PhD Candidate in History

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Ria Snowden is in the process of completing her PhD at the University of Newcastle. As she is in the third year of study, Ria is writing her thesis at the same time as turning her attention to the job market. Here Ria describes the educational path that has led her to the PhD and explores her hopes and fears for her future career.

1. What was your educational background/qualifications before doing a PhD?

I went down the traditional educational route. I did my secondary schooling at a Comprehensive and gained 11 A*-C GCSEs , and then 4 A Levels at grades A-D.

I stayed at the same university, Newcastle, for all of my degrees. I got a first-class Honours Degree, followed by a MLitt (Distinction) for which I studied part-time - I worked as a bingo caller and in a call centre to support my studies! Unusually, I also have a PGCE in History (Distinction).

2. What is your research area/dissertation title?

‘Georgian Women and the Business of Print: Family, Gender and the Provincial Press of Northern England’. Basically, I look at female proprietors of newspapers in the eighteenth century.

3. What attracted you to this topic?

My interest in this subject arose from my MLitt thesis on the British Apollo (1708-1711), a forerunner of the Spectator, which presented the first detailed study of its contents from a gendered perspective. I wanted to look more closely at middling women’s involvement in the distribution of print, and the rest, as they say, is history…

I also had a fantastic supervisor who was always on hand to help hone and direct my ideas. So the potential to work with the same supervisor also attracted me to this topic.

4. Could you describe the application process for getting your funding/scholarship/PhD place?

I am funded by the AHRC. However, I applied in 2007 (pre-block funding) so the procedure has changed somewhat.

I had to secure a PhD place before I could apply for AHRC funding. Once I had secured the place, I had to apply both for school funding (which covered one year’s fees) and to the AHRC. I won the school funding bid but had to turn it down when I got the AHRC offer.

5. What are the main challenges you face while doing the PhD?

Time-management – I worry constantly that I’m not doing enough work. My husband works traditional nine to five hours so I have always tried to mirror these work patterns, which I think ultimately is healthy. I know PhD students who try to work 24/7 but burn-out quickly ensues. Treating the PhD like a job in terms of hours has been the best approach for me as it gives you room for manoeuvre when a deadline is looming and you need to work a weekend and a few late nights.

Isolation – My university has excellent postgraduate facilities in terms of desk space and access to computers, free printing, photocopying and so on. However, I have found that I work better from my office (spare room) at home without the distraction of other people. But this does tend to mean I go a bit stir crazy at times which impacts on my work and can make me less productive. Recognising when I NEED to leave the house has become a valuable skill!

6. Looking to the future, what will you be doing immediately after your PhD?

Taking a long holiday some time shortly after my Viva – Inter-railing in Europe for a month.

I will continue teaching for at least one semester to give me time to look around for jobs and publishers for my thesis. I will supplement University teaching with supply work in schools and private tutoring.

7. Have you had a lot of teaching experience while doing your PhD? If so, how have you found juggling teaching and research?

In my second year, I gave seminars on two modules (one 18th Century history module and a world history course). I also gave two lectures on the 18th Century module. In my third year, I have repeated the lectures and supervised seven undergraduate dissertations.

I am actually more productive when teaching and doing research because it forces me to timetable everything. When I’m not teaching, the tendency is to think ‘it will get done at some point’.

8. What’s your own perception of the academic job market at the moment?

I subscribe to THE and use From talking to friends who are currently looking for jobs, my perception of the job market is bleak – interviews are rarely granted and local jobs are scarce. However, if you have a national perspective and are genuinely passionate about pursuing an academic career then jobs across the UK (and even across the Atlantic) are coming through in a steady trickle.

9. Looking in the longer-term, where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I would like to have published my book, had children and be working in a northern university, library or archive. An academic career would be the ‘holy grail’ but I recognise that my inability and unwillingness to leave the North of England will restrict my options.

10. How will you achieve that (i.e. new skills, more experience, different qualifications etc)?

Some jobs, such as Archivists, ask for a speciality Masters qualification. I am not willing to pursue further academic qualifications. However, I am willing to take a less well-paid job in order to acquire experience.

Ideally, I will find a post-doc suited to my research interests.

11. Would you recommend doing a PhD to a friend?

YES! It is a rewarding and enriching experience. Whilst self-doubt plagues PhD students, the highs seriously outweigh the lows. Any professional challenges that ensue should diminish and pale in comparison to the achievement of a PhD.

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