- What Do PhDs Do?
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- Alison, teacher, PhD in history
Alison, teacher, PhD in history
Occupation: Teacher, Head of History and Latin
Sector: Education (Independent School)
PhD subject: History
Why did you do a PhD?
I think initially I was hoping to go into lecturing, but also partly because people thought I could do it.
Describe your current job briefly: I am Head of History and Latin in a Boys’ Independent Prep School. I am responsible for monitoring the teaching of History from Reception to Year 8 and I teach Years 5 – 8 (9-13 year olds) inclusive for both History and Latin. When I first started at the school (3 years ago) I also taught the Year 4s (8 year olds) – someone else does that for me now. Apart from structuring the curriculum for my two subjects my main responsibility is to prepare Year 8 boys for Common Entrance. This is an examination that they take in the private sector at 13 to gain entrance to a Senior school. They have to take ‘Common Entrance’ in all academic subjects, including History and Latin. One of the big advantages for me is that the History Common Entrance exam in our school is based on the Middle Ages – the subject of my PhD. If I was teaching in a state Secondary school I would only be able to teach the Middle Ages for at most a term. Here, every boy does it for two years. The work is challenging – they have to write essays and analyse documents, so it’s not that different to teaching undergraduates. Some boys do scholarship exams, which are a lot harder. I also have to prepare candidates for those. I am a form teacher to Year 6.
Why did you decide in this career?
My AHRB money had run out and I needed a job!
What was your job search strategy and how were you recruited?
I used to look through the TES every week – always at Private schools because I don’t have a PGCE. Some private schools will take you without a PGCE – most won’t though. When I took the job the plan was that I would do a PGCE in situ. It never happened – I just have too much work to do. You learn a lot, though, from other colleagues.
Why do you think you got the job?
Don’t really know. I think private schools like the idea of someone with a doctorate for their prospectuses. Also, although I didn’t have a PGCE, I had done a lot of tutoring during my PhD – including some undergraduate teaching. I was also a dance teacher for 14 years before going to Uni, so was used to dealing with children and preparing them for exams.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
I think it gives you a lot of skills that you don’t get at BA or MA level – particularly your writing style. It has given me a much deeper insight into my subject and I am not afraid to ignore History ‘authorities’ if I think they are wrong! I started off on a higher pay scale, as well, because of my (impending) PhD. Reaction of other staff at the school is mixed – some think it’s wonderful, some can’t really see why I wasted my time on it. It gives me a private sense of worth, though – something I really need as I’m not a very confident person.