Time flies. In the final year of a PhD it flies faster… ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ goes the saying, so logically I must be having fun, right?
I recently attended the ESRC Final Year Conference hosted by the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science in lovely Edinburgh. It was marked by glorious weather (at least for the first 24 hours), catching up with friends who are inevitably based too far away, meeting fellow PhD-ers and fun final-year-style. I’ve been contemplating that I’m seriously on the final run to finish my PhD since I came back in January, making plans and writing drafts day after day. The conference came handy to distract me from the routine of write-sleep-read-repeat-until-you-make-it and once again remind me that I’m not alone. PhD students from across the country got together and created a great buzz! I was so proud that I am a PhD student, eveneven more so in the last few months.
The Conference was focused on impact, ways forward and careers with various speakers and examples. Some of the main points to take away are summarised below.
- Specialism and niche knowledge vs. flexibility has been one of my favourite considerations recently. To be honest the more I’ve progressed through my studies, the more I’ve opened my world-view. This meant exploring different career paths and the nature and role of knowledge. Nowadays career paths change so quickly so one needs to be highly adaptable, open-minded, willing to develop and grow within the particular field or beyond. So there’s a question to consider: Does the job you’d be doing in 15 years from now exist already? Probably not!
Knowledge exchange is very important. Bridging academia and practice and demystifying the ‘ivory tower’ analogy is a must, at least in the social sciences. This means using existing networks and creating new ones to share relevant knowledge and practice and make impact happen. I guess this is inevitably linked to language in a broad sense. Key messages: Want to work with policy makers? Learn how they speak and condense your findings in 3 key points. Want to benefit practitioners? Find out how thesis findings would be useful. Communicate these accordingly and yes, learn the language! I am not talking about a foreign language here, it’s more about the subtleness and terminology which is not necessarily how we’ve learned to talk in academia (we’ve been in this for at least 3 years and for most of us the academic lingo is how we speak, write, discuss, isn’t it?…)
- Vitae‘s Alison Mitchell provided a session on career development in the social sciences. Always useful to be reminded that academic career is not ‘the one and only’ path out there. The Vitae Researcher Development Framework, or RDF for short, was highlighted as a tool for professional development. I’ve used the RDF wheel at various stages of my PhD and found it useful particularly in identifying skills that I already have developed and next steps in order to progress further. However, an important point was made that to plan a career, you need to know what it is you want to do and achieve. Reflect on this: Do you know what success looks like?
The last point is all about communication and a role-play exercise involving making, throwing and catching. As researchers we create impact and are responsible for communicating this. Making impact requires having influence, making impact requires decisiveness, being creative with the given resources and seeing the bigger picture. We were told a story: A girl learned how to sew fabric balls. She wanted to show these to other people, she wanted to play, she wanted to share the balls. One day she threw a ball at someone who was looking in a different direction. The ball fell silent on the floor. The next day she threw a ball but it landed well behind the person. On the third day, the person she wanted to play with, said ‘Let me show you…’ and the game was on, the ball was caught time after time. (Thanks to Julie Guy for the story, I’ve taken the liberty to anonymise it and share my interpretation). What about impact then? Start with the outcome, highligh who is going to use the research and how, how will your research skills enable this to happen? Remember: As a ‘maker of impact’ it’s your responsibility to make and throw the ball but be aware that the catcher can’t catch a badly thrown ball. Collaborate!
You may wonder by now what’s with the ceilidh in the title. Well, I saved the best for last. The conference concluded with a night in the Natural Museum of Scotland and ceilidh. The 2 hours of jumping, spinning, smiling and general excitement were fabulous! Learned some new moves, stepped on a few toes, apologised, messed up the steps, smiled some more, kept going till the end. Everybody joined the last dance as if it was a metaphor for our shared experience. And the steps were symbolic too! Lots of spinning in different directions with different people and moving forwards and backwards, well isn’t this how you write a thesis… It’s one way to go about it for sure.
The conclusion? PhD students know how to have fun, whether it’s through writing, discussing or dancing. I guess that’s why time flies.