Should You Do A PhD?

The whole pole dancing academic persona might be newsworthy and is definitely working for me, but doing a PhD isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Sure, it has allowed me to find and focus on my area of expertise and to follow my passions both in writing and pole dancing. But should you do a PhD? This post is an attempt to clarify some doubts and answer some questions that friends and readers have asked me about doing PhD. Hope it helps!

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What’s The Point Of Doing A PhD?

I’ll be covering the type of jobs you can do after a PhD in one of the paragraphs below, but before we even start getting technical, what’s the point of doing a PhD?

During your PhD you will come up with a thesis made up of most likely 80,000 to 100,000 words. You will have chosen your topic and investigated it fully, essentially becoming an expert in your field. So a PhD will give you lots of knowledge surrounding your case study and all the issues related to it.

This doesn’t mean you will become a one-trick pony. My PhD focuses on a very specific case of cyber-harassment, but to build on my knowledge I’ve had to look into social media law, regulation, sociological and criminological theory as well as some very specific tech stuff. So I’m now able to comment on the Instagram shadowban under a research perspective, as well as on conspiracy theories or misinformation, as they are related to my case study.

Things To Consider Before You Do A PhD

Discipline

I love working on my PhD and I’m 100% convinced this was the right thing to do for me. But I think it’s right because of my personality (control freak, introvert masking as extrovert, writer) and interests, so this might not be true for everyone. In short, there’s no point in doing a PhD so you can be called Dr. Something Something and impress the ladies. Also because, if Friends is anything to go by, the ladies are never impressed.

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JK. They are. But you get what I mean. So here are some real things to consider before you do a PhD.

Would you say you have discipline? A big part of working on your PhD will be having the time and headspace to work on certain aspects of it during certain times. You don’t have strict assignment deadlines like during a BA or an MA, but you will have to have an upgrade presentation to confirm you’re progressing to the second year, you will have to defend your thesis in a meeting called VIVA before you are awarded a PhD, and you will have to finish within a certain time frame (generally, four years tops if you do this full-time).

Your supervisors will help you, advise you and follow you throughout the process, but having a lot of self-discipline helps staying sane while working on your PhD. If you struggle with ‘policing’ yourself – from knowing when to start to knowing where to stop – consider whether you are going to be able to make an exception for a PhD.

Having worked in such a demanding field like PR was extremely helpful to manage my work, as I was used to short-term deadlines and to self-discipline. It also helped me find my topic – social media abuse – and blend it with criminology. Most importantly, I had quite the taste of the job market before deciding academia was exactly what I wanted to do.

I would recommend working for at least a year before doing a PhD if you can, just to get that discipline and also make up your mind as to whether a PhD is what you want.

Loneliness

Doing a PhD can be lonely. Which is precisely why I’ve chosen it. While working in PR, I used to make hundreds of calls a day to sell in stories to journalists. I used to go to events, make small talk in the office and had to put on a reasonably friendly façade. I have anxiety, depression and PTSD and while I would say my mental health is improving, I don’t enjoy situations where I feel forced to be friendly. Working on my PhD from my own home means I don’t have to speak to anyone if I don’t feel like it and I love that.

Consider that before you do a PhD. Sometimes even your supervisors – who are human and have their own lives – might not answer emails, and you might find yourself isolated going nuts about your research. Especially if you thrive in lively offices and love seeing faces everyday, you will have to try and find ways in which you can get that while working on your PhD, like joining a co-working space, or organising studying dates with friends.

Reading and Writing

Are reading and writing a chore for you? I’d say they are my favourite things to do, and if I would I would just live off of them. They are also the key to a good PhD: you need to be constantly reading up about your topic to stay on top of things. Plus, the more you write, the more you follow a structure, the easier the process will be. So if you find reading and writing challenging, a PhD might be a bit tricky for you.

The Wait

Working on a PhD can feel like a never-ending task, that step you can never make to independence. I sometimes struggle with this: I can’t get a full-time job as a lecturer until I have a PhD, and the wait, the uncertainty take a toll on you sometimes. So if this is something you wouldn’t want to deal with, reconsider. I myself wish I’d known about this feeling a little earlier, so that I could have maybe prepared myself psychologically a little better.

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Hello MTV and welcome to my crib. Well, kinda. This fantastic building has been my home for the past three days. I’ve had a mini-digital detox and a mini-writing retreat at the gorgeous Monkton Wyld Court, completely funded by my university and in the company of fellow PhD students and visiting lecturers. I needed this real bad. Due to event, interview and competitions planning, I’ve been relying on social media a little too much in the past couple of months and it was stressing me out. Disconnecting was a relief – it’s always quite striking and upsetting to find out how much you can achieve without getting distracted by social media and by the busy London life. I’m not really a #goals person – goals sometimes freak you out instead of helping – but I did have some work that I needed to do on findings chapters I’d received feedback on, and my stay at Monkton was the perfect occasion for it. I’ve been able to condense all my little findings chapters – I had 10, LOL, talk about keen bean – into two longer chapters that now make sense and are not completely random. I’ve been able to work on my ethics form for post data collection interviews and I’ve even been able to sneak in some creative writing for a new novel in Monkton’s gorgeous piano room (which I do think is haunted, but still cute). I am lucky in the sense that I don’t hate my PhD yet and I haven’t hated it so far. I’m actually really into it and I love finding trends, links and coming up with my own little theories and frameworks. If the #PhDlife wasn’t so damn uncertain I’d do this forever! K bye, I know you’ve had enough.

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How To Apply For A PhD

Previous Education

I applied for my PhD in criminology after a BA in journalism, a few years spent working in PR and social media marketing and a MA in criminology. Some people go directly into a PhD from a BA or a BSc, and I guess you can do that too.

Just make sure you choose a degree which gives you the option to write a thesis/dissertation, as that will prepare you for your PhD and it will show the universities you’re applying for you are able to write a complex piece of research.

Supporting Documents

To apply for a PhD, you will need a personal statement just like for any university application. However, you will also need a research proposal – most likely a one-pager – where you explain what you are looking to study. This will include relevant literature, a hint at your case study/ research field and why it’s important to study that particular topic (e.g. hasn’t been done before, needs more depth, whatever). This one here is an example, but it’s super detailed – so sometimes you’ll find yourself writing something way shorter according to what the universities you’re applying for require.

Universities will also ask for recommendation letters. Some of these can be academic – e.g. from your BA thesis supervisor, or MA thesis supervisor – or professional – e.g. from a boss or a manager. I had both, as I’d been working for quite a while and wanted to show my expertise in social media as well as my research potential.

Choosing Universities = Choosing A Supervisor

I didn’t so much choose a university – I chose a supervisor. I knew I wanted to go back to London so I looked at universities I was interested in that had good cyber law or criminology departments, found a potential supervisor there – someone whose research interests and teaching experience matched my field – and emailed them. You can find them in university department directories or by googling, or even on Twitter sometimes.

While emailing potential supervisors, I introduced myself, my expertise and wrote a short paragraph about what type of study I wanted to do. This took me a good three months, because I was working almost full-time in Australia at the time, and it was summer, a dead time for academia in Europe.

Once you have a few potential supervisors, apply for the universities they’re based at after they’ve agreed they would supervise you if you got in. There is no point in blindly applying for a uni if you don’t have a relationship with a supervisor, because then you might be paired up with the wrong person. In fact, often, when a supervisor leaves a uni, their students follow them to the new institution. It’s that important.

Supervisors can also point you to scholarships you can apply for, or second supervisors you might want to hit up if your PhD, like mine, is a multidisciplinary study. They are your champion at your university, and having a good one is crucial.

Timings

PhD applications when I applied opened in late October – early November and closed in late January. So you have quite some time to put something together.

My PhD induction was in late September and my first proper meetings were in October.

As I mentioned, PhDs can last from three to four years unless differently stated, or unless you study part-time.

Funding

Funding is a major source of stress for many PhD students. In my case, it’s the reason why I always take on way too many jobs, and the reason why I spend the summer in Sardinia. I have made the conscious decision of not working outside of my field, because I’ve done so in the past and it’s very detrimental to my mental health, so working in Sardinia is a chance 1) to tan 2) to save up, as it’s cheaper than living in London when I’m not teaching.

I am quite lucky because, although my university hasn’t blessed me with a full scholarship that would help me shut the anxiety of supporting myself down, I’m on a fee waiver. This means I don’t have to pay £5,000 a year in tuition fees, which is quite the achievement.

However, many universities do offer scholarships, whether they’re their own or some privately funded scholarships you would have to apply for separately. You can also look up and apply for council specific scholarships which will be related to your field of research – for me, for example, the body in question would be the ESRC. Sometimes, private companies that aren’t affiliated to your uni but that sponsor studies in their field might also help.

You will also find that, if you apply through calls for applications, scholarship details will be specified in the call – universities might have received funding and are starting a program out of that.

If all of this fails, look up government loans for your PhD.

What Type of Work Can You Do After A PhD?

I am almost 100% sure that I want to stay within the teaching and researching field once I’m done with my PhD. However, there are loads of opportunities for you once you’ve completed your studies – she says, praying to the goddesses she won’t be jobless in a year or so.

  • You can take your PhD further with a postdoc. This can help you develop your research and take your academic credentials to the next level.
  • You can work within research teams across business, charities, NGOs, government and the like
  • You can teach at different levels
  • You can write for specific publications (e.g. science or tech, or whatever your field is)
  • You can take on professional jobs within academia
  • You can go back into the business world with added knowledge in your field.

Even more info here.

What The PhD Life Is Like

I am loving the opportunity to do a PhD. Since primary school, I’ve always been a keen bean in terms of studying, a sort of Hermione Granger without the looks.

When I finished my BA I said I was done with academia, but after working in business I realised I really missed studying. Doing a PhD allows me to geek out on something I’m passionate about and that is majorly influencing my way of thinking in other areas of my life. It means I haven’t stopped learning and adapting my beliefs, and it’s fantastic.

I have fully embraced the PhD life in the sense that I go to talks and events at my university and outside of it; I teach journalism and criminology part-time; I do research with other lecturers; I have a flexible lifestyle.

It’s perhaps this flexibility that I value the most. When I look at the boxes I’ve been able to tick since I’ve started my PhD I sometimes can’t believe everything I’ve done with a bit of extra time on my hands. I self-published a novel I’ve always wanted to publish. I built up my profile in the press and online. I won a pole competition, took part in three of them and performed more often than I thought possible. I put a pole in my house and trained everyday. I published academic papers and I’m slowly making a name for myself.

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Just spoke here in #Reykjavík, where I’m being hosted by the lovely conference team, bringing you bad teacher realness with these fantastic pants @julietherrera_ made for me & #gifted me. It’s quite ironic to find myself here, talking about #socialmedia regulation for Twitter abuse, when I – like many #poledancers, sex positive advocates or sex workers – am often being shadowbanned by Instagram. 🍑 I find myself at the intersection of #creativewriting, #academia, #blogging & #dancing, and I feel like this gives me a unique insight on the issue of Internet censorship. In the past 2 years of my #criminology #PhD on cyber-hate speech on high profile criminal cases, I have witnessed & read some awful things online. So let me draw a parallel between things that happen online & that aren’t being dealt with, and with the censorship we face. 🤬 Online hate speech harms its targets; public debate in general, because if you think you can SAY anything about anyone, the steps to thinking you can DO anything to them aren’t that many (as seen by extremist violence fueled by some online content); the right to a fair trial, because chances are that jury members that see negative posts about people will make their mind up against them in court.✖️✖️✖️Yet, sex workers advertising themselves via Instagram, pole dancers posting a new trick or choreography, lingerie models showing some skin etc are way less dangerous than hate. As @exotic.cancer brilliantly argued during my interview with her, why not add NSFW filters to Insta so that people can still use it for the discovery-based social network it used to be? One has to wonder why, in 2019, we are still uncomfortable with our bodies and with sex. Why would we rather our kids didn’t know about them at all rather than talk about them? 👯‍♀️ My skin isn’t inappropriate. My pole moves are hard work. My writing needs more readers if I’m ever gonna start properly making money with it. So what’s more inappropriate, people going online with the intention to hurt others, or some pole dancer shaking her ass? I’ll leave you to decide. If you liked this post pls help me break the shadowban, share, tag & like. #notinappropriate

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Side note: there are many pole dancers with PhDs. I have instructors who have one. Chris ‘Blue Phoenix’ Talbot has one. Lux Atl has one. I think there’s something about working on very intense theory and then letting it all out on the pole.

Yet, saying these past few years haven’t been challenging would be a lie. Feeling “unfinished” while the majority of my friends now have a full-time job and quite a bit of stability sometimes stings. Not knowing how much I’ll earn at the end of every month is exhausting. Not having a proper routine is quite an annoyance for a control freak like me.

Plus, if I had a pound for every time some old white male academic tried to undermine me or took me for an intern / student, I’d be rich by now. It’s hard to be taken seriously as a young, female academic. It’s frustrating to be in the academic limbo of the status of part-student, part-staff member. It’s often quite disheartening to speak at conferences or teach when you are often the last cog in the academic machine in order of importance, when your needs as a lecturer aren’t respected. You often risk to be blamed by students for wider admin messes, to name but a few issues you can have as a young academic who’s just starting out – more info here and here.

Is A PhD Even Worth It?

Yes. Despite the blood, sweat and tears I’m shedding through this PhD, if I had to turn back time to when I was applying in 2016, I’d do exactly the same.

Doing a PhD is much more than just becoming an expert in your own field, or just studying until you are very old and need to get a job. It’s a lesson in independence, it develops your thinking and it’s actually fun if you’re a geek like me.

Plus, we need more people in academia. Especially if you are LGBTQIA+, if you’re not white, if you identify as female, we need you. It’s time to kick old white stuffy male academics off their seats and make academia more inclusive. So please apply.

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This is me post conference speech, after having walked for 40 mins to the Lincoln Memorial in my heels to catch this gorgeous light. If when I first came to Washington DC in 2014, running from myself and my demons, you would have told me I would have been back so soon, and to speak at a conference presenting a paper in a field I’ve always dreamed to study, sponsored by and representing my university, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t even know who I was or what I wanted. And yet today I presented to a packed room, receiving great feedback and a lot of interest for my paper, which will be published this year. I made connection for possible publishing deals and I presented together with experts in criminology – and a lot of women, I’m happy to say – in the cradle of global power (although the orange twat’s in office). Four years on, I couldn’t be more comfortable in my shoes (which are now giving me blisters, but they add to this @zara suit that was quite successful with the crowd today). It took a lot of work and a lot of trial and error, but I am so glad I have figured out what I want to do – and that what I want to do isn’t just one thing, but a complicated blend of loads of stuff that makes me happy. In the next few days I’ll post pictures from my most naked performance ever, too, so you remember not to take me too seriously – it’s called balance.

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Final Tips

  • Read more about PhD funding here;
  • Read more about applying for a PhD here;
  • Consider joining mailing lists for your areas of expertise and interest. E.g. I googled “criminology mailing list” and the list came up, I subscribed and I now get alerts about PhD and postdoc opportunities, conferences, call for papers etc.
  • Look up sites such as FindAPhD to find opportunities and advice;
  • Once you start, join PhD and (if it applies) Women in Academia support groups on Facebook or Reddit, and follow accounts like Academic Chatter on Twitter to realise you are not alone.

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