I’ve been a useless and not posted for ages, and actually, I have a good excuse. Firstly, I was whisked away to Paris by my amazing partner, and secondly, I decided to take a punt and apply for a PhD on water pollution at the University of Exeter.
Top tip: Don’t be unorganised like me and realise you have no idea where your degree certificate/transcript is; you will need it if you ever apply for a PhD!
I’ve not got a Masters degree (mostly due to financial reasons, and I believe that experience can outweigh letters…), but I’ve been working in veterinary parasitology research for the last year and a half, where I’ve tried to get as much relevant experience as possible. Getting a PhD without a masters was always going to be a challenge, and I honestly thought I stood no chance. However, having a submitted publication where I’m the lead author (so exciting!) was probably one of the biggest factors which helped me to secure an interview.
It has been an exciting and emotional whirlwind. Two days after applying for the PhD, I was invited to an interview. A week later, I had the interview and was then offered the position on the flipping spot! I thought the professor was making a sick joke and laughed hysterically. Alas. But I did receive the highest praise I’ve ever had (what do you do with your face when this happens?! I have never behaved so awkwardly in my life).
The questions they asked in the interview ranged from typical PhD questions (‘why do you want a PhD?’) to a few curveballs; some of which I really struggled with! Turns out they’re surprised if you’ve memorised references for the interview (perhaps I was a bit keen), but I always think it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
Embarrassingly, right at the start of the interview, I had a panic. There was a panel of 4 very accomplished academics and all I could think was how life-changing this PhD would be for me. Top tip: do not think about how important getting a position is to you, it will freak you out!
For about 30 seconds I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t speak. This has never happened to me before and I now understand why most people get nervous about interviews. Tragically, the next point I was going to make was that I’m a ‘great communicator’. Ha. I was mortified, but I decided to make a self-deprecating joke about it and move on! It’s really important to be able to pick yourself up and move on if you have a moment like this.
Luckily I was then fine for the rest of the interview, to a point where I was complimented on my interviewing skills, and I was also told I was so enthusiastic that it’s infectious. Not sure if that’s good or bad, maybe I’m really annoying?
The PhD is a slight change of discipline; I’m a zoologist and this PhD is ‘political science’, but I am so interested in the topic, and it sounds like there are great career prospects. I think this shows that if you’re passionate enough and have enough experience, you can change your research focus.
If the outcome of this project is even a tiny national reduction in water pollution, then great! This will also lead to improvements in air and soil quality, impact fisheries, and wildlife.
I literally cannot believe my luck and I’m so excited to get started. The commute is going to be tricky and I’m going to spend a lot of my stipend on accommodation (Bristol to Exeter, eesh), but it’ll be so worth it if it means I’m on my way to a career in something that makes a difference.
I’ll try to post more regularly when I start the PhD in case I can help people who are undecided on whether undertaking a PhD is the right path for them!
UPDATE: I’ve started preparing to begin the PhD; you can read what I’ve been up to here.