So last September I thought I would apply to the university that was most local to my new location. This wasn’t just geographically easy, I had also been reading around the topic and several papers had been published by researchers based here, so it made sense in that way as well. I surprised myself and was offered an interview, and subsequently a place with the biology department to start in February.
Great – I was all set to go.
However, life gets in the way, and what with moving house and family commitments I realised that the following September was a more appropriate time to start, so I postponed my place.
In the meantime, I was questioning everything and figured I may as well explore other options, just in case. I sent off three more applications to universities and had interviews for all of them. I was then offered two more places – one in geography and one in psychology. What I learned from this (and there is a slight possibility that I am cynical) was that although I may not be a fundable option, universities liked the look of my money!
I decided on the psychology option, as although my chosen subject fitted with the other areas, when I talked about the possibilities with other people both they and I realised that the psychology option made me “light up” and show most enthusiasm.
So, I was all set to go. However, you may remember I was still moving house, across the country. Eventually this happened, taking rather longer than expected as these things do. I now had a new house, which needed a lot of work, and I needed a part time job to fund my studies. I applied for several and was offered 5 different positions, most of which were self employed or zero hours lecturing or teaching. I took them all on and for June and July things were manic as I worked all the hours I could to earn the funds for the first year of university. August came and things calmed down on the work front, but still the house needed work. Most notably for my PhD, there was nowhere I could work in the house. We decided to install a home office in a caravan in the garden, this wasn’t the most ideal solution, but was practical and affordable. I decorated it and set a room up as an office.
Now I was all set to go. I finished some of the jobs, and ensured the others were more sustainable, but still bought in enough money to fund myself. I decided the next thing to do was to read some of the many recommended books on doing a PhD. This could have been done earlier, but I had made do with blogs and online content. The books I read rather than being inspiring actually made me feel rather discouraged. Everything was aimed at people just out of a Bachelors or Masters. The perfunctory mentions of older students made me feel, as had the applications for funded positions, distinctly second class. I believe there is an expectation that younger PhD candidates will make more use of their qualification than older ones. Younger ones may often be those who did particularly well at undergraduate level, and the research environment agrees with them. In contrast older PhD students may have left full time education disillusioned, been more interested in working, needed financial security or simply been discouraged from applying to do further study. However I would say the life experience, the expectation of what is involved and the skills learned through a working life can more than compensate for any perceived shortcomings. Moreover, as mature students may have been involved at higher levels of work environments already they have an understanding of certain internal politics, and on completion (I hope!!!!) may be well placed to move swiftly into academia.
Anyway – I was all set to go. The university sent the things for me to register, and pay, which I filled in. I contacted my future supervisor about any recommended background reading or preparation, and I waited with excitement and anticipation. In passing my husband said he had seen a funded position that I might be interested in. I brushed it aside. Money is great, but there is a certain power to be had in paying for your own education. I liked the control and the flexibility I had. I did eventually look at the position he had mentioned – it did look quite good, but the closing date was the day before. Oh well, I thought, I have nothing to lose, so I sent in an application – with a CV that was now out of date. I was truly shocked to be offered an interview. Unfortunately, I could not make it, so thinking they would immediately rule me out I asked for a skype interview. Again, I was surprised this was granted. The interview didn’t go very well, but that was OK. I was happy with my part time, self funded PhD that was starting in a weeks’ time. That was what I had been building up to for a whole year. That was where I was going.
I was offered that PhD. Fulltime and fully funded.
Given the work I had put into the part time position, and the amount I had needed to put in place to support myself, and the psychological place I was in; looking forward to starting the following week, I nearly turned it down! Nearly, but not quite. Money does speak, as does the opportunity to work fulltime on a single research project. I start this October.
Now I am all set to go.