19. Juggling ‘Post-Funding’ Life

Greg Thomas, the PGF’s 2015/16 chairperson shares his experiences of completing the PhD ‘post-funding’.

I am currently sat in Starbucks at Shrewsbury Railway Station writing this blog post, something that I promised Maddy back in September… That pretty much sums up my life at the moment, trying to be productive (or get away from the writing up of my thesis) every minute that I am awake. I shall take you back to the beginning, well August 2016…

Like many PhD students, I never intended on entering a fourth year, it was something that just sort of happened, time just seemed to move a lot quicker than I could. As I never intended on entering a fourth year, I had no plans in place, and perhaps more importantly no finance… This meant moving back home, something which came as a shock to both me and my parents, but also needing to find a source of income, in a rural area, with very few large employers (something that is another story, or possibly a paper).

Torn over future career options, having limited options, and possibilities, I balanced preparing for the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference with job applications for Powys County Council (where else would you work in Mid Wales?). Having not much “real world” experience (working as a bin man in the summer of 2009 counts, right?), and having spent the last seven years in the Aberystwyth bubble, it was something I found a struggle.

Having braved the Welsh railway network, it was my turn to present at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, as usual I spoke about my beloved Royal Welsh Show, but this time was different… Following the session, I was approached by Dr Fiona Williams of Chester University and the newly formed University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS), we shared a passion not just for geography, but for the Royal Welsh Show. Following a long conversation about our respective research and teaching interests, Fiona informed me of a potential visiting lecturer post at UCS and I immediately showed my interest (to be continued) …

In the mean time I was offered an interview and subsequently accepted a part time role within Powys County Council, as the new Anti-Poverty Project Support Assistant for the Authority. Starting in the middle of October I immediately put my head down and attempted to focus on my PhD.

A week before starting this role, Fiona then called, wanting me to confirm my interest in the potential visiting lecturer position. Having gone through the various human resources processes, I was offered between two and eight hours a week at UCS, teaching across the human geography course.

So in the space of three weeks I had gone from being unemployed to between teaching, preparation, and my employment with Powys County Council working more than the equivalent of a full time week. Oh and there was that pesky PhD to finish, too.

That brings us today where I am spending three days working for Powys County Council, conducting research surrounding poverty in the county, reading a lot of reports, keeping up to date with the latest legislation, liaising with stakeholders, and reporting my findings to the Cabinet of the Council. A role which I am thoroughly enjoying and it is brilliant to use the skills that I have gained so far in my academic career in a policy setting, and who knows perhaps, eventually improving the quality of life for residents in one of the most beautiful areas of our country.

Reporting on my anti-poverty work to the Cabinet of Powys County Council. One of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. Although good viva preparation…

Currently I am spending two days a week at UCS, and absolutely love it. It has reignited my passion for geography, and especially teaching geography to an amazing group of students, all of which are so enthusiastic, always willing to respond, and always willing to debate the big issues (which given the events for the last twelve months, there are a lot of). Over the summer, and in the depths of writing up the PhD I had forgotten how much I loved teaching, and how inspirational students can be. For me teaching has always been a two-way process, I have as much to learn from the students, as they have me. Simply because I have a couple of extra letters after my name, makes me no better, although it does mean I get to choose the comfiest seat in the room!

Teaching ‘Introduction to Human Geography’ at University Centre Shrewsbury.

This all brings with it the challenge of when to actually get the PhD finished? It is coming along, just not as quickly as I would like. But it is happening, normally whilst on trains, sat in cafes, or just to get my mother off my back. I currently have 97,000 words, but with an empirical chapter, introduction, and conclusion left to write, I will need to do some serious editing somewhere…

As for the future, who knows? I love teaching, but I have also found a new passion for fighting poverty and the great, often hidden, inequalities that exist in rural Wales… Perhaps this could be a new research avenue for me to explore?

So the time since August has been busy, very busy. Working two jobs, plus other personal commitments has taken its toll. Post full time student life is harder than I ever thought, balancing work, teaching, and the write up is a massive challenge, but a rewarding one that I’ve fully embraced. I don’t regret not finishing the PhD in three years, in fact the experience I have gained in the last few months has been enlightening, and helped me grow not only as an academic, a policy practitioner, but as a person.

Now I’ve written this, I should probably get back to writing up the PhD (although another interesting RGS-IBG Annual Conference call for papers has just come into my inbox, something to distract me for another 10 minutes)…

@GeographyGreg