Working for a university at this time of year raises quite a few discussions in the office about qualificaitons, exam results and degrees. Combined with a friend who has decided to embark on a PhD herself It got me thinking about what I have done and where I am now. Warning: this is quite a long post.
Going back to my school days, I was a bright kid. I performed well in my GCSEs, I got nine all together, all As and Bs. I didn’t do so well in my A-levels though coming out with 2 1/2 in the end. In this day and age this is not enough to get me into university! But I got in to do a BA in Art and Art History at Aberystwyth, so it wasn’t a problem, it didn’t even get mentioned.
I stumbled through my degree, I dropped the Art part and carried on with the Art History bit. I scraped a 2:2. I could have been more engaged, but there were a lot of interesting things going on at university. I had a degree and remember once thinking about a masters back then, but dismissing it quickly due to money and only having a 2:2.
I thought that is where I would stop. I needed to earn money, got a job and ended up in a profession entirely unrelated to my interests. Then the most amazing thing happened. I was made redundant, with a fairly chunky redundancy package. All of a sudden I was thinking about what I really wanted to do rather than what I needed to do and it was brilliant.
I volunteered at the local museum and applied to the best MA in Museum Studies in the country. Question was, after a nine year gap, experience in an entirely different profession and a 2:2, would they let me enrol on their course… The answer was “write us an essay to show us you can do it.” So I did, and they let me on.
I worked hard on my MA, but in hindsight I could have worked harder. I had a new goal though, I wanted to do a PhD. I had an idea and everything. Getting onto the course had also meant a change in career as well and I was working in a more community based area. I was going to combine all of these things into one! It would be amazing!
I finished my MA, my average being less than 1% under a merit. I was proud of myself. I applied for a PhD, I was turned down. To be fair the feedback I got was invaluable. It does seem a little extreme but I was told to get published, get more research experience and apply again. I was heartbroken. Then I pulled myself together and worked out a solution.
Entirely by chance an academic publisher emailed me and said they wanted to publish my MA dissertation. I looked them up, checked the deal they were offering and went for it. 2 whole copies have been sold to date (thats is about 2 years)! But it is published! And in the University Library too! So getting published….tick.
Me and my work in the library
I applied for a masters by research (MRes), these masters degrees are all about research methods with a much greater focus on the final dissertation and putting your research methods into action. To be quite honest this was exactly what I had needed. I had no idea about research methods until completing this. The training you are given on standard masters degrees barely touches the surface of what you can do with research. My marks were coming back as merits and distinctions. So, more experience in research methods….tick.
On top of that, I had an academic poster displayed at a conference, attended other conferences (actually an important part of learning more) became a Trustee of our local museums and had gained valuable experience of working with museums and audiences. People were starting to listen to me when I had an opinion on these things as well.
Working on the MRes dissertation had given me a new idea for a PhD project that is much more innovative and hasd a much better grounding in theory and methodology. I was going to wait to apply for a PhD, get my proposal completely right and take my time, but potential funding applications came up. I didn’t rush the process and once again the School of Museum Studies gave me loads of advice, they liked the idea and the potential outcomes.
I got an interview, I answered the questions. I got turned down. I really wanted to do my PhD with them! I went for feedback. There was nothing wrong with my proposal, I was just in the wrong place. They didn’t have anyone who could really supervise it as the research methods could pose problems, I wanted to work with toddlers. It felt a bit like I wasn’t going to get anywhere with this.
So I resorted to posting about my sadness on Facebook, where some wise PhD student friends said “find the supervisor who will take you on, don’t think about which university they are at or which department they are in.” So I thought I would give that a go. I emailed a potential supervisor who specialised in working with film and photography in research. She emailed back quickly but had just relocated to Australia so couldn’t take me on. She did recommend someone to me though. I emailed them, fifteen minutes later I had a supervisor!
The whole official application process took another six nervewracking weeks, but now I am actually going to start this PhD. It is with another university, but I think that will make me work harder. They don’t know me, I have to prove myself.