Sex, Lives and Red Tape

“You *want* to do a PhD? Surely that’s glutton for punishment”

I thought it apt to use my first blog post to outline my motivations and reasons for wanting to take on a PhD. Because yes, I really do want to do a PhD.

phdI believe a PhD will benefit me both personally and professionally

  • I enjoy researching. My first research experience was during A-level sociology when I decided to conduct interviews for my research project. I can’t remember my exact research question, but have some recollection of the topic concerning young people and crime. My love for sociology was firmly cemented by this point, and was further enhanced by my degree in Sociology with Social Psychology. Three completed degrees later (BA, MSc, MPhil) and at every given opportunity I have opted to do research rather than writing extended essays*. I enjoy research because it allows me to do something new, solve problems and unpick knowledge that was previously unknown to the world.
  • I’m passionate about public health. Public health is about people, the decisions we make, and the health consequences of those decisions. And the backbone of public health is evidence; we need good quality evidence to understand what works in order to protect, improve or safeguard health. Undertaking a PhD will enable me to contribute to the public health evidence base.
  • The public health job landscape is changing. I’m currently halfway through the FPH national training scheme to become a public health consultant; yet with all the recent changes (public health moving from PCTs to Local Authorities, major reforms of NHS healthcare structures, national financial austerity) it is difficult to know where consultant posts will be available at the end of my training road (circa. 2018). And if I’m honest – I’m not sure what job I want! Doing a PhD will give me 3 years of solid academic experience, and at the very least, will help me suss out whether academic public health is the life for me.
  • Academic skills are vital in public health. Whether you are a full-time academic in public health and able to foster new research, or a consultant in local authority who uses available evidence to negotiate changes to improve population health – for me it is clear that having robust academic skills is a real strength of the public health workforce. I was really pleased to see my view backed up in the (soon to be published) collection of career profiles from a range of public health specialists. So whether I decide to do down the academic career path, or decide to be a ‘service-work’ public health consultant – further developing my academic skills by doing a PhD will boost my career prospects.

That is not to say that I think this journey into the academic world is going to be easy…

  • I think I’m pretty good at writing succinctly; I’ve never been one to ramble on and on… which is a good thing. However, I do sometimes struggle to meet word limits. This is one of the reasons why I’ve tended to opt for research over extended essays*. I don’t really enjoy writing long pieces. The longest piece of work I’m ever written was 17,000 words… yet a PhD expected word-limit is 100-80,000 words…! So I think it’ll be important for me to get into the habit of writing, and I hope writing this blog will help with that.
  • My career progress to date has meant I’ve jumped around jobs, placements and projects quite frequently. Certainly, I’ve NEVER been committed to a single project for 3 years… and it may become difficult to stay motivated over such a long time frame.
  • This PhD is going to force me to do things that I sometimes find difficult. Statistics. Digging deep into the finer details of a topic. Writing for long periods of time. I know that doing things I don’t like will benefit me in the long term, and it is good to be challenged. But I would be lying if I said “I think I’m going to enjoy every part of this PhD”

So there you have it. A colleague in the office said “the hardest part of the PhD is getting a place and not being put off by others” – and I’ve passed those hurdles. I did find it surprising how much resistance I was presented with from those in charge of the public health training programme; however I think we have different agendas. They want me to complete training and get a job as a consultant in public health, and from that perspective a PhD is a distraction from the end goal. Whereas I want to be the best I can be professionally, and I want to do something I enjoy. For me, I’m confident that taking up this PhD is the right choice, and I hope to share my experience of this journey via this blog.

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2 comments on ““You *want* to do a PhD? Surely that’s glutton for punishment”

  1. Dominic Mellon (@raggediman)
    October 25, 2013

    Congratulations Caroline and good luck with your research project. I’m in a similar boat having just registered for my own PhD studentship in the middle of public health specialty training. Maintaining a blog seems like a great way to get into the practice of writing regularly and practicing reflective research. Looking forward to hearing about your progress over the coming months.

  2. carotomes
    October 25, 2013

    Thanks Dominic. I endeavour to start with good intentions, and have heard from others that keeping a blog is a helpful aid for a PhD. Congrats on your studentship, too! BW, Caro

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2013 by in Career, PhD and tagged , .

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