- What Do PhDs Do?
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- Harriet, researcher, PhD in english literature
Harriet, researcher, PhD in english literature
Occupation: AHRB Postdoctoral Fellow
Sector: Education (Academia)
PhD subject: English Literature
Why did you do a PhD?
After completing my degree I had a continuing intellectual curiosity about literature and language. I secured AHRB funding for an MPhil in Renaissance Literature, which fuelled this. Somewhere along the way I had realised that an academic career was my long-term goal, which made a PhD a natural next step. I was fortunate enough to receive AHRB funding for my PhD on the works of Robert Boyle, a topic which I had decided on while working on my masters’ dissertation.
Describe your job briefly:
I’m a research fellow on the Oxford University Press edition of the Works of Francis Bacon, based at CELL (Centre for Editing Lives and Letters) an AHRB funded Research Centre. The contents of the edition is already established, so my research activities are focused on establishing copy texts for the works to be included in volumes one and two by collating manuscript and early printed copies of them, researching background material for their introductions, and preparing footnotes.
I also have teaching responsibilities at Queen Mary, University of London where I teach undergraduates, and am currently developing the core modules for the MRes at CELL, which I will be teaching next year.
Why did you decide on this career?
My interest in an academic research career began before my PhD and so far has only continued. The research area I’m currently in is not my primary or long-term interest, but the break has suited me and shown me that I can apply my research skills in different areas, and provided a welcome broadening after the narrowness of the PhD.
Why do you think you got the job?
I was actually involved in developing the research proposal and was included on the grant application as a named researcher, so I didn’t compete with other candidates – just other proposals. I think I am in this position because I’ve had a very supportive supervisor who has helped me to develop relevant skills and interests, in particular employing me as a research assistant on the Works of Robert Boyle which he was editing. Through that, I got involved in a series of symposia which culminated in the successful bid to set up CELL. Although I was a PhD student at Birkbeck, I taught in Queen Mary University, where I now work. This gave me a valuable foot in two camps when I was looking for my next position. I’ve also made the most of the opportunities I’ve been given – attending and organising seminars to make myself visible to other researchers.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
It is an essential requirement for an academic career.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
If you are interested in academia, be flexible about research projects. I’ve now moved into a new field using and extending the research skills I learned on my PhD. This will increase the number of relevant positions you can consider, which is important because Arts posts are rare. Try to think laterally about academic jobs that exist in parallel to junior lectureships- for example postdoctoral research fellowships on existing projects can broaden your experience and give you a chance to develop the kind of CV which will get you a teaching post later.
Secondly, meet as many people as you can in your fields of interest and make them aware of your long-term interest in academia. Keep in touch with them and take their advice – if they’ve succeeded, their ideas and suggestions are worth hearing.