Jake Turbill |
Hi, I’m Jake, and I’m a part-time PhD student.
It has taken me a long time to reach this point, due to a number of factors. Initially, I asked myself a few questions: Which University should I apply to? Will I be good enough? What will I do If I am rejected, or worse, get accepted and fail? I am already 25, can I afford not to earn money?
I remember rising at my MA graduation ceremony to the tune of the National Anthem. I thought to myself, ‘Is this the end of my academic career?’.
The following months were filled with a mixture of existential dread – without academia, what is my purpose? – and an unparalleled enthusiasm to continue my journey. I couldn’t afford to study full time; I have a car to run, rent to pay, and a large belly to fill. Sadly, the meagre student loan just wasn’t going to cut it.
Panic quickly replaced the inquisitive feeling that had grasped me so firmly at my MA graduation ceremony. However, it occurred to me that I was not the only prospective part-time PhD candidate and that if I could talk to others in my situation, I may discover that two heads are better than one.
I was privileged to be accepted to study English at the University of Leicester. This brought more questions: How will I balance my work life with my academic life? Am I going to be able to put enough hours in to realise my potential? What about my social life, for that matter?
In answer to my worries, I learned that it was possible to study part-time whilst working to support the other responsibilities that accompany us through life. Studying part time allows me to earn enough money to live, and means that I can spread my work load over twice the amount of time. This enables me to live a healthy life; as an undergraduate I lost three stone because I had to run my car, pay rent, and buy books before I thought about food. My remaining budget allowed me to live on super noodle sandwiches.
Now, as a part-time student, I have enough time to do my required reading and writing after my 37 hour work week. Yet my life doesn’t just consist of a 9-5 and PhD work. I still go to the pub, sink a few pints and go to the football at the weekend. It is vital to maintain your hobbies outside of academia – doing too much is akin to not doing enough … trust me, burn outs are unpleasant.
“I was in a boat designed for many people and many oars, but I was alone and paddling in vicious circles”
Having carved a balance, my mind recalled my initial worry: will I even be good enough to do this? I found myself in this new sub culture of academia. I was in a boat designed for many people and many oars, but I was alone and paddling in vicious circles. I needed shipmates, and fast. I study in Leicester, but I live in Birmingham. You mightn’t have realised, but people don’t walk around with signs attached to them saying ‘I’m doing a PhD, I can help’.
So, I took to social media. I did a google search of literary events (I study English, maybe don’t do this if you’re studying Quantum Mechanics). I put myself in as many new environments as possible, and spoke to anybody that would listen to the ideas I had circling in my mind. I found that people are incredibly happy to listen. Furthermore, I found people incredibly willing to be helpful, to recommend potential reading material and provide the details of other people with similar research interests as myself.
Thanks to these literary events, I have spoken to professors and students from across the globe in my albeit brief time as a PhD candidate. Not once have one of these people caused me to feel out of my depth – they are all incredibly welcoming and supportive. It turns out, everybody feels like they are not quite as good as they should be, and that is okay. Academia is a community, and help is literally a thumb tap away. Remember, you don’t have a PhD yet, so don’t worry if you don’t understand something, it’s all part of the process. Your supervisor(s), your friends, your family, your academic peers, all want you to be happy and for you to do well – you are not alone.
Alas, we reach the end of this (hopefully) encouraging piece. My final and perhaps most important piece of advice is to truly enjoy your field of research. You are going to be spending years reading and writing about these topics. It helps if the field is close to your heart; it assists you on days where motivation may be at a low ebb.
It is a very long path to take if you do not stop and enjoy the scenery. You have my best wishes – good luck!
Jake Turbill is a part time PhD student at the University of Leicester, researching the reception of George Orwell. In his spare time (all 40 seconds a week of it) he enjoys boxing and fishing (obviously not at the same time). You can find him on Twitter here.
All Images: Pexels.