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PhD Graduate Stories

Here are some personal accounts from our recent PhD graduates.

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Sarah Flew

I entered into my PhD in 2009 with some naivety, thinking of it as simply one extremely extended essay. Having now completed my PhD, I have the utmost respect for everyone who has been through the process.

Doing a PhD is undoubtedly challenging but the rewards are enormous. Technically, I have sharpened my writing and honed my research and IT skills. Professionally, I have spoken at conferences (not as scary as I expected), had some articles published, and have the ‘book version’ of my thesis coming out in 2015. And socially, I been to some really interesting conferences, visited many different libraries and archives, met some great people and joined a diverse range of societies (Ecclesiastical History Society, Economic History Society, Voluntary Action History Society, British Association of Victorian Studies, and the Sociology of Religion Study Group).

The really lovely thing about the academic community is that everyone is genuinely interested in your research, however obscure and uninteresting your work may seem to your friends and family. I now have a short-term contract to some administrative work at the London School of Economics and Political Science (obtaining funding for academics) but even if I am unable to secure a much coveted permanent academic position, the skills that I have gained will be with me for life.

I am bursting with ideas for new avenues of research and am really looking forward finding out more about religious history in the many years ahead. 

Mika Lassander photo

Mika Lassander

I joined the OU Religious Studies department in 2006 as a Ph.D. student, having just moved to Milton Keynes from Finland. The series of workshops offered by the OU and the support and advice from my supervisors helped me through the first year of a way too ambitious project. The principles I then learned of planning, organising and actually completing a research project proved valuable when I emerged as a Doctor into the wild.

Competition for funding is hard, but I feel that the freethinking atmosphere and the brilliant teachers at the OU, and the friendships and connections that developed there has given me confidence, determination, and meaning for life.

I am now working as a full-time Post-Doc Research Fellow, halfway through my own four-year project in Comparative Religion at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland. I’m also already planning the next big thing with a bunch of scholars from around the world. But, I was also very lucky with the funding and you always have to be planning the next one… and have a backup plan for that.

Funding and permanent positions are hard to find in academia, more so in the humanities than in some other fields. However, we should not be selling ourselves short in the world, including those parts of the world that are outside the Academia. The value of the experience, knowledge, and skills you get from completing your degree is gold, even though sometimes you have to explain this to other people.

Dr. Mika Lassander, Academy of Finland researcher, Viewpoints to the World project
The Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Amy Whitehead photo

Amy Whitehead

After completing my PhD at the Open University in 2011, I have remained active in the academic community. At first there was trepidation, i.e. I didn’t know quite what to do and I felt very much at the ‘bottom of the ladder’, but after receiving continued support, advice, and encouragement from my once PhD supervisors (with whom friendships developed), I have continued with my academic pursuits. For example, I transformed my thesis into a book which was published by Bloomsbury in 2013, and other creative ideas for future projects are following suit.

I am also an Associate Lecturer at two universities – the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Oxford Brookes University. From these experiences I have learned that finishing a PhD, although a milestone of which to be proud, is only the beginning of a long and even more exciting adventure.

That said, neither project funding nor full time permanent positions in academia are easy to find these days, but with the support of both teachers and colleagues – especially those fellow students who shared in the doctoral journey with me – I am convinced that we will all ‘get there’ at some point in the future. In the meantime, lecturing part time is giving me the essential skills necessary to carry on.

All in all, my experience as a PhD student at the Open University was an excellent one, and that experience continues to nurture and fuel my growth as an academic.   

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