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Surviving beyond the Viva

 
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Dr Emma Heywood

So, there I was outside my examiners’ door having successfully defended my thesis. I had apparently made my “contribution to knowledge” and now had to start on the arduous task of gaining seemingly-illusory academic employment in the Humanities. Gone were those comforting and supportive monthly supervision sessions when my blatant and embarrassing academic misdemeanours were gently corrected. It was now up to me to prove, or hope, that my credentials would stack up and afford me a serious chance of getting a full-time and permanent position. My studies were interdisciplinary – surely that must be good – comprising a couple of languages, international relations, conflict-studies, terrorism… The world would be my oyster. But not necessarily, given the fierce competition for every job and the fact that, as those who check jobs.ac.uk every week will have noticed, the number of PhD studentships being advertised often outstrips the number of permanent positions up for grabs in the same areas. Yet, it’s possible. I, and all my cohort, have managed to get academic positions. I am now a full-time, permanent lecturer at the Modern University of the Year with every opportunity being thrown at me. Suddenly, I am supervising students and handing out the same advice I had been given and did not quite grasp just a few years earlier.

How to prepare for an academic career? What would I suggest? Preparation for classes is key. Imagine a room full of students, itching to check their phones, staring at you when you’ve run out of material early. Answer emails “by return”. Students are clients now. Do not ever expect to have time off again. The concept of a lecturer’s long summer holiday is a fallacy. You spend your term time preparing for classes so the only time you get to do the thing you actually like – your research – will be weekends and teaching breaks. Don’t bother working out how to book holidays on the university’s impenetrable computer system. Yes, the permanent threat of job cuts hangs over us all and pay in the public sector is never going to rival that of the private sector. The outside world’s stereotypical image of an academic drifting in to teach one or two classes with lengthy holidays is far from the case. “REF” is the buzzword and everything is about Q1 articles and funding. But what better job is there? Mental stimulation in the area of your choice with genuinely interested and interesting people and the freedom to pursue the research of your choice? Since I was awarded my PhD in summer 2014, I have gained a job, got a book contract with Routledge and been awarded British Academy funding for my research. Find that job, don’t be choosy – a job is a job and may lead to better ones. Seize every opportunity you are given and believe in yourself. It’s a competitive world out there but the capable can do it!

Dr Emma Heywood