…. by Meaghan / from Canada / studies Archaeology / 3rd year of PhD (PG)
I have to say that calling myself a student again was definitely a much more disconcerting feeling than I thought it was going to be. When I decided to return to university to carry out a PhD in archaeology, leaving behind my career as a full time commercial archaeologist, I was focused on the application process, securing funding and the practicalities of closing out my work. So it kind of surprised me when I was suddenly a student again.
I made the decision to go back to university, so I could become a specialised consultant in my field. I am a human osteoarchaeologist, meaning I specialise in the analysis of archaeological human remains. There are a lot of things that get tied up with making the decision to go back to university and I hope that by sharing my experience with the transition I can help other prospective students going through the same thing.
The choice to leave my job was a hard one. There are a lot of practical considerations to do with time commitments, financial stability and the work-life balance when making a decision like this. I have found that there have been both positive and negative elements to each of these during my experience.
For me, I decided to view the transition to my postgraduate degree as my new job for the period of time you will be carrying it out. This gave me the structure to approach my PhD in a way that was productive and would give me the best chance of attaining my goals.
Coming from a full time working background can definitely give you advantages when it comes to the time commitment of a post graduate degree. For me, doing a 9-5, Monday-Friday job was the routine, so I decided to keep that pattern as I started my PhD. The background of a professional job can make it a lot easier to commit to your studying, and carry out your work effectively. It is a transition though and many elements of the academic environment don’t always adhere to normal working hours, so knowing what works well for your schedule and being firm, but fair with your time can definitely help.
“The biggest transition for me was a financial one”
The biggest transition for me was a financial one. To switch back into academia, I had to take a substantial pay cut. I hold full funding for my PhD, which means I have my tuition covered and a living stipend to support myself. Still, my partner and I had to sit down and confirm that we could budget for the three years I would be studying. Depending on different situations you may be working while you study, you may be able to secure funding, you may have savings already established. All of these are options, but it is really worth establishing how you are going to handle the financial commitment of studying and supporting yourself. For me, it has also been strange to not see a direct paycheque from the work I do. It is a bit of an odd consideration, but it can influence how you feel about your work when things are challenging and you aren’t seeing an immediate financial benefit to your hard work.
There are perks that come with the transition back to student life though too. The biggest one in my life is called Max. He is a one-year-old springador puppy and the best way to show how flexible work schedules can give you some amazing opportunities. Depending on the postgrad degree, you can have a lot of say in where and when you work. I prefer to work from home and that gave me the chance to structure my day, so having a dog was possible. Taking him for walks is a great stress-buster too.
“Depending on the postgrad degree, you can have a lot of say in where and when you work”
I have also taken full advantage of the financial perks as well. I get discounts on my bus card, gym membership, rail card, shops, travel, etc. All of these things are really nice to have access to, and do offset some of the pay-cut that may come from returning to the world of being a student.
You can also take advantage of the opportunity to widen your work interests. You will have access to free courses, lecture series, workshops and so many other ways of learning new material both related and unrelated to your field. It might feel like extra curricular activities are geared towards undergraduate and younger students, but there are so many helpful and great services for postgraduate and mature students as well. The big one I would highlight is the lecture series many academic societies put on. I am a member of the archaeology society and while the pub nights aren’t really my thing, I get amazing opportunities to hear some of the foremost archaeological specialists speak to the society. There are so many services from the university that are there to provide mature students with fun and helpful resources while they study!
“Just remember you are not alone”
Just remember you are not alone. I have met so many fellow postgrad students over the last few years who have come from such a diverse set of backgrounds in education and professional careers. You will meet other people who are making the same change as you and your professional background can give you a huge advantage during your studies.
And if you still find it weird when you have to tell people you are a student, don’t worry, you are in good company.