The first day on a Professional Doctorate

So, I survived. Not only survived, but I left with one of those feelings in my stomach- of potential. Of a glimmer that this is a really good thing.

The day started well, I was in time for the train, I found my way to the building, and I made my way to the lecture theatre. Where I took a sharp intake of breath. I was a little overwhelmed to see around 200 people sitting in anticipation of their journey.

It’s so odd. My induction as an undergraduate (before transferring to Cardiff University) was part of a small intake. My MBA induction ten years ago was with full-time and part-time students on the course- probably not exceeding 50. But this was an induction for all post-graduate students across the school.

I sat and listened to a welcome not unlike that I have sat and heard twice as part of my children’s intake into school. Instead of Estyn ratings, I listened to blurb on research ratings, once ushered out of the way in feigned embarrassment it is about the pastoral support. Instead of a year 6 pupil ushering you around the school facilities it’s a lecturer who’s progressed through their degree to a Masters, PhD and beyond. And just to tip you over the edge into how old you might be, there’s a Student Union Rep, responsible for post grads, convincing you not to bury your head in books. The truth, much like being at your children’s school, is you’ve already made the big decision, you don’t need a sales pitch. Fortunately, like the school your child starts, there is a gut instinct which tells you you’ve made the right choice.

I must admit, reminiscing about my first day at Manchester Met gave me confidence that the day would be ok. Despite nerves I tried to make conversation, although a common theme was emerging. Everyone I spoke with was either a PhD or doing a 1+3 (MSc into PhD). I laughed with one as we realised our respective partners had said the same thing as we departed that morning- was a photo outside the front door in order? We had both declined.

And then fortunately, as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed in spite of the warm feelings and enthusiasm which embraced the coffee break, we were herded into our respective study groups. I breathed easier to find there were only nine of us introducing ourselves. A few more will join us on our first module. At the moment there are only two or three of us pursuing a Professional Doctorate in Social & Public Policy, but being in a group of the four areas means I think we’ll learn so much by sharing experiences.

The approach to the PD is really different to my MBA. I knew in advance we would receive all information for modules ahead of our days in uni, but I hadn’t really thought this through. I was presented with a pack for my first module with hard copies of the relevant reading (I breathed a sigh of relief that we receive information in hard and electronic copy). Unlike previous study, we have to undertake all reading in advance of the modules. Which following the thought process makes sense. It’s not a module where you do a couple of hours a week over the course of a term; we’re together for three days. For meaningful discussion to take place we do need to be on the same page. So that’s 207 pages of reading. Expectations are set and checked.

The other aspect I’ve realised is different is how old I feel. Some things are similar to ten years ago, we received introductions to the library and IT systems which will support our learning. Fine, it’s very electronic but I’ve taken that leap once. I’m a pen and paper girl, when I write things I absorb them better than when I type. But my boss probably never reads my notes; everything I do at work is verbal or electronic, fine.

But ten years ago, I walked into uni at 3pm on a Wednesday- not really seeing anyone. Ate in the café with the rest of my class at 5.30 and left at 9pm. We didn’t really interact with other students.

Oh my, an induction in Fresher’s Week is interesting. I’m twenty years older than under-grad’s starting out, and if I look for long enough I end up questioning how they’re old enough and if I look as old as I suddenly feel. I talked to those pursuing a PhD who seemed overwhelmed by the idea of holding down a job and studying. I didn’t mention children.

One of the benefits (my convenient interpretation) is going back to Cardiff Uni as a post-grad student you get to study in the beautiful buildings which line the civic centre. I’m sure it’s just co-incidence that 90% of my under-grad studies were housed in the concrete builds, but I will live in my interpretation and have fallen head over heels for my home for the next five years.first day on a professional doctorateDid I mention five years? The induction was great. I was relieved to meet the programme coordinator and administrator who have both offered so much support to me during the application process. Relieved because they were just as personable- welcoming and understanding- as they had been on phone and email.

But there were words thrown in, ‘viva’; ‘supervisors’; ‘reviews’; ‘graduation’. And suddenly the gravity of five years was in front of my eyes- the boys, in the last year of primary school, CM in high school. Whilst five years doesn’t seem long in my life- I’ve done three years; I’ve worked for my employer for 15; we’ve been back in Wales for five, this all seems reasonable. Five years, though, thinking of my children suddenly doesn’t feel like time I can blink away.

And in reality, dwelling on time is a luxury I don’t have at the moment. Next week I start my first module. Time to get reading.

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