How NOT to do a PhD #3: Whilst Training to Teach

So you may remember, after six months of full time PhD work from my study at home, being too far away to go into university to work, I was getting cabin-fever. It was proving to be extremely difficult to stay motivated, particularly when the goal was to read as much as possible on theology and music and work out what on earth I actually wanted to write about. Obviously, you come up with some sort of grand ideas at the start of the PhD, quickly realise that they are either not achievable or not what you want to talk about any more, change your mind a few times, and fumble around in the dark for a year trying to work out what you’re actually writing about – or at least that was my experience.

I was also faced with the very real possibility that if I continued with the PhD full time, after seven years of education I would be very well qualified but no further along the process of having a job in the real world. Academia was proving to be a very difficult career to get into (as indeed is still the case, I am inclined to say particularly in theology). Therefore, in order to put myself in a better place mentally and financially, I decided to take a year out from the PhD and train to teach.

At the end of your first year, you submit a transfer document of around 10,000 words, or a chapter in other words, have a mini viva, or oral ‘test’, or pleasant discussion as mine turned out to be, are given some helpful feedback, and given a little push further along the road to completion (still a long, long way off). Having just done all this, I then stopped thinking about the PhD for a whole year, whilst I tried very hard to think about how to teach 11-18 year-olds in Religious Studies. This involved a lot of subject knowledge on a broad scale, rather than the more refined knowledge you end up using in a PhD, and it was back to the drawing board to learn the basics of the six major world religions, in preparation for doing mock GCSE tests on each (yes, our course leader really did insist on this – I could tell more shocking stories, but you wouldn’t believe me).

I had fun learning new stuff both about religions and about teaching, had two excellent mentors in very different schools, made a great bunch of friends, and got a job at the end of it. I enjoyed my year training to teach (mostly!) and I am extremely glad I took the year out to do it, but it didn’t make the PhD any easier. In fact, when I returned to the PhD part time after the year’s suspension, I had little idea where I was going with it, and it took me a full year to read myself back into it, and get back into the swing of it.

On the positive side: I now have a secure career in an industry that is always going to be there. On the negative: the PhD was not only suspended for a year, but the following year also proved to be somewhat unfruitful. But then I got back on track, and was in a better position than I had been before, completing the PhD full time, in the endless procession of unmotivated days.

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