Anna Kent is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Her thesis focuses on Australian scholarships for Indonesia 1960-2015. Anna reflects on her Higher Degree by Research experience:
One year into my PhD study, I have been reflecting on this year and how I am progressing. It has led me to reflect how well I am following the rules I set for myself after I completed my Master of Arts in 2012.
Two weeks before the birth of my second child I submitted my Masters thesis. It was the culmination of an eventful three years, where I struggled to manage my time and balance my priorities. My supervisors suggested an extension, but I knew that my research baby needed to be out of the way before my real baby arrived. At risk was the whole project; by that stage delaying submission could easily have led to me abandoning the thing all together.
Rule 1: Choose your supervisor first, your institution second.
How did it get to that point? It is easy to see, in hindsight, how it all happened. In the beginning I began my Masters part-time, while working full-time in a busy, travel intensive job. I had chosen my institution by default – I knew I didn’t want to do it at the university I worked at, and the paperwork was significantly less onerous if I went to the same university where I studied my undergraduate degree. I did little research about where my project would best fit, and was assigned a supervisor by the university. I put significant trust in the department to assign me a supervisor – on reflection, this was the wrong choice.
Rule 2: Make time, and protect time for study.
I tried valiantly to protect my employer’s allocation of study leave (4 hours a week, or one day a fortnight), but with the demands of managing a team, travel, meetings and the inevitable crises that occur, my study day was often left behind. Stockpiling them to take as a week proved equally difficult. My time on campus was extremely limited, and I did not put effort into connecting to the university or the department.
Rule 3: Don’t have a baby.
To make matters worse (or probably more appropriately – more difficult), a year or so in I had a baby. I took a three month leave of absence, and then attempted to continue my research whilst on parental leave. Realistically however, as many parents will tell you – planning to do ‘things’ on parental leave is folly… I hadn’t committed to painting the house (as I know some have done), but finding stretches of time where I could sit at my desk was difficult, and often impossible.
Rule 4: Stay connected to your academic community.
Meanwhile, I was almost totally disengaged from my academic colleagues, coming on campus only to meet with my supervisor. My relationship with my supervisor was not great, with no specific, identifiable issue, but a sense that we were certainly not a good match. And, as is so often the case with HDR students, I did nothing about it. The project continued with me realising I was probably in the wrong department (the problem with cross-disciplinary research topics!), but again, not doing anything about it.
My parental leave finished, and I returned to work part-time. Finding time was again an issue (trying to take pro-rata study leave was even more difficult than before). On the plus side, travel was no longer an interruption, but at home I was spending time with my active and curious 1 year old. Time for study became so difficult to find that my partner and I decided to put our daughter into an extra day of childcare in order for me to have a day to focus on study.
Rule 5: It will work out in the end.
In the end my thesis was submitted, our second baby was born, and the world went on. My thesis grade, as you would imagine, was not anything like what I would have wanted. But with two small kids at home I didn’t have time to dwell on it, as I would have when I was younger!
Rule 6: Study full-time (oops, broke that one)…
I swore that my days of part time study were over. At the very least if I was to do a PhD I would do it full-time – commit myself to it. So when the idea of doing a PhD was raised last year, my instant response was no. But the idea caught hold, and before long I was applying for a place and a scholarship. When I didn’t get a scholarship, my instant response was again – no. And it took me a few days of thinking, and talking with my partner, to work out if it was possible to do part-time. My experiences told me not to, but my curiosity and engagement with the project got me over the line.
Rule 7: Remember the lessons.
I am still learning from the mistakes I made in my Masters, and I trust that my PhD will be the better for them. I am more mature, intellectually and otherwise; I have a clear idea of what I want out of my study, and I have great support around me.
Follow Anna on Twitter @annakent1