Friday, 21 January 2011

PhD's: for the rich and the (very) lucky?

Well, I had my viva on Monday and thankfully was passed! I am so relieved to have it over, one of the major challenges of PhD life so far for me, has been self motivation. I have been trying to cram as much as I can into my days but worry that it isn't enough. It isn't ever enough!;) It was great to get some feedback from the academics at my University as well as organising the work I've done so far in some kind of order. In terms of reading my presentation aloud (something I haven't done in around three years!) I made a cardinal error and said "ummm" quite a few times, but around the three-minute mark I definitely felt a rise in my confidence so I hope I was articulate.

The whole exercise was definitely good training and came at a perfect time for me. I am currently revising a draft I wrote for a paper. I'm presenting the paper at a Postgraduate Symposium next Saturday. My paper is entitled: 'Rat courts' or 'a great, loud cats' bag': sororities, schooling and reconstruction of identity in the short stories of Sylvia Plath. I'm really excited to get the opportunity to present and also to meet more students with similar research interests to myself. It will hopefully be a good day:) If things go well and the paper is received favourably, I will post a link to it on my blog very soon:)

In other news, The Guardian published the following article this week: Who can afford a doctorate in the arts and humanities now?. I thought this article was very interesting and in a lot of ways, true. Basically the article details the lack of funding available for students who wish to pursue a PhD and describes the variety of jobs students take up in order to get the money raised to continue studying. Personally, I would not be able to afford to self-fund my PhD, there would be no way. With the funding that I'm on (DEL Funding, Northern Ireland), life is a struggle enough. I'm contractually obligetd not to undertake any other work, even part-time (which to be honest would be a great help). I live in rented accommodation but luckily, am not living in a large city so the expense is not a huge amount. I honestly don't know how even funded students can afford to live in Dublin or London for example. The prices of food and day-to-day life are so astronomical, it must be very tough.

I think the Guardian article makes a great deal of good points about education becoming increasingly available only for the more well off. Indeed, any personal friends I have at Oxbridge are all self-funding, and it's not for lack of 1.1 degrees or Distinctions at MA level: the funding is just not there. I realise that I might sound like a hypocrite going on about the dire state of education when I myself am funded, but it is through sheer luck - a nice God up there in the clouds looked down at me and decided I was more suited to academia than a receptionist - that I am able to be at this stage in University. My own MLitt at Glasgow was self-funded (except for a one-off small bursary from AHRC) and it took me around two years working my receptionist job to clear my overdraft as a result.

This is the final point the Guardian article makes, and one that I have been on the receiving end of myself. You work hard at school, at University - pursue postgraduate education in the form of a MA and emerge fit for a job you could have attained leaving school with 5 GCSE's aged sixteen. Facts like this are another off-putting factor for students in the world today. The specialist jobs simply are not there. How can we be expected to self-fund and then not enter a job that has a salary to help get out of the debt acquired while studying for the subject? It's very difficult to comprehend. The sacrificing of the depth of knowledge in Arts/Humanities will be the result of the dire situation education finds itself in. To quote the article:

"It's a real shame – not just because so many able people are missing out, but also because we're in real danger of our academic and intellectual horizons becoming the preserve and playground of the wealthy."

I would be inclined to agree with this. At University I met so many wonderfully intelligent people, far more intelligent than me; and they have been dissuaded from further study because there are no incentives. And I believe education loses out!

It is with this article in mind that the days when my alarm clock goes off and I want to snooze; I force myself to get up and open the books. Constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to be where I am is a strong factor in my enthuasiasm for this research project. Fingers crossed I can maintain the momentum!


Marion McCready said...

How nice that you studied at Glasgow, that's where I did my degree and Mlitt. I'm enjoying following your Plath research.

The Plath Diaries said...

@Marion - That's so interesting, Marion! What was your MLitt in? I did Modernities under Dr Vassiliki Kolocotroni - it was such an interesting course, and an exciting place to live!

Marion McCready said...

I dropped english lit after 1st year - couldn't bear to give up politics or classics and I realised I didn't need to study english lit to pursue my interest in poetry, so my Mlitt was in philosophy! Useless for getting a job! I'd like to do a Phd someday but it would be impossible without funding.

Anonymous said...

I'm lucky enough to have funding - but, as pathetic as this sounds, I feel kind of guilty having it! I never thought about it, but I can totally empathize with the dragging-out-of-bed thing.

Everyone seems concerned with the undergraduate fees, but their problem is compounded by the time it gets to postgraduates.

1.) Expensive undergraduate fees = more debt for people by the time they they to postgrad.
2.) No research council funding and higher postgrad fees = even more debt for PhDs.
3.) No funding for teaching = less full time jobs for people post-PhD.

So basically, we'll have no academic 'industry'. Thanks, Dave (and Nick).

*takes off rant-pants*

Anonymous said...

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Two For Tea said...

I'm really concerned myself that I won't be able to afford my PhD...there is such a compound of factors that just make financial mud :P Undergrad debt is horrible (and I don't even have much), it's impossible to find jobs nowadays, and there's practically no future for someone who wants to work as a history professor or a research writer. It's agonizing. I'm so in love with the intellectual realm and with my field...I don't want to quit!

<3 Cambria

Rosh said...

Well Mae... as someone wise once told me (quite recently I might add, since I share 99% of your angst about the future of university arts & humanities departments across the country) "you're going to university to learn, don’t go with the expectations of getting a job".

Of course, that's all very well for someone who isn't in financial strait but I really believe our university system has been damaged by the drive to get as many students going as possible, and in turn the students have been damaged when their expectations of what a university education should bring, fails to bring it i.e. a well paid job and elevation above school-leaver plebs. University is now something of a rite of passage for many young people… it’s almost cultural more than anything else – plus it has the reputation of being like school, only with copious amounts of alcohol and no obligation to actually do any work. As a facebook group succinctly puts it “University is like being on the dole, only your parents are proud of you.”

I read in the news the other day that a university degree is not going to help kids graduating from university with no work experience. I suppose there's this idea that people who can afford to go to university will some how get the best jobs, ironically, because they are already well off. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, since being rich doesn’t make you smart or capable.

I do think that our universities and career services could be doing more. I have never understood why internships and work experience were never built into art/humanities courses -- as it is the career choices are very limited, basically teaching or research… but there other paths like publishing, art galleries, even the tourism and culture industry. Ok, so admittedly I’m not sure of the logistics or how exactly this would work with thousands of kids and limited industries in a particular area… but I’m sure some government think tank could come up with some solution if it wanted to!

For those lucky enough to get teaching positions, it seems more than a little ironic to be turning students out into the world, just as confused about life and career choices as their teacher was at their age before he/she got lucky!

Melanie said...

Glad the viva went well!

anthea said...

Yes, glad the viva went well!!


The Plath Diaries said...

@MoreBooksPlease - Alex, you are so right. I agree with all of your points. As I said in this post, had I not worked as a receptionist for two years, I wouldn't have cleared the debt acquired from my BA/MLitt. Without funding there's no way I would be able to afford the PhD. The lack of Research Council funding too, is limiting. UU was not my first choice to do a PhD, but with lack of living expenses, it's insane to think that anyone could live in a city, even one like Glasgow which isn't as expensive on the £12k a year living expenses we are given. It's very frustrating! And I feel for those people who have been put off pursuing an academic career because of these facts. We're losing out valued opinions!

@TwoForTea - I really hope that you manage to find some way to do your PhD. If you ever want to talk about funding applications or personal statements or interview techniques, drop me an email!

@Rosh - I agree with everything you're saying here Rosh ESPECIALLY the part about vocational training. It wasn't until you went to CUNY that I realised how integral a part of a humanities degree vocational work should be! To expect students to pursue unpaid internships after finishing their degree is insane! Vocational modules should be compulsory for humanities students. In the summer time, pharmacists for example, are placed in their local Boots shop to gain experience - it should be absolutely the same for humanities students. Surely Universities could come up with something, or as you say, a governmental think-tank. But that would be actually employing imaginative thought and time into the future of students. Which it seems, the govt are not wont to do.