It’s been just over a year now since I began my research at Aston University. As I begin my second year as a PhD candidate, watching all the new students flooding in, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned this year, how my studies have affected my life and what it means to me to be sitting here, writing about my experiences as a research student.
My overwhelming feeling is that my decision to apply for the PhD Studentship at Aston was one of the best decisions I have ever made. For several years I’d been drifting along in a career I wasn’t fully committed to, thinking that there must be something else; there must be something better than this. My lack of self-belief held me back from the academic path I felt was right for me, but a good friend pushed me on, stood over me while I made the phone calls, demanded that I at least try for something new. I’m so glad she did. I feel that I’ve had more successes and personal epiphanies in my year as a PhD student than in my entire 8 years as a secondary school teacher. Aside from the occasional hiccup, I’m no longer plagued by self-doubt and indecision. It’s been a steep learning curve but I can’t quite believe my luck that I have another two years to work on something that I find enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding, something that will hopefully lead to a career spanning many more years than that.
The focus and methodology of my research project have shifted quite significantly since I wrote my proposal. I’ve now completely rejected my original idea to conduct quantitative, corpus-based research using a database of Mumsnet threads, opting instead to use a completely qualitative approach which has involved spending many hours on the Mumsnet ‘talk’ forum this summer, sifting through thousands of threads and reading those of interest in painstaking detail. When I started I didn’t have a theoretical framework at all, and no particular political agenda for my research. Now I consider myself a poststructuralist, and a feminist. This firm political and theoretical allegiance has helped me to form a strong foundation on which to base my research. It’s also affected the way I approach my everyday life and experiences; the way I look at the world. It’s made me more open and tolerant, and more aware of social injustices, too.
Looking forward to the academic year ahead, I wonder how on earth I will be able to match this one. I’ve presented at two conferences, won a prize, gained a higher education teaching qualification, got two new jobs-on-the-side, submitted a paper to a journal, passed my qualifying report and been offered two very exciting opportunities: the first, to join BAAL’s committee to revise their good practice guidelines, and the second I can’t say too much about now… watch this space!
I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.