no-one seems to believe me. Honestly, doing a PhD is hard work.

As part of my PhD I’ve been able to go on training courses in quantitative methods, undertaken a systematic review and meta-analysis and published my first paper. All of which should be very useful for a future academic career. However, I get the impression that most people don’t really understand what a PhD actually involves and think that going back to university for another three years is a bit self-indulgent and, quite frankly, a major skive.
PhD = major skive
Luckily I have a supportive husband with a science background who understands what a PhD entails. Not everybody does. My parents wonder when I might actually get a proper job ("we were very proud of Lynne when she got accepted for university in 1986; we just didn’t realise she’d spend the rest of her life as a student”). Honestly mum, I worked for 15 years. This is a career move, really it is. And soon you’ll be able to tell everybody I’m a doctor.

Other people enquire how my ‘course’ is going and seem to think I spend my time attending a couple of lectures and having extended summer holidays. I’ve given up trying to explain that I do research, it’s full-time and I just get standard holidays.  It's a bit like a PROPER JOB, just with low pay and writing up an 80,000 word thesis at the end of it.

Ok, there are some perks. I get 25% off my council tax and student discount in New Look. The latter is not much good to me but excellent news for my daughter. As Jean has said, you get to wear jeans to work (and I know this shouldn’t be a reason to do a PhD but I did put it in my ‘pro’ column when weighing things up). If my supervisor thinks it’s ok to admit to this then I guess I can too. Getting to put ‘Dr’ rather than ‘Mrs’ when you fill in forms was on the list too, I’m afraid.

So, honestly, I’m not just farting about for three years. I work hard and I like to think that my research, even in a really small way, is actually important. I just hope that someone, somewhere gives me a ‘proper’ job at the end of it.

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