#lifeafterphd: How to make a living and a life out of your History PhD
From the outset, this History Lab+ Event asks three burning questions on every History postgrad’s mind: How can I secure funding? How do I get published? Will I be able to retain my sanity throughout this whole process? Whilst grants and publications are an expectation on the ominous Academic CV, these questions are usually mentioned in their broadest terms. It is only secretly that the PhD student murmurs ‘how do you expect me to do this?’ This full day workshop encouraged these questions to be brought to the fore and worked to reduce the sense of overwhelming dread at what comes after your PhD. I was invited as a member of the editorial team for Retrospectives: A Postgraduate History Journal to speak on the publishing process and how we are working to build new research networks. In this capacity, I was keen to showcase the efforts of our young and evolving journal. As a first year PhD at Warwick University, however, my expectation for a day about the ‘post-PhD period’ was that it would not be directly relevant to my personal concerns, especially at this early stage in my career. How wrong I was!
Seize the day: Our morning concentrated on grants and publishing, with the afternoon being all about personal experiences. First up was Getting Grants with Dr. Sally Baggot (Birmingham) on external post-doc fellowships: Leverhulme; British Academy; Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships. The emphasis was how important it is to READ application specifications and to follow them! Do not give the reviewer a reason to pass you over straight away. Some of best advice came from Prof. Matthew Hilton (Birmingham) who encouraged us to actively connect with others and not to be afraid to contact academics expressing an interest in their work or to ask questions. Whilst professional networking is key to securing fellowship, personal networks should not be overlooked. The relationships you forge with your peers, fellow academics and your institution’s research facilitators will prove an invaluable support network of advisors, proofreaders and (most importantly) listeners!
The next session – Getting Published – combined professional publishers with postgraduate journals (run by postgrads and publish postgrads!). The top tip from Managing Editor Helen Preskett (Routledge-Taylor & Francis) was that you cannot simply recycle articles, you must find a best fit for your work by getting to know journals’ audiences, the types of research they publish and ensuring your writing style is suited to a specific publication. This sentiment was echoed by Prof. Simon Dixon (RHS, co-editor of OUP monograph series and editorial board of Slavonic and East European Review) with his three-word mantra to research and write by: be rigorous, original and significant. Birmingham’s Journal of History & Cultures and Retrospectives illustrated how these rapidly expanding online ventures provide postgrad researchers with a valuable means of being involved in historical debates. The professionals voiced their support for student-led initiatives in that they offer a great opportunity to fill the gap in learning about publishing and review processes.
The afternoon was filled with engaging and refreshingly honest talks about Careers Outside of Academia and The Transition after PhD submission. These showcased the varying opportunities and creative careers that can be forged out of a History PhD: early career researchers; lecturers; independent scholar; private institutions; public engagement. For me, it was the first moment that I have heard the precarious balance between work and life spoken about seriously! Dr. Helen Steele (Library Research Services, Leicester) recanted how she made her PhD work for her and was enjoying the calm after the storm! The entertaining presentation by Dr. Elaine Fulton on the highs and lows of final year got everyone talking about their experiences – positive and negative. It was a relief to realise that I was not the only person struggling with motivation or overwhelmed by the word ‘submission’! Dr. Sam Shave (Cambridge) was keen to emphasise that in changing roles from PhD to researcher you need to be assertive by agreeing your definite role and how you are able to get your name in print.
The final session hailed The Power of the Network(ing). Dr. Kimm Curran (IHR and HistoryLab+) discussed how to promote your work, find collaboration partners and seek advice through social media. As a self confessed internet addict, my participation across different platforms was validated (!) and I was introduced to new ways of connecting with wider research groups. There were lots of opportunities to network with the speakers and attendees throughout the day. The atmosphere was highly sociable and this continued into the sunny Birmingham evening when everyone congregated at the Student Bar and exchanged emails, twitter details and amusing research anecdotes!
The event was aimed at those coming to the end of their PhD, whereas I am just at the beginning of my PhD story. I found that it was still applicable to me and should therefore feel accessible to those at any research stage. The day showed me that it is never too early to ask the questions posed (no pressure!). PhD students need to be proactive in promoting not just their research, but themselves and to do this they need to be confident in recognising the skills they have developed. The group in attendance was supportive and open, with no question too simple or too obvious. The History PhD can be a lonely place at times but this event showcased that in pushing to publish and grappling for grants you can hold onto your sanity!
Natalie Cox, University of Warwick (Retrospectives)