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Monday, March 13, 2017

Is my PhD my midlife crisis? | Times Higher Education (THE)

Follow on Twitter as @FionaDobbie
Fiona Dobbie, research fellow and part-time PhD student in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport at the University of Stirling is loving life as a PhD student, and hopes any midlife crisis it represents will end on graduation day

Photo: Times Higher Education

I turned 40 this year, and rather than indulge in the clichéd symptoms of a mid-life crisis (getting a tattoo, having an affair, Botox) I am in my second year of a part-time PhD.

It’s not that my life isn’t fulfilling or challenging enough. I am typical of my age: happily married with an energetic 6-year-old, fortunate to have friends and family and a full-time job as a university research fellow. So why am I doing a part-time PhD? I think about this a lot (especially when I am working at 6am or late into the evening to chip away at my never-ending literature review or grappling with my epistemological and ontological position) and often find myself thinking: “is this my midlife crisis?”

Perhaps, but I like to think there are other reasons.

The first, and ultimately the main reason, dawned on me during a conference dinner when a colleague and I were discussing our pathways in academia and she described me as a “wonky academic”. Hearing this was like an epiphany; you see, I am in the strange position of coming back into academia in my late thirties, having come full circle. I started my career on a university research contract after my postgraduate degree, but lost heart after three short-term contracts over 15 months, one of which included a reluctant move 300 miles across the country.

I then spent the next decade in applied social research working for the public, private and voluntary sector, but opportunity to progress stalled when the recession hit. This made a three-year fixed-term university research post more appealing than my shaky permanent post working for a large social research organisation. I decided to apply, feeling pragmatic about the outcome.

To my surprise I was offered the post and took the plunge into a world I knew little about. For the first year or so I was immersed in a challenging project, protected from the academic wheel with little concept of the research excellence framework and the pressure colleagues faced to publish and bring in funding. I guess I approached it as a stopgap, something that would get me out of a rut, and I had three years to see what else came up and move on. I did not see myself as an academic.

But slowly I discovered that I liked the autonomy and the colleagues I was working with; I enjoyed the conferences, the buzz I felt from conference abstracts being accepted, securing funding and publishing my research. I regained self-confidence and slowly realised that this was where I wanted to be.

Source: Times Higher Education (THE)