In Conclusion…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I did say I’d be gone for a while, though I wasn’t quite certain how long. I can’t say things have changed much, but I did want to get this post out before the end of the year, no matter what.

I’m feeling quite nostalgic today. It’s December 19th. 15 years ago today the Fellowship of the Ring was released in theatres. That really was a turning point in my life, and it’s been a constant thread that’s woven in and out of it ever since. It may seem odd to have been so influenced by a movie, based on a fiction, but there it is. I’m sure someone can say the same of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

But today, of all days, I’m thinking of endings. Or, in terms of a PhD, conclusions. They’re hard things to write, conclusions. You’ve written all these words, managed to explain your complicated methodology, expounded at length about all the other authors you read who influenced you, created analysis chapters that your examiners will enjoy reading…and now you’ve come to it at last.

[Anyone want to count the Tolkien quotes in this post? I’ll give you a cookie if you spot them all.]

Conclusions are pesky things. You feel like you’ve said all the important stuff, and now you still have to write a few more thousand words. It kind of feels a bit like an insult. After all your months and months of hard work…you have to write everything you’ve already written, but in different words, and more condensed. Why? Didn’t your examiners get it the first time around? Why do you have to repeat yourself?

Conclusions are tiring things. They seem the hardest to write, after everything else. You aren’t introducing anything new. You aren’t explaining your intentions. You aren’t showing someone else’s work. So what are you doing?

You’re showing yours. That’s it. This is your chance to show your examiners and anyone else who reads your thesis one day, what you’ve done. Someone should be able to read only your conclusion chapter and get the point of your thesis.

And conclusions are especially frustrating things because, as Tolkien once said ‘all’s well that ends better’. And your conclusion must be that better ending. It must be uplifting and inspiring. It’s the last thing people will read and it’s your last chance for them to put your thesis down and say ‘that was good’. Even if the rest of your thesis has issues, or stumbles, you can make up for a lot in your conclusion (though not, I point out, everything).

You conclusion is a chance for you to summarise. There is a lot in your other chapters, and some of it can be lost in the reading. The conclusion is where you drive your point home. Where you say what you did, why it’s important, and where you can go from here. The conclusion is not an opportunity to waffle. It’s not where you should use more words than you need. The conclusion is where you need active voice. Be direct. Be clear. Be concise. Don’t let your reader get to your last page and wonder ‘I still can’t figure out why this is significant’.

But your conclusion is also where you need to admit that your amazing project…has issues. Every single project has issues. If you don’t admit them, it sounds like you didn’t acknowledge the limitations, or just chose to ignore them completely. Either looks bad. This isn’t where you expound on how bad your PhD is. It’s just where you acknowledge that there were limitations, you couldn’t do everything, if you had changed a variable you might have gotten other results, etc. Don’t go on for too long, but do explain this. Because if you don’t catch the limitations, your examiners will.

But, most importantly, your conclusion is where you say, in clear and no uncertain terms, what your contribution is. Why is this huge body of work important? Why have you spent 3/4/5 years of your life on it? Why should anyone be reading it?

A conclusion really doesn’t have to be long. A few thousand words is typical. You should have said everything that needed saying already, this is just where you summarise it and state the really important stuff again so that it stands out.

And then…then you have to figure out the conclusion to the conclusion. You can’t just…end. That last page, page and a half, is where you want to leave your readers wondering if you are some unknown genius that has discovered something that will change the future of the world. You probably haven’t, but you want to inspire your reader with the possibilities of your thesis. Of where it could go next and what the future of your field could hold for it.

So, have you thought of an ending?

 

Analysis Chapters

This working for a living thing is really cutting into my time for other things. On the flip side, it is really nice to be making money again.

We have now gone through all the sections of the thesis but the last two. These are the analysis chapters and the conclusion. One could suggest these are the most important parts of your thesis and the ones your examiners will read with the greatest care. In the analysis section, you show the work you have done. You prove your thesis statement. This part might be long or short. It might contain a great deal of data and charts, or none at all. Your type of analysis will depend on your type of thesis. But all theses contain this section. This is not where you talk about what others have done. This is not where you talk about what you are going to do. This is not where you discuss your methods. This is where you show the research needed to prove your hypothesis is correct (or incorrect). This may be your own field research, statistics, or even research gathered from other sources. But it demonstrates what your thesis is and what problem it solves.

I’ve recently been doing research on business plans. I’ve never had much of a head for business and never written a business plan, but I thought I should have a go at one for my new company. The analysis part of your thesis is like the main section of your business plan: where you say what the business is and why its needed and what it will do for your customers. Ostensibly, this is the integral part of a business plan. Everything else supports this. Just as the rest of the thesis supports the analysis.

It will also be either the first thing you write, or one of the last. This will depend on how your research formulates itself. Sometimes starting with this part makes the rest of the thesis just flow onto the page. And sometimes, particularly if you are still not entirely certain how your data proves your hypothesis, starting with everything else may just lead you – step by step – to your final conclusions. In order to write your analysis chapter you have to understand your data. You have to know what it means and how it relates to your thesis and what it says. You have to know your conclusions.

This makes the analysis section of the thesis very scary. A lot of people procrastinate this part, because they don’t believe they have enough data to prove their case. This is unlikely, but sometimes the data can be overwhelming and you don’t know where to start.

I’ve been there. This is the part of the thesis I wrote absolutely last (other than the conclusion). Before I started it, I still wasn’t certain what format this section would take, how many chapters I needed, or – exactly – what I needed to say. I stewed for a long time, going over the data again and again, trying out different directions, before I realised that the hypothesis I had asked was wrong. Or rather, it wasn’t wrong, I had just asked the question the wrong way. Flipping the question suddenly lined up all of the data and away I wrote!

It might not be that easy for you. It might be even easier. The idea is to have a clear thesis statement, that you set out to prove through data gathering. The data either proves the thesis to be true, or not. Either outcome is valid, particularly in the sciences. But in Humanities, sometimes we get a little carried away with things, and we go off on tangents, and ultimately we realise we have a bunch of data that isn’t useful. You don’t have to use all your data, but having it all can confuse you. Sometimes, weeding out what data is actually useful will take you the longest, but once you have it you will be hard pressed not to shout ‘Eureka!’ and dance about the room.

And from there, it is a case of writing it all up. The analysis chapters don’t have to be formal or grandiose. They are about showing your data and explaining why it answers your thesis question and why that’s important. Be straightforward. Be clear. Don’t use 10,000 words when you only need 5,000. Here is where you need to learn to be concise. Flowery language or more words than necessary are not going to impress your examiners. They want to read this chapter (these chapters) and implicitly understand your entire thesis. If they can’t do that, you have not written these chapters correctly.

So take your time here. Be clear on what you are saying. Discuss it with others. Get others to read it. Focus on saying only what you need to say to prove your thesis. The flowery stuff can be saved for other chapters, like the lit review! [I’m joking, flowery language is inappropriate in any section of the thesis.] By the time your reader gets to this part of the thesis, they want it short and sweet.

 

Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Monday up here in the North (you know, Canada). We celebrated yesterday, so today was like most Mondays, wherein I did a lot of work and exercised. And it was actually very satisfying to work on a day most people are off. Look at all the things I got done while other people were relaxing and eating turkey!

But one of the things I did not get done was a blog post. So you will have one later in the week (I hope), all about analysis chapters and how to show your data (the important part of the thesis, let’s be honest).

The Bulk of the Thesis

Here’s my thing. I’ve mentored, I’ve supervised, I’ve taught, I’ve marked, and I’ve edited. I’m quite happy to see the teaching and marking part of my life go away. Neither are things I enjoy. But I hope to keep doing the mentoring or supervising in some way in the future. But the editing is the sort of thing I’ve done because someone asked me to do it, or needed me to do it. I never really thought of it as a career or even stable work. But here I am, again, doing editing. And you know what? I’m rather happy about that fact. I kind of like going through a document and making it better (though never perfect; there’s no such thing).

I bring this up because today I have started proofreading the bulk of a thesis. Or the ‘body’. The main part. The part that excludes the appendices, and references, and introductory sections, or even the conclusion. The main part of the thesis is where you show all the work you’ve done, discuss it in great detail, and demonstrate the entire point of your argument.

This might be anywhere from 20,000 words to 70,000, depending on what your subject and department are. Whatever the length of your thesis, however, the main part is going to form the majority of your words. And every one of them counts. You may have 70,000 words to play with, but superfluous ones (see what I did there) aren’t going to be appreciated by your examiners. You need to make sure that what you’re writing has a point. That it is clear and concise. If you can say it in 30,000 words, don’t take 50,000 just because you can. Most universities give maximums for theses, instead of minimums. That means that you can write any amount you need to for your thesis, but can’t go over a certain number. A lot of people find this very hard. It’s easier to write to a minimum, but much harder to know you only have a certain number of words to get your point across. So be concise (this paragraph is a bad example).

The bulk of your thesis could be 2 chapters or 7. The number is less important than what they constitute. You have to get a long list of things across in this part of your thesis. Your methodology (for most, unless you are amongst the fewer that put this in their introduction), your literature review(s), your data presentation, your analysis, and conclusions or recommendations (you will usually provide some manner of conclusions in your analysis chapter, then in more depth in your final conclusion chapter).

That is a lot to get into a thesis, and that’s leaving aside the introduction and conclusion chapters. But whatever number of chapters you have, and however many words you have for this part of the thesis, this part is often the hardest to write. Conclusions generally ‘write themselves’, because by the time you get to that chapter, you’ve been working on this for years, and analysed and thought about all your data for months. And the introduction is an intro to what you’ve already written in the rest of the thesis. An executive summary, basically. But the bulk of the thesis? That’s the important part. That’s the part your examiners really pay attention to. So that is the part you spend the most time on.

But don’t panic. Like any piece of writing, don’t ever set out to write ‘the bulk of the thesis’. Set out to write a 500 word section. Or a three-page sub-section. You will have your thesis outline already. You will know roughly what needs to get into each chapter, and then each section. Write them one at a time, in whatever order works best for you. And you will be very surprised that you end up at 50,000 words. Or 70,000. [Or a 100,000…oops.]

One small step at a time. You know your work. You know your research. You know what you need to say.

Dedication

This post could also be called ‘perseverance’. In terms of life, the both are often interchangeable, though their definitions are not. You need to be dedicated to do a PhD, but you need the perseverance to complete it.

But it can apply to any task in which you set out to accomplish, particularly one that has some level of difficulty.

I thought I was dedicated to my PhD. I thought that would be enough. That alone is not enough. You need it, yes, but being dedicated does not mean you don’t wake up some days and go ‘I can’t’ or that you lose incentive. Perseverance is the drive to keep going despite these occurrences. And it took me a while to find it.

It took me 800km across Spain, in fact. Which, in terms of perseverance, was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. And it was all that kept me going. The drive to just keep walking no matter how difficult or hard it was. When that carried me to the end, I knew I had it in me to finish the PhD, no matter how hard it seemed or how many days I thought ‘I can’t’.

I thought I had lost that perseverance, somewhere in the last year. Life hasn’t been particularly difficult, though I have not – I feel – lost my dedication to my craft. But I have not felt that I needed to persevere at any point. I’ve been content to be patient. And so, like any habit you don’t use very often, you start to wonder if perhaps you can still do it.

I can, apparently. Which is good to know!

Just for a few days, I tried my hand at something I knew would be difficult, but that I was determined to do. I knew determination alone might not be enough, and it wasn’t. I had to persevere despite being tired, despite pain, despite it being hard. I had to overcome that in order to do it. And I did. These small reminders of past struggles are no bad thing. They renew your belief in yourself.

So for all of you out there that are struggling. That are determined to do a PhD, but aren’t sure that determination is enough: it probably won’t be. But perseverance will, and you will find that, somehow and in some way. Just keep walking.

Feelings of Inadequacies

In the last couple of days, several people I know have brought up (separately) the fact that for kids these days there is very much a ‘everyone’s a winner’ culture. I never had that growing up. You won or you lost. You got first place or you got second or you were the runner up. Or you were everyone else that tried hard and didn’t get a ribbon. Or you were 10th in your class. There weren’t ‘participation’ awards. Showing up was not enough; you had to try your hardest. And even if you did, that was no guarantee of doing well. 

This culture of my childhood taught me that hard work was the only way to get ahead in life. Showing up to life was not going to make you successful. You had to work for it. And sometimes you were going to fail. And that’s good. Failure is how you learn. If you are told that no matter what you do is good and okay and you get a shinny ribbon for it, you are never going to want to try harder. You are never going to do better. You are never going to work.

I learned that if I didn’t work, I didn’t get ahead. That understanding carried me through four university degrees. I look at kids these days and I’m not sure if they have it in them to get through life. I’m not sure they have a working culture and a try harder culture built into them.

But I’m not a teacher. I’m not even a parent. And I’ve been told time and again that that means I don’t get to make comments about what’s good for children.

[We’re ignoring the fact I was a child once.]

But what I do know is that the reality of life is stark and brutal. It’s not all participation awards. It’s not all ‘show up and get a pat on the back’. There are times that no matter how hard you try in life it won’t be enough. You’ll fail the exam. You’ll miss the award. You will just not get the thing because there are 300 people trying for the thing and only one person is going to get it. And someone’s going to just flip a coin to figure that out. You can try your hardest; life can still be down to luck of the draw.

I’m not sure they teach that nowadays. But I’m grateful I learned it early on in life. I’m doubly grateful because I grew up with a lot of opportunities and a lot of chances, and a above average IQ. I grew up with good schools and good support systems. But that doesn’t automatically equate to ‘fantastic easy life’. Reality doesn’t work that way.

So I try my hardest in what I do. And I know that sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes it will never be enough. But I know that. And when I do ‘fail’ I’ve learned not to blame myself. If I did my best, then that’s all I can do. Sometimes failure happens anyways. Sometimes you lose anyways. Not everyone wins.

But there’s this one part of a PhD that didn’t mesh with that. That I struggled with all the way through. Because I knew some people were just not meant to do a PhD. Some people don’t have the opportunity and/or the work ethic to do it. Some people aren’t meant for university in general. That’s fine. I wish they told more kids that, because maybe fewer would get to university and flunk out, because they are told all along that you must go. But I digress.

The thing that never quite meshed with my understanding that people do ‘fail’ or leave their PhDs is that, even though I was trying my hardest, even though I knew I might not get my PhD, I felt failure. Constant failure. I felt that I was to blame. I felt that I wasn’t good enough. It was the first time I had tried my damnedest in life and still felt…not good enough. Still felt like I was losing. That I was failing. And I blamed myself.

This perpetual feeling of inadequacy hung over my head for four years. And I know it hangs over the heads of many other PhD students. It’s one of those things we don’t really talk about. The feeling that no matter how hard we try, we’re still not good enough to be here. To be doing this. To get our PhDs. In ours heads, we already feel a bit like we’ve failed, before we ever even get far enough in our PhDs to do any actual ‘failing’.

It’s hard to deal with that psychologically. It’s hard to live with that day in and day out. If you fail at something and you did your best, you can work through that. You will probably still be disappointed, but if you did your best, you did your best.

During a PhD, doing your best never feels good enough. You always feel like you should be working harder (even though you know you can’t). You feel like everyone else around you is better at this than you are. You constant feel like a failure.

People who have never been to university or never done a PhD seem to wonder why doing a PhD is so stressful. Why people have breakdowns or leave their PhDs half-finished. Or end up depressed.

I’ll tell you why. Because feeling like a failure every day is impossible to live with and not suffer consequences. Because no matter what you tell yourself in your head, that feeling doesn’t go away until you are holding your PhD degree in your hand. And by then, you’ve dealt with it for years. And the consequences of it.

This post is not meant to be overly optimistic. But what it is meant to do is to tell all of you people out there doing your PhDs, who feel like they aren’t good enough to do it, aren’t good enough to get it, aren’t good enough to be there, that you most definitely are. If you do your best, that’s what matters. And like everything else in life, doing your best does not automatically equate to success. But doing your best is all you can do, and you need to tell yourself that every day. It’s enough for you. It doesn’t matter what the result is. You deserve to be doing this. You deserve to be there. Whatever happens, work your very hardest every day and do your very best, and forgive yourself for what comes next. It’s not your fault. You are most certainly adequate.

 

Mondays

It’s Monday, and I owe you a blog post.

Alas, it has been a rollercoaster for the last ten days and my emotions are simmering at interesting levels (either boil or off). It makes concentration rather difficult. In an effort to take some time, I ran off to a campground for a couple of days and managed to exhaust myself so much I’m still barely able to stay awake and I’ve been back for 24 hours (and slept for 9). Sometimes ‘getting away’ doesn’t always have the affect you hoped.

But I need to write something, and what better to write about (instead of the post on methodologies) than what to do when Real Life interferes with your PhD.

First, it’s okay to stop. Stop whatever you are doing and access the situation. Is the interruption something that will be a few days long? Or is it something that might seriously undermine the next year or more of your PhD? (Sick parent, pregnancy, severe illness, etc). How long the interruption will be has a big effect on how you should deal with that interruption.

I know people who seem – for some reason beyond comprehension – to believe that if they do not work every single weekday of their PhD life they are doing it wrong. I think we’ve had a lengthy conversation about work schedules already (see here and here), so please believe me when I say that if Real Life interferes for a week or two, just let it. Go deal with your RL issue and then get back to your PhD when you’re in the right frame of mind. A couple of weeks are not going to break you (or your thesis). And if it happens right before a deadline, immediately have a conversation with the people who set the deadline about changing it/moving it. Everyone in academia understands that there can be things that will interrupt research, but unless you are open about it, people are going to assume everything is fine.

If the break needs to be longer (for instance, if you were diagnosed with an illness that needed treatment or surgery), then be very upfront about this with your advisors. Talk to people. Tell them what is happening, what the expected outcome is, how long it might last. It is probably best to take either sick leave (if that’s an option for you) or a sabbatical (which will be an option if you’ve never taken one before). If you are a foreign student in a country, then you need to think about visa issues. Likely, you’ll have to return home because many countries don’t want you to stay if you aren’t a full-time current student, and sabbaticals mean you aren’t technically a student – but taking a break from being a student. Keep this in mind, but if this is the only reason you can’t take a sabbatical, you probably need to access how much time you are going to be away from your PhD. A couple of weeks is fine, a couple of months is going to be problematic. But don’t let that stop you taking the time. For whatever reason you need it.

I know people who have had to take time away, and they worry about ‘getting back to it’. If you are passionate enough to want to do a PhD, you’ll find that passion again, even after a time away. And, in fact, time away may actually help. As I’ve said, I took a short sabbatical from my own work, and it’s the only reason I was able to come back and finish the thesis. I needed that break for mental health reasons.

But whatever part of RL that interferes with your PhD, it’s all right. It happens. You aren’t a failure. You aren’t bad at this. You aren’t a sorry excuse for a PhD student. RL happens. We like to think it doesn’t, because we like to think that academia is RL for us, but being a student puts you slightly outside of the norm, and things do interfere with being a student in a different way than they would if – for instance – you were full-time employed as a professor. Then you can take grievance absences, sick days, sabbaticals, and it’s sanctioned. As PhDs, you fall somewhere outside this spectrum, and you have to realise that although that doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to the same sort of thing, you might have to come about it in a different way (take a break from your PhD, instead of a sabbatical, for example).

But a sick mother, or an illness of your own, or the death of a loved one back home are the most important thing. The PhD should come second when these things happen. Just like work would come second.

I am reminding myself of this because I have done absolutely no work in the last 10 days. And that’s okay. I feel guilty because it’s a default reaction, not because I actually should feel bad. I shouldn’t. I’m taking the time I need to and I’ll get back to work as soon as possible.

Work Experience

Okay, this is mostly pessimistic and horribly realistic, but I am not going to apologize. It’s the way the economy, society, and the humanities are now, and acknowledging that and preparing for it are the best ways to get on with your career.

I’m in the humanities. Which means it’s really hard to talk from the point of view of STEM subjects. They are vastly different in how they are set up, and how work is oriented, and how jobs are acquired. If you are doing a STEM PhD (or MA, or work in STEM) you’re going to be much more familiar with how things work than I am. Take all of this with a grain of salt and use your own knowledge and colleagues.

Everyone touts work experience nowadays. You hear it literally everywhere. In universities, in colleges, in high school, in business, in news articles. Kids are bombarded with ‘get work experience!’ slogans. It will run through your life until you are high enough in the working world that are either permanently employed, or so experienced you don’t think in terms of ‘gaining’ it, but of already having it.

But what is it? No, seriously, what is it? Because it’s not just one thing. It’s not just a single definition and, check, I’ve got it! Because that would be easy.

Work experience means ALMOST ALWAYS paid work. There are a few times this is not true, and volunteering or unpaid internships will count, but basically, they mean experience you have acquired by being paid for work.

Getting paid work experience without having work experience is one of those brilliant chicken and egg scenarios that destroys people’s psyches and is so disheartening that people give up careers.

You must have work experience to apply for this job. [That experience must be paid.] This is common in almost all job advertisements in the humanities. No one wants to hire someone without work experience, because it’s too much trouble to train someone. We’ll leave aside that almost every job will require training anyways, but companies think it’s easier to train someone who’s worked in the field before than someone who hasn’t (I argue how true this is, but it doesn’t matter what I think; I don’t hire people).

So how do you GET the paid work experience?

I wish I could tell you. I wish there was a brilliant work around to this problem, like a hack, and ‘poof!’ you will get your paid work experience. But it doesn’t work like that. If it did, a lot fewer twenty and thirty somethings would be suffering from intense stress and feelings of failure.

You gain work experience over time. This is true. You gain it over multiple jobs. This is mostly true (if it’s a great job, you can gain a lot of experience in one place). You don’t gain work experience in a month. Job applications want 2-3 years experience in most cases. If you are applying for an entry level position, it might be 12 months experience. But it’s entry level. It’s your first paid job in the field, right? Wrong. You are expected to have already worked, in an internship or placement or job shadow already.

I have volunteered for 2.5 years. Free. Weekly. In some cases, I was volunteered 15 hours a week. I usually also work a job that makes money so I can afford to live, but that job is never in my field and therefore does not count as work experience. Volunteering used to. It doesn’t seem to anymore. It’s a start, yes, but what companies really want is that illusive internship for you to have on your CV. Of course, many fields don’t have internships.

You are expected to have work experience without ever having worked. It’s ludicrous, of course, but most things in life are. Most things don’t make sense, and this is one of them.

What can you do?

You can volunteer. In your field. As soon as possible. Preferably in high school. Don’t wait until you finish undergrad to figure out what you want to do with your life. Volunteer as much as you can around jobs that pay you actual money. Try to get a paid job that has skills involved in it that will be of use to your field. So if your field requires customer service, get a customer service role, like retail, and work that for AT LEAST a few years. A few months of a job is not the sort of work experience employers look for.

Try to find an internship. If internships exist in your field, apply for them all, even if they are not paid. Keep applying until you get one. Apply early and often.

If you are in university, see what work experience your university can provide. Can you mark essays? Teach intro classes? Run tutorials? Do marketing for your department? Be a school ambassador? Universities offer a wealth of options, but you have to go looking for them; no one will tell you what they are or what use they are. Ask questions, ask people, keep your ears open, and then go after those opportunities. It’s no use saying ‘but school takes up all my time!’ No one cares about this issue anymore. You are expected to do everything in university, even if that involves 30 hour days.

[I always had projects/work I was doing while doing a full-time PhD. It sucked. It sucked a lot. There were many days I didn’t get through my to do list because there weren’t enough hours in the day, and you have to sleep eventually. But I managed to get all of it done, somehow, sometime. And I have a host of things on my CV besides ‘PhD’, many of which are now coming in very handy for freelancing.]

Balancing work-life-sanity is hard. It gets harder the further into university you go. It’s why mental health is such an issue in universities and amongst early career professionals. When you do a PhD, balancing your life is almost impossible. And if you have a life, if you have a partner and kids and a full-time job, all I can say is I am raising a glass in your honour. You people amaze me, inspire me, impress me, and put my piddling efforts to shame. Keep going, I’m here cheering you on.

If you don’t have these things to worry about, things are that little tiny bit easier, but not easy. Social engagements will still be cancelled. You will still work 24 hour days. You will go weeks without seeing or talking to friends. The PhD, and the work, come first. Everything else is a distance second. You chose to do this. But I understand. I understand exactly how hard it is to do, literally, everything. And be expected to.

But for every year that passes, people expect more of university students. Employers expect more of applicants. Business demands experience and skills that you can’t get at university. It’s why high school students are now being told to think carefully about what they want to do in their life, and whether university is the right call. I wish someone had taken more time to tell me all this 15 years ago. I might have made a different decision*.

Anyone want to share their work experiences with readers? What you’ve learned; what you wish you’d done; what worked for you? Any little secrets out there to be had…?

*In all honesty, probably not, I was too obsessed with classical history.

 

A Question of Teaching

How can you gain teaching experience when your university doesn’t offer it?

First, it probably does, they just don’t advertise it. It took me until third year to realise my university had a lot of teaching options, but by then I was so overworked with other jobs that I decided to pass. I also knew I wasn’t continuing in academia, so teaching experience became less important (though not not important).

Your department may not have teaching options, but that does not mean no department at your university does. Email. Ask around. Ask students in other departments. Look for adverts for contract teaching, or single-course teaching, or online course-teaching. Look for tutorial positions. Look for marking. Or extra credit courses, that are often difficult for universities to find staff to teach. Go to another university nearby. There will be options available, but you have to find them. YOU have to find them. That’s what this is all about.

Look outside universities. Look for organisations that do professional development, or that are in your field of study. Perhaps you can teach a skills course, or an information class. If you know anyone at a business in your sector, ask what options they suggest.

Ask people at distant universities. Know someone who works at a university across the country? Ask if you can do a lecture via video-conference. You don’t have to travel, or only look at places near where you live. We have the technology these days to go further and do more.

See if you can volunteer somewhere that involves giving tours or talking to people. All of these count as teaching experience, because you are developing communication skills with a wide variety of people. It’s a great thing to be able to put on your CV.

Create your own teaching position. Offer departments at your university an online course option that you will teach, based on your research/field of study. CREATE positions. It does not always need to be about what’s available already.

You need to be creative. You need to think outside the box. There are experiences out there you can find, but sometimes you have to go after them with a club.

Anyone out there found creative methods to gain teaching experience while doing your PhD?

Curation

Curation, or the act of curating, is defined as the organisation and maintaining of a collection of artworks or artefacts. Content curation, on the other hand is the process of analysing and sorting Web content and presenting it in a meaningful and organised way around a specific theme.

Having defined those terms, I’ve spent the last week ‘curating’ a twitter account. Which means mostly content curation, obviously, since it’s a Twitter account.

It was interesting and informative. The best part about the @wethehumanities account is that it encompasses all humanities. So the people that follow it can be from any field (and even some outside humanities that do multi-disciplinary work). It makes a unique pool of academics, researchers, and professionals to talk to.

The entire point of the curation week is to share your own research, communicate with others with shared interests, and engage in conversations with people who don’t necessarily share your interests specifically, but are proponents of humanities as a discipline.

We covered everything from social media addiction to off-screen time, digital literacy, museum text panels, digital design and don’t touch policies. And a lot of other things in between.

I wasn’t certain about signing up to curate, but a colleague suggested it. I thought well ‘try something you aren’t sure you can do’ is always a good learning experience. I think it was (mostly) a success and I learned about other people’s viewpoints, and some facts I didn’t know.

I tried a lot of things during my PhD I had never done or that outright made me anxious (ex. public speaking), and every experience was a learning opportunity. I was a student and it seemed to be part of the experience. Now that I’m not a student, I find I more readily say ‘no’ to things. For one, there is no pressure to say yes. But for another, it’s easier to say no. And that means I’m missing out on experiences and opportunities.

So this time, I said yes, and I’m glad I did.