- What Do PhDs Do?
- What Do PhDs Do? Case Studies
- Case studies in arts and humanities
- Aine, publications officer, PhD in music
Aine, publications officer, PhD in music
Occupation: Publications Officer, Royal Opera House
Sector: Performing Arts
PhD subject: Music
Why did you do a PhD?
I did a PhD because it seemed like a logical progression when I was in the middle of a taught Master’s course. I was encouraged to do a research degree by the staff in my department and consequently applied for an AHRB award. When my application was successful, I thought I should take up the offer: this seemed like the best possible opportunity to do a PhD. In retrospect I should have considered more carefully whether I would need a PhD later in life, but I believe I was interested in an academic career at the time. Having experienced the realities of research in the Humanities, I subsequently decided that a career as a musicologist was not an attractive option.
Why did you decide in this career?
I decided to work in my current capacity because it allows me to apply my academic knowledge in a practical way. My work involves putting together opera programmes that consist, among other things, of articles by leading academics. In this sense I retain contact with the academic community and with academic work, and this is something I enjoy. Of course what we publish in our programmes is intended for a non-academic audience, so the articles are not supposed to be like journal articles. This suits me very well, because I have never had much patience with academic jargon. In my experience most of our contributors are capable of conveying their knowledge in a style that is accessible. Another attractive aspect of my work is that it all revolves around live performance. The live element is one thing that is often missing from musicology, and at its best, it produces a very real sense of excitement. I have had the opportunity to listen to directors and designers speaking about their ideas, and there is an immediacy about their experience of opera that I have rarely encountered within the academic world. One other thing recommended this work to me: it consists of many short-term projects with tangible results at the end of each one. I deal with a different opera every couple of weeks, and this is a tremendous relief after concentrating on one topic for four years. During my PhD I lost sight of many things that weren’t directly related to my topic, and now I feel that I’m catching up on the things that I have either forgotten or never knew.
What was your job search strategy?
Some years ago I did some voluntary work for my department, and in that way I established a connection with my colleagues that proved very valuable. I volunteered to do unpaid work because this is a typical way of establishing a career in the arts, and I was very particular about the type of work I took on: I wanted it to have some relevance to my studies, but also to offer the possibility of a route out of academia. I approached the manager of my department on my own initiative. My department had not had any volunteers up to that point, but I was nevertheless invited to do some hours once a week, and that’s where it all started. More recently I did paid temping work in the department, and when a colleague took maternity leave, I applied for the job and was given it. The application procedure consisted of an interview and a written test. The colleague who went on maternity leave has since resigned and I have become a permanent member of the department.
Why do you think you got the job?
I believe I got the job because my manager had already seen me at work in the position. She knew that I had the relevant academic and practical background, trusted my capabilities and knew that I would get on with my colleagues. This last point counts for quite a lot, because nobody wants to work in a strained environment. I took a lot of care with my curriculum vitae and covering letter, drawing on a number of points I learnt in a Graduate School course I attended two years ago. My attendance at this course was sponsored by the AHRB, and I think it was certainly a valuable experience. It opened up ideas about non-academic careers, and although it didn’t cover careers in the arts, it did provide positive ways of thinking and strategies to help market transferable skills.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
I believe it has to a certain extent. I have the ability to work in a highly focused manner, and to present texts that are internally consistent and readable. I have developed an attention to detail that works very well when I have to edit articles. I also have the research skills to help me find the information I need. I can work independently with little feedback, and this is sometimes useful. Certainly in my particular job I draw on the skills I acquired as a research student. On the negative side, doing a PhD in the Humanities is not a sound economic move. Salaries for academic/arts-based jobs are not high, and earning power is delayed. I have no immediate prospect of owning a home, and I am only now about to start a pension plan. I believe I will have to think very creatively if I am to enjoy a high standard of living in the future. In my experience, these practical issues are not so apparent at the outset of a PhD, but at the end of the process they become very clear.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
I can recommend voluntary work with organizations as a way of getting a foot in the door and also as a means of building up work experience. I believe it is useful to take the initiative and to approach people or companies rather than waiting for them to advertise positions. In many cases it will be too late by the time the ad appears and the person in charge of recruiting may already have someone in mind. I can also recommend the Graduate Schools programmes: they give a thorough grounding in marketing the skills typically acquired in the course of a PhD.