Looking into the Academic bubble

Date: 24/01/2018

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Looking into the Academic bubble by Glenn Miller (South Coast DTP Manager)

As the manager of the South Coast DTP I feel I have a unique perspective of the journey of an ESRC funded PhD student.  I don’t have a doctorate.  In fact I dropped out of school half way through my A-levels to pursue a career in the Armed Forces, so my personal and professional journey is the polar opposite to the majority of students and staff I work with.

Admittedly, when I started this job nearly 5 years ago it was a steep learning curve.  The whole higher education experience was alien to me and the working ethos of a University was also a massive culture shock after being used to something a little more regimented (I still find multi-coloured socks a novelty and slightly naughty!).  But I hope my lack of experience also came with something of a refreshing outlook; a different perspective on the concerns and worries of our students and a safe outlet for those worries to be vented outside of the academic system.

And it is the opportunity to be seen as a ‘safe space’ which has brought me the most enjoyment from this role.  The daily interactions I have with some of the cleverest people I have ever met make it all worthwhile.  And I won’t pretend it is always work related.  Sometimes a chat about family, hobbies, holidays, or nothing in particular, is a welcome distraction and just what is needed on both sides to get through the rest of the day.

The subsequent benefit of being able to have this relationship with staff and students is the immense pride I feel on a personal level when I see the ‘finished product’.  I won’t embarrass anyone by naming names, but the transition of some of our students through their academic journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.  Seeing these remarkably intelligent people, sometimes excruciatingly gripped by imposter syndrome or social awkwardness, come out of the other side of the journey with the realisation that they did deserve to be here, have produced an incredible piece of work, and have gained an aura of confidence, is a wonderful thing to observe.

Unless I take a huge detour in my life and decide to do a PhD, I will never fully comprehend the pressures of a PGR.  But what I am able to realise from my role, almost as an observer, is that it is different for each and every person who walks through my door.  And I hope that our constant attempts to reinvigorate the cohort identity of our students helps in some way to make that journey a little easier.  Over the years, seeing our talented researchers from wildly different backgrounds, socially and academically, come together to find common ground and make friends and networks which will serve them a lifetime has been a particular satisfaction of mine.

Now that I have been in this job nearly 5 years, I have seen the full journey of a cohort.  My very first day at the University of Southampton involved a baptism of fire in the form of an ESRC funding selection meeting.  The majority of the students selected in that meeting, and some from subsequent selection meetings, have now traversed their way through the complete PhD journey and it has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to see so many of them deservedly graduate as Doctors!

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