Why I did a PhD

Why I did a PhD - by Dr Jo Gakonga!
This is a bit of an unusual video for me but it's taken the last 7 years of my life and I thought I'd like to finish it off like this!

Why did you do a PhD?
That's a good question. I was 50 years old when I started it, so not exactly at the beginning of my career, but I'd started a new job at Warwick University as a senior teaching fellow and so I was surrounded by people who were doing research and had done a doctorate. That definitely normalised it. I only had a part time job at Warwick and one of my colleagues told me about ESC funding so I thought I'd apply for it. If I get the funding, I thought, I'll do the PhD.. And I did. So that was decided! I got seven years, part-time funding - at about £10k a year tax free and they paid my uni fees on top of that, too .Funding is pretty competitive so I was lucky to get it but I couldn’t have done it without that.

Why did it take you so long?
Seven years - it’s a long time, isn’t it?. A full time PhD is usually 3-4 years and part time 5-7 so I was within the normal range, just about. if I'd really pushed myself, I think I could have done it faster but a lot happened in my personal life during that time and I also did longitudinal research and collected data over a 5 year period, so those were both reasons it took so long.

Did you work on it all the time during that time?
No -is the short answer but it was always on the back burner at least and there were times when it was definitely the priority in my life. You’ve got a few way posts during the process - I had an upgrade panel, after 2 years and a progress panel after 4 where you have to submit a 10k word piece and defend it to two academics from your department. I was lucky to have a great supervisor, Steve Mann. He helped me so much when I needed it but he also trusted me to get things done and didn't breath down my neck.

What was good about it?
Finishing! I'm only half joking about that. It was a lot of work. That aside, I think that one of the best things for me was being involved with research myself when I was supervising students on the MA TESOL doing theirs. I know so much more about research, especially qualitative research, than I did when I started work at Warwick, even though I'd done research for my MA before. If I'm being really honest about this, I also liked telling people that I was doing a PhD. Within the university, it was just normal and not very remarkable- bottom rung stuff, actually, but in the outside world, you get some kudos for it.

What was the worst thing?
Writing the thesis. It was such hard work. You obviously do a lot of writing all the way through, but earlier this year, I decided that if I was going to finish on time I really just had to put everything else on hold and get down to it, so I stopped making videos, stopped the newsletter, didn’t take on other work and just sat in a room, day after day for four months, writing a chapter at a time, sending it to my supervisor, getting feedback, rewriting, writing another one.. And every time I started a new chapter, it felt like climbing another mountain. I won't lie-it was only the thought of all the time I'd already put into it and how close I knew I was and the idea that I could let my supervisor down that kept me going. I'm glad I did, though. Now.

Would you advise me to do one?
I guess that depends on what you want to do it for. If you're the kind of person who just loves research and wants a challenge-go for it But it's a big commitment of time, energy and resources, I'd say, unless you've got a purpose. The main reason to do one would probably be if you want an academic job and I can highly recommend academic work. I loved working at Warwick and I was lucky to get the job without a PhD- you'd need one for a lot of jobs at that level.

What are you going to do now?
No more research! I've written a journal article and a book chapter about the study, and if you really want some bedtime reading, you can find my thesis on the website- it's guaranteed to induce sleep! I don’t feel I've got to publish anything more from it. But I've learnt a lot from doing it, about mentoring, that was the topic, but also about how people learn and about undertaking a big project and seeing it through. And, again, a bit of honesty, I love being able to call myself Dr Jo Gakonga.
Created with