So you’re thinking about a PhD… #1

A friend of mine asked my opinion about doing a PhD and it inspired me to put together my thoughts about going back to academia as a seriously mature – in years, if not in outlook – student.

Getting Started

I confess, in my case, doing a PhD wasn’t my idea originally – my husband, already furnished with a doctorate in astrophysics, suggested it. I thought he was crazy.

TIP: Probably not the sort of detail to mention at the interview stage. Many, many years previously, a much younger, much less savvy me admitted to a prospective employer that I was applying for an administrative role because it had been suggested at a previous interview with the same company. (I’d applied for a secretarial position and was asked if I’d considered admin instead because I had a degree.) Big mistake. Wasn’t selected. However, another admin job came up in a different branch. I told the interviewer that it was my third attempt to join them and I was going to keep applying until they hired me. They did. Lesson learnt.

Anyway, back to the PhD. I’d finished a series of freelance engagements within a certain major utilities company and decided to take a break. Nothing in particular in mind apart from exploring something esoteric – maybe some in-depth online tarot course, but nothing academically focused. However, I’d always been fascinated by the occult, I’d researched Aleister Crowley as background for a novel, and even after the book was finished, I wanted to go on investigating. Maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.

Formulating the Idea

I’d graduated in 1980 with a ‘gentleman’s degree’ (not a first or upper second – but a respectable amount of work for a gentleman, rather than a scholar) in Classical Studies. I’d intended to train as a librarian, and was offered a place at Aberystwyth, but I couldn’t get a grant and this was in the days before student loans. I gave up on librarianship and landed a job as a secretary. I progressed to administration, a brief but disastrous spell in sales, before becoming a software specialist. From there I developed my training, project management and business analysis skills, culminating in the freelance engagements mentioned above.

I thought a PhD was a bit of a stretch, but maybe I could tackle an MA, not that I was entirely sure what either actually entailed.

Location, Location, Location

Being married and settled, I wanted something relatively local – I wasn’t about to trek halfway across the country – or even further afield – and live in shared student accommodation. I’d done all that 40 years previously and although it was all part of the Great Leaving Home Experience, I prefer my creature comforts. So I started investigating research MAs within commuting range of Staines.

TIP: This is probably going about it backwards. Before you even THINK about where you’re going to do your degree – work out WHAT you want to research.

Which brings me on to…

The Research Topic

As I said, I’d done a fair bit of research about Aleister Crowley and was already fascinated by the Tarot. My collection of tarot decks included the Thoth Tarot, painted by Frieda, Lady Harris, and the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith. After attending a lecture about Frieda Harris at Treadwell’s Bookshop, I wanted to know more about her. My initial idea was to do a comparative study of Pamela Colman Smith and Frieda Harris. That might be a suitable topic for an MA in early twentieth century history.

To be continued…

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