Always learning.

When I posted in 2017, I told you I had enrolled on an MA course. Happily, I graduated in 2018 with an MA in Creative Writing, despite some challenges. I enjoy learning and the academic world, so I thought the natural next step would be a PhD. I am a researcher at heart.

The first issue was actually finding a university that offered online research opportunities. It may surprise you to learn that inclusivity doesn’t include everyone – it surprised me. Organisations are keen to encourage those with physical or mental challenges to participate (which is great) but don’t always consider those whose challenge is actually getting to a place to study. Telecommunication is good (although, again, won’t suit everyone) but many universities actually require students to physically attend at least once a term. Even once a year is too much for some people. Sadly, conditions like ME and anxiety don’t give you time off to attend uni. I’m using those as they are the conditions that I’m familiar with – there are many, many others. I can only write about this from my own experience.

I found a university that ticked all the boxes.  What next? A research proposal. Neither of my previous courses prepared me for a PhD application. I don’t know anyone, personally, who has studied at this level so turned to Google. I found it lacking, for once. I felt like people like me probably shouldn’t be trying to infiltrate academia and that it must be knowledge passed on like hereditary titles, to those in the middle or upper classes.  I cobbled something together, after reading that a proposal is simply stating the direction you’d like your research to take; the supervisor would guide you and, as you progress, you will fine tune it. 

I was invited, by email, to attend an interview. Another hurdle. At this point they knew I suffered from ME, so I explained that I had difficulty in travelling. They kindly agreed to a telephone interview, which I stumbled my way through (it wasn’t a good communication day and I think I overused the word ‘thingy’). Apparently, I got my point across and I was asked to narrow down the focus of my research (as I’d expected). My potential supervisor was friendly and I think she understood my strengths and limitations. I was thrilled, as I know how hard it is to be accepted on a research degree course.

As time went on, I heard nothing more. It felt silly to email them and ask when I’d get more details (I had funding to apply for). Weeks became months. The supervisor had taken a sabbatical and then asked for more information, which I provided. Still nothing. I corresponded with someone else, who acted as a liaison between me and the potential supervisor. Nothing. I emailed at the beginning of September and received an Out-of-Office reply – that person had retired (no mention of that). I sent an email to the Admissions office and was finally told that they’d now decided my research was not robust enough. I was told by several people that I had four worthy projects within my initial proposal, so I was gobsmacked. There was no offer to help me pinpoint the proposal that would work for them so I assume they didn’t want to work with me. Again, it’s just an assumption because I have no-one to ask. I googled ‘working class PhD’ and was really disheartened by what I read. I’d hoped to be inspired but it seems like it’s somewhat of a no-man’s land: considered elitist by family/friends and not elite enough by colleagues/peers.

My disappointment turned to annoyance. There are few PhD opportunities; fewer if you’re from the wrong background. There are fewer still if you have any kind of condition that limits your physical attendance at the university (while they still claim to be disability-friendly). It feels like organisations need to be educated on the fact that we, the limited, exist and want to learn. In the days of computers and tech, it should be easier than ever. I’m applying somewhere else. They’ve made it clear that they prefer students to visit the campus, but there was a note of a ‘But…’ I don’t want special treatment. I want to be able to have the same opportunities as a standard applicant. And if I fail, I’ll do so on my own merit or lack thereof!