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Could I reasonably spend a year after my Film History PhD teaching English in Japan? watch

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    Hi folks,

    I'm a Film History PhD candidate, just about to enter the third year of my programme, and the last funded one. I'm currently considering applying to teach English in Japan for a year next year, and whilst I think it should work out OK, I could really do with some outside opinion. I've made a list of pros and cons below, as I see them so far.

    PRO:

    - I'm likely to be in the write-up phase of my PhD during this time, and this is something I can do from anywhere, as long as I have an internet connection. I can communicate with my supervisor and research team online, all my primary research material is digitised, 90% of my secondary material is digitised and the rest I can either find, make copies of, or buy and take with me. My research is looking at a relatively finite set of materials, and I'm already at the stage where I know what a complete dataset would comprise of.
    - The programme I'm looking at is paid, meaning I would be able to support myself quite comfortably during this year. The work is not full-time, so I would have time to work on the PhD, and I'm already well into my writing up, so it won't be a case of having a massive workload right at the end of things.
    - I can produce other outputs whilst abroad, for journals and the like. My PhD won't cover everything that can be written about with my dataset, and I already have ideas for prospective articles. This would hopefully keep my CV active.
    - On the subject of outputs, my research team is producing a book for our project, along with a dedicated journal issue, both of which would be coming out during my year abroad. Again, this would mean I have a steady stream of outputs even whilst I'm away, through into 2018.
    - My CV currently isn't the most extensive, I've not been as active as I might have been on the conference and journals side of things, and a year out to produce more outputs would probably be needed anyway. My research project is publishing a book including my work, which would only come out during the tail end of my year abroad, and would again hopefully keep my CV active.
    - I would be able to travel back for my viva as and when necessary, since the programme allows for several holiday days and my parents would be willing and able to help pay for a ticket. Flights aren't too expensive on off-season dates anyway.
    - In the very likely event of corrections being needed, I can do them at distance because, as mentioned, my materials are all digitised, backed up online and readily portable.
    - I would get an extra year of teaching experience, in a high school, which might help if I wanted work in schools rather than university/further education. I'll already have two years of university teaching from my work here.
    - I'm not really sure if a life of academia is for me anyway, and the idea of getting slightly outside of it for a while is deeply appealing, as is the possibility of gaining a good command of a new language in the process. I'm quite enamoured with Japan, and as a highly modernised country with a huge media industry, I feel there's a fair amount of transnational work for a film PhD, either in academia or outside of it.

    CONS:

    - It's a year away from searching for academic work, postdoctoral work, and conferences. I'd be unable to present at Japanese conferences without language skills, and travel to other countries would likely be prohibitively expensive, especially without my funding. My outputs could only be written works.
    - Teaching English would take up a lot of my time, and whilst I'm confident I'd be able to make time to work on the PhD/other outputs, I worry about potentially losing motivation and getting distracted.
    - A year of teaching English in Japan might not be as useful for an career as I think, especially from the perspective of universities.
    - I'm really worried that there's some glaringly obvious thing that I'm forgetting that would make this whole thing unthinkable, but I don't know what it is.
    - If I have fundamental, major corrections to do that require entirely fresh primary materials, I would not be able to acquire them from Japan. I'm hoping that this is the sort of thing that my supervisor would have flagged up well before it's too late, however.

    So yeah, that's where my thinking is right now. I'd hugely appreciate any input you folks might have.

    TL;DR: I'd like to spend a year teaching English in Japan after my Film History PhD. I think I'm in a pretty good condition for making it work, but I would like some more input and some fresh eyes!
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    A change is a good as a rest. The Japan idea sounds good to me.
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    One thing I would say is: be careful not to underestimate the difficulty of adapting to, and just living in, a foreign country. You might find, for example, that navigating your new home with its foreign cultural practices and expectations, in a language that you don't speak, will be incredibly draining. Even doing this in a country where you speak the language can be hard (I speak from experience here), but I've heard from family and friends living in countries where they don't speak the language that it is even harder. Day-to-day tasks become intellectually and physically taxing, and you can use a lot of energy just getting through the day - this will certainly be true initially, and I would think it will make it difficult to get PhD work done alongside the tasks of daily life and teaching English. The longer you are there the easier it will get, but one year is really not all that long a time to get to know a place and feel settled. This isn't to say "don't do it," but just that it may be more complicated than just dividing your time and energy between teaching and PhD work.
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    (Original post by NashX)
    - I'm not really sure if a life of academia is for me anyway, and the idea of getting slightly outside of it for a while is deeply appealing, as is the possibility of gaining a good command of a new language in the process. I'm quite enamoured with Japan, and as a highly modernised country with a huge media industry, I feel there's a fair amount of transnational work for a film PhD, either in academia or outside of it.
    I think this is really the clinching thing. In my view if you're not planning to roll the dice on a traditional academic career then going to Japan might work out, but if you're going to give academia a shot, or you want to keep that option open, Japan isn't a good idea.

    I've a few acquaintances who've taught English in Japan and what they reported fits madamemerle's remarks: it's a rewarding but psychologically demanding thing to do. I know what writing a thesis up is like because I've done it myself, and I think most people would have a rough time staying on-task while moving to another country to teach. (Maybe you're an exception! I can't know.)

    Besides getting back for the viva, if you're looking for academic work with any success you might need to travel (sometimes at fairly short notice) for interviews.

    Generating a plausible postdoctoral project usually means bits of primary and secondary research: will you have access to the relevant materials—which you can't really identify until you start formulating the project—while you're in Japan?

    It's good that you have some publications in the pipeline, but, at least in my field, free-standing peer-reviewed journal articles count for more than chapters in edited books and essays within set-piece journal issues, especially when those are compiled by your colleagues. In your position, time and materials permitting (and perhaps they don't permit: the thesis does need to be finished at some point!), I'd be tempted to try and get a separate article submitted elsewhere. (Perhaps it's different in your field, though.)

    --

    On the other hand, if you're not concerned about competing for traditional academic jobs, these problems lose a lot of their force and the year in Japan begins to look like a positive advantage. You'll still have to manage yourself carefully to make sure that you stay healthy and happy and finish the thesis at some point, but you'll get a bunch of other useful experience and you won't have to worry about publications or academic job applications.

    What you do and why is up to you, but it seems to me that the really big decision here is whether or not you want to pursue an academic career. Once you have a firm position on that everything else follows.
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    I'd suggest you don't try and do both things at the same time.

    Writing up always sounds a great deal easier than it actually is. Often you have to reconsider entire sections of your research as you write your thesis and dump/extend sections. Its also demanding/tiring and not a job to do after a hard day teaching English. As above, living in a different culture is tough - fun, but tough - mental lows are common and any sense of loosing your grip on your research will just add to this.

    Finish your research. Then go to Japan. It's a great idea, and will be a good opportunity to get you away from academia and think about what you really do want to do next.
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    Always a great idea to do something different but can I ask why Japan?
    Just thinking might be easier to teach English in European countries - will have easier access to conferences / presentations etc and at least be on more or less the same time zone if you need to speak to people
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    I've done six months TEFL so I will try and respond to individual points:

    (Original post by NashX)
    - The programme I'm looking at is paid, meaning I would be able to support myself quite comfortably during this year. The work is not full-time, so I would have time to work on the PhD, and I'm already well into my writing up, so it won't be a case of having a massive workload right at the end of things.
    Part-time TEFL work does not include the hours you spend making lesson plans, marking homework, after-class 'obligations', etc. What age group are you expecting to teach? The younger they are, the less out-of-hours work, was a general rule of thumb in my experience.

    (Original post by NashX)
    - I can produce other outputs whilst abroad, for journals and the like. My PhD won't cover everything that can be written about with my dataset, and I already have ideas for prospective articles. This would hopefully keep my CV active.
    It's possible, just more inconvenient and difficult without your university library and far more distractions (teaching, travelling, etc). There is a great community of expats if you go to the main cities and large schools - getting involved with this and seeing the whole of Japan is going to encroach on your time and motivation for PhD work, let alone writing a new article for publication.

    (Original post by NashX)
    - My CV currently isn't the most extensive, I've not been as active as I might have been on the conference and journals side of things, and a year out to produce more outputs would probably be needed anyway.
    Wouldn't this be less of a reason to move abroad?

    (Original post by NashX)
    - I would get an extra year of teaching experience, in a high school, which might help if I wanted work in schools rather than university/further education. I'll already have two years of university teaching from my work here.
    I agree it would certainly help so perhaps that is a big factor here, i.e. whether you want to proceed to academia or teach in schools.

    (Original post by NashX)
    - I'm not really sure if a life of academia is for me anyway, and the idea of getting slightly outside of it for a while is deeply appealing, as is the possibility of gaining a good command of a new language in the process. I'm quite enamoured with Japan
    If that's the case, then a lot of my above remarks are less important as the focus is less on being academically competitive and more on simply getting the doctorate and moving on from academia.

    (Original post by NashX)
    - A year of teaching English in Japan might not be as useful for an career as I think, especially from the perspective of universities.
    It's useless for academia but certainly useful for teaching and most useful for your own personal development (and transferrable skills).

    (Original post by NashX)
    - I'm really worried that there's some glaringly obvious thing that I'm forgetting that would make this whole thing unthinkable, but I don't know what it is.
    I think what you are underestimating but did touch upon is the inconvenience, stress and lack of motivation from:

    -the culture shock/being in a new country alone, especially one so different
    -learning a new language
    -being a teacher and the time commitment and effort it entails
    -having a limited social life/being unable to fully immerse yourself in the TEFL experience

    Ultimately, I don't think you will get the most out of the experience if you are worrying about your academic CV and trying to publish articles. Your time will be always constrained so the typical things that teachers do like travel, socialise, learn the language, etc. will be limited. You won't be able to fully enjoy yourself. If you just want to obtain your PhD and are not particularly concerned about your academic future then I think it's feasible. Although, why not wait for one more year, perhaps learn Japanese, get your doctorate, and then make the move?
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    A friend of mine taught English in Japan for a total of fifteen years, at both high school and university level. Based on his experiences, I can think of a few wrinkles.*Firstly, there is a long working hours ethic in Japan. Your employer may expect you to work far more than your contract hours. Teaching jobs still result in a lot of non-teaching office work. A "part-time" job is unlikely to be less than full-time in reality.*Secondly, contract terms which look good on paper, are rarely that simple. *Accommodation can be promised but not provided. Or it can be provided but - as my friend found - two hours' commute from your workplace. New starters are definitely the bottom of the heap and get the worst assignments, the longest commutes, the roughest accommodation etc. Not saying that it's an end-to-end horror story, but it took my mate a couple of years of head-down slog before his life started to get comfortable. If you're only there for a year, you'll have a lot to deal with.

    I think you may underestimate the difficulty in getting time off to travel back to the UK for a viva. Whilst your contract will allow for holidays, you will be restricted as to when you can take them. As in the UK, teaching staff aren't going to get permission for time off during term. Then if you come out of a viva with corrections, are you going to have access to the resources you need to complete them?

    Having spent three+ years on a PhD myself, I'd strongly advise against trying to write up whilst dealing with a new job/culture. I think both the PhD and the job will suffer. You can work in Japan after the write-up - there's no rush and that way you could get the best from both.
 
 
 
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