I did a lot of ‘bits and bobs’ throughout my PhD. Taken together, they were instrumental in me getting my PhD, securing my lectureship and finding out who I am.
One of the first things I did was to help organise a faculty conference. I also coordinated ‘Pint of Science’, created ‘Ignite your Mind’, gave a TedX talk and worked with the Widening Participation Unit delivering summer programmes to 15-year olds.
I was always putting my hand up to volunteer for doing groundwork on other research projects, and searched aggressively for teaching opportunities. The money was a motivator – I had no PhD stipend to rely on – but what drove me was whether I would learn something and get the chance to do different things that were fun. It was also a great way to meet people.
Everything I did gave me a new way of looking at things and a new way of approaching my work. If I had to single out one thing, it was without question achieving clarity of thought – something that was instrumental in helping me secure my job. I was told that my 15-minute presentation, as part of the interview process, was excellent. I chalk that down entirely to getting involved in public engagement and widening participation activities where I had to boil an academic idea down to its core. This skill also helped me improve as a teacher and figuring out my ‘teaching style’.
Another important benefit of meeting such a wide range of people was learning about who I wanted to work with and learn from. I came across some wonderful role models from whom I learned an extraordinary amount. They taught me that it is possible to be a respected academic whilst simultaneously being relaxed and ‘human’!
Achieving so many different short-term goals alongside my ongoing doctoral study was hugely important. It was great doing something else and having another focus. I was able to work it around my study – I just found the time. I kept a track of what I did on SAMIS but mainly kept a ‘live’ CV on the go, knowing that I’d need it at some point and I didn’t want to spend ages digging around for it.
My advice to doctoral students would be do what you are interested in and things will happen. My widening participation work took me to a school in Frome who needed a speaker which led to the TedX talk which helped me secure my lectureship! None of that route was planned, in the same way that at the start of my PhD I had no aspiration to become a lecturer. I simply bumbled along and responded to events as they arose, getting involved in as much as I possibly could.
To quote comedian Tim Minchin, I engaged in the “passionate pursuit of short-term goals”. As a result of all these activities, I developed a love for academia and a strong desire to pursue a lectureship… so I felt (and still feel!) incredibly lucky to have secured one."