The idea behind meet the PhD is to showcase PhD students, give a bit of an idea of what’s going on out there in PhDland, and show to the world what PhD life is like! Perhaps they are thinking of doing a PhD themselves, or just generally want to know more about it. Or they’re already doing a PhD and want to see that they’re not alone in their struggles or successes!
While Friendly Bacteria is a vaguely microbiology-themed blog, for this series of mini-interviews I’m wanting any PhD student no matter the field! I think it will be a fun way to connect with other PhD students we wouldn’t normally be able to get to know, too.
If you’re a PhD student and want to get involved with this, leave a comment here, send me a DM on Twitter ( @friendlybugblog ) or shine the Bacteria-signal into the skies above Aberystwyth and I’ll send you the questions!
Previous ones are here: http://friendlybacteriablog.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/meetthephd
This time, we've got a good friend of mine I've known most of my life! Here's Olly's PhD experience:
(My favourite part is when he says he's in awe of people like me)
1. Tell me about yourself
I’m Olly and I’m doing a PhD in Criminology at the University of Southampton. I’m 23 and I’m generally interested in firearms and shooting. My major hobby at the minute is Airsoft but I also do quite a lot of PC gaming and a little tabletop role-playing. Unfortunately I don’t have a blog, website or similar, either about me or my project but I’m happy to chat if you want to get in touch!
(If you have questions for Olly contact me, or leave comments here or something, I'll make sure he gets them! - Gareth)
2. What’s your project all about?
My project is about guns and the police. More specifically, my project explores the relationship between police officers in England and Wales and firearms. I am then comparing the findings of that relationship with findings from two forces abroad: namely the Dutch National Police, and the New Zealand Police Service.
I have performed research on armed police for both my Undergraduate and Masters level dissertations, I find it fascinating that the British police carry out their duties routinely unarmed and are one of only a handful of countries that do so. Whilst my previous projects have focussed on certain theoretical aspects of firearms policing in Britain (at Undergrad I looked at firearms officers’ opinions of their Legitimacy and Accountability; at Masters I studied the Legitimising impact of their training) I felt that it was time to apply a wider focus.
The aims of this research are to share knowledge between police services about how they perform policing around the world, and the hope is that this might influence future decision-making around police firearms policy and practice.
3. How’s it going so far?
So, I’m at the end of my first year/beginning of my second year. It’s kind of hard to tell but I’ve just had my Annual Review so let’s call it the start of my second year proper.
I submitted a piece of work for my Annual Review that will comprise a decent chunk of both my background/Introduction chapter and my Literature Review chapter. Either way, it was 11 500 words towards my 75 000 word limit, so a decent chunk down. My next steps are to finalise the theoretical contribution to my Literature Review before moving onto nailing down my Methodology. My Methodology needs to outline and explain the methods I’m using, why I’m using them and the background to doing a study in this way. I also need to seek Ethics approval, which is rubbish.
However, all of this is building towards the ultimate goal of being able to go out towards the end of this year and do my primary research gathering – interviewing and observing police officers as they carry out their duties, train or take time off. And that’s what motivating me at the minute, I’m not a huge fan of all this background stuff but once I hit the ground and have some data, I‘ll feel a lot happier!
4. What are the three best things about your PhD so far?
First off, continuing at the University of Southampton is great. I’ve been here since my Undergraduate, I’m well established in student societies that keep my hobbies alive, I’ve been able to move in with my girlfriend as she works locally and it’s generally kept me well orientated, I feel like I know how things work! I do like a bit of comfortable familiarity and I’m completely in awe of people like Gareth who have broken that comfort zone to go do PGR work somewhere brand new!
Secondly, my supervisory team is amazing – I have two well-renowned Australian criminologists supervising me, both of whom I have worked with before. They have the right balance of being supportive and encouraging but also being able to rip my work to shit and kick me up the arse when necessary!
Finally, and something that has only happened very recently but has got me very excited. I have been contacted via one of my supervisors to help advise a Norwegian delegation on writing their police firearms policy. Whilst all I can provide is knowledge from the British perspective it’s really weird (and bloody scary!) to be approached as an expert! I suppose this is what it’s meant to be building towards though…
And the three worst things?
My annual review didn’t really go the way I wanted it to. Long story short it developed into quite a heavy theoretical discussion that I was quite unprepared for. I had assumed the annual review was to assess my project’s viability – I was prepared to talk about my cross-cultural comparisons, why my project was important and why I was going to use the methods I had chosen. This all seemed fine and so it went down to the nitty gritty on my theory and whilst I held my own, I couldn’t recall some of the specific details they were looking for. A bit embarrassing in front of my supervisors but also showed where the gaps in both my knowledge and my thesis are.
Secondly – goshdamnit motivation is a harsh mistress, feeling like getting on with the right thing at the right time in the right space is just so difficult. I have days of boundless productivity and days where I just want to do anything else other than my project. Unfortunately the latter tend to outweigh the former. For me, I think variety helps – being able to choose whether to work at home or in my (shared) office is great (there’s only a 15 minute walk between the two). Also having a few different things to work on helps me keep chipping away at something rather than stagnating and frustrating over the same piece of work that I just can’t seem to finish.
I can’t think of a third thing, and the annual review thing only happened in the last fortnight, so maybe I’m luckier than I thought.
5. If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be and why?
Based on my experiences in the annual review, I probably should have thought about my theory earlier – to me theory is just a framing device for the research I really want to do. Unfortunately, for the rest of the academic community, theory is the glue that holds your research together and makes it relevant in a research setting. I realised the other day that whilst I may be currently an expert in the police use of firearms, I am not yet an expert in Legitimacy Theory, and if that is holding my thesis together, I need to change that! If only I could have seen that a year ago.
6. What advice would you give someone thinking about doing a PhD?
To echo Gareth – make sure you are passionate about your subject! It will get tiring, it will get annoying but you’ve got to push through it!
This is generally easier in less rigid subjects such as the Social Sciences or Humanities. Rather than conforming to a set PhD pathway that an institution wants to develop, you generally get to write a proposal in these areas. So it’s a case of finding something you do care about (academically) and then trying to find your research niche – why is what you’re doing important and why has nobody done it before. It has to be unique but it doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, simply applying theory to a new sample group (e.g. the police rather than the public) or simply using different methods to investigate a problem might be all you need (e.g. use Focus Groups rather than mass distributed surveys).
7. What’s the plan after you finish?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to go into something like Government sponsored research for an organisation like the Home Office or similar, but there are some appeals to becoming an academic and lecturing at this university or a different one. Or I may do something completely different, only time will tell at the minute.
8. Any further thoughts/comments?
I also think this is a fantastic blog and blog series – other PhDs should totally get involved!
(He genuinely did write that, it's not me bigging myself up! This is all Olly's unedited words. If you want to get in on this sweet sweet blog series action, shoot me a message and we'll sort something out!)