Why write a PhD at St Andrews? by Claire Hawes
December 15, 2012 2 Comments
I was recently asked, “Why St Andrews?” There are many benefits to being a postgraduate student here at St Andrews, not all of which are immediately obvious from the School of History website. It talks of an ‘active research community’, for example, but it’s quite difficult to imagine what this is actually like until you’re here. So here are some examples, from my own experience.
The School runs several seminar series which are open to all. These are not only an opportunity to hear researchers discuss their current work, but are also invaluable for meeting others in your field, and for getting a sense of the different approaches people take to presenting their research. There are also plenty of opportunities for students to give papers of their own, at the relaxed and friendly postgrad seminars.
I share an office with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. We have wildly varying research interests, and yet we regularly find many points of common or contrasting ground which never fail to precipitate a good conversation. They are also the people who know exactly how difficult doing a PhD can be at times. The other people are, of course, the staff, who are extremely supportive of the postgrad students. I’ve had all kinds of advice and assistance not only from my supervisor, but from many others who have taken an interest in what I’m doing, and taken the time to discuss my research, and their own, with me.
There are events throughout the year which help to develop our skills and ideas. Some of these are annual, such as the legendary Reading Weekends which the various institutes arrange, and others can be organised by students, such as conferences and workshops on particular themes relevant to our own research. We can put in proposals to apply for money from the School to help with the cost of these events, and they provide excellent opportunities to hone skills in administration and networking, allowing us to make contacts with more established academics from other universities. There are also training sessions organised by the School and the university to ensure that all of our academic skills are fully developed, whether related to writing fluently and clearly, giving interesting academic papers, clarifying argument or analysis, learning or improving a different language, pinning down a methodological approach, teaching well, discussing research with non-experts, etc…
Finally, we are also lucky enough to have access to some enviable practical resources. Our library has been recently refurbished, and its Special Collections contain material as diverse as thirteenth-century muniments and nineteenth-century photography. Students are always welcome, and training can be given on how to handle the documents. In addition, each student receives an individual annual budget of £400, with an additional discretionary allowance of £325, which can be spent on research expenses such as travel or accommodation at conferences or archives, or material costs such as photocopying or printing, making attendance at important events much more manageable. In short, there’s no reason not to apply to St Andrews!
Claire Hawes is a senior postgraduate in the School of History working on a Ph.D. project ‘Kingship, Counsel and Service: Ideas and Practice of Government in Scotland, 1424-1513’ under the supervision of Dr Michael Brown. She is a member of the Institute of Scottish Historical Research and the St Andrews Centre for Mediaeval Studies. Claire’s Ph.D. research is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.