Being a Mature PGR

In this episode of R, D and the Inbetweens, I talk to Dr. Ghee Bowman, Tracey Warren, Kensa Broadhurst, Laura Burnett and Catherine Queen about being a mature PGR - the benefits, the challenges, and what Universities need to do better.

 

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to R, D and the In Betweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece,

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and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers, development and everything in between.

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of R, D and the In Betweens.

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That's right. You are hearing my dulcet tones again.

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I am back after a three episode break where the wonderful Dr. Edward Mills guest hosted a few episodes for me.

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So in this episode, I'm going to be carrying on a conversation that started actually on Twitter.

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So a number of our PGRs raised issues with some of the support that's available at the university for them as mature PGRs.

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And so we thought it'd be really valuable to have a conversation about what it means to be a mature PGR, what that even is, what the challenges are,

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what the benefits are, and also what advice they have for any mature students who are thinking of starting or about to start a research degree.

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So let's start with introductions. Ghee and Tracey happy to go first.

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Hello, my name is Ghee Bowman. I finished my Ph.D. in history in well I submitted in September 2019.

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I am now. I'll be sixty in two months.

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I came back to do a PhD as a relatively mature student because I found a story that really fascinated and intrigued me.

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Hi, I'm Tracey Warren. I did an EdD or I'm doing it.

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I submitted about four weeks ago, so I got my viva in three weeks.

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I was working in Abu Dhabi and Dubai when I started this journey, so I did it as a distance learning international student.

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That's great. Now, Catherine and Kensa. Hi.

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Yeah, I, I've been working in private practise for over thirty years as a town planner and a landscape architect,

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and there was a real world problem that troubled me.

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And I had the bright idea of coming back to university and actually doing a PhD to try and answer the question that I had in my mind.

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So I actually applied for a Ph.D. that was advertised, fully funded and with a supervisor that I particularly wanted to work with.

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So I've come back into human geography. Hi, my name is Kensa

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I am a second year full time student at the Institute for Cornish Studies, which is in Exeter's other campus down in Penryn in Cornwall.

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I had been a teacher for about twenty years, having done the normal university master's degree straight after undergraduate.

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And then I was made redundant and very serendipitously that summer that I left school.

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My PhD, which came with funding for my fees, was advertised and I thought, why not I'd always wanted to do one

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So I applied, got this award at the studentship and started the PhD and last.

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But by no means least, Laura,

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I'm Laura Burnett, I'm doing a PhD in history and archaeology and I did the undergraduate degree in archaeology and then I worked for a few years,

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digging and so on then went back into the Master's. And then I worked professionally within archaeology for about fifteen years.

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And I always knew I wanted to come back and do a Ph.D. but it was around identifying a topic that I knew I wanted to do and I knew would work.

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And then timing wise, it's been about fitting around kind of family requirements and so on.

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And that's why I started now and partly why I've chosen to start in Exeter

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Thanks, everyone, for those fabulous introductions.

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I think what that really captures is the varying routes back into or into postgraduate research and postgraduate study.

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And I wondered if we could just take a little bit of a step back, actually,

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and think about what we mean by the term mature student or in this case, mature PGR.

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They'll be kind of an official university label,

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which generally encompasses somebody who has'nt gone straight through tertiary and further and higher education.

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So GCSE's A-levels, undergraduate degree, master's degree straight into some form of research degree,

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but that doesn't necessarily work as a label for everyone. And I wondered what you thought of it as a term and how you felt about it as a

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label and a classification of who you are as a as a researcher and as a student.

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I think it is reasonable to label it. I don't know whether we can define how quickly I think is quite typical.

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My experience in talking to students is one or two years gap,

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but I think all of us here are people who've had a much longer gap the between kind of finishing our undergraduate off.

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As you know, it's not just one or two years of working at that or saving up some money.

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We've all had quite substantial gaps, which probably did change both our life situation,

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but also the kind of experience and viewpoint we bring to doing a Ph.D.

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So I think it's worth thinking about a separate group, but I wouldn't say it's people who just haven't gone straight through.

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I'd say probably the people have had at least four to five years of professional experience before they come back.

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I you know, I kind of I self identify as young.

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And this is an expression that someone as someone said the other week to me and I thought that's such a great thing to say.

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So I mean, I don't know what mature means, really. I mean, yes. I mean, you know, when I started my PhD, I was in my mid 50s,

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but in some ways I would kind of question what, you know, what what the differences are.

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I mean, it's partly I think it's I you know, on the whole, I think I'm blessed with the ability to get on with people of all ages.

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And so I kind of you know, I didn't I never struggled with people, you know,

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my fellow students who were in their early 20s or or their mid 20s, mid 20s seems to be the norm.

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But, you know, there was certainly some who were kind of like, you know, twenty two years old starting a Ph.D.,

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which, of course, I never imagined myself doing when I was anything like that age.

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But I don't know. I just kind of think that, yes, it's a long time since I was an undergraduate.

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And I am very grateful for doing I'm very glad that I didn't do a Ph.D. when I was 20 or 25 or 30 or,

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you know, actually it was the right time when I started in my mid 50s.

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So I kind of reject the premise here, actually, that there is anything different about being a mature student.

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I think you do that. You do. When it's right for you. It doesn't work for everyone, you know, and it it's not always easy.

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But in my case, it was the right time. Yeah, I love that.

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And I think in all of your introductions, when you were talking about how you came to doing your research degree,

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you were all talking or providing us with stories that were very much about the right, the right time and the right topic.

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So from my perspective, I think it's a combination of experience,

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opportunity and an eagerness to get into the world of work that I really didn't want to go through any more formal education.

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And I obviously did the undergraduate degree straight through to Masters, literally, because I didn't know what else I wanted to do.

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I didn't know what I wanted to do as a job. And I had quite a.

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A negative experience as a master's student for my first master's degree,

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and actually I think had I then gone straight through to a Ph.D., wouldn't have been I wouldn't have the maturity that I have.

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Now, some people might argue I don't. And now having had sort of 20 years away from mainly away from academia and having worked in the real world,

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I know I'm quite happy to sort of ask things and go, OK, but I'm not happy about that.

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And this is what I want to do. And please, can you help me with this?

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And I think that 22 year old, 23 year old Kensa would not have had that self-awareness or that confidence to ask for

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those sorts of things and therefore have got the most out of what was available to me.

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And maybe that's maybe that's a reflection also of how academia's moved on.

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But I think that.

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As other people have said, it's the right time for me, I think it would have been a far more I'm not saying it's not stressful today.

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We all know that and we all know the amount of work and pressure that we often put ourselves under.

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But early twenties kensa  would not have talking about myself in the third person.

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would not have coped with that in the way that I find that I'm able to do so now.

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I just wanted to reinforce what Kensa said. I completely agree with that.

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I mean, I'm not quite as mature as Ghee, but not far off.

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And I don't feel that I would have had the confidence to do what I'm doing now.

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I think impostor syndrome is a problem for everybody, regardless of age.

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And I think sometimes as an older student, you can find a problem, but you also have the resources to to work with it.

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You have the confidence to ask the questions. You're not so worried about how you appear to others.

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Yeah. And it's that that thing of being able to be confident enough to say, actually, I'm struggling with this.

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Can somebody help me? Can somebody advise?

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And I think mature students maybe find that a little bit easier to do because you don't really have anything to prove.

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It is lovely talking to the mature students. And actually that was something that really surprised me coming back.

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I thought I would be massively older than everyone else and I was massively heartened in my first few days to sit next to lots of the

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people who were older and to go into the Induction in history and realise I was not the oldest person there by about 15 years,

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which is what I clearly expected to be.

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So I think people perhaps right now myself, I wasn't aware of how many mature PhD and research students there are.

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So I think that's something I hope, you know, this will make people realise, if I think you're coming in, is that this is not an unusual situation.

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Yeah, and I think that's really key because there is even in the way that I frame

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this and challenge this so beautifully is is this assumption of difference.

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And, you know, like saying actually, you know, we're all human beings coming to this at the right time in our lives.

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So are we really that different? But also, you know, the community is diverse.

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And so I wondered if you could maybe reflect on what it was like coming in as a mature

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student and what your experience was of of your assumption of of perhaps being different,

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but also the reaction and response from your peers?

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I think I've been really lucky. The department I went into, everybody was absolutely lovely and it just wasn't even a consideration.

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You know, I was at Freshers Week with everybody else, OK? I wasn't out partying, obviously.

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But, you know, I was just with a bunch of other people who were all starting at the same time.

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They were all fantastic. We got on really well.

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And I didn't really feel that age was even a consideration at any stage on that kind of carried on right the way through for me, really.

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I found everybody very supportive. And it's just it's a community of people.

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I think age is just a state of mind. Yeah, age is a state of mind.

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I love that. And I think for me,

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what made the crucial difference was that I came back and did the Masters more or less well I had a year between the Masters and the Ph.D.

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So I was starting a Masters in my fifties after having been out of formal education for twenty years or so.

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And and so I struggled a bit when I started the Masters with kind of getting back into, oh, OK.

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So here's a confession. When I was an undergraduate, I did my undergraduate degree in the early 1980s at Hull university.

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And it was a degree in drama and I was the worst student you can imagine.

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I was you know, I was partying I was living it up.

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I was doing lots of productions, but I was not doing the work that was required to do to do the degree.

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And I very nearly failed. I came out with a 2:2 and I even though I was quite bright, I was just not doing putting the work in.

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And and that was, you know, that was so it was never nothing could be further from my mind when I was twenty.

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Than I would be doing a PhD.

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So I had to kind of between that stage of finishing my bachelor's degree and starting my master's degree 30 something years later,

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I had to go through a long, long journey, which involved all kinds of stops along the way, where I realised,

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for example, that I was able to to write reasonably well, which is a skill I had anyway.

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But I didn't kind of I didn't have the confidence to realise that I was able to read and,

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you know, read some kind of difficult theoretical text as well as the more straightforward.

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And that I could tell that I could cope, but even so, starting the Masters, as I did in September 2014, I think it was was an interesting shock.

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And coming up against some of the some of the kind of the sort of the styles and the

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ways of being and the ways of talking and the and the how seminars were conducted,

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those kind of things are done quite some quite theoretical stuff which I struggled with.

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And that was the difficult part, having then finished the Masters and done well in the Masters.

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Then when I started the PhD that that was an easy transition at the same university, it was the same department, some of the same people around me.

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So, yeah, it was the Masters beginning. That was a difficult thing.

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And I think I just going to make two points and one of them builds on Ghee's so if I start with that one that I'm thinking about,

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kind of positioning yourself in department.

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One thing I found a little strange is coming in as someone who's used to managing their work and managing their own time.

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That's in some of the university setup. It's a little bit more hierarchical.

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So my supervisor is massively long suffering because he he keeps going about things,

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saying things like, you know, has Laura checked your permission to do this ? He just very calmly says, yes, if I haven't,

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because I completely forgot that I need to ask my supervisor whether I could do this thing that they could relate to,

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but not because I'm not in the habit of asking somebody else's permission to do in research.

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So, yes, they're very, very sorry about that. But I do think that can sometimes be perhaps difference.

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The students who go straight through when they need to move from being a student in a

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hierarchical relationship within the department to moving to be a collaborator and a colleague.

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And obviously people, who come in as mature students and perhaps people in something like archaeology,

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which is very collegiate subject in general, are more used to that relationship.

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And I think you have to have the right supervisors and colleagues around you who are expecting that they're not expecting you to be a slightly shy,

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retiring or unsure students. They realise that you are a professional experienced person.

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Right. The other point I was going to make about freshers week and joining in, as someone who

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I've got my family responsibilities and I have young children and also,

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although I live reasonably close to Exeter about an hour's driveway,

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so I've not moved to Exeter to do the PhD so I can get involved in some department of life.

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And that was one reason I chose Exeter was I am close enough to do that.

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But I didn't really take part in things like some of the more social side freshers week or some of the more social side the department.

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And that does make a difference, I think. And yes.

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And I think to sort of carry on with what Laura says, I live relatively near the Penryn campus, but I started at funny time of year.

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I actually started in November of twenty nineteen. So I sort of missed out on all the induction things.

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So I very much don't feel part of the social side of Penryn campus at all.

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However, three months later, we then went into lockdown. We went online.

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And the great thing that I think actually has made my PhD and again, it feeds back to this, you know,

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not not feeling older or not not not sort of being perceived as being older than the other students.

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Is the online community and online sort of support community has has been great and everyone is equal.

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Everyone is treated equally. So you really don't notice who's a mature student and who isn't.

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And the other thing that Laura was saying about it's the idea of asking permission.

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I never do. I'm very, very lucky with my supervisor because I all of my supervisions start with, well, I've done this.

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And he goes, okay, then, you know, and I think that possibly comes with the confidence, the maturity that we were talking about earlier.

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That's sort of. Okay, well, I, I,

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I'm used to having to run my entire life and having to organise this and spin lots and lots of plates because I had to do that throughout my career.

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So therefore, I don't ask people if I can do something, I just go ahead and do it.

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Yeah, so agreeing with Laura on lots of things. What's really clear from what you're saying is that there are a number of things that as a

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mature PGR and somebody who's been out in the world of work for a period of time and that,

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you know, there you bring things that are incredibly useful to the experience.

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You know, you talked about that kind of confidence and the ability to ask questions and to kind of develop your independence as a researcher.

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Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. You know what it's about?

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I think it's about skill.

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That's what I think is, you know, kind of for me, the difference between between doing it now and doing it and not having done it.

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And so I think is like managing a project.

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You know, it's like managing a really complicated, multi lateral, multi faceted project, which is basically me.

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I'm on my own with some support from the supervisors.

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I like that idea of going into the supervision and saying, I've done this.

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And that's a really positive way to do it, is that, you know, you say this is where I'm at and this is what I've got to do.

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And this is these are the successes I've had since we last met.

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And these are the struggles and the questions that I'd like you to help me with, rather than waiting for the supervisor to start the conversation.

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That's really good.

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But, yeah, the idea of of, you know, being able to you know, through my other experience in my life, my varied experience, I know how to plan things.

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I know how to schedule things. I know how to fill time.

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If I'm waiting for something, I know how to manage the information.

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I mean, a lot of it, particularly in history. So I did a history PhD. It really is about managing information.

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It's about managing my secondary reading and my primary you know the sources that

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I'm looking at in the archives and being able to handle all of that material.

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All of that is stuff I think that one gets in life.

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You know, that if you've got some experience as a person out with a job or with a family or both, then, you know,

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you gain that experience and you can then bring that to you in the way that somebody is in their 20s, maybe can't yet.

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Since then, I think I bring a whole lot of skills to it.

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But actually, I find I work on academic stuff is probably quite different to how I work on things I've worked on professionally.

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It's very seldom you do such a big project professionally and I've done some research and evaluation and that's similar.

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But it's rare that I do this sort of work professionally. So I'd say that actually there's kind of yes, there are skills I bring.

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And probably the thing that brings me to student is perhaps a lack of panic there.

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Are there more there are bigger disasters in my life. There are bigger problems in my life when things go a bit wrong with the PhD

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when things are a bit tricky with the PhD relatively, it matters a lot less than other things get bigger by life.

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So which is possibly not what supervisors want to hear. But I kind of like my PhD I kind of want it to go.

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Well, I want to do all of that, but it's not the be all and end of my life.

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And it can't be because, you know, I have other people in my life who are in the end more important, which is sad but true.

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What I would say is I have found it slightly difficult because I have a way of working academically, which tends to be very intense.

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I tend to I'm I'm definitely someone who used to say doesn't stop moving til the ground,

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starts shaking that I really I like to very much work towards something, but then have a very intense period.

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And that's not always compatible with having a family life and working part time as a Ph.D.

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So that's something that I've had to learn to do as a mature student,

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which is different from how I worked when I was in my 20s, did my undergraduate or did my master's degree.

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And I could just completely focus on a period, on a piece of writing I was doing.

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And I just can't do that because I have two kids in school.

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So there is I've actually had to learn to work in different ways in which you're a student.

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But yes, like I bring bring a whole lot of kind of life experience to it, which helps.

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Yeah, I really I really identify with what Laura is saying.

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But one thing for me was actually working at the same time as studying and I found

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I was wearing two hats and I actually found that really difficult to juggle.

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My professional life was writing reports and communicating in a certain way,

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and the writing that I was doing was very different to the writing I was doing as part of my PhD.

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And that became quite a struggle for me, actually, because you were having to adopt these two personas and write in two very different styles.

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So you do need to be very organised. I think this is something that Ghee was saying.

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And, you know, don't underestimate the fact that you are trying to manage all these things and have a family life on top of that.

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So, you know, it does take a lot of organisation. So if you have project management skills, certainly that goes a long way towards it.

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But I do think that mature students have slightly different requirements.

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For me, it was the kind of the academic writing side of things and, you know, just needing a bit more support on that front.

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So we've talked about the benefits and the strengths that you bring as a mature PGR

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What about the challenges? What about what are the barriers that you faced?

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And certainly one thing I found difficult is having had gone from when I was a full time younger student,

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is the way that academia's moved on and things like methodologies and sort of understanding of particular.

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Themes and ways of working, especially within history or you just have no idea, I mean,

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I'm somebody who did my computers with just about coming in obviously they coming in when I was at school.

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But when I was an undergraduate, I did all my work handwritten. Everything was longhand when I did my masters.

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Yes, I did wordprocess my essays, but we didn't have a university email addresses or anything like that.

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So, you know, we're talking about that sort of gap.

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So it's not necessarily technology I usde technology the whole way through my career, but understanding the sort of, OK,

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this is how we've now decided that you structure a piece of writing and you need to make sure that you included this stuff and the other.

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I think sometimes people assume, you know, what that is and somebody's coming straight through would do because they've done an undergraduate degree,

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especially in history quite recently, probably in other subjects

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So history is my experience and I don't know that.

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So that, in a way has been a barrier and you just have to go, OK, I have no idea what you're talking about.

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Please, can you help me you know? Occasionally you get the slightly taken aback look, but most people are happy to point you in the right direction.

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Yeah, I agree with most people have said and I think there are just a number of things I've noted here.

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And the supervisors I've had have been really understanding of me as an older student because they understood that there be other life commitments,

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family work. So I don't I found them very supportive.

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And despite everything that they have pushed things through quite gently in many ways, for me it was the challenges definitely of juggling work.

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I was working full time, so every weekend was basically doing the research.

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So for me, it's been it was tough the first two years getting assignments done.

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And then when the research itself took over, what I found was that that was much more within my remit to deal with timescales.

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So that was that was great. I could actually plan that out, thinking of my work commitments.

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For me, I was as I said, I was an international student, so for me,

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I struggled with time because there was a time difference between the UK and where I was living.

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So that wasn't just the case of being a mature student. I was juggling work and dealing with time differences when I wanted to contact my supervisors.

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But as I said, again, they were very understanding and some of them were even messaging me over weekends because I worked on the Sunday.

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The other thing for me was writing and I couldn't agree more with Kensa and that for me my writing style was very different.

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And that was something that the supervisors commented on. And I reflected on this thinking.

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As a younger Tracey, I wouldn't have written like this.

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I wouldn't have written so confidently about my approach and my perspective, because I that, she said, was a very individual engaging style.

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And I don't think I would have done that or had the confidence to do that. The younger me.

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And also for the research itself, I actually don't think I could have done this research because this has come over

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time experience in my profession and within that particular job at that time.

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So the questions developed out of my work in practise in my life.

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Yes. So the barriers, I think there were the biggest one was juggling time for me and the distance with big time time difference.

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But it was actually asking people for help and the right people that I struggled with.

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Sometimes I wouldn't know who to go to, whereas if I was on campus or perhaps come through Exeter as an undergraduate,

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I might have known quicker where to go for advice on who to ask.

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But most of the time my supervisors have been very long suffering.

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Yeah, there are lots of things coming out there about being or not being a part of the academic community,

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and I wondered if we if we could spend some time thinking or talking about that,

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what kind of whether or not you felt welcomed into the academic community, what the what the barriers were again.

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I think one thing I would caution against is more think about people who perhaps think listening to this thinking thing,

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one is what worth thinking about. What subject I wanted to do

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I did think carefully about which university to attend, and partly because I have the experience.

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Someone else I could very well who did a of doctoral partnership as a mature student with the university that was some distance away.

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And I think that creates difficulties in terms of being able to contact people,

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but it also creates difficulties and perhaps perhaps take it sometimes opportunity to think.

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And so one reason I wanted to come to Exeter was because they had a strength and a community of people working in the period I want to work in,

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but also because they were close enough, for example,

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that I could get involved in teaching because that's something I really wanted to make sure I teach.

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My Ph.D. will spend some time practising teaching, and I was able to do that because I live close enough of course the things going online.

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It's made it much easier to be part of

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which has been wonderful and allowed me to really work meet more of the other students and staff working on similar periods to me,

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which perhaps I couldn't see, but I knew they would be there.

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I couldn't kind of be there at five o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon to actually go to seminars, meet them where I was being invited to do that.

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So previously I think that was a barrier with things that time, your seminars and so on.

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But I do think, you know, when you're thinking about where to go and look for your supervisors, the right people, that happens.

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If I think about that, do you think about that community and also what other things you want to do as well as do the research,

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whether being close enough to be involved in the department in that way is important as well?

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Of course, funding is can be a big control as well, yeah, a slight kind of double edge thing here, which I think is, you know,

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my grey hair and the fact that I look like, you know, sometimes I get respect from people just for that.

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Sometimes because I'm an older white male, some people will give me respect, which maybe I don't deserve.

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And that is on the whole, it's a good thing for me anyway. However, I sometimes I think I've had experience of younger academics, you know,

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even quite senior academics who are perhaps slightly uncomfortable with having somebody who is a lot older than them, who is, you know,

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at that but at that junior level, because there is a very strong hierarchy within the university, you know,

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undergraduate masters, the professor, etc., etc. There are these very clear strata within the university.

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And if there's somebody, you know, on a higher stratum than me who is a lot younger than me, then sometimes I think they struggle.

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I don't think I struggle on the whole. I don't think I do.

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But I think I've experienced I get older or younger academics who who don't feel quite comfortable in my.

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And I don't know what one can do about that. And equally, you know,

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lots of other academics and other members of staff and students who are perfectly comfortable with the case of 30 something years older

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but some people do struggle with it. I totally agree.

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I think possibly the thing that mature age,

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mature age students bring to the PGR community and maybe the university community as a whole is that we have this experience,

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this larger experience outside academia.

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And we are totally used to having to deal with people at all stages of their life and all stages of their own various journeys,

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and therefore actually dealing with a supervisor who might be 20 years younger than us.

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That's not my personal experience.

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But, you know, or people who have just got their kids who are far younger than us or people that who are far older than us,

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doesn't faze us perhaps as much as it would do to somebody in their very early twenties.

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And I wondered how that works for you, Tracey, because we're talking about kind of living relatively close to the campus,

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whereas, you know, for quite a bit of your studies, you've been on the other side of the world.

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So what's that sense of community been like for you?

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Yeah, I think for me the challenge was actually having engagement with the student body and my fellow researchers as a community.

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And at the time, although we have good technology that wasn't open to me until the pandemic,

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which you and I have discussed before, the actually the pandemic opened more opportunities for me.

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And I feel that following my courses and access and seminars, conferences, going online, I feel I've got much more community with fellow researchers,

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whether that's younger researchers or not, because I certainly meet many more researches online.

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In the last year than I did the previously, so I think it isn't a case of distance,

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it's a case of opportunity and access and thinking of it much more broadly.

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Yeah, I'm really glad you used the word community, because that's made me think about that again.

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And I'm kind of thinking that I really have felt I did I didn't feel very much that I was part of the the big university community,

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which is I mean, you know, it's an enormous community and it does it's not I mean, when I was an undergraduate just to go back there again,

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you know, there were a hundred students in one building studying drama at university.

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And we were completely a family. And in Exeter,

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there are over a thousand students doing history as undergraduates and they are

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all scattered across the place and there's no sense of them being one community.

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So and I think Exeter is a big university. And I think it's it's it's it's hard to pin down where the community is.

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But I always thought I did feel, you know, I was part of you know, I was I spent a lot of time in the library.

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I was kind of I would often eat on campus in the day time in and out of the guild, you know, making I mean, I was on university challenge team,

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we didnt get on the TV, but even, you know, the kind of lots of things that made me feel as if I was as if I was part of this big group of people.

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And I think that that for me really made it work.

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And I think I had a again, I had a confidence about that.

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I mean, I think that's a word that people have used.

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I had a confidence about joining things and going up to people and saying, hello, what can I join in, you know, that kind of stuff.

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But that I didn't have when I was if I just want to think about how some of this difference what you want to get out of the PhD

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you know, are you doing it professionally to move yourself forward professionally, and you know where that's going to go?

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Are you doing it to actually change careers? Are you doing as an experience to develop yourself intellectually, to develop new insights, new research,

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in which case that kind of social aspect of being part of a university community can be really important

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because you want to open your mind to new things and to meet new people and to be part of that or like,

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say, if you if it's a much more this is a professional step within my own career, developing my own skills.

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You may not actually feel that need because you are already have that community within your professional practise.

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So I'm probably somebody whose perhaps move on that a bit

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I think when I first came back to do my PhD, very much so this is something that was part of that myself, actually within my career.

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But I wasn't very clear about where I wanted what I want after

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And if I actually I'm still not and I still get lots of different ideas. But actually, let's go back, in fact.

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So I assumed I would never want to come back in academia after my PhD because I thought it was

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Possibly sometimesa hit horribly competitive for very small rewards and not perhaps that collegiate in some ways,

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and I didn't really feel that was the kind of society I'm working. But actually, I really loved to kind of, you know, teaching and studying again.

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And, you know, maybe there are opportunities for me that grateful to be part time.

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I've got years to worry about what I'm going to do afterwards. I and try lots of things in the meantime.

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That's also what Iwanted to do was to give myself that space to have a PhD part time

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So I knew I had some income coming in and some work, but also to give myself space to explore new things.

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So I suppose why you're coming to do the PhD might impact what other things you to look for and what you really need.

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I was just listening to to what Laura said and smiling.

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I came I mentioned earlier I came into to do my PhD because it was to solve a problem I had in my career.

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And I was doing very well in my career. It was going great.

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There was no question of me going into academia, you know, and I was going to go back into my job and I'd be better informed.

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Well, that was just rubbish, because doing a PhD changes you as a person in lots of really good ways.

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And doing it part time, I think has helped me to kind of compare my working life with my academic life.

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And when you're in your 50s, people don't have any great expectations of you to go into academia.

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They think you're going to stick with your life in practise. And actually, I've just completely fallen in love with academia.

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I'm due to submit my PhD in September, and I've already been successful in securing a permanent lectureship,

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which I started in the New Year in Liverpool, and I just couldn't be happier.

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I'm a completely different person. I now have a totally different life and I just feel like I've come home, you know,

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and I like being in consultancy, but I'm just absolutely delighted with the way things have worked out.

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Anddoing a PhD has given me skills and experience and confidence and all the things that I didn't have before.

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And that's why I would just say to people, just go for it, because you really don't know where it's going to take you.

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That's just completely fantastic. Catherine, congratulations. And talking about kind of, you know, going onto an academic career.

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It's a really nice Segway actually, into what started this conversation, which was about career support for mature students, you know,

371
00:40:38,260 --> 00:40:40,900
who aren't kind of haven't gone through that, I don't know,

372
00:40:40,900 --> 00:40:47,080
conveyor belt of education without without getting off and doing professional work and so on.

373
00:40:47,080 --> 00:40:57,280
Don't know if we could speak a bit about that, about kind of what support you actually need as mature PGRs as you already have had careers

374
00:40:57,280 --> 00:41:02,830
who have sought a PhD as a professional development opportunity or as a career change?

375
00:41:02,830 --> 00:41:13,390
You know what? What is it that you need that's different? I can I can start this off because I'm slightly to blame for the entirety of this podcast.

376
00:41:13,390 --> 00:41:21,370
I have having been a teacher in secondary schools, I have absolutely no desire to go back to that.

377
00:41:21,370 --> 00:41:28,690
Not dissing teaching as a career at all. I have the utmost respect for my former colleagues, especially the work they've done in the last year.

378
00:41:28,690 --> 00:41:32,920
But it's not something I want to return to. So I'm that's OK.

379
00:41:32,920 --> 00:41:37,360
I'm in my second year of my Ph.D. stage. I need to decide what I'm going to do afterwards.

380
00:41:37,360 --> 00:41:39,820
I need to start looking at options.

381
00:41:39,820 --> 00:41:51,610
So I'm going to as many I spent the sort of spring term this year going to as many careers seminars and talks and so on as possible and got very

382
00:41:51,610 --> 00:42:01,510
frustrated very early on because there was just this assumption that people looking for work were aged 22 and had an undergraduate degree.

383
00:42:01,510 --> 00:42:10,810
And I actually went to one to where the person said he was, you know, the Exeter graduate who they'd got in to do the talk,

384
00:42:10,810 --> 00:42:15,850
said, oh, yes, and you can make senior management by the time you're 25.

385
00:42:15,850 --> 00:42:20,080
And I, you know, had had we actually physically been in the same room,

386
00:42:20,080 --> 00:42:27,340
I think I'd probably having said I'm mature and have grown up and what I probably would have thrown something at him.

387
00:42:27,340 --> 00:42:34,720
There is just this assumption that people looking for work or have just finished university and have no

388
00:42:34,720 --> 00:42:41,800
experience and are looking for a career and they just want money and they want to live in central London.

389
00:42:41,800 --> 00:42:50,860
And we all know everyone, undergraduates, schoolteachers, children and teenagers in school, everybody knows that is not true.

390
00:42:50,860 --> 00:42:56,230
So why is this still this fantasy still being peddled in career seminars?

391
00:42:56,230 --> 00:43:03,100
And I didn't challenge him in that one. But then I went to another seminar probably a few days later.

392
00:43:03,100 --> 00:43:09,520
And actually I did turn around to go hi person in my mid forties here who's had one career.

393
00:43:09,520 --> 00:43:18,000
Doesn't know what they want to do with their life after the PhD, please don't assume this, and actually got a really positive response from that.

394
00:43:18,000 --> 00:43:24,550
But but yes, there is this. You know, I think.

395
00:43:24,550 --> 00:43:27,670
Maybe that's that's something that we need to do as mature students,

396
00:43:27,670 --> 00:43:31,990
but there are a lot of mature students as we've discovered and we need to challenge these

397
00:43:31,990 --> 00:43:38,180
stereotypes and say and also let alone with the way that society has changed,

398
00:43:38,180 --> 00:43:42,460
spot the historian here, the way society has changed over the last 50 years,

399
00:43:42,460 --> 00:43:48,580
people do not go into jobs at the age of 16 and stick with that one company until they're 65.

400
00:43:48,580 --> 00:43:53,740
Many, many people have either changed jobs or change careers partway through their lives.

401
00:43:53,740 --> 00:44:06,340
And I think that's hopefully careers services and whoever will start to realise this and start to sort of tailoring things to,

402
00:44:06,340 --> 00:44:12,880
you know, maybe we need to go and ask for it rather than expecting it to be handed this information to be handed to us on a plate.

403
00:44:12,880 --> 00:44:19,940
But I think that people need to start catering for a wider range of needs.

404
00:44:19,940 --> 00:44:26,680
That sounds like actually the university's career department need to do some targeted sessions or or a theme stream,

405
00:44:26,680 --> 00:44:31,600
which is about mature students, not necessarily only PGRs

406
00:44:31,600 --> 00:44:37,870
but, you know, students of in any level or department or whatever who are, you know,

407
00:44:37,870 --> 00:44:43,690
who are kind of coming in again after after experience family and work.

408
00:44:43,690 --> 00:44:50,920
And you know how that is different and what they you know how it is, because the fact is, we've all got a hell of a lot to offer.

409
00:44:50,920 --> 00:44:54,910
You know what? It's just a question of finding the right.

410
00:44:54,910 --> 00:45:00,160
The people who are looking for that stuff that we've got to offer, you know, and we are.

411
00:45:00,160 --> 00:45:03,400
Yeah, we're great. I agree obviously with Ghee we are wonderful.

412
00:45:03,400 --> 00:45:12,400
And people would be lucky to us in their career, I think also because if we're dissing the career service providers, who arent here to reply

413
00:45:12,400 --> 00:45:20,170
they could also be missing because I know some of the conversation in amongst issues more broadly is about things like this

414
00:45:20,170 --> 00:45:28,690
terrible phrase of atl-ac the kind of people who are doing PhDs who aren't then planning to go on to an academic career and obviously from people,

415
00:45:28,690 --> 00:45:36,250
the students or from people who've done some of those other careers and therefore perhaps have some useful insights into that conversation.

416
00:45:36,250 --> 00:45:49,150
Or, you know, they could be the university could be exploiting some of our links into kind of industry and into other other areas of the subject.

417
00:45:49,150 --> 00:45:57,520
And it might perhaps be to call back something we spoke about earlier in that subject where sometimes some of the other

418
00:45:57,520 --> 00:46:04,450
people who work in department have gone through perhaps more traditional route have stayed in academia their entire career.

419
00:46:04,450 --> 00:46:14,560
And actually therefore, that kind of wider understanding, that of those uproots is sometimes not perhaps there to the same extent.

420
00:46:14,560 --> 00:46:20,170
And that's something that the that could can usefully not just mature students,

421
00:46:20,170 --> 00:46:27,790
but by setting it is more of a conversation and the way we can the community with an extra can contribute and work together.

422
00:46:27,790 --> 00:46:31,930
This could be something that other students can benefit from as well.

423
00:46:31,930 --> 00:46:39,580
And the people working in these career service jobs might benefit from some of our expense.

424
00:46:39,580 --> 00:46:41,570
Just very quickly, Laura you;re just spot on.

425
00:46:41,570 --> 00:46:47,320
I and I think the amount of times I've been in an academic situation and I've seen academics with loads of experience who don't know,

426
00:46:47,320 --> 00:46:53,650
for example, how to run a meeting, who don't know how to handle a seminar, you know, who only have one way of doing things.

427
00:46:53,650 --> 00:46:58,750
And that's what they've been doing for 20, 30 years within an academic context.

428
00:46:58,750 --> 00:47:03,700
One thing I'd say is perhaps sometimes the nature of this being something that the university

429
00:47:03,700 --> 00:47:09,700
needs to do for students to recognise that if the university is a community,

430
00:47:09,700 --> 00:47:15,250
a kind of academic collegiate community, then this is something we do together in collaboration.

431
00:47:15,250 --> 00:47:21,130
This isn't something the university needs to do for students as a kind of someone lower down the hierarchy.

432
00:47:21,130 --> 00:47:29,560
Perhaps this is this is a this is a we work together at which, you know, I know some people do work collaboratively and that's true.

433
00:47:29,560 --> 00:47:33,730
But I think that can we talk a little bit earlier on about sometimes that that

434
00:47:33,730 --> 00:47:37,690
hierarchical relationship that can creep in and that that that is a problem,

435
00:47:37,690 --> 00:47:41,950
I think. And that perhaps is very here. You're right.

436
00:47:41,950 --> 00:47:47,470
And I think that working in collaboration and that reciprocity is really important because one of the

437
00:47:47,470 --> 00:47:55,450
big philosophies of the way that I work is no one knows better what PGRs need than PGRs themselves.

438
00:47:55,450 --> 00:48:03,640
And so I think it's really important for us to working in collaboration, to work together on this and to wrap up.

439
00:48:03,640 --> 00:48:05,740
I want to think or imagine that, you know,

440
00:48:05,740 --> 00:48:14,320
there's somebody listening to this podcast who is considering doing a research degree as a mature student or is just about to start.

441
00:48:14,320 --> 00:48:23,890
What advice would you give them? What do you wish that you knew at the point at which you started or were considering applying?

442
00:48:23,890 --> 00:48:28,870
It's not so much of what I wish I'd known better, what I have come to realise,

443
00:48:28,870 --> 00:48:35,790
and that is don't be put off by thinking, oh God, I'm a mature student, what on earth my doing with my life?

444
00:48:35,790 --> 00:48:41,860
I suddenly take three or four years out to do a Ph.D. Just go ahead and do it.

445
00:48:41,860 --> 00:48:45,550
You can have whatever whatever life journey you've been on.

446
00:48:45,550 --> 00:48:52,390
You have acquired the skills and the knowledge and the ability to do a Ph.D. and you know,

447
00:48:52,390 --> 00:48:57,640
whether that juggling lots and lots of different things and commitments plus full time study,

448
00:48:57,640 --> 00:49:02,920
whether that's juggling a full time job and part time study, you have learnt those things.

449
00:49:02,920 --> 00:49:07,930
You have learnt those skills. And what you need to do is just think I can do this.

450
00:49:07,930 --> 00:49:12,670
The support is there and I will learn so much about myself.

451
00:49:12,670 --> 00:49:17,740
And maybe it's not just about learning about yourself. I will gain something.

452
00:49:17,740 --> 00:49:22,840
And actually I do have the right to do this for me.

453
00:49:22,840 --> 00:49:28,120
So I would say then don't be put off by thinking it's just something that people who

454
00:49:28,120 --> 00:49:34,480
are very brainy in their mid twenties do not describe myself as very brainy either.

455
00:49:34,480 --> 00:49:43,270
But yeah, just go for it. Yeah, I mirror some of what Kensa's said, so I just jotting down a couple of things.

456
00:49:43,270 --> 00:49:49,420
And I think the main thing that people said to me about it was a marathon, not a sprint.

457
00:49:49,420 --> 00:50:01,690
I go at my workplace or life at like a hundred miles an hour or a hundred and forty kilometres an hour along the Dubai Abu Dhabi highway.

458
00:50:01,690 --> 00:50:08,230
And I was still expecting to do that with my doing the doctorate.

459
00:50:08,230 --> 00:50:15,730
And it was only on reflection recently that I recognised that if it was a marathon and that

460
00:50:15,730 --> 00:50:24,940
a different process and different pace and then also mirroring what Kensa had said,

461
00:50:24,940 --> 00:50:36,250
the word I put down was skills, is that I have acquired so many amazing skills during this journey,

462
00:50:36,250 --> 00:50:44,290
and that's through my workplace and life as well as through this research opportunity.

463
00:50:44,290 --> 00:50:50,680
So I think if anybody was debating whether to do it, I'd say absolutely,

464
00:50:50,680 --> 00:50:56,950
because you learn so much on the way and incorporate a lot of your life skills.

465
00:50:56,950 --> 00:51:02,980
I was just going to completely echo what the others have said I think that it's much better that I can so i'll just agree with them on that.

466
00:51:02,980 --> 00:51:10,600
Ang one point I was going to raise which hasn't kind of come up some where in the podcast was about doing it in combination with having a young family,

467
00:51:10,600 --> 00:51:15,070
and that I have two boys who are now just eight and five.

468
00:51:15,070 --> 00:51:23,770
And so I started when they're three and five. And obviously that of many mature students have perhaps caring responsibilities as do younger students,

469
00:51:23,770 --> 00:51:29,700
but actually a part-time PhD combines really well with having a family because there is flexibility about where you fit the work.

470
00:51:29,700 --> 00:51:38,110
And so that can really that can work quite well in that I work much more intense because of the times I can take the time off to the holidays.

471
00:51:38,110 --> 00:51:46,120
So if you're thinking will having a young family prevent me from doing a PhDit can actually be a type of work that fits pretty well with it.

472
00:51:46,120 --> 00:51:50,110
But I think what's been inspiring this podcast has been seeing how yes,

473
00:51:50,110 --> 00:51:54,280
go in with a clear idea about why you want to be doing the PhD be clear about why you want to do that topic,

474
00:51:54,280 --> 00:52:01,570
about what you really value about that topic and you know about why you've chosen to do it, where you've chosen to do it.

475
00:52:01,570 --> 00:52:07,000
But I think what to expect expects that that change, that growth you have to PhD.

476
00:52:07,000 --> 00:52:13,690
And so don't be surprised if it goes in a different direction as you work through and that you change as you're doing it.

477
00:52:13,690 --> 00:52:18,700
But, yeah, I would agree with people. I think that's it. But I have been glad to do it now.

478
00:52:18,700 --> 00:52:25,330
You know, I wasn't in the place where my kids were very small babies. It wouldn't it would be more much more difficult.

479
00:52:25,330 --> 00:52:29,350
And I don't know whether I'd have come to my twenties.

480
00:52:29,350 --> 00:52:37,570
I would probably have done a different PhD. So, you know, it it fits people at different stages.

481
00:52:37,570 --> 00:52:42,760
Yeah. I mean, I'm just going to agree with everybody else. But one thing I would say is be kind to yourself.

482
00:52:42,760 --> 00:52:49,000
My supervisor often says to me to stop being so hard on myself, he reckons I'm my own worst enemy.

483
00:52:49,000 --> 00:52:53,320
And I think sometimes we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves as mature students.

484
00:52:53,320 --> 00:52:59,920
So just something to be aware of. I also think we shouldn't stereotype ourselves, OK, we're mature students.

485
00:52:59,920 --> 00:53:04,870
But, you know, I think we've seen today that actually it doesn't make a lot of difference what age you are.

486
00:53:04,870 --> 00:53:08,740
We all deserve to be there and we've all earned the right to be there.

487
00:53:08,740 --> 00:53:14,500
And just to reiterate what other people said, just be prepared to come out as a different person at the end of it.

488
00:53:14,500 --> 00:53:22,570
Yeah, thank you. I mean, it's one of the things I think I want to say is, is that it's it's not for everyone.

489
00:53:22,570 --> 00:53:28,650
I think that some. That should be said to anyone who's thinking about going to university at any level,

490
00:53:28,650 --> 00:53:38,340
if they're a 17 year old thinking about an undergraduate degree or if they're thinking about a Ph.D., you know, it's a PhD is hard work.

491
00:53:38,340 --> 00:53:40,470
It is designed to be hard work.

492
00:53:40,470 --> 00:53:48,990
It is designed to be something that takes literally thousands of hours and takes you very deep into studying something quite particular.

493
00:53:48,990 --> 00:53:57,970
And that is you may feel that you've got some of the capacity for that, but maybe you haven't as well.

494
00:53:57,970 --> 00:54:00,510
So I kind of weigh it up quite carefully.

495
00:54:00,510 --> 00:54:08,040
I think in your mind, you know, do a list of all the pros and the cons and talk to as many people as you can before you start.

496
00:54:08,040 --> 00:54:15,850
I mean, I thankfully, my experience was pretty good. So, you know, I'm lucky, but it's not really for everyone.

497
00:54:15,850 --> 00:54:25,620
So just kind of take that slowly, I think. And I think one thing about being, you know, what we talked about before is having confidence.

498
00:54:25,620 --> 00:54:34,230
And I think one of the things that is I've really learnt is the ability to say, I don't know, I don't understand.

499
00:54:34,230 --> 00:54:38,970
I'm you know, please explain this to me. I'm not sure what that what that means.

500
00:54:38,970 --> 00:54:41,190
Young people often struggle with that.

501
00:54:41,190 --> 00:54:48,150
I think, you know, I think I think I've got to stage in my life when I say what I am, what I am and what I am needs no excuses.

502
00:54:48,150 --> 00:54:53,670
Take me as You see me and I will admit when I don't. And that really that's very, very helpful in life.

503
00:54:53,670 --> 00:55:03,840
I found and the final thing I think I would say is that is just picking up on the thing about family life and what Laura was saying.

504
00:55:03,840 --> 00:55:09,360
I mean, my my children were were in their 20s or in their late teens when I started.

505
00:55:09,360 --> 00:55:18,150
So that made it a lot easier. But, um, I had a fairly strict policy from the beginning, which I was able to do,

506
00:55:18,150 --> 00:55:23,670
partly my wonderful wife earning some money into my getting a funding for the PhD

507
00:55:23,670 --> 00:55:28,440
I had a fairly strict policy of of compartmentalising work and leisure.

508
00:55:28,440 --> 00:55:35,220
So I worked. I did my PhD work from nine to six Monday to Friday.

509
00:55:35,220 --> 00:55:38,850
I didn't work evenings and I didn't work weekends.

510
00:55:38,850 --> 00:55:44,940
I broke that occasionally, particularly towards the end, and particularly when I was overseas doing my research.

511
00:55:44,940 --> 00:55:52,650
But on the whole, I tried to stick to that because your mental health, your wellbeing is absolutely critical.

512
00:55:52,650 --> 00:56:01,650
You won't get through it if you break down in inverted commas and you need to balance that life in order to get through it.

513
00:56:01,650 --> 00:56:08,910
So, yeah, kind of look after yourself, really. It's that confidence has to be kind to yourself.

514
00:56:08,910 --> 00:56:15,720
Thank you so much, Ghee, Kensa, Tracey, Catherine and Laura for having this conversation with me.

515
00:56:15,720 --> 00:56:20,040
And thank you to you. If you've stuck with us for what is now just under an hour.

516
00:56:20,040 --> 00:56:31,440
I wanted to keep a lot of this content in because I think it's just so important to share and to recognise the experiences of different researchers.

517
00:56:31,440 --> 00:56:39,780
So if you're listening to this and you think but that doesn't tie with my experience as a student or what about, you know, what about being part time?

518
00:56:39,780 --> 00:56:46,980
What about being just whatever it is? If you feel like you've got a story to tell, please get in touch.

519
00:56:46,980 --> 00:56:52,710
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to, like, rate and subscribe and join me next time.

520
00:56:52,710 --> 00:57:18,832
We'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.

 

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