By Rebecca Gribble |

Many students, myself included, aren’t lucky enough to get funding for their PhD. Many of my peers experienced this and everyone reacted differently. Some weren’t successful in gaining funding, and so didn’t pursue the degree – a perfectly viable option and, I hasten to add, as far as their Facebook posts show, they are very successful in their careers. Of those that do pursue it some have rich parents (yay them – sadly not me) and so continue with their support. The others tend to go out and get jobs – this goes one of two ways: they complete the degree part time, whilst working either full or part time. Or, like me, they decide it’s a fantastic idea to do the degree full time, whilst also working part time. That makes for an incredibly busy 3-4 years! Before I continue, I’d like to say that all methods seem to work – all my peers have been successful in their degrees, research, and some have quickly found jobs in the world of academia.

So, I went the route of working part time (17 hours a week), whilst studying full time and it had its challenges. I worked for a large retail company, but they were very supportive of my degree. I chose an entry level position there, because my goal was: earn money, but don’t take work home with me. I wanted a job that I could leave at work – and for the most part it worked. I was lucky in that my rota was fixed – I worked the same hours every week without change. This provided a lot of stability for me and I could organise my PhD around it. I saw many of my peers working different hours week-to-week and they seemed to struggle more than me – there’s a lot to be said for a routine, especially when balancing a large workload. Additionally, I taught violin and piano (still do) throughout my degrees and performed with local orchestras and my own string quartet. Now I’m out the other side of the PhD, I do wonder what I was thinking. I was effectively, doing a full-time degree, a part job, running a professional string quartet, and teaching privately… I’m still not sure how I finished the PhD in 3.5 years! I can say, however, that I am far stronger for it. PhD students are always busy – with research commitments, supervisory meetings where you need to prove you’ve done something with the last ‘x’ weeks, teaching and/or marking commitments (if you’re lucky), not to mention ad hoc conferences. We must all be very organised to meet all these deadlines and not go crazy in the process – to add another layer of effectively a full-time (separate) roll makes organisational plans go crazy. I very quickly worked out how to plan my time effectively and keep track of everything. I tried several different methods finally settling on one (ToDoIst) and taking it from there.


Me (and my ears) are very lucky to have several mature students. Some are students in non-musical disciplines who learnt violin or piano as a child and wants to continue it for fun. Others are PhD candidates in other disciplines who are seeing common ground between their research and music and so want to learn an instrument to enrich their research further. Lessons with my students are often very informative for me as a peripatetic teacher: more meaningful conversations about the music can be had, and my students answers often make me think about my own research in differing ways. These interactions are important to me, not only as personal and professional developments, but also from a view to research. Balancing my students’ needs with research again, can be difficult – but not something I want to change.

I trained as a musician (violinist) and did an undergraduate performance degree. My master’s degree was largely a research degree, and by the time I got to PhD, I’d gone ‘full research’. I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, I think it’s important if I’m talking about musicians and their music, that I should be a practicing musician. Especially when I’m looking at the musical life style and their economic and social pressures. Sure, I love playing in orchestras and with my quartet, I like playing piano to wind down after work each evening, but it does take a chunk of time out of my working life – especially those 4-hour orchestra rehearsals. But, I see some of my peers who haven’t picked up their instruments in 5/10/20+ years and think it’s a pity that their talent and love of performing has taken a backseat to research (for whatever reason). It will always be my aim to keep performance at the centre of my life (as much as possible anyway), because without performance, without those lessons trying to kill a cat sorry playing violin, I wouldn’t be where I am now. My love of research was borne from my love of music, and thus performing.

Whilst I was/am very busy with several projects, research, conferences (I write this as I’m travelling to the British Society of Eighteenth Century Studies Annual 46th Conference), teaching, and working, I love my life. The variety is fulfilling and there’s always something going on. So really, to those of you who are mid-PhD and working – don’t lose heart – it’s all worth it in the end and you can get there! To those of you who are funded and not working – yay and congrats! but maybe you do have more time to commit to that extra conference this year? To those of you looking at starting a PhD without funding: it’s not impossible – hard yes, but possible – and you’ll learn a lot about yourself. I’ve found that whilst I’ve been busy, I’ve always got time to do more, learn more, and experience more – you’ve just got to find a way to make it work!

Rebecca Gribble has a PhD in Musicology awarded in 2016, specialising in 18th century musicians and their social, economic, and political constraints. She is currently an Early Career Fellow with the Institute of Musical Research at Royal Holloway, University of London. Rebecca is now focusing on widening her thesis to a larger pool of musicians, whilst looking at the implications of Big Data on their histories. She is an active performer both with orchestras and her string quartet, as well as a music teacher of violin and piano.

Featured image by Nasim Ahmed CC BY-SA

Image 2 by Harrison Faux, released on a CC0 license