The Hero’s Journey for Researchers: What’s your story? Tom Ottway

 tom-ottway-hive-photo-bwI’ve been teaching for years, mainly with international students and I’ve often got them to think about Joseph Campbell’s fabled Hero’s Journey in terms of their own development. The basic model, on which thousands of film and story plots have been based, is based around a ‘hero’ entering a challenging new world and entering a series of ever-increasing challenges and different characters, before hopefully emerging victorious…

Does this sound familiar to you too, fellow researchers? The struggle, the challenges, the long and sometimes seemingly endless road to achieving a doctorate?

It was only when I sat down recently to write up my Research Plan as part of signing off my first year as a part-time PhD candidate in Creative & Critical Practice in the school of Media, Film and Music, that it struck me how relevant the Hero’s Journey is. Here’s my first year mapped out in my own rough reworking of the very basic elements based on the Writer’s Journey:’s_journey.htm



When I started my doctorate, I was working full-time as a senior manager on campus in a role that had become heavily administrative and less and less student-facing. It had become very repetitive and I was keen for a change.



I had talked for years about a doing a PhD and but not actually done anything about it. Finally, after volunteering in Uganda as a teacher-trainer in the summer of 2014, I realised how fortunate I was and how easily I could change my life compared with others.


On arriving back in the UK from Uganda, I spoke to a lecturer in MFM about my desire to return to studying/practising Media after doing an Artist Residency in the Netherlands ten years earlier on the subject of home, belonging and residency. He was hugely supportive and encouraging, and it was this moment; this spark which ignited something, galvanised me, and eventually led me finally apply for a doctorate.



I realise that the last 18 months have been a series of tests and struggles, often inner, mental battles. I spent a year trying to get CHASE funding, twice being shortlisted but ultimately not being successful. It’s hard to keep dusting yourself down and not having your confidence affected. I then tried to balance my full-time job with studying, which was very tough. After nine months of trying to do this, I decided to take leap of faith and leave my job. What made me feel capable of making this frankly scary decision was the support and encouragement I received from the research community, my supervisors, friends and family. However, I did it and have not regretted it one bit.



I’m far from having achieved my PhD but I am now making the most of the huge numbers of opportunities available including workshops, training events, Widening Participation, teaching and networking. More importantly, I am part of a research community and would like to support others who may be experiencing a rocky moment in their road to success. Right now, I’m really enjoying connecting with so many researchers and faculty, and putting on events and developing new initiatives. What makes the Hive Scholar role so unique is that we are offering peer support, so we are particularly tuned in to researchers’ needs.


This year one of our aims as Hive Scholars is to map Researcher Journeys in order to attempt to capture what doing a PhD is like, in its many guises.

What’s your story? Please share it here.

Tom Ottway is a researcher in the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex. He is interested in the role of the sonic in the construction of notions of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’.


Image:By scan from an unknown publication by an anonymous poster, in a thread, gave permission to use it. Re-drawn by User:Slashme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons





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