Ph.D as The Starting Point

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Yesterday I attended the bi-annual postgraduate sex work conference. This was organised by Professor Teela Sanders and is part of the Yorkshire Academic Sex Work Consortium.

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The line up was fantastic. I was very excited to hear Dr Kate Brown’s talk about doing a Ph.D. Given I am now in my final year and writing up, this was the ideal time for me to hear such a talk!

Kate’s talk was titled ‘Ph.D as finishing line, starting point and perpetual process’. For me the message of Ph.D as part of the process of becoming an academic and future research, made sense and has taken some of the pressure of. My Ph.D won’t be a masterpiece. It will be the starting block for my academic career (fingers crossed!).

Kate reflected on her own experience of the Ph.D explaining that a Ph.D is about endurance. It isn’t a sprint race. I have often thought this, it’s not about rushing past the finishing line, but rather acquiring the necessary skills to be a good researcher. And this takes time.

I am forever amazed when people are writing their thesis from day 1. Writing notes/ ideas/ diaries yeah, but your actual thesis? I wrote ‘When is it right to write?’.

As Kate rightly points out, your Ph.D is the only time you will have so much time to read, to immerse yourself in the literature. And what a privilege this is. You’ll never get this time back. Enjoy the reading stage, enjoy the bits when you go down dead-ends and off on tangents. That’s part of the process of research.

Professor Maggie O’Neill writes about the importance of this space and time for deep thought in ‘The SLOW University –work, time and well-being’.

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Kate spoke about the craft of writing. I blogged here Write Here, Write Now. It was definitely what I needed to hear at this stage of my work. Kate said that she has read lots of the process and craft of writing. Setting targets gets the work done. There will never be enough time, but setting word targets or splitting your week up around your other commitments will ensure you get it finished.

Kate said be realistic about your time. Your Ph.D is an apprenticeship, you need publications, teaching etc alongside it. Therefore Kate saw her Ph.D as a 3.5 day job, with the other time for teaching and working with relevant organisations. Kate stressed the importance of publications, and that you should try to have a writing project on the go.

I see my blogging as a crucial element of my Ph.D process. It helps store my thoughts, ideas and links, but also acts as a sounding part, a networking tool and helps me to keep writing when I hit walls. I wrote about the importance of conferences and blogging etc here.

Dr Nadine Muller’s website is extremely useful, especially this article on juggling cv and Ph.D. As Kate pointed out it is a balancing act.

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Thinking of the Ph.D as starting point has definitely helped me feel more positive about the journey. Kate says the Ph.D is what you think things are, but you will later re-visit these ideas post-Ph.D and build on them, and this is where the real intellectual work starts. She says your Ph.D does not have to be a masterpiece, it is your best work for now.It is about your voice and your contribution.

Kate said think of your work in terms of contributions not impact and REF. Who will your work help? I loved this bit, to me the point of research is always to help marginalised people.

To me this is why blogging and twitter are so important. Live-tweeting for example allows those who cannot attend events and don’t have that access/ privilege to engage in important discussions. ‘Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it’.
They also allow you to instantly connect with people, allow your research to reach a far wider audience and for me, make you more enthusiastic about your work and the possibilities.

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Kate says Jessie J’s Masterpiece is a good mantra for your Ph.D and writing in general!

This great blog talks about what to expect from your Ph.D.

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The idea of growing your tentacles!! I find the more projects I get interested or involved it, the more my work grows.

I can’t deny I am terrified about my Ph.D, but I am still so excited by it. Knowing this is the starting point, and that I am not expecting to write a masterpiece is very comforting.

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If you want to leave a comment or tweet me, please do @princessjack

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