Monday, July 27, 2015

PhD Pride 2.0

Below are some of the responses I have got from Twitter on the question: What makes you proud of your PhD?

Many thanks to all the contributions thus far! Please keep sharing under the hashtag #PhDproud and I will keep updating this page!

And lest we forget the potential for humour and fun in a PhD:

But ultimately, it comes down to this:
Other points were mentioned to me, such as how the PhD eroded the impostor syndrome and provided a greater sense of belonging to the academic community. In addition, there is immense pride from those who managed to juggle (sometimes multiple) jobs with the PhD which deserves immense pride. I imagine it would be the same feeling for those juggling a PhD with family commitments. 

All I can add is WELL DONE! We all deserve an immense pat on the back, and I'm sure that through sharing our points of pride, current and future PhDs will derive comfort from them!

PhD Pride

Another short post:

Following on from the previous post, I have started to think about what it is that I am proud of now that I have completed my doctorate. If you want to join in the discussion, please tweet me (@FionaEWhelan) or use the hashtag #phdproud.

My sense of pride ranges from big achievements to small accomplishments. The biggest source of pride is the simple sense of satisfaction that I actually completed it, despite some of the setbacks I had (which you can read about in previous blogposts). I know that I have contributed to new scholarship with a real value because my thesis shed light on an unknown piece of medieval literature which had largely been ignored in scholarship. However, the smaller accomplishments were also points of pride:

  1. My confidence has improved immensely. I used to be a shy person with fear and trepidation of public speaking. But through conferencing and teaching I have confidence and belief in myself as a public speaker which was sorely lacking prior to my PhD.
  2. I am proud that I can write! This sounds really silly, but to sit down and actually write 100,000 original words is something which fills me with pride and confidence for the future. I know that I could do it again (although maybe not for a little while - we all need a break!)
  3. My 'imposter syndrome' feeling has also massively reduced, now that I know that my research has been institutionally accepted as worthy of a doctorate.
  4. I am proud that I know that I can set a challenge and achieve it, while overcoming setbacks. I am proud of the way that I handled the setback of major corrections, and used it to positive ends.  
  5. I am proud that I supported myself throughout the doctorate, juggling research, teaching, and  part-time jobs.
  6. I conquered the fortress which is the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (and any scholar who has recourse to this archive, knows exactly what I mean!)
  7. I am proud of the unexpected things that I have done concurrent to my PhD, such as organising my college ball, acting as a Junior Dean who provides pastoral care to study abroad students; to teaching on summer school programs - all of which I could not have done had I not been completing my doctorate.
For all these reasons and more, I proudly use the title 'Dr' and will not let anyone try and lesson the importance, value and pride which I feel!

Please add your points of pride below in the comments or on Twitter, and I will happily compile them into the next blogpost!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Academic Credibility

Short post on the title of 'Dr'.

I am a bit of a BuzzFeed obsessive and was reading the following article about Labour activist Eoin Clarke's Twitter feed. I did not expect that an article on politics would lead to a blogpost on academia but you never know where BuzzFeed will take you!!

The offending part of the article referred to the fact that Eoin Clarke has been subject to criticism over his use of the title 'Dr' since he does not have any medical qualifications. Here is a screenshot of the relevant section: 

Personally, I feel this criticism deeply. Of course, I understand that my PhD does not equate to the immensely beneficial work which medical doctors do. They are essential and it is certainly a job which I could never do. So, I have immense admiration for medical doctors. But, for me, the insinuation that Eoin Clarke is being deceptive in his use of 'Dr' is deeply unsettling. PhDs work for 3 years or more, and devote a large proportion of their lives to intense and rigourous academic research, regardless of which field you receive your PhD in - from the humanities to education to science and beyond.

I know of no PhD who pretends that their 'Dr' title is the same as a medical doctor. Yet, we deserve to have our work recognised through the title 'Dr'. The moment you receive your first letter or first email which refers to you as 'Dr' is one of incredible pride. To have that denigrated or lessened is not only a shame, it is wrong!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ethics and Interviews

We all know that the academic job market is over-subscribed and massively competitive. Being on the side of academic job-hunter can be a tough and demoralising road. Which is why I find it so frustrating when potential employers sometimes appear insensitive to the difficulties post-Phd students encounter.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I believe in honesty and sharing both the good and bad experiences we face beyond the doctorate.

So, I want to share a recent experience I had interviewing for a non-stipendiary research position (i.e. nonsalaried but with a research stipend and academic affiliation provided). I have written about the issue of academic affiliation here. I am in the fortunate position of having a job lined up already, so this academic role would have been the icing on the cake.

The application details for the job were barely advertised and the application details thin. The skeptic in me felt that it was likely that there was someone already in mind for the position, but the role still had to be advertised and procedure had to be followed (this skepticism was echoed by others I should add). However, I held out hope that perhaps the application details had simply been hastily put together. I found the advertisement rather close to the deadline but managed to pull a proposal together and my referees diligently worked to get my references in on time. It was not just myself who put time and effort into the application, but my referees did too.

You can imagine my delight when I was called to an interview!! I dedicated time to preparing for the interview, talking to others to anticipate the questions and prepare answers. You can then imagine my disappointment when the interview lasted 15 minutes with only 4 questions! There was a undefined but definite feeling of indifference towards me, for example I was never asked about future publication plans, future contribution to the institution, nothing that would indicate that they in any way realistically contemplated hiring me. In addition, I felt I was unceremoniously kicked out of the interview room, and given no indication of where I was or how to find my way out. 

So, I knew I wasn't going to get the position - that was fine. But never had I felt less wanted or welcome in the interview process. Which led me to think: why did they invite me in the first place? Was I just making up the numbers?

Ultimately, I got my answer when the rejection came through, describing my application as uncompetitive in comparison with the other candidates. Fair enough. But if it was deemed so uncompetitive, why interview me at all? I knew I had just made up the numbers.

This is unfair. It gives false hope to a candidate, and wastes their time and effort (and those of the referees!). In those circumstances, the least you can do is give the candidate the best interview possible to gain valuable experience for future endeavors. 15 mins and 4 questions is a kick in the teeth.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Academic Conferences

Recently, there has been interesting discourse on Twitter and on blogs and 'good' and 'bad' behaviour in academic conferences. I can only add a few more words on the subject as it has been surveyed rather comprehensively by others. A blog by Will Pooley stresses the importance of a shift away from negativity to trying to affect positive changes ('quit complaining and start changing'). Another group of academics similarly stressed a change towards the positive, enumerating 'good' conference questions rather than bemoaning the 'bad' ones. It includes the phrase 'paperbomb' which I think brilliantly sums up the behaviour of some conference attendees when it comes to the Q&A sessions. The links to both can be found here:

However, while attending a recent conference, some behaviour was disappointing to me and I think we may still need to highlight poor conference etiquette if we are to change the system. (*this is not in anyway an indictment on the conference I'm attending, which is wonderfully organised. However, the behaviour is representative of that which we all encounter at all conferences!)

Ultimately, I am conforming to Pierre Bourdieu's concept of social habitus: the notion that rules of conduct are only codified when they are being flouted. Thus, we must continue to call out bad behaviour in order to instill better behaviour. 

Much of this may well stem from a gap between the treatment of junior academics by those more senior. As Pooley notes, this may reflect 'fundamental inequalities of the university system'. Junior academics still feel the pressure to present at conferences for future job prospects, whereas senior academics have a more relaxed approach to conferences. Below are just some observations. 

  1. In a Q&A session with two young academics and one more senior, one attendee praised the style of the senior academic, applauding them for "speaking to the audience which others were not doing". That felt like a unnecessarily direct dig at the other speakers at that session. Yes, there are academics who can stand up with no notes, no Powerpoint, and speak to the audience in a natural way. That does not mean that it is any better than someone who does have notes, who does use additional aids (handouts/slides/etc.). What is the point of a comment which seeks to embarrass and belittle others?
  2. Of course, there was the dreaded yet standard 'question as statement' which really only serves the person asking the question rather than being of benefit to the speaker. If you insist on commenting after every session, than I suggest that you give a paper too!
  3. There is always the question of time-keeping and the role of the chair. Yes, it is frustrating when a paper goes over the alloted time, even more so when the paper is really interesting but no time remains to develop the conversation in the Q&A. However, what is worse is when those in the back of the audience gumble and mutter 'stop, stop'. The chair is the one in charge, and as much as failed time-keeping can be frustrating, respect must be upheld!
What I have particularly noticed is that many of the transgressions of what we consider proper etiquette were committed by the more established senior academics. Now, cutting remarks, questions as statements, can equally be committed by junior academics. This can be especially true in a competitive envirnoment where postgrads can feel the need to one-up each other or cut each other down in order to show off. However, often I am left wishing that senior academics could look back and remember what it was like to be a graduate student or ECR - perhaps then conference behaviour would improve.

But in the favour of balance, perhaps we should also come up with some of the sins of the presenters. Presenters too are guilty of conference faux-pas, some of which directly lead to the 'bad' reactions of the audience! Here are just a few of my pet peeves:
  1. Timekeeping: It is so important to keep to the time limit. People who are there to hear you speak likely want to ask you questions and engage with your work. So time your papers! I think that postgrads and ECR's are quite good at this, but there may also be the idea that if you fill in more time, then maybe you can avoid the tricky questions! 
  2. PowerPoint: A visual presentation has to engage the audience. Medievalists can be guilty of throwing up images from manuscripts, but it has to be deployed in an effective and useful manner. A reproduction of a manuscript page which is illegible from more than a metre away probably isn't as useful as an enlargement of the relevant part. 
  3. Handouts - if you're going to use them, make sure you have enough for everyone. Also, one of my pet-peeves are handouts solely in Latin with no translations. This either assumes an elevated knowledge of the audience or projects a sense of superiority. Also, not everyone can read Latin as quickly as others - translations into the language of the conference is inclusive and doesn't exclude anyone, or make them feel inadequate.
Of course there is the question of style and delivery, but that it not for me to say! Everybody is different. All I would say is to be yourself, and for the audience to be respectful and sensitive to each speaker!