Joan Smith

A doctorate enabled Joan to develop more confidence in her academic abilities. Currently she works as a Postgraduate Training Co-ordinator for the University of Leicester.

"After my undergraduate degree, I went on to do a PGCE and spent around twenty years in secondary education. Towards the end of this period I took an MBA in education management. This enabled me to develop more confidence in my academic abilities and got me back into learning. Following the closure of the school in which I had worked for 12 years, I applied for and was appointed to a post as a senior lecturer in secondary education at Canterbury Christ Church University. I enjoyed the job but I realised that, if I wanted to make further progress, undertaking a doctorate would be a sensible step. I was happy with this as I had always wanted to do more research, so I started a doctorate.

"Doing the doctorate gave me a lot more self-confidence. It made me realise that I was able to read and assimilate large amounts of information and complex ideas, and bring them together in writing. Doing the doctorate as a mature professional, I really appreciated the opportunities that it offered me. During a doctorate you can spend lots of time on professional development, taking advantages of courses and updating your ICT skills for instance, and if you want to go to a conference, you can just go – you don’t have to worry about how it fits into work, etc.

"I probably started my doctorate with an idea of going back to lecturing and research, but I wasn’t set on it as such. I became aware as I progressed through my doctorate that if I tried to go the conventional postdoctoral researcher/junior lecturer route that I would be competing with a lot of people who were much younger than me. I did not feel that the typical opportunities were very well geared towards mature students. Postdoctoral salaries were not very attractive either!

"The year that I finished my doctorate was also a year when my family was experiencing illness and turmoil. I found myself commuting up and down the country to look after my parents, and I decided that I needed to look for part-time work. I managed to combine my care commitments with a mix of research, university teaching, and educational consultancy.

"One of the schools that I had done some consultancy work for offered me the headship of a school. I did it on a part-time, consultancy basis for three months, and then full-time for three months – but there were a number of reasons why this was not going to be a long-term commitment for me, and I kept my eyes open for other opportunities. It was at this point that I saw the postgraduate training co-ordinator job at the University of Leicester. I thought that this looked ideal, as it was a teaching role that called for a strong awareness of the needs of doctoral researchers, which I had from my own experience.

"In my current role, I work with postgraduate researchers to support the development of their academic and transferable skills. I think that the job is about supporting researchers to find their own way forward. I think that it would be much more difficult to do this job if you had not done a doctorate yourself. I also manage a team of five people to deliver training and events to doctoral students. The role suits me because it allows me to use a range of skills – plus it offers a reasonable salary, a convenient location for my family commitments, and a permanent contract.

"Having a doctorate opens all sorts of doors that you are not necessarily aware of when you start. It is fine to plan a career, but you also need to keep yourself open to possibilities you had not considered. It is good to consider that there are opportunities out there beyond research assistant, research fellow, junior lecturer, etc."