Thursday, October 8, 2015

Twentieth anniversary of PhD viva

Today is the 20th anniversary of my PhD viva.  It was a fraught, combative affair, lasting three and half hours.  I remember we spent half an hour on a single page before the chairperson moved it on.  I then waited outside the room for three quarters of an hour.  When I was called back in the chair told me I had passed with no changes, except correcting typos.  Given the outcome I queried the whole process and was told the examiner liked to make it ‘a rites of passage experience’, being deliberately argumentative.  They spent the whole of my long wait discussing football and had ‘forgotten about me’.  Not quite the affirmative experience I was hoping for, despite the pass!  I must be one of the few people to have been given that grade who left the viva decidedly pissed off!

And at that point I joined the ranks of newly minted graduates looking for a job.  55 applications and nine interviews later I finally landed one, despite having a handful of published papers and a NSF grant (I pretty much applied to every department in the UK from Aberdeen down to Plymouth!).  At one point I was going to employ myself as my own research assistant using the NSF funding and was asking contacts if I could spend the money in their department (CURDS in Newcastle University had kindly agreed to this, but then I got the job in Belfast).  My top tip is do a thesis on what you’re interested in, but that will also get you a job.  I did what I was interested in and then got the job on the basis of my Masters in GIS.  Interestingly, the first paper I wrote as a first year student -- and submitted against my supervisor’s advice -- is still my most cited paper (almost twice as much as the next).  Which is actually kind of depressing; you’d have thought I’d have written a more impactful paper since then!

I had just turned twenty five when I finished my PhD, so with twenty years down I guess this anniversary also marks the halfway point until retirement (assuming the retirement age isn’t revised upwards).  Hopefully I might write another decent paper in the meantime.

No comments: