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Friday, August 25, 2017

How do you finish a PhD when, as a working-class student, you don't feel you belong? | The Guardian


Please take a closer peek at this article as below by Higher Education Network - Academics Anonymous

It can be hard to assert yourself when you feel like you don’t fit in.
Photo: Alamy

I’m in the fourth year of my PhD. My funding runs out in less than two months. I do not have a thesis to submit. How did this happen? Nobody told me that a PhD was a trial by assertiveness. And, as I will explain, I’m about as assertive as a rice-pudding.

I did an undergraduate degree in English and History. I nearly had a breakdown in my final year. It was important to me to do well in my exams to convince myself that I deserved to be at university. I came even closer to a breakdown during my master’s degree: classes were small and lecturers got to know your name. I couldn’t handle the pressure of being seen, of being judged by them.

My supervisor suggested my thesis could be the basis for a PhD. She prompted me to apply for a scholarship. I applied, thinking I would never get it. My gut was telling me that I wasn’t ready to do this, that I wasn’t mature or confident enough.

When I secured the scholarship my family were so proud. “My daughter, the doctor,” my mum kept saying. At the age of 23, I committed to a four-year research project. I felt lucky, scared, trapped.

Unfortunately, my anxious gut was right. A PhD thesis requires levels of assertiveness I can’t imagine ever having. It is basically a list of reasons why: why is your topic important? Why are you the best person to research this topic? Why have you approached your topic in a particular way? Why have you come to certain conclusions? It’s not as if there are wrong answers, but you must assert that your answers are the right ones.

There is also the lack of structure that comes with undertaking a PhD. Every day you have to assert that you are working and define your own working hours. You must be able to sit at your desk and believe that you have something to contribute to your field.

So, how do you think I fared when faced with all these tests? When my supervisor suggested a particular direction for my research because it would look good on funding applications, do you think I was able to disagree? And when, two years in, I still couldn’t get to grips with my topic, with making work-time sacred, with the idea of being a PhD student, do you think I was able to assert myself and take a break, or even quit?

Signing up for a PhD does not mean you are suddenly a professional academic with all the skills and competencies this job requires. Yet universities seem to expect you to acquire these skills by osmosis. As a PhD student, you must be able to teach, design undergraduate courses, make funding applications, write articles, organise conferences and workshops, develop your online academic profile, and participate in your research community by attending events nationally and internationally. You must do all this while researching and writing your thesis.
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Source: The Guardian


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