- What Do PhDs Do?
- What Do PhDs Do? Case Studies
- Case studies in arts and humanities
- Sarah, lecturer, PhD in french
Sarah, lecturer, PhD in french
Sector: Education (Academia)
PhD subject: French
Why did you do a PhD?
My interest started towards to end of my first degree. At first I’d found my studies quite frustrating, but during my final year it started to get interesting and I felt like I was only starting to discover things that I really wanted to investigate further. Once I started to learn about things that were relevant to peoples’ lives, I just wanted to carry on.
Like most Arts researchers, doing a PhD wasn’t straightforward. I had applied for (and been awarded) funding from the university, which would have covered my first year only, during which time I would have been applying for other external funds. However, before I started my research, my supervisor was offered a chair at another university so I went with her. Here I managed to secure part-time funding for the first year, then I moved to Paris for two years to work as a Lectrice (similar to a Language Assistant). During this period I finally managed to get AHRB funding for my final two years. I actually got my job before I’d submitted by PhD, but it was almost complete. I actually submitted 6 months after starting as a lecturer.
Describe your job briefly:
I teach undergraduates and postgraduates; am part of the supervision team for a PhD student; manage the department’s film archive (a job which rotates around the staff in my section) and am currently organising a conference – a typical mix of research, teaching and administration. My personal research is focussed on completing a book based on an element of my PhD research for a publishing house. As I’m still early in my academic career, the department has kept my administrative load quite light to enable me to develop new modules and give me the chance to publish more work, but I expect this to grow with time.
Why did you decide in this career?
My decision to work as an academic was based on ideas which I’m not sure have proven to be a true reflection of what I actually do!
The key positive features of an academic career for me are freedom and control. To a large extent I can still organise my own time, decide what and how I teach and I’m not kept under close scrutiny as long as things are going well. I don’t think I could work effectively if I lost this responsibility and had to follow a strict routine or a fixed curriculum.
Of course, there are still constraints – the topics I teach need to attract students which is sometimes challenging in a Film and Television Studies department – marketing French cinema against Martin Scorsese can be tough!
Why do you think you got the job?
At the time of my appointment, this institution was keen to develop its research culture, so my publication record was a big advantage – I have now published four articles from my PhD and one related to it, as well as the book I’m working on. I was also within six months of completing my PhD, unlike some of the other candidates who were at different stages in their careers.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
I couldn’t have secured an academic post without a PhD. If you are starting a career in academia, you MUST have a PhD. Institutions are competing with each other and having a PhD gives you huge credibility as a teacher. If students are comparing institutions they will tend to go for the one with more PhDs on the staff.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
For academic careers, you must publish. For careers outside academia, IT skills (beyond the obvious stuff we all use everyday) are highly transferable. Research develops lots of skills that have currency outside academia, particularly if your research is collaborative as you can overcome the myth of academics being sad, lonely types who hide in dark corners of libraries!
I think that if you can work out where you want to be after a PhD, the freedom involved in research will give you a chance to develop relevant experience. For example, if you are interested in teaching, there are many opportunities to teach; for journalism, there are many opportunities to write – but you need to take the initiative yourself.
Finally, I’d just like to boost the confidence of any PhD students because I think anyone with a PhD remembers the awful process you go through. At the start you think you know everything, but during a PhD come the point when you realise that you know NOTHING! Doing academic research gives you all kinds of skills and is a great development experience – even though it may not always feel like it!