Dr Fox’s PhD experience.

Thanks to Andy for sending this. Please read and comment.

‘I recently attended the 2015 AMPA Forum at Birmingham City University and was asked to write something about my experiences of doing a PhD.

First some (truncated) background. I used to be fiercely anti-academic. I left school at 16 with two CSE’s (English and History) and started work as a YTS trainee for a conference staging company before moving on to working in the theatre, finally falling into working for a video production company, which produced corporates and freelanced its staff to the broadcast industry, mainly in news gathering. When that company went bust I dabbled with freelancing before a camera op pointed me in the direction of the then Huddersfield Polytechnic (it became a University on the day I started working there), as an AV Technician. It was only supposed to be a stopgap but it’s now 24 years later and I’m a full time academic member of staff, who’s the Course Leader for the Broadcast Journalism course and Director of Admissions, for the School of Music, Humanities and Media. I also have two degrees, an MA and a PhD from two red bricks, Leeds and Cardiff respectively.

There’s been a lot of pressure on colleagues who were employed for their practice orientated skills to register for PhD’s. I understand the resistance from some of these colleagues who are practitioners. Why be judged on your academic skills when you don’t see yourself as or want to be an active researcher in the academic mould? Instead you want to spend your time working with students running newsdays and passing on good, useful practical skills that will ensure that the students can be competitive in a very crowded market place. My intention is to still do this, I’m still timetabled to teach more practice than theory even though I have a PhD, although being a doctor means I have entered what a colleague once described as ‘the dark side.’ In addition another colleague (who resisted becoming research active for a very long time) once rather aggressively told me that he could do my PhD ‘in his lunchtime’ and I once came back to my office to find that the Dr. part of my nameplate had been covered over with gaffer tape. There was some suggestion at AMPA that academics look down on practitioners, it can work the other way too, especially if you cover both areas.

I’m proud of both my degree’s but of the PhD in particular. I was lucky that the wonderful Justin Lewis saw something in me and agreed to be my lead supervisor and stayed throughout the duration of my PhD. Having said that it wasn’t made easy. The first 18 months were spent in negotiating a title and my two supervisors trying to persuade me to withdraw on the basis that students doing part time doctorates from distance never complete. There was the sheer horror moment halfway through when my data collection results didn’t provide me with the answers I thought they would and I didn’t know what I was going to write about. When submission was near and I got feedback which said that ‘some external examiners may see this as only an MPhil, but some may pass it with minor corrections’ was a particularly hairy moment. Likewise the thought of defending my work to two academics that I’d never met, especially after receiving the afore mentioned feedback, caused a near half stone loss of weight and a couple of sleepless nights. In the end the viva was a dream and I passed with minor corrections, about the best you can hope for given the circumstances.

I learnt a lot from my PhD. I now feel that I have a better understanding of academia, that I’m better at my job (particularly the dissertation bit of it). I’ve learnt a lot about myself and as a result feel more confident. The realisation that academic work is nothing to be feared, that the scrutiny that you are under, both while preparing the thesis and during the viva, is designed to be helpful and constructive, it’s not someone deliberately putting obstacles in your path because they feel you are unworthy, helped me understand my own job better. Of course these attributes – being helpful while pushing – work across the board. I also learnt a lot about time management. It’s no easy task to work on a thesis while working full time but we are very lucky at Huddersfield in that we are all timetabled for a research day. The research day is very important, while it may have taken me seven years to complete the work, that one day a week during term time set aside for studying meant that there was always some kind of momentum. Even if it was backwards it was still momentum!

To the nay sayers I say give it a go. It’s worth it in the end. It isn’t easy, either whether you’re doing an AVPhD (practice based) or, like me, a non AVPhD, but it is the highest degree that can be studied towards so it’s not going to be is it.

Andy Fox is available to provide any advice or help AMPA colleagues may want. He can be reached at a.fox@hud.ac.uk or at 01484 478414′

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