Work-Life Balance and Our PhDs: Decision, Dilemma, and Determination

Mrunal ChavdaBecoming a Post-Doc is one route into an academic career, but how do you secure one? Mrunal Chavda shares his academic journey and what he felt helped get him the position. Mrunal is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow in Sociolinguistics at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). The project ‘Sociocultural Documentation of Gujarati in South Africa’ is funded by National Research Foundation (South Africa) and is supervised by Prof Rajend Mesthrie. Mrunal holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Exeter (England). His ‘home’ India and research interests are theatre and performance studies, the Natyashastra, and Indian diaspora in Africa, the UK (so far), Gujarati language, literature, and Bollywood film studies. Mrunal volunteers as a Language Champion with Oxford Gujarati Living Dictionary and writes for their Blog in Gujarati.

Kabil Bano! Kaamyaabi Jakh Marke Piche Ayegi! (Pursue Excellence! Success will chase you!) – Three Idiots

Once upon a time in India, I worked as a lecturer in the General Department, Government Polytechnic, Himmatnagar (Gujarat). My appointment was permanent with two years’ probation. Before finishing the probationary period, I resigned despite family members’ pressure, financial instability, and insecurity! There are strong reasons. Let me recall my first day of the job. My Head of the Department specialised in Chemistry and welcomed me to the department. As usual, he inquired out of curiosity what I ‘now’ plan to do. I suggested that I wish to pursue a PhD. He laughed and implied that why do I need a PhD once I have got a government job. His idea for me was to ‘relax and enjoy life’ and forget about a PhD! He provided me with an example: he told me he possessed a ‘Gold Medal in Chemistry’ and could make more than a hundred chemicals before getting a job in government! Erasure of knowledge in these times might lead to nowhere! Therefore, I decided to quit my job. This decision was not easy as my wife was registered as a PhD in Linguistics at the Gujarat University and my 5-year old daughter needed schooling. Sooner I was to realise that this was the best decision I have ever taken! It was a calculated, well-thought and conscious risk. As a result, I was to invest four years in academia. My advice to students, especially mature ones in such circumstances, would be to examine the pros and cons of the decision to start a PhD and then evaluate both sides before joining any doctoral programme.

PhD or no PhD?

Being aware of the time, money and our family stakes, my PhD story is an exciting journey of tremendous learning. It seemed like climbing the Himalayan peak as I chose to study theatre instead of English literature. We (I mean my wife too) performed on the stage (one-act and mime) but never studied theatre academically. There was already a PhD scholar in the family: did we really want another one? This was a real dilemma. It meant both of us having to sacrifice time for the family, invest money into academia (sacrificing all the savings) and putting our child’s future at stake. We would be leaving our home for ‘the undiscovered country’, as Hamlet famously put it. I discussed this issue with my immediate family, my possible supervisor, and colleagues. I was fortunate that all gave me a balanced and honest advice. I – or, rather we –  decided to overcome this dilemma by treading this path.

PhD se Bada Koi dharma Nahi Hota! (No religion is bigger than a PhD)

Starting a PhD at the University of Exeter brought hundreds of challenges as an international student, be it social, cultural, or economic. However, I believe that if you wish for something so passionately, the whole universe conspires to make it happen! My property owner, my supervisory team (Prof Graham Ley, Prof Jerri Daboo, and Prof Cathy Turner) and the Exeter Hindu community all helped me in one or the other way to achieve what I commenced. Studying the Natyashastra, an Indian treatise on performing arts written in Sanskrit, on my own, learning academic writing, and then writing a thesis required true devotion. Four years’ hard work finished just like that! I could not imagine that my PhD viva would last less than an hour discussing and clarifying a concept or two from the project. February 2015 flew like a kite in a gust of wind and childlike curiosity made a wonderful flight landing back home in Gujarat in March 2016. I was aware of the long to-do lists along with my wife’s PhD viva in India. I realised that PhD toh trailer tha, Film Abhi Baki hay mere Dost (the PhD was just a trailer, the film is yet to start). As soon as this realisation happens, it is good. Engaging in academic activities such as Learning and Teaching in Higher Education-LTHE, University of Exeter’s Grand Challenges and Academic training modules during these four years not only prepared me to complete my PhD in four years but also exposed me to disciplines other than mine. These academic activities, I must say, were not immediately relevant but in the end, they should be attended to seriously! They help you listen to voices outside your discipline.  Meeting the PhD fraternity allows you to realise that everyone faces the same problems, but that each one of them solves them differently, and such gathering follows only one religion: Doctor of Philosophy.

Jo Dar Gaya Woh Mara Gaya (he who is afraid is dead)

Publish or Perish might sound like a death threat to young scholars, but for me, it is like Jo Dar Gaya Woh Mara Gaya (he who is afraid is dead). Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of stagnation will never work for you. Soon after the PhD, I applied to British Academy, Leverhulme and Wellcome Trust (the UK) and Fulbright-Nehru (the USA) and DRS Post Doctoral Fellowship (Germany) with ‘an interesting’ project but somehow I could not get into the last round of interviews! However, I continued to attend conferences and symposiums selling ‘our’ research. Though I was tired of applying, I was patient as well. I knew that I have a list of projects with substantial feedback from scholars working in the field. I knew that I would receive a reply to these conversations eventually. So, do not be afraid of rejections and keep a diary (I keep a One Note) with the list of projects and wait for the opportunity. In the meantime I write, write and write.

Hamara Post Doc Ayega! (Our Post Doc will come!)

As I mentioned, I am married to a research scholar and we have a child. My wife submitted her PhD and she joined me in Exeter in January 2014, simply waiting for her viva. I finished and extended my stay in Exeter for a year in order to get some opportunities. During this time, I only wrote an article, a chapter and project proposals for various post-doctoral positions. On my return to India, I worked as a volunteer actor, director and Gujarati language champion on weekends and worked for a school on their content development program for disadvantaged children. This provided me with an opportunity to work with all ages including young children and seniors. This social and creative engagement was the result of my training in Grand Challenges and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Exeter where I explored enthusiastically what possibilities existed beyond my PhD. I never thought that my working on this Gujarati language project with lots of public engagement activities would result in a post-doctoral research fellowship in linguistics! My next advice is to seek out volunteering opportunities because an opportunity might knock on the door.

Meanwhile, my wife passed her viva without any corrections! She did it! We were on the top of the world! We were now Dr Vinu Chavda and Dr Mrunal Chavda. Now, we needed fool-proof research projects for both of us – if possible in the same country and in the same university. For this, I was ready for three things: 1) being open to broad fields such as South Asian studies, 2) being open to interdisciplinary fields such as cultural studies and literature, but I hadn’t thought of linguistics, and 3) being ready to dig into people’s lives, organisations and public institutions. These three approaches were quite different from my own approach to my doctorate. This taught me the value of niche and broader research interests.

‘Kehte hain ki agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho to puri kayanat usey tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai’ – Om Shanti Om

 “When you really desire something from the heart and soul, all the universe conspires you to achieve it”- Paulo Coelho, the Alchemist

Attending conferences is one of the ways you can market your research and somehow, I did attract some attention. I thought one of the main reason was my approach toward the Natayshastra (an Indian treatise on performing arts), which developed an apparatus to examine theatre productions highlighting limitations of semiotics models. I approached Mahesh Dattani, a contemporary Indian playwright who knows the Natyashastra inside and out, during his dramatic reading of Dance Like a Man at the Kings College. I was one of the participants in this conference focusing on South Asia from multi geopolitical perspectives. During the tea break, Prof Rajend Mesthrie, Professor in Linguistics at the University of Cape Town, and I conversed on the current research project that my wife and I were working on. I had never thought that within a year, we would receive offers of post-doctoral research fellowships.

BRICS Initiative funds South-South connection node research especially in the field of science technology, administration and public policy with some funding for cultural studies. My wife was part of this funding application in September 2016 and fortunately, she got funding from this important initiative between South Africa and India. My project, ‘Sociocultural Documentation of Gujarati in South Africa’ was then sponsored by National Research Foundation, South Africa as a part of South African Research Chairs Initiative for Migration, Language, and Social Change. Although our funding is only for a year, the erasure of Asian languages (especially Indian languages and its documentation) has provided us with a good platform for multidisciplinary learning. This was a perfect blend of work/life balance we always sought! Currently, I am writing a monograph from my PhD thesis and my second monograph proposal has been accepted!

So for PhD and Post Doc aspirants, I would provide three points of advice:

  1. Write. Write. Forget about rejections and write.
  2. Find your niche, but do have a broader research horizon.
  3. Be ready for change and embrace it.

Have you secured a Post-Doc? Do you have any tips on what you felt helped you get there? If so, why not write for our blog…

A New Way Showing: a showman recalls his recent experiences in gaining a PhD by publication, practice and Ebook

Tony LidingtonTony Lidington explains his unusual process to a PhD in Drama. Tony has been working as a showman for over 30 years and is well-known for his exploration of British popular entertainment forms. In the past, he has worked for many well-known venues and companies, combining accessibility and innovation. Each Summer, he scratches a living with “Uncle Tacko’s Flea Circus” (irritatingly fun!) and performs as The Raree Man with his peepshow (an Eighteenth Century form of itinerant storytelling ). Currently he is directing ‘Dick Whittington’ for Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. You can follow Tony’s work on or Facebook “Promenade Promotions”.

I’ve been peddling my old nonsense for 35 years: on streets, beaches, car parks, green field festivals, field events, agricultural shows… in the open, under canvas, bus shelters, on the pier, on the bus, on the deck of boats, in quarries, on the banks of rivers and community orchards. I have run companies, venues, festivals, events, projects and stuck my oar into arts politics and the strategic development of illegitimate arts. I perform, research, teach and broadcast and in the process, I have become a specialist in the vernacular, the unusual, the bizarre and the kind of work that seldom accrues any cultural value… so if you want to know about Pierrot Troupes, Flea Circuses, Peepshows and Pantomime, then I’m your man.

But of course, people seldom ask about such topics, because they aren’t as hip as the current vogue for circus or physical theatre that almost every NPO seems to be encouraged to explore, so they sit, forlorn and almost forgotten as part of our intangible cultural heritage. Everyone knows what a Flea Circus is (or at least they imagine that they do as they shudder at the thought), most have a notion that a Pierrot is part of a kind of twee European clown tradition, and everyone knows about Punch & Judy and Pantomime, but give little thought as to why they have remained so phenomenally successful cultural influences in the British psyche.

For years, friends and colleagues have urged me to put my experiences and thoughts into some sort of structure, whereby these popular entertainment forms might start to achieve recognition and offer me a new strand of earning potential: “You should do a PhD!” they cry. But as a practising artist in the kind of work that earns relatively small amounts rather erratically, “How on earth can I afford to do that?” I’d respond. I have taught modules at Exeter University and been the lead artist on a few AHRC projects, but a PhD… everyone says it takes years and years, that it’s horribly dry and that it costs thousands a year. Given my Herculean efforts over decades to keep the household going and a young family just about clothed, through my work as a freelance artist producing my ‘weird shit’, the task seemed pretty huge.

However, dear reader, there was a way: I had worked with Professor Jane Milling on an AHRC project on pierrots some years previously and periodically we had lunch together to gossip, ruminate about our mutual areas of interest and to hatch plans of various sorts. It was Jane who first suggested that there might be a way to do a doctorate using my current practice to demonstrate the theory behind my thesis and to use my BBC Radio 4 broadcasts and other media-related publicly-available presentations (eg videos and documentaries) as the publications by which my work was validated. This meant that I would be able to present my various recordings as publications and my current work with community pierrot troupes, the flea circus and the peepshow as the demonstration of my thesis; so rather than a large amount of written text (usually around 100,000 words), my thesis simply needed to knit together my existing frame with a theoretical methodology – a task of some 20,000 words only! Here was a potential means to present a PhD that could be achieved in a shorter space of time (cheaper) and that used my current practice (I could keep doing the stuff that paid the bills).

We decided that we would try and find a new way of presenting the materials: for years, PhD students have presented their practical work and recordings as piles of VHS tapes or DVDs. Our plan was to use an interactive Ebook that would have embedded video and sound archives which illustrated points within the text, galleries of still pictures and footnotes that would pop-out when clicked on. No-one had done this before at the University of Exeter, and yet it is a much more accessible way of presenting the ideas for any practising artist. There’s no way I had the technical or digital skill to achieve the graphic design or elegance of format that was required, but the technicians at the department (Jon Primrose & Chris Mearing) were keen to help – thank God! They also wanted to find a way of presenting work in a more accessible way for the future, so that the mechanisms for presenting their materials and the speed of the process meant that it would be increasingly attractive for practitioners to apply to become PhD students.

The process of writing the PhD was not horrible! There were times that it was a struggle and I was pushed to the limits of my capacity to absorb theory, but like many others, I suspect the worst bit was simply trying to work-out what configuration of citation and bibliographical reference was best… should that bloody comma go before or after the closing parenthesis? Aaaaarrgh! So, despite many late nights whilst the family slumbered and snatched hours when I might otherwise have taken the dog onto the beach, I thoroughly enjoyed attempting to provide more objective rigour to my former ramblings and found the overall process of research, writing and appraisal, to be both rewarding and empowering.

I am told that I am quite a driven, obsessive individual, but with the prods, pokes and cajoling of Professor Milling and the endless patience of the technicians in the department, it also only took me fourteen months to submit the final Ebook version: the next problems were to get the Ebook into a format that the University could process and getting the viva organised. Astoundingly, this took a further five months! I submitted the Ebook on a series of memory sticks, together with some explanatory notes about what programmes were necessary to ‘read’ the thesis in that format… this proved especially difficult because not all the examiners owned Macs (the best operating system with which to read Ebooks). I ended-up fielding calls from the university, my supervisors and even one of the external tutors as they tried to work-out how best to read the material. So what was intended as an accessible format, turned out to be difficult to distribute.

I passed the viva, but was required to make major corrections: these I delivered in three weeks, but a further problem ensued because I was forced to represent the corrected thesis in an ordinary Word document alongside the Ebook (but minus the video, audio & interactive elements), so that my amended work could be judged more easily. The doctorate was duly awarded, but although the Ebook resides in the University’s thesis archives, the Ebook itself is not accessible to the public because of concerns over the ownership of the copyright on my various BBC broadcasts, which were accepted as the published part of my thesis. Although I had written the material for broadcast and presented the material for broadcast, the BBC retain copyright on the broadcast programmes themselves – it’s a grey area, but the University were anxious and so have placed an embargo on the availability of the Ebook. (However, if you want me to send you a copy for private use, just let me know!)

The whole process took me twenty months from start to finish, although the thesis is really the culmination of three decades of practice. I am now a Doctor of Philosophy – which fits my performing soubriquet of Uncle rather well, for now I am DrUncle. I am hoping to find a way of continuing my academic research alongside my performance practice by applying for early career research fellowships and the occasional part-time post as a researcher/lecturer. The process was hectic, but rewarding. As much as anything, I learned how academia works – how it has its own language and protocols. I am very proud of my qualification and I am very privileged to have had such a supportive team behind me – both personally and academically. For now, I continue showing my Flea Circus, directing Pantomime and next week I give a talk about Peepshows to Cambridge University… plus ca change!


Thanks DrUncle!

Have you taken an unusual route to a PhD or MA? If so, we’d love to hear from you…

Tough Love: Tips on Getting Your Application Right

headshotIn anticipation of our upcoming Employability Event we asked Prof Kate Newey to give us the benefit of her experience shortlisting candidates for jobs. What we got was a combination of practical and strategic advice that we think you’d be silly to ignore!

…be ready to hear it like it is…


CVs – the basics

Layout, layout, layout. Make it clear and easy to get the main facts from a CV quickly. Jobs I’ve been on the selection committees for have up to 100 applications – there are some areas (eg Eng Lit) where this is doubled. If we have to hunt for information in your application, it’s not necessarily a good thing for you! If the information is unclear, or ambiguous, ditto. And I start to wonder what you’re trying to hide…

On the other hand, no whizzy showy stuff to “stand out” in that pile of 100. I can live without pictures on a CV too. We don’t need to know what you look like (Sorry <grin>).

What will stand out is a clean, professional, sensible knowledgeable CV with a clear straightforward application letter.

Always order things from the most recent to the most historic ie backwards.

Be judicious about what you include. We don’t really need to know your hobbies or your non-academic employment UNLESS you want to refer to it in your cover letter for a specific this-job-related reason. EG voluntary work is lovely, but only mention it if you’re doing such work in an area relevant to the job for which you’re applying. But I really don’t need to know that you enjoy reading (I should hope you do in this business!) or fell-walking in your job application. If you’re invited to interview, we can have a great talk about that over lunch. But don’t waste your space or my time on such stuff in your job application.

Resist, resist, really resist the urge to inflate your CV. Please.

You really don’t need to have more than you’d be expected to have in relation to your ‘career age.’ The problem with CV inflation is that you think you have to have all this stuff for a job application, but we might make a less than positive comparison between what you write and what we know to be the case: for example, book reviews are book reviews, not publications in the same way that a refereed journal article is a publication.

Just be straightforward about articles out for review: say that you’ve submitted an essay for X journal, and are awaiting readers’ reports. In the first couple of years post-PhD, we’re looking for a research trajectory, which means that you need to show you know what you’re doing & the direction you’re going in, and that you’re taking practical, concrete steps to get there eg you’re preparing a book proposal adapted or drawn from your PhD (important to show you know that your PhD is rarely publishable in its raw form!) and have submitted/about to submit to XYZ publisher. Be ready to talk about why that publisher in interview. Basically, any claim you make in your CV, be prepared to discuss in interview.

Personally I don’t like the Twitter-like biogs at the top of a CV for an academic job: just stick to the utilitarian basics.

Ditto for the summary such as “I am a highly motivated self-directed individual, able to work on multi-disciplinary project.” That sort of guff. This is for your cover letter, and needs to backed up by concrete evidence/examples. For non-academic jobs, such statements are required & useful, but for an academic job, we all know what the job is; your distinctiveness is going to be in your CV, which represents the mix of your experience so far.

Cover letters, proposals etc

Again, remember that your application or proposal is going to be one of many. So keep things clean, clear, and try to be helpful in your submissions – in that you should adhere to any directions given you about layout or word length and so on.

Simple stuff such as: if you’re submitting an electronic document, name each document with your name & what it is not just randomly “Exeter application”.

Instead, label it clearly <YOURNAME_Grant proposal Exeter 2017>

Think about what information you would need and in what order if you were managing say, 20 applications for the same thing. You’d want to be able to sort & save the documents by applicant probably.

I always prefer MSWord, rather than a PDF but check about format for sending something. Usually, if you’re asked for several parts eg Proposal, summary, and CV it makes sense to put it all in one document (as above, think of the recipient, managing 20 or a 100 such documents), each section of the document separated by a page break.

It’s all just digital good manners.

Cover letters for jobs

Be straightforward and clear, and get to the point of what you offer to the post.

Give us a one or two sentence summary of your PhD research, and what was original. Then tell us how this is relevant to a broader field. And show us/explain to us how what you’re an expert in will add to, complement, enable collaboration, challenge the students etc etc in the Department you’re aiming to join.

Think beyond your PhD. It changed your life, but your PhD won’t change the world – it’s just the start.

To be really tough on this point: when I’m chatting to ECRs informally, and even more so when I’m interviewing them for jobs, I do tend to find those who can’t look beyond their own nose – see beyond their PhD topic – can be rather <ahem> boring and a bit self-absorbed, and I do wonder what sort of a collegial sharing generous person they’re likely to be. Ditto people who are arrogant about their work, or secretive. You should be able to talk to colleagues about your work in an open, non-jargonistic way; indeed, you need to be able to explain your research to your colleagues, and enthuse your colleagues about it. One way of doing this is to have a built-in response to the “So what?” question – excite them about how your work opens up broader issues, or whatever, and so on.

It’s important because it’s a good way to conduct your professional life – it’s a good ethic to share and to engage, and to collaborate. But on a more pragmatic note, if I have concerns about your arrogance or the narrowness of research enquiry, from the way you share or don’t share in writing and in person, I’m going to probe and prod & push you in interview. Or if I can’t see, in your CV and your research forward planning, that you’re aware of the level of team work and collegiality needed as an academic, and the openness & breadth needed as a teacher, then I may not push for you to be shortlisted. With 60 or 100 candidates, we’re looking for reasons not to shortlist as much as to shortlist.

Take your work seriously, by all means, but don’t take yourself too seriously. I think if you approach it like that, you’ll find your balance.

And if you’re a man, you’ll probably have to work a bit harder at this, because you’re socialised since birth to feel self-important and necessarily of interest to others without having to try too much; it’s as well to try to be self-aware about that socialisation. Gender politics are real, and you can’t rely on the advantages of institutional sexism for very much longer. (And women, note that I am deliberately phrasing this in terms of male advantage rather than female disadvantage.)

Kate Newey

<aka the Grumpy Professor>


Kate Newey is Professor of Theatre History at Exeter. She has been a Head of Department for three different University Drama Departments (Lancaster, Birmingham, and Exeter), and has sat on appointments committees from Teaching Fellows to Professorial and other senior appointments. She is currently Director of Research for Drama at Exeter, and has led on the last 3 REF/RAE submissions for her department (2001, 2008, 2014). She was a member of the AHRC Peer Review Panel from its inception, and is a founding committee member of the British Association for Victorian Studies, and the Theatre and Performance Research Association. She was a judge for the Society for Theatre Research Theatre Book Awards (2008) and sits on the STR Research Awards sub-committee. She has taught in English and Drama Departments in Australia and the UK, and is an expert in the literature and popular culture of the nineteenth century and has published widely on Victorian theatre and women’s writing, including the books Lives of Shakespearean Actors: Fanny Kemble (editor, 2010), John Ruskin and the Victorian Theatre (with Jeffrey Richards, 2010), Ruskin, the Theatre, and Victorian Visual Culture (co-editor, 2009), Women’s Theatre Writing in Victorian Britain (2005), and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1993). She was co-editor of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film from 2005-2015, and led the AHRC-funded project ‘A Cultural History of English Pantomime, 1837-1901,’ 2009-2012.

NRN Blog: One Thesis, One Document?!

One of the most tricky aspects to getting a single draft of a thesis is the physical merging of all of your chapters into one whole. It’s intimidating, but we’ve got you covered: here’s our own Kate Holmes with her tips and tricks. 

Recently I put my thesis into one document for the last time. Like most people I’ve been working with files that contain chapter information rather than one large document because this reduces the risk of document corruption. (My previous career in proposal writing drilled this into me! It also means that I’m used to working with large and unwieldy Word documents.)

I’ve actually combined my thesis twice: the first time was around a year ago when I produced my first (shitty) draft and the second was as my draft was becoming more final. Thankfully, this meant I had already investigated how to combine documents. But, if you haven’t done this already it could make a stressful time even more infuriating if you’re not familiar with the annoyances of Word. This is the stage where all the hard work has been done, so hopefully this post might make choosing the right method to combine documents easier. (Apologies, this post will be quite long!)

It took me quite a while to discover the following three main methods:

  1. Master Documents
  2. Insert File
  3. RD Field: keeping separate documents and combining as pdf

I’ve generally outlined the methods that I think are most likely to work on both Windows and Apple machines. (I have used both.) I’ve not outlined every step in detail, but you should be able to find information on Google by searching terms like ‘Styles’ and ‘Master documents’.

Before you even think about merging the documents, you really should:

Manage Your Individual Documents to Make Merging Easy

There are a few things you can do to make your files easier to combine on a file level:

  • Set up your own templates with line spacing, headings etc set up in a format you like and that complies with your submission requirements from the start. You do this by setting up ‘Styles’.
    1. Think about whether you like a particular font eg I like Garamond because it uses less ink (my printer cartridges last longer!) and is a serif font which makes it easier to read on paper. (How I imagine my examiners are likely to read it!)
    2. Coming from a marketing background I’m obsessed about consistency in document layout so I like headings to have the same spacing underneath – setting this up as a Style in a template will make that consistent across every document. You can also create your own Styles eg so that all your long quotations have the same formatting.
    3. Although, I’ve not done it, it is possible to apply a template retrospectively to a document if you are a bit further along in the process.
  • Use the different Heading style levels (1-3) and use them – that way you can automatically generate your Contents page.
  • Insert a caption on all images and tables so that they automatically populate your Illustrations and separate Tables list.
  • Insert images into the folder using the Insert menu on the main toolbar to ensure you can compress files. If like me you work with a lot of images, then copying and pasting images will result in big individual file sizes that cannot be compressed on a Mac (I’m not sure about Windows here). If you then try and merge documents with large file sizes into a large document you are increasing the chances of all your hard work resulting in a slow, or even, unreadable corrupted document. 
  1. Master Documents

This is a method I first tried and found the least successful. Initially it created a beautiful document with a contents page, but then when I tried to reopen the document it only included links rather than the full text. It also can apparently lead to an increased likelihood of document corruption (see here) in individual documents that goes unseen. (I did notice that it added section breaks to all of the documents I tried to insert when I returned to them – something that is only possible to rectify on a Mac if you click the ‘Show all nonprinting characters’ button.)

The theory is that a master document allows you to work on the individual files and that this will automatically update the master document. Here’s some detailed instructions on Word 2010. The key to it seems to be to select ‘View’ > ‘Outline’ which will then enable you to select ‘View’ > ‘Master Document’.

You can then insert the contents page on the first page prior to the point your first document is inserted. You can also easily create a contents or illustrations table by selecting ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ from the main toolbar. The master document will sort your page and figure numbers for you automatically.

I presume the safest thing to do with this method would be to pdf it at the end. I’m unsure how successful it would be to send this as a Word document to someone else eg your supervisor. Would you need to send all associated documents for them to be able to access the linked information?

  1. Insert File

This is pretty straightforward, but will result in one large document that may be more liable to corruption. (Although this may only be if you are working with as many images as I am!) It is the method I used to create my final document because it allowed me to use Reference Management Software to create my Works Cited list.

  • Save all of your documents separately in one folder.
  • Create a new file and populate it with all of the initial information required by your institution. Go to ‘Insert’ > ‘Break’ > ‘Section Break (Next Page)’ before inserting your first document.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘File’ and select the first file, making sure to insert another page break.
  • Continue until you have all of your files in your document.
  • Then go through and check all of your page numbers. The page breaks may have restarted each chapter to begin at 1. ‘Insert’ > ‘Page Numbers’ will allow you to edit the numbering.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ to create your contents, illustrations and tables lists.

Here’s a useful blog post on this method.

I would recommend doing this fairly late if, like me, you are using a number of images and Reference Management Software. I found that once everything was combined it slowed down my reference software significantly. I presume this is because every time you edit or insert a reference that it is reading the whole document to ensure the Works Cited list is up-to-date.

3. RD Field: Keeping Separate Documents and Combining as PDF

This is the method I used to create my first draft as it meant I could continue to work with separate documents.

  • First save your individual documents separately from the ones you have been working with previously. Save these all into the same final draft folder.
  • Update all the page numbers manually so that each chapter runs on from the last. (If you are using images, you will also need to alter the numbering on image captions to ensure they run on numerically.)
  • Create a document that holds all of your initial information such as the Title page, Acknowledgements, Contents, Illustrations or any other information required by your institution. Save this into the same final draft folder.
    • Turn on the ability to view all non-printing characters (button) so that you can see when you have linked this document to your individual files. This will allow you to see the fields you insert that allows automatic population of contents etc…
    • Prior to your contents & illustrations select ‘Insert’ > ‘Field’ from the drop down.
    • In the box this brings up select ‘RD’ and place in quotation marks the title of your first document. eg RD “Chapter 1”. (Do the same for all of your documents.) You will not see this on the final document, so there is no need to separate this with a carriage return, especially as each carriage return will drop the text that is printed lower on the page.
    • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index & Tables’ to place contents, tables and illustrations tables in this document.
  • You can now print all these individual documents in Word and they should print consistently with the correct page numbers, figure numbers and contents, tables and illustration lists. However, these are still separate documents.
  • Save all of your documents as pdfs. If you use a Mac, you can use Preview to combine pdf documents. If you use Office you may need to use Adobe (which I’m sure your institution will be able to help you with).
  • You now have a print document.

Printing the main document:

  • Look at how many pages your document is and decide if it will need to be printed in two separately bound documents. This is the frequently the case if your thesis is over 300 pages. (You will need a coversheet on the second print document.)

When using any one of these methods, you will need to also think about how you populate your Bibliography and how you ensure all of your references are correct once all your documents have been combined. The main reason I shifted from using the RD field to the insert file method was precisely because it allowed my reference management software to do a lot of the hard work for me.

What method worked best for you? Do you have any tips? Tell us about them in the comments!

NRN Blog: Transitioning from MA to PhD



For our next installment in the NRN Blog Series, we’re delighted to feature committee member Ella Hawkins! Ella is a first-year PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon. Her research focuses on the representation of Elizabethan England in 21st century stage design for Shakespeare, and is funded by the Midlands3Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. 


‘How’s the PhD going?’

What counts as things ‘going well’ during the first months of a PhD? Getting out of bed before 10am each day? Finding some sort of routine that facilitates productivity? Reading three books per week? Writing something (anything!)?

I’ve now been a PhD student for exactly one term. I attended my first welcome event ten days after submitting my MA dissertation, and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to figure out what it means to be a doctoral researcher. My usual response to the question above is ‘Okay! I think…?’. This blog post offers a more detailed insight into my experience of transitioning from MA- to PhD-level study.

Out with the old, in with the new


Welcoming the new student cohort with tea and cake

Unlike many, I stayed on at the same institution for both my MA and PhD. This has brought some continuity to my transition, and meant that I had a head start in settling in to my work environment. I already knew the staff and (most of) my fellow PhD students, I was familiar with the library and the various resources available to Institute students, and I could head straight to my favourite coffee shop in Stratford-upon-Avon to get stuck into some reading. I even had some crossover in terms of supervision. My MA dissertation supervisor became my second PhD supervisor, so I didn’t have to worry so much about building new academic relationships as I moved on to a new course.

Despite all this, I didn’t realise how different my surroundings would feel at the turn of a new academic year. All my MA friends disappeared, and were replaced by a new cohort. My familiar routine went on without me being a part of it. Students trooped in to their seminars – modules I’d known and loved – while I was left to figure out how to work alone. The new students seemed like a great bunch, but I’d lost the support network that helped get me through my Masters. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the way that I had just a few weeks previously.

Imposter syndrome

Feeling insecure, unworthy, and out of place is an issue that can affect PhD students at any stage of their research. For me, continuing directly from MA to PhD led to some serious imposter syndrome – particularly during the first few weeks of my new course.

Having submitted my MA dissertation just days before beginning my PhD, I didn’t receive my final results until I was almost a month into my doctoral studies. What if my work wasn’t good enough for me to be moving on to doctoral research? Would my supervisor be disappointed by what I’d produced? I had used my MA dissertation as an opportunity to begin exploring some of the ideas that would be key to my PhD research; if it didn’t go down well (I told myself), there would likely be serious repercussions for the success of my current project. Although post-deadline despair has been a familiar feeling throughout my academic career, it seemed like the stakes had never been higher.

Finding my feet

Happily, things turned out well on the MA results front. As the initial wave of imposter syndrome retreated, I knuckled down and got to work on my first bit of proper PhD research. Figuring out exactly what’s expected of me as a doctoral student was the next twist on the transition rollercoaster.


Mind-mapping one’s way to productivity…

I always knew where I was at during my MA. A module lasted 10 weeks, and was worth just over 10% of my overall degree. I had to turn up to seminars, do the prescribed reading, and complete the assignments. At the end of each term I could cross a couple of modules off my mental to-do list and know that I was one step closer to donning a graduation robe. Then dissertation season came along; I had a monthly meeting with my supervisor, and at the end of the summer I needed to hand in a 15,000-word document. It wasn’t an easy year by any means, but I always had a good indication of my progress and performance.

A PhD is more… freeform. I have monthly supervisions (as I did while completing my MA dissertation), and there are a couple of interim deadlines that I need to stick to, but other than that my schedule is largely up to me. What do I feel like researching this month? Where would be a logical place to start? PhDs are big. They’re huge. Finding a way to divide things into more manageable chunks is something I’m still learning about, as well as the volume of material I’m expected to produce between supervisions.

Looking forwards

Although I find it hard to answer the inevitable ‘How’s the PhD going?’ enquiries, I’m feeling excited about the prospect of working in this way for the next three (or, realistically, four) years. Thinking about my topic gives me warm fuzzy feelings. It’s my little slice of the theatre pie, and I crafted it myself to include all the things I love most about Shakespearean performance. I’m developing a way of working that works for me; it feels good to organise my own schedule and find ways to be productive each day. Getting to know a new cohort of students is fantastic, and it’s even better to be supported by such an esteemed supervisory team and funding body.

I know that I’ll likely fall in and out of love with my project as I hit obstacles and opportunities along the way. But I want to remember the positive feelings I’m feeling right now. I’m doing what I love, and exciting times are ahead.


Twitter: @EllaMcHawk

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NRN Blog: The Archivist and the Repertoire – acting as interpreter for NUI Galway Special Collections


Culture Night at NUI GalwayPhotograph by Aengus McMahon

Photograph by Aengus McMahon

For our next installment in the NRN blog series, we’re pleased to feature Barry Houlihan! Barry is an archivist at the James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway. Current projects include the archive of Druid Theatre Company. Barry is a member of the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive Project Group and Executive Committee member of APAC (Association for Performing Arts Collections). Barry is also a PhD candidate in the School of English, NUI Galway, researching a sociological history of Irish theatre and everyday life, 1950s – 1970s. For more information see and Twitter: @nuigarchives and @stagedreaction.

I work as an archivist at the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. Within the Archives and Special Collections we hold an ever-growing collection of unique and wonderful archives of Irish theatre and performance. These collections range from single items (a framed playbill from a production at Kirwan’s Lane Theatre, Galway, 1783, which featured among the cast the Irish revolutionary, Theobald Wolfe Tone) to the largest digital theatre archive in the world – The Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, at over 1 million multi-media items, spanning over 110 years of Irish cultural history, from 1904 to present day.

Other theatre collections at NUI Galway include the archives of Tony-award winning Druid Theatre Company, Macnas, the playwright Thomas Kilroy, actors Siobhan McKenna and Arthur Shields, archive of the national Irish language theatre, Taibhdhearc Na Gaillimhe and also the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, often described as an unofficial ‘national’ theatre for Northern Ireland. Taken individually, these collections are themselves incredible resources for researchers studying any aspect of Irish theatre history, performance or production. Taken as a collective and interlinked unit, the sum of all these parts is an unrivalled record and memory of the theatre of a nation that predates the establishment of the State itself.

The most time consuming but also most rewarding aspect of being a theatre archivist is reconstructing what was never meant to be saved in the first place. The passion and desire to see theatre is to witness something and be part of something that is unique to that one night and to that one performance. What is happening outside of the theatre – in society or politics, or within your own job or in the relationships you have with friends, family or partners, can all affect how you see but also how you remember a performance. The archive is as personal to the audience as it is to the actor or playwright.

Quite commonly an archive arrives for cataloguing in a mass state of disarray. Boxes upon boxes of records, with little organisation (or none at all) and can represent the life’s work of a playwright or the output of a theatre. The archivist must become the medium between this material and the researcher who will study it in detail. I would compare this task of rebuilding the archive to trying to complete the largest jigsaw you could imagine – tens of thousands of individual pieces, but without having the picture on the box to work from. You will never know how ‘the archive’ will look until it is completed and catalogued in full.

druid catalogue structure

Figure 1: Portion of structure of the Druid Theatre Archive, NUI Galway

I would always approach this task from the point of view as a researcher. Archivists often love ultra-complex hierarchies of structures that make perfect sense to other archivists – those whose job it is to build a skeleton for an archive onto which the material can sit. I would think primarily (of any collection) as if I was a researcher of e.g. Abbey Theatre tours of the 1930s, and how visible can I make that material be in the midst of thousands of items? No matter the person or level of experience, the first question I frequently meet is “What material do you have on XXXX?” How can I structure that archive to faithfully represent that theatre or director that created it and which is still navigable for a first-year undergraduate to an experienced Professor?

As well as being a facilitator of preservation and access, a key job of the archivist is to be an interpreter of the archive. I often see researchers disappointed when I say a video or photograph does not exist for a particular production. While that may be the case, it does not mean the information you would get from visual sources does not exist in other forms, you just have to look hard enough and ask the right questions of the archive.

Prompt-scripts, for example, are invaluable resources that contain so much evidence, of text, speech, direction, design and even sound. You can plot and place each character’s entrance and exit points, you can follow the timing of lighting and sound cues, you can track the director’s edits and decisions and even ‘listen’ to the speech patterns of an actor who may note specific phrases, accent or regional variances to their lines. Press coverage will often carry images or descriptions of the set design and character’s costumes and of individual performances. Posters and tickets will tell you how plays were marketed and priced and so who the audience typically were. The play programmes can even tell you what chocolates couples shared during the interval. If you interrogate the archive in different ways, it can reveal really interesting insights into how not just a performance looked but also how it felt it to be there and how it might have been received.

abbey philadelphia

Figure 2: audio material for Philadelphia, Here I Come! in the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway

Through digitisation and digital access we can also make available formerly inaccessible material. Reels, beta tapes, DV tapes, floppy disks cassettes and mini-disks are all obsolete media but which retain their original evidence. For instance, if we listen to the sound score of Tomás MacAnna’s production of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! at the Abbey Theatre in 1972, we learn the play opens to the sound of a train whistle departing a platform, which then morphs into the sound of a jet engine. This signifies the play and the theme of Irish emigration has been updated from the train/boat imagery of traditional Irish emigration to the modern arrival of transatlantic flights.

Text searching across the script archive of the Abbey Theatre by means of OCR (Optical Character Recognition) means every script (typescript at least) is word searchable. This throws up a lot of interesting points about Ireland and various aspects of culture. For example, the depiction of drugs and drug-taking in Irish (Abbey) playscripts – In the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, the word ‘heroin’ appears 58 times in the context of drug-taking. The earliest mention of cocaine, however, is actually seen as early as 1942, in An Apple a Day by Elizabeth Connor. This may have been a surprise to Abbey audiences in the midst of ‘Emergency’ Dublin, where even fresh fruit was a black-market commodity (the period of World War II in Ireland was called ‘the Emergency’). A search of words and phrases can show not just what plays but where exactly within each play audiences meet certain events, actions and people.

druid famine

Figure 3: Programme with map of West of Ireland tour of Famine by Druid Theatre Company, 1984

The digital theatre archive can be searched by a single click to reveal the place of female characters or male characters, Catholics or Protestants, bankers or politicians, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, emigrants, murderer or thief. By tracking the touring records of Druid Theatre company, we can see, for example, how and when they toured certain plays to certain locations in specific times, such as the reception of The Playboy of the Western World in Tokyo (2007), the Playboy of the Western World on Inis Mór island (1982) or a touring production of Famine by Tom Murphy, (1984) within the West of Ireland, the area worst affected by the Great Famine of the 1840s.

In piecing all of this back together, the memory of performance and all its elements becomes clearer. We learn more about how theatres and playwrights sought to depict everyday life in Ireland, how various European design styles may have influenced stage design, how women were not afforded a clear voice by a lack of access for female playwrights at the national theatre. History does become clearer but importantly the archive also keeps offering more questions. The answers are not always so easy to find but they are certainly worth opening the archive for and looking for the answers yourself.

How does your practice inform your research? What new discoveries have you made in the archives? Talk to Emer and Kate at and your work might be featured here at a later date!