A part time PhD: With a little help from my (full time) friends …

clairereadClose NRN friend, Claire Read, tells us about her experience of feeling more at home as a part-time PhD student. Claire (Roehampton) is concerned with the use of technology, specifically live streaming, as altering the relationship between performance and documentation. Her research looks at the media work of Katie Mitchell as well as the development of NT Live. Claire has published with the International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media and has contributed a co-authored chapter in Documenting Performance: The Context and Processes of Digital Curation and Archiving, Ed. Toni Sant (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama – forthcoming). She is a member of TaPRA and was a committee member for the STR’s New Researcher’s Network between 2014-2016. Claire is currently an Associate at the University of Surrey.

I’m not saying I speak for everyone, but I find it weird thing going to a conference and speaking with others who work full time on their thesis. I feel out of it, like an imposter who attends and ‘plays’ at being an academic for a weekend. Upon leaving the conference, any thoughts or inspirations are soon extinguished as I return to my day job, envious of those who can pounce on new found ideas and keep the conversations going. It’s even more peculiar attending events as a lone student – being part time and working I’m rarely on campus and so don’t really have a group of ‘PhD friends’. So trying to integrate with not just another researcher, but a circle of researchers and established friends, makes the task of meeting all the more difficult. Over the years I have had to force myself to ‘network’: an expression and concept I hate, probably because I feel so out of any network that I’m ashamed that I’m trying to gatecrash.

A few things happened over the last few years to help. (As a part time researcher another thing that makes my work separate to others is that the project is on a very slow burn. The amount of people I have seen start and finish their PhD in the time I’ve taken to write a few chapters is astonishing; inevitable, but astonishing. So yes, it has been years). Joining SCUDD seemed like such a simple thing to do but really helped. Getting emails from academics makes me feel part of the world even when I’ve been tying karate belts for the last hour (one of my day jobs). There are other mailing lists as well pertinent to my research that hone the sometimes random calls from SCUDD. Joining TaPRA and the mailing list for my working group was another great move and was the first time I made ‘PhD friends’. When the call for an interim event came I gladly applied. As the TaPRA interim events are usually only a day its easier to finance with no funding (that’s why I’m part time, after all). They’re also quite intimate, and a good place to foster relationships ahead of the annual conference.

The other thing that really helped was joining the NRN, and being part of the committee (although it must sound like a shameful plug, as I’m now blogging for them, the following is absolutely true). Live streaming lectures for the STR forced me to talk to established academics and I was previously very scared to do this, mainly as I had so little experience. (I once responded to a question about my ‘area’ with ‘Bracknell’. I am the walking facepalm emoji). Joining also had the advantage of ‘ready made friends’ – even last week I started talking to a friend of a committee member. Finding a way in to talking takes away the apprehension of starting a conversation and makes networking feel like friend making, and that’s what I really miss as a part time postgrad.

There are good things that come with part time study. Even though your time is precious in balancing research around other jobs (at one point last year I had four occupations and not enough boxes to list them all on my tax form), I get time to consider my research and see it grow. I can also afford time to be a committee member, in addition to joining a network. I can be a member of SCUDD rather than a SCUDD digester. In a way this sets me up for a life in academia. From what I can gather there isn’t always room for collegiality in the working environment due to time constraints and being pulled at from every direction. Maybe in this way being part time and having to juggle responsibilities is a nice dress rehearsal.

I don’t think there’s a magic way to get through a PhD regardless of whether you engage as a full time or part time student. I am still a little jealous of the full time (and funded students) as the collegiality seems built right in, although perhaps this is just me thinking that the grass is always greener. I know that the stress levels are right up there. But these are elevated by good working relationships, so if you are lucky enough to have ‘academic friends’, or people who now you just call your ‘friends’, cherish them. They may be your colleagues in future, helping you out with form filling and admin tasks or even co-authoring chapters and books, but they’ve been through something with you and more than that, they made your path a bit easier. And please remember that if you see a random person at a conference they will appreciate you taking the time to speak with them and make them feel less lonely. It was lovely people like that who made this part time student a full time friend. (They’ll disown me for being so sickly sweet though, I’m sure).


Do you think your experience of making your research work might be helpful to others? Take a look at our CFP and get in touch.

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