New beginnings - starting my PhD journey

Guest posts

Faculty: Health, Medicine and Social Care

30 June 2022

Photo of Amanda Anderson on a sunny beach

My PhD journey started when I stumbled upon the article that was advertising the ARU VC Scholarship (HEMS) for starting in September 2021. Ethnography of Environmental and Sustainability Education Providers in the UK.

My journey to a PhD

It was towards the end of two years of pandemic, which for me (and many other people) was also a time for reflection (apart from coping with the misery of home-schooling my own children).  It was a time, when I questioned deeply (there was little else to do...) what did I want to do with my career (*my life?)  In reality, I had put this off for too long and thought that finally I should consider what my friends had been telling me to do, for a long time: to start a PhD. 

After taking the time to have and raise my 2 young children: both on their way out of primary school now, and having been 20 years since my MA, (in Contemporary European Studies: and yes, as I happen to be living in the only country to ever leave the EU – that was pretty un-useful), I had to think deeply on how I could bring my 20+ year work experience (in Education) and my previous studies in Anthropology which gave me my epistemological tools (or so, I find out – when I learned what ‘epistemology’ meant). 

The VC scholarship was the answer I was seeking.  Indeed, ARU VC scholarships were advertising to be part of a project that was linking Ethnography and Education – so I thought this was some miracle (which, I actually believe in) – that I must apply for or regret it for the rest of my life!

And I did.  I looked for my previous supervisors at my alma mater (The University of Malta) who could still remember me, and I found out that my previous tutors were really supportive of my PhD application, and they took their time to put together quite an impressive reference.  In a way, having a build up of 20 years, driven by the misery the pandemic brought I probably managed to put together the most convincing piece of writing that I could ever thought of producing in my application letter.  I must have, as I was shortlisted, and I was sitting the interview (my first ever virtual interview) to meet for the first time the most dedicated supervisors I could have ever hoped for. 

Starting my PhD

And now, 18 months on from all of this, I look back and it just seems that I have been doing this PhD forever.  I had been worried that I couldn’t adjust to this new life in Academia.  I was most welcomed by the ARU Doctoral School who offered the best training and induction seminars so do not feel that I have been away from academia for 20 years.  It all came together somehow, no matter my earlier doubts of how I am going to adjust to a full-time PhD, whilst continuing to be a dedicated full-time mum, and occasionally do my other job in assessment as a freelancer.  It was a big lifestyle change no matter how one looks at it.  There were difficult times, and there were tears.  My first supervisor: the most experienced Dr Paulette Luff said to me there is no PhD without tears, so I was glad to find out that I had ticked that off the list.  It is a matter of acclimatising oneself to this new and exciting world where all that I had dreamed about:  a place where my curiosity and my passion for finding about the subjects I mostly felt passionate about came together.  As a top up, I also got to meet some amazing people who are fantastically interesting.  It is another world that I have found out and ARU’s VC’s scholarship made this all possible for me.  To be honest, I would never have applied if it wasn’t a scholarship.  It would have been financially impossible to sustain this big change to a full-time PhD, with a young family but for every day that I sit staring at my lap-top writing and re-writing something that does not seem perfect, I am grateful that I stumbled upon that advert because I would always regret not having this exciting research journey that I have had so far: including its ups and downs. 

Where I want to go from here? 

Getting my PhD would be good as well as crafting together the required 80 000 words, which should bring together this journey, of which only a third has just about passed.  I am excited to go in the field, as that is what is up next for me, and as a career Anthropologist (if I dare describe myself as such) this is where it all (should) happen.  As far as career is concerned, to be honest I do not know where this will lead me. Perhaps starting this PhD at 45 I have the advantage of knowing not to plan too far ahead into the future – but to enjoy the journey on the way because that is all that I really have, and that I am grateful for.


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