Categories
Thoughts About Work

Things you may not know about applying for a PhD in the Arts and Humanities in the U.K.

Hello. This is a very short resource for people looking at the PhD application process in the UK right now. S0me of this information may be obvious but there is a real lack of democracy and transparency about getting on to PhDs in the UK, and I want to make sure as many people have access to this intel. I intend to expand on various parts of this list in other blog posts and videos to provide more specific information but I hope that this will arm you with questions and power when looking for the PhD setup that serves you.

Good luck!

The thread:

  1. If you know what your proposed topic is, put it into a paragraph and give it a rough title. It will be much much easier for you to find good supervisors this way. Don’t be afraid to put it in your approaches
  2. Supervisors work with you. You do not work “for” them unless it’s a very specific project. This is *different* to other disciplines. Look at them like mentors that you get to pick and be practical about it. 
  3. (CONTROVERSIAL) You can ask your supervisors questions about their supervision style/interview them. A PhD is long and advice/support/writing help is personal. Ask about how they like to supervise, what they think the first year of a PhD is like, do some research on their career, etc. 
  4. Sometimes, PhD supervisors can be enthusiastic but do not have space/capacity to take on your project. Don’t take it personally if that’s the reason. Consider what matters to you to seek out others. Is it subject-expertise? Is it experience? Is it a career mentor? Is it someone who demonstrates care for your topic?
  5. Be aware that approaches to PhD applicants vary. I offer a lot of feedback on applications even when I won’t be on the team/at the institution. This is not standard. Be aware that you will get different responses to your inquiries
  6. You can apply to lots of PhD programmes at the same time. You can and should investigate your options. That said, be tactful about who you tell that you are applying to different courses. Some postgraduate admissions officers (unreasonably) take exception to this 
  7. Many universities offer PhD places on projects. Search websites and jobs.ac.uk to find projects to apply for. These often come with relationships to industry which is great in the current job climate.
  8. There is an unwritten timeline for applications in most UK unis. April-Nov: expressions of interest with abstract, finishing project idea, finding supervisors and unis, and researching funders. Nov-Jan: getting a place, submitting funding apps. March-April: funding announced. 
  9. You don’t have to stick to that timeline. Most unis have two “standard” entry dates: October and January. If you want to do something different, ask. It’s normally possible! 
  10. A remote study PhD is a different programme (technically) so some unis may genuinely say that you can’t do distant PhD study. Make sure to check if this is something you definitely want/need.
  11. Most PhD funders (private and national or university-based) require you to have a place on a PhD programme by the time you submit your funding application. For big bodies like the AHRC, this may involve an interview at the uni(s) of your choice so leave time or it’s a waste of your effort.
  12. Know that *most* applications for funding go to a *general* panel of academics. It does not go to experts. You need to write an application that can be read by old person. Technical/specific terms need explanation. Clear title. Always summarise project at the top. 
  13. Getting awarded funding can *rely* on your referees actually sending references. Do all you can to get reliable people and check-in with them to make sure it gets done.
  14. Grant awards for international students have different terms in different places. For example, sometimes a fee award will only cover the cost of domestic tuition fee rates. Some institutions have specific awards that cover “international” fees and offer stipends. 
  15. Not for everyone: You can (often) apply for funding in the first year of your degree if you are in the financial position to take out a student loan/fund year one of your studies.

Remember that it’s your degree. You need the institution and supervisors but you are the heart of your work and your wellbeing and quality of experience matter.

Categories
I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges Thoughts About Work

An Abundance of Listening

This blog is written during the March 2022 strikes in UK higher education. I am on strike and trying to balance spending time with my puppy Sula, resting, and spending some concentrated time with the books on my shelves.

In the first strikes of 2022, I began a project of self-flagellation. I decided to use the “Reading List” function on The Storygraph to document all the unread books I have in my home. The project was motivated by shame. I felt my spending (on books) was out of control although it was definitely within my means. The truth is that when I was isolating alone for months during the pandemics, I retreated into books: reading books, buying books, talking about books, and thinking about writing books.

I have beautiful shelves in my living room, which is a warm yellow like this background and, to me, the books shine like intricate wallpaper as well as little parcels of imagination. Every book is one I have read or want to read and yet, the “task” of reading has begun to feel overwhelming. And so I begin small challenges and tasks to break down the 200+ backlog into something more respectable.

And then, this morning, while reading a poetry collection by Kei Miller, I realised that all this shame and worry is not only self-created but also about internalised shame about materialism. Somehow, I cannot be at peace with myself while knowing that I never buy books for the sake of buying. I choose not to buy books all the time. I have slowly turned my feeling of being lost, out of control, and unable to carve out time to do things I love onto the collection of books in my home.

There is no time frame for reading these books. I still have space to expand and I have not put myself in any financial risk during my pandemic anxiety sprees. However, I realised when reading The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion that my conscious purchasing is not always matched with conscious reading. I rush. I feel the need to set silly goals even though I deliberately set my book target for 2022 very low. The basic “reading goal” is an ADHD crutch rather than an outward looking challenge and yet, I am increasingly aware that my anxiety revolves around being competitive with my potential to do more.

iv.
The rastaman thinks, draw me a map of what you see
then I will draw you a map of what you never see
and guess me whose map will be bigger than whose?
Guess me whose map will tell the larger truth?

The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion – Kei Miller

In his poems, Miller asks who maps are for and what mapping leaves out. He grapples with knowledge democracy and what is left out from our methods of recording what we think we know. In a later part of the poem quoted above, we learn that the cartographer does not recognise the rastaman as an expert. This made me think about how I read and why I amass books in the way I do. It transported me to the comfort and privilege of collecting books with diverse stories, histories, and styles. Audiobooks too.

I am a bookworm but more generally a curious and restless soul, who is always looking for brighter, more detailed insight into the world. I amass books because there is so much I don’t know, cannot imagine, and do not understand. I don’t want to possess the books. More often than not, I will give them to a reader I love or add them to book swaps. I buy a lot because I read a lot and I find it (for disability reasons) easier to have books that can be bashed and written on.

I read voraciously and broadly because I am interested in all parts of the book: the cover, the dedication, the font, the style of language, the paragraphing … as well as the material itself. We learn much from paying attention to the layers of our material items. I also love to listen to different narrations of the same stories. I particularly seek out authors reading their work. Not because they are always “the best”, but because you get a particular set of inflections. I return time and again to Maya Angelou reading her poems and I alternate reading Toni Morrison’s fiction with listening to her read it.

What I learned today is that I use my bookshelves as a barometer of what is going on with me, what’s going on in the world, and what I’d like to discover and enjoy. I know that I read every book I bring into my home whether that’s on the journey back from purchase or two years later when it’s just the right thing. That actually, through reading I listen to myself – my restlessness, my fears, my comforts – and that I find solace in the multiplicity and abundance of voices that I can turn my focus to when I turn my mind to reading.

Categories
Thoughts About Work

A reflection on best practice and duty of care in British academia

I get a lot of questions about my teaching practice, my pastoral attitudes, and the relationship between my research that connects many aspects of identity with improving Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in British universities. I think about how to do my different works better a lot but, in that, I’ve never reached a short or simple answer.

I balance lived experience with inspiration from others, research, training and other learning while also making many and ongoing mistakes. In fact, I am concerned about edifying any one person’s process without the context of community, friendship, and assimilated knowledge. For example, I went to a workshop about a book, which is no longer happening, and someone gave an improvised introduction to the philosophy of imagination and how we can connect it to Black liberation. I am not philosophical and didn’t hold onto the details of their words, but I was transported in the moment and I learned a lot about energy and intention in teaching. And in my own way, about imagination and liberation. I know who that person was, and I always signpost their influence on how I approach topics in my teaching, but they aren’t tangibly acknowledged in the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.

I hold the conversations with friends, colleagues, and students as part of this process. I fail more than I succeed but I learn because I ask for feedback and I work very hard to reflect on the critiques I receive. Could I do something differently or in a more helpful way? Have I misjudged a conversation? Was I being lazy? Sometimes, I will feel that my authenticity or intention doesn’t work for someone and move on. At other times, I will have messed up. I catch myself losing focus and operating in unhelpful, unhealthy and toxic ways as the norms in university environments can feel safer and also, what is expected. Example: I often assume knowledge of certain phenomena in popular culture. So, I have a note on my desk that says: “Not everyone has seen The Lion King”. I don’t always remember but I also sit with the feeling when it happens to me and I feel lost rather than included. If you have never felt that distance from learning, it’s hard to locate creative empathy in whatever work you do.

For me, the hardest but most necessary part of aiming to be a good teacher, a respectful researcher, a good colleague, a helpful supervisor etc. is knowing that those things are largely conditional on the perspective whoever I am in dialogue with. Is my work, my energy, my intention having the impact I hope it will? If not, the only person responsible for that is me. And if you are thinking that this position reads as insecurity then you are misunderstanding the measurement of intentionality with likeability. I admit that I have not shaken the want to be liked but this is neither intrinsic nor essential to doing my work intentionally. I am regularly described as “confrontational” and “challenging”. Ignoring the codes ascribed with those expressions, I know that this is because I prefer direct questions and direct answers and that I am also unimpressed by non-answers. The thing about academia is that non-answers seem to come easily. We all hedge. We all present things with angles. We all consider how we cover our backs, especially when we have come from or are in precarious situations. There can be a safety in not answering when a question is asked. But often, that’s where the greatest harm lies. I have done it because it felt like the right choice at the time, but it has almost never been the best choice. The downside is that it risks more and costs more to be open and committed in a public way.

I describe myself as a bit too much. I am intense, emotional, loud, clumsy, enthusiastic, and eager to do my best work. It can be exhausting for me as well as to other people. But that is my essence, and I am fine with it. In order to argue about safe working environments or paying students for their time or changing the curriculum, I need to be all of those things because they make me present and attentive. However, they also make my mistakes more prominent and, sometimes, harder to undo. I don’t know what my approach to my work is other than that is should be liberatory, accessible, fun, and (often) useful to people around me. That is not the mode of my institution or my profession but it’s where I sit and most days, I try and move a little bit closer to it.