In talking about the experience of a PhD, we sometimes forget that a PhD is not a homogeneous experience. For many students, a PhD is only one part of their life, balanced with family, work or other responsibilities. Anna Maguire Elliott, a PhD student in the Department of English, was kind enough to talk to us about her experience of doing a PhD and working. She provides tells us a little bit about how she manages, some advice for people doing the same, and some training sessions that have been particularly useful.
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Could you introduce yourself?
I am a final year, full-time PhD student in American Literature and my research is an ecocritical approach to the female-authored domestic novel. Basically, I’m interested in how writing set within the home contributes to, and challenges, the literary construction of the American landscape. In my other life, I work part-time in the American study abroad sector as an academic programme manager, helping US students coming to study in UK universities for a semester or a year.
What are some of the challenges of juggling work and study?
A shortage of time, tiredness (I also commute), and fitting in friends and family.
What are some of the benefits?
Strangely, having little time makes me quite focused on my studies. I enjoy my job because it consists of self-contained tasks, which are a good brain break from research. Work allows me to interact with other humans on a more regular basis, too!
How often do you come to campus?
I’m in the writing up stages now so I’m there less frequently but it was roughly 2-3 days a week.
Have you attended many training sessions? Have you found any particularly helpful?
I attended the most in my first and second years. I got a lot out of the writing sessions: I am most definitely a Liz Sage fan! Also the Building your Academic Web Presence Using Social Media session with Catherine Pope gave me the confidence to get a bit more twitter active, which led to some networking, which in turn spawned a symposium.
Do you attend many conferences/events around your subject?
I attend about 3-4 a year.
How do you stay motivated?
I really enjoy my research and feel glad to have the opportunity to pursue it, plus work gives me structure so I’m fairly motivated. When I’m in a writing slump I like to play loud music and dance around my desk (but I try to do that at home – not recommended in the office).
What advice would you have to those embarking on a PhD and working?
Keep your work and study boundaries as clear as you can (not easy with current technology meaning you can check e-mail, access databases, video call, etc from anywhere). Sleep when you can – I am now quite good at power naps on the train. And remember you’re not alone: the number of students who work is increasing.