In anticipation of our upcoming event on ‘Getting Grants, Getting Published and Staying Sane: Life After the PhD’, we are continuing our series of reflective posts on early-career life with a guest post from Dr Sarah Holland.
You can sign up for our very popular annual event (taking place at Senate House, London, on 21 April 2015) here.
After submitting my final bound thesis in early 2014, there was both a great sense of achievement and bubbling apprehension of ‘what next?’. I was lucky to have teaching lined up both in higher and further education, and publishing plans – but what about that illusive full time position or post doc? I knew it was a difficult time – it was no secret that for every position there are many more applicants – and during the next few months I became one of many who didn’t manage to secure the post doc position they applied for. Inevitably there were moments of doubt and uncertainty, but I never wavered from my commitment to develop a career in research and teaching – in many respects it made me all the more determined. I was going to seize all opportunities and create even more.
Reflecting on the last 12 months reminds me of how much I have done and achieved. As Associate Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, a role I began whilst finishing my PhD, I have not only had the opportunity to teach some interesting modules to a range of undergraduate students, but also to co-design a module with my colleague, Chris Corker. Making History is an innovative enquiry led module with a small-scale research project at the heart of it. It takes students out of the classroom and into the archives and local studies library in the first year of their degree. Students also engage with public history, visiting two museums, taking part in a history walk round Sheffield and showcasing their own work at a public history exhibition. Each year, it is an incredibly proud moment to see the student’s work on public display and watch them interact with members of the public. As the module promotes student engagement and learner autonomy, it has led me to have greater involvement with research into learning and teaching – co-writing journal articles and co-presenting at conferences including RAISE (Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement) 2014 based on the design and impact of the module.
To maximise the renewed confidence completing the PhD and successfully passing the Viva gave me, I began productively writing journal articles – two of which I have now completed ready for submission. The reciprocal relationship between town and country is the subject of a book chapter I have written for a forthcoming edited book on town and country. I am also finalising my book proposal, Contrasting Rural Communities, which adopts a micro historical approach to explore key issues in rural and agricultural history and village typology. I have also had the opportunity to present my research at a range of national and international conferences. During the summer I was in Leuven, Belgium for the Knowledge Networks Conference speaking about the role of agricultural societies in the generation and communication of knowledge. The conference itself was a fertile ground for the creation and communication of knowledge – demonstrating that as academics we are more than capable of initiating and sustaining effective knowledge networks. I also spoke on agricultural innovation at the Institute of Historical Research in London and village typology at the British Agricultural History Society (BAHS) PG & ECR conference. I have also been invited to give a full length paper at the BAHS annual Spring conference in 2015.
The summer of 2014 saw me working as a research assistant at Sheffield Hallam University, researching the role of the English farmworker in the first and second world wars on behalf of Dr Nicola Verdon. I was mainly undertaking archival research, with lucrative material including the memoirs of Land Girls, women’s land army records, prisoner of war employment records and the War Agricultural Committee records. From the perspective of my own research interests I was fascinated by the extent of regional differentiation in terms of attitudes to employing different groups of farm workers and their experiences on the land during the war.
Alongside this I continued my work as an adult education practitioner, with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and partner organisations. I developed my existing portfolio of work, which included teaching history in the community and working with mental health and special educational needs groups. As a result of this I was awarded a research fellowship that enabled me to investigate the impact of studying history on mental health and wellbeing, and explore the role of pedagogical approach and curriculum specific impact. I was also invited to join the WEA cultural studies group, and am working on developing a range of exciting new projects and resources. I have also realised the potential of social media in all spheres of my work – academia, learning and teaching in higher education, and further education. Although still relatively new to social media, it has provided new networking opportunities and I have discovered and shared ideas and interests.
Life after the PhD has undoubtedly been challenging – the initial readjustment, finding work opportunities, not to mention the danger of taking on too much – at times it has felt like I have the workload of more than one full time job, but I believe all my experiences have been invaluable – and although diverse, they have coherent ties that link them all together. I am still looking for what seems to be that illusive position but I have had an incredibly positive and productive year in so many ways. These opportunities have been all the more possible because of an incredible supporting cast, so a big thank you to everyone who has made this journey possible and all the more pleasurable – loved ones, colleagues and other inspirational people – whose eternal support and encouragement will always be treasured and remembered.
You can follow Dr Sarah Holland on twitter here.