As of today, I have been a lecturer in sustainable development for exactly a year.
I thought it would be nice to take a moment to reflect on all that I have done and learned over this past year. A good point to take a break from perpetually looking ahead and preparing for future struggles.
Getting over the PhD
For me, one of the biggest changes over this time has been ‘getting over’ the PhD. It’s surprising how long it takes to get a sense of confidence back after finishing. The PhD journey is filled with a great deal of critique and feeling that you have to be prepared to justify every decision you’ve made in your research. I found it odd when I started as a lecturer and I was no longer questioned about my ability to do research or teach. This was more pronounced after working in Estates for 5 months doing a sustainability audit of the University as part of developing ‘Living Lab’ research projects and generally being treated as a second-class staff member with no experience of research or teaching by academic and professional staff at the University (despite having a PhD). I remember going from being constantly challenged or my expertise dismissed to being expected to know about School’s procedures, how to mark a variety of coursework and supervise students, and how best to design a block of lectures or module. While daunting, it has been wonderful to be continually challenged this year with new tasks and responsibilities and find that doing a PhD has indeed equipped me with the necessary skills and experience to teach others about doing research and managing projects.
Two other activities have given me confidence since finishing: supervising other’s research projects and (finally) publishing from my PhD. Supervising the writing of dissertations by five undergraduate, two masters and two PhD students has been a real pleasure and source of affirmation. It’s fun and satisfying to help others design a project, carry out data collection, and write about something they are passionate about. Meetings with Megan and Rachel, my PhD students, are especially therapeutic as I gain an insight into what my PhD supervisors may have experienced and meant in their feedback. Following these meetings, I have looked back at comments on my PhD drafts and notes from supervision meetings, now able to let go of points I took too personally and focus on what I had done well. And finally, last month, one of the main findings was published in Building Research and Information (a journal that became a favourite early on in my PhD) and as a result of that I finally no longer feel the PhD looming over me.
Related to getting over the PhD, which gives me the confidence to say that I am good at my job, I have also come to appreciate that I really enjoy being an academic.
I really love my job
I am fairly certain that I already knew this, but it was reaffirming when I was catching up with a childhood friend in January. I was telling her all about life in St Andrews and she told me that it sounded like I 'really loved my job'. She reflected how many of her friends our age were thinking about changing career paths and pointed out that I spoke with an excitement and passion that she did not hear from others. It was nice to hear and the way she said it has stuck in my head: I really love my job.
Of course, there are things that I don't necessarily love, especially juggling teaching, research and admin responsibilities and never feeling like you have enough time to do everything you're expected to well. It's funny how you can be annoyed at how much time advising and teaching takes because you haven't had any time in weeks to write or read for your own research project. Yet meetings with students as well as preparing and delivering lectures, assignments and field trips is also extremely rewarding and the frustration is more about figuring out how to balance all these responsibilities rather than a frustration with the actual activity.
I really love teaching. The St Andrews students are absolutely brilliant and it is wonderful to have a captive audience that may build on or spread the ideas that you're sharing with them. I am constantly stunned by how hard-working, energetic and passionate our students are and what they're already doing to make the world a better place. I have also started to use curriculum development as a way to learn more about topics that interest me but that are tangential to my main area of research. It is really fun to get to spend more time reading and discussing a broad range of sustainability issue after so long focused more narrowly on my PhD topic.
I really love writing, reading and research. Writing can be hard a lot of the time, although since becoming a lecturer in some ways it has also been easier to write because when you finally find a bit of time you are keen to use it. I love that I get to decide what and how I want to spend hours researching. I'm not sure I'm always the best at being told what to do, and being a lecturer is so wonderful because you're generally your own boss as long as you can justify the relevance or importance of your activities (to funding bodies or a journal). I like that challenge and freedom.
I also love St Andrews and the community actively trying to make the town a more sustainable place. Getting to spend time working with one of my best friends on promoting sustainability in the curriculum is a real joy. I learn so much from working with the Transition and Environment teams and other individuals across the institution supporting this agenda. Nearly every time I go down to their office on East Sands I feel inspired and refreshed. I would not find the same level of satisfaction from my work if I was not connected to Transition and the Environment team as they constantly demonstrate practical and positive change in our community. I love being on the Board of Directors for Transition, the Sustainable Development Working Group, and all the opportunities David, Ali, Lara, Helena, Andrea, Tansy, Mariya, and Ailsa have given me this year to consult on sustainability policies and programmes at the University.
It’s wonderful to be a year in and not be doing everything for the first time. This year has been reaffirming, I love being an academic and I have moved on from many of the insecurities that seem to come from doing a PhD.
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