Am I doing postgraduate study for the right reasons?

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Sandtrooper
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#1
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#1
I graduated with a BA in Egyptology and I've always wanted to do a MA and PhD. However, I'm not passionate about everything to do with ancient Egypt, save for my niche subject areas and the overall pursuit of knowledge. For me, a degree was never about a specific subject, but simply the chance to answer unanswered questions, and it happened that Egypt was a civilisation that I was most interested in at the time, and I still am, although my topic is very theoretical and could probably work for any cultural degree.

I know after my PhD, I'd apply for some research jobs if they were in my area of interest, but I think I'd be more likely to work at a university, which is what I am doing now on my gap year, in international development or careers. I enjoy lecturing a lot and have given presentations in 3 different countries, and I have an idea for a post-doctoral research project which I have had really good feedback on.

It's just that I have a very different perspective on further study than most people. For me, it's about answering unanswered questions and the overall pursuit of knowledge, contributing to human intelligence overall. No one has attempted my topic before and I'm excited to be the first person, but I just feel as though whatever field I chose, I would have pursued it to PhD level for this chance to contribute to knowledge. I am definitely passionate and motivated, and still enjoy the subject as a whole, but I'm not someone who will only take a career in that field, which is the view that most people in my position seem to have.

Any advice would be most welcome!
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threeportdrift
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#2
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#2
(Original post by Edminzodo)
I graduated with a BA in Egyptology and I've always wanted to do a MA and PhD. However, I'm not passionate about everything to do with ancient Egypt, save for my niche subject areas and the overall pursuit of knowledge. For me, a degree was never about a specific subject, but simply the chance to answer unanswered questions, and it happened that Egypt was a civilisation that I was most interested in at the time, and I still am, although my topic is very theoretical and could probably work for any cultural degree.

I know after my PhD, I'd apply for some research jobs if they were in my area of interest, but I think I'd be more likely to work at a university, which is what I am doing now on my gap year, in international development or careers. I enjoy lecturing a lot and have given presentations in 3 different countries, and I have an idea for a post-doctoral research project which I have had really good feedback on.

It's just that I have a very different perspective on further study than most people. For me, it's about answering unanswered questions and the overall pursuit of knowledge, contributing to human intelligence overall. No one has attempted my topic before and I'm excited to be the first person, but I just feel as though whatever field I chose, I would have pursued it to PhD level for this chance to contribute to knowledge. I am definitely passionate and motivated, and still enjoy the subject as a whole, but I'm not someone who will only take a career in that field, which is the view that most people in my position seem to have.

Any advice would be most welcome!
You need to get involved with PhD students, post-docs and lecturers at your university and learn what they are up to and what the balance of their lives is like, what motivates them etc.

At the moment your post/thinking is a bit confused. The fundamental requirement of any/every PhD is that it adds to the body of human knowledge, and thereafter, that's what you do as a researcher.

The broad-brush practicalities of life as a university academic are that there are 3 roles that you have to balance. There are opportunities and politics involved in that balancing act, and that's what causes some academics to stay in the same place forever, and others to move frequently.

The first of these is research. To do research you have to have several resources, and the first is money. Early on you might be able to piggyback on someone else's money, but eventually you have to be doing good enough quality research to win money to do better research, which wins money to do better research etc. This of course requires you are in a university that values research generally and your research specifically. The lower you go down the league tables, the less opportunity the academic has to do research, because the focus is on teaching. These universities don't have the reputation, resources or managerial imperative to conduct research, they need students in and students out to keep going. Even harder if you have a niche subject - for Egyptology, you are the go-to example of niche, you've only got a handful of serious research options.

The second is teaching. All universities have to teach. Academics have contracts that, put simply because each uni has its own practices, require you to do a mix of research and teaching. The standard tension is that academics want to do more research, the university wants them to do more teaching. Early in a career you generally have to commit to more teaching, if you are successful (and bringing in the money from your research) you can press for more research time. The academic's nirvanah is the fill research contract, the truth for most jobbing academics is that 80% is spent in teaching and admin and 20% of their time on research, regardless of their contract, see more below.

The third is administration. Academics don't trust administrators and the professionalisation of the business of universities, and insist on doing a load of it themselves (yes, I am a University administrator). More fool them, because they spend a lot of time doing it, and often not very well. However, sitting on committees and participating on the bureaucracy of academia is the only way to get on as an academic. Everyone has to do their academic 'apprenticeship' on various committees etc in order to get the political savvy to ever be considered for 'head of' anything and get academic promotion.

So academics constantly juggle/worry about/moan about this balance of research, teaching and administration. The dream is 100% research. The reality is for a successful RG academic in their first 10 years is maybe 30% research, 50% teaching, 20% admin and for a non-research intensive university 5% research, 65% teaching, 30% admin.

Many academics start off all bright-eyed about their research, but find they simply can't get the research funding and dislike the teaching, and so drift into more and more administration, before long giving up their academic contracts and joining the legion of 'failed academics*' in the University professional services departments. Look around, how many of your colleagues have entirely irrelevant PhDs?

*this is the common but *****y/bitter term, it's a sensible career choice and in no sense always a failure, but there are always some notable exceptions of people who still want all the workplace/performance freedoms they had when academics, but they are no longer academics, they are business people needing to deliver. A constant tension in university professional services as you may find out.
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PhoenixFortune
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#3
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#3
(Original post by Edminzodo)
I graduated with a BA in Egyptology and I've always wanted to do a MA and PhD. However, I'm not passionate about everything to do with ancient Egypt, save for my niche subject areas and the overall pursuit of knowledge. For me, a degree was never about a specific subject, but simply the chance to answer unanswered questions, and it happened that Egypt was a civilisation that I was most interested in at the time, and I still am, although my topic is very theoretical and could probably work for any cultural degree.

I know after my PhD, I'd apply for some research jobs if they were in my area of interest, but I think I'd be more likely to work at a university, which is what I am doing now on my gap year, in international development or careers. I enjoy lecturing a lot and have given presentations in 3 different countries, and I have an idea for a post-doctoral research project which I have had really good feedback on.

It's just that I have a very different perspective on further study than most people. For me, it's about answering unanswered questions and the overall pursuit of knowledge, contributing to human intelligence overall. No one has attempted my topic before and I'm excited to be the first person, but I just feel as though whatever field I chose, I would have pursued it to PhD level for this chance to contribute to knowledge. I am definitely passionate and motivated, and still enjoy the subject as a whole, but I'm not someone who will only take a career in that field, which is the view that most people in my position seem to have.

Any advice would be most welcome!
I have a very similar mindset to you. I graduated with a MA in 2018, and I want to carry on to do a PhD eventually because I have research questions that I want to answer, with the idea that those answers will contribute real world situations. I am also interested in a rather narrow area that hasn't been widely explored in the UK, so I don't know how easy it would be to find relevant post-doctoral research posts. I've also looked into working at a university (as opposed to being an academic at said universities), as this seems like a good way to stay within a related sector.

Accepting that there may not be research posts or relevant academic positions doesn't dull my passion for my research though - if anything I feel like I'm being realistic about the academic job market from the start. I hear many people say that doing a PhD solely to become a lecturer/top researcher is not a sensible option, as the lack of posts and competition is just too immense to set your heart on one path like that. Having alternative academic/non-academic ambitions is also perfectly reasonable in this climate.
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Sandtrooper
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#4
Report Thread starter 2 years ago
#4
(Original post by threeportdrift)
You need to get involved with PhD students, post-docs and lecturers at your university and learn what they are up to and what the balance of their lives is like, what motivates them etc.

At the moment your post/thinking is a bit confused. The fundamental requirement of any/every PhD is that it adds to the body of human knowledge, and thereafter, that's what you do as a researcher.

The broad-brush practicalities of life as a university academic are that there are 3 roles that you have to balance. There are opportunities and politics involved in that balancing act, and that's what causes some academics to stay in the same place forever, and others to move frequently.

The first of these is research. To do research you have to have several resources, and the first is money. Early on you might be able to piggyback on someone else's money, but eventually you have to be doing good enough quality research to win money to do better research, which wins money to do better research etc. This of course requires you are in a university that values research generally and your research specifically. The lower you go down the league tables, the less opportunity the academic has to do research, because the focus is on teaching. These universities don't have the reputation, resources or managerial imperative to conduct research, they need students in and students out to keep going. Even harder if you have a niche subject - for Egyptology, you are the go-to example of niche, you've only got a handful of serious research options.

The second is teaching. All universities have to teach. Academics have contracts that, put simply because each uni has its own practices, require you to do a mix of research and teaching. The standard tension is that academics want to do more research, the university wants them to do more teaching. Early in a career you generally have to commit to more teaching, if you are successful (and bringing in the money from your research) you can press for more research time. The academic's nirvanah is the fill research contract, the truth for most jobbing academics is that 80% is spent in teaching and admin and 20% of their time on research, regardless of their contract, see more below.

The third is administration. Academics don't trust administrators and the professionalisation of the business of universities, and insist on doing a load of it themselves (yes, I am a University administrator). More fool them, because they spend a lot of time doing it, and often not very well. However, sitting on committees and participating on the bureaucracy of academia is the only way to get on as an academic. Everyone has to do their academic 'apprenticeship' on various committees etc in order to get the political savvy to ever be considered for 'head of' anything and get academic promotion.

So academics constantly juggle/worry about/moan about this balance of research, teaching and administration. The dream is 100% research. The reality is for a successful RG academic in their first 10 years is maybe 30% research, 50% teaching, 20% admin and for a non-research intensive university 5% research, 65% teaching, 30% admin.

Many academics start off all bright-eyed about their research, but find they simply can't get the research funding and dislike the teaching, and so drift into more and more administration, before long giving up their academic contracts and joining the legion of 'failed academics*' in the University professional services departments. Look around, how many of your colleagues have entirely irrelevant PhDs?

*this is the common but *****y/bitter term, it's a sensible career choice and in no sense always a failure, but there are always some notable exceptions of people who still want all the workplace/performance freedoms they had when academics, but they are no longer academics, they are business people needing to deliver. A constant tension in university professional services as you may find out.
(Original post by PhoenixFortune)
I have a very similar mindset to you. I graduated with a MA in 2018, and I want to carry on to do a PhD eventually because I have research questions that I want to answer, with the idea that those answers will contribute real world situations. I am also interested in a rather narrow area that hasn't been widely explored in the UK, so I don't know how easy it would be to find relevant post-doctoral research posts. I've also looked into working at a university (as opposed to being an academic at said universities), as this seems like a good way to stay within a related sector.

Accepting that there may not be research posts or relevant academic positions doesn't dull my passion for my research though - if anything I feel like I'm being realistic about the academic job market from the start. I hear many people say that doing a PhD solely to become a lecturer/top researcher is not a sensible option, as the lack of posts and competition is just too immense to set your heart on one path like that. Having alternative academic/non-academic ambitions is also perfectly reasonable in this climate.
Thank you both so much! Just feel like a bit of a fraud because I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't end up in research or a research-heavy role, even within Egyptology.
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PhoenixFortune
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#5
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#5
(Original post by Edminzodo)
Thank you both so much! Just feel like a bit of a fraud because I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't end up in research or a research-heavy role, even within Egyptology.
Sometimes a 'normal' 9 to 5 job is just as good as a demanding research role if that's where you'd feel happiest.
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Sandtrooper
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#6
Report Thread starter 2 years ago
#6
(Original post by PhoenixFortune)
Sometimes a 'normal' 9 to 5 job is just as good as a demanding research role if that's where you'd feel happiest.
Thanks. I think I'm going to see how I fare with the MA and make my decision then. I really appreciate your help.
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