About me: A year after graduating, I was back at King’s to do a PhD. I took a year out in between to do some pre-sessional teaching while I applied for PhD funding – long enough to know I didn’t want to stay working in the UK ELT industry. I did a lot of part-time lecturing work at King’s while completing the PhD and then took up a lectureship at the Fiji campus of the University of the South Pacific the following year. This wasn’t entirely random – I had previously taught English in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and then done my MA and PhD research in Vanuatu. A few years later, and I’m now senior lecturer and head of department!*
Some tips for those thinking of an academic route …
- Get yourself known by the academic staff (including those in the wider department) and talk to people about practical things like PhD funding early on. Even if you don’t end up staying on an academic route, you’ll still need references down the line.
- Rethink the department as an academic space rather than just the place that is giving you a degree. Work out who the ‘big names’ are, what the department is well-known for, what areas of research are going on, and so on. Download papers written by your lecturers and start thinking of them as active researchers rather than teachers. Attend seminars and events, and meet the department’s research students. You shouldn’t necessarily aim to stay at King’s for a PhD, but getting to know how a department works will help you understand other places better.
- Start thinking about your dissertation early on, and treat it as research rather than a long assignment. EITHER pick a topic that could extend into a PhD in due course (something that you are genuinely interested in exploring) OR think of the dissertation as a research apprenticeship (pick a supervisor that you want to work with and come up with something that is so similar to their interests that you will end up with a fairly step-by-step guide to how to do their kind of research – they’ll love your project so give you lots of support!).
- As you start your dissertation, set yourself the goal of publishing your findings as a journal article at the end. Even if this never eventuates, you will have a tighter piece of research which is likely to score high marks. If you do end up seeing the publication through, the process will give you a good indication of whether an academic career is really for you. And you will have a great addition to your application for a PhD or a research-related job.
- Make use of tangentially-related free things that you might not have access to again … download journal articles, rummage through your lecturers’ bookshelves, look out for training courses where you might learn useful skills, attend seminars and events at other London universities, and max out that 16-25 railcard to take yourself to a conference if you can.
- Have a backup plan, or at least an open mind for alternatives. Scholarships and academic jobs are hard to come by, and a PhD really isn’t for everyone. You are already a teacher, which means you have so many skills that could be transferred into a new area … explaining things clearly, planning activities, coming up with ideas on the fly, giving feedback, etc. etc. so it may be that a year or two of MA studies turns into a time-out in which to rebrand yourself in unexpected ways.
*(a very very small department)
Don’t forget that you can leave any questions for Fiona below this post and she’ll answer them!