Thinking like an assistant rather than a leader is a hard habit to break

In the past, my job role was research assistant.  My role was to do the administrative stuff such as recruiting research participants, writing ethics statements, editing papers, reading funding bid guidance documents and summarising them, helping with costings, undertaking transcriptions, helping to organise and run events and that sort of thing.

As a research assistant, you are always there to be on hand for others. So this is my comfort zone. I am happy to help take the burden off the academic by doing a lot of the more time-consuming and fiddly work. I really liked this role though. I like helping others and being part of a team.

However, staying in this comfort zone can easily turn from being happy and confident in this teamwork role into having a subservient mentality.  For example, I went to the Roman Baths with my sister. I said to her “wow, imagine living and working in this place at the time. We would be the servants and have to clean out these steam rooms.” Without a second thought, I naturally took on the fantasy of being the servant rather than the high priests. I like to think that this is because I would rather be the underdog rather than the oppressor… but perhaps in reality it speaks of something else. Another example is I was playing Professor Layton on the Nintendo DS on my commute to work and I spoke to a colleague about it and said, “wow, I would love to be an assistant to an amazing archeologist like him!” and my colleague said ‘erm, Annika, have you ever thought that perhaps you could be the Professor, not the assistant.” And finally, my supervisors and I were once discussing careers and me becoming a Vice-Chancellor came up. I do not have any concrete dreams of becoming a VC, but had never ever considered being some sort of senior manager. All these instances revealed that my ‘horizons for action’ (see Phil Hodkinson) were quite limited.


I could be Professor Layton…. what?!

I see myself as having potential to be a very good researcher and produce an excellent thesis but at exactly the same time my mind says that it won’t be as good as other people’s and I will not get a job in research because there is too much competition so therefore there is no point in trying. So I have been actually thinking seriously about my job post PhD. I have been looking into barista courses so I could work in a coffee shop as well as thinking about which shop in town I would most like to work in and thinking about retraining as a plumber. I do not see these jobs as inferior rather they are going in a different direction. I love research and have wanted to do this since I was 17. There is no reason why I shouldn’t try to find work related to my interests and qualifications.

On my father’s deathbed he was saddened to hear that I had these thoughts, although I have to say he was exactly the same. He was invited to join The Incredible String Band because they loved the poem/song he sent to them. He turned them down to shyness and feelings of inadequacy and it was something he brought up very often as a regret.

Undertaking the PhD is a step in the right direction and although I may be wasting a lot of time visualising failure rather than getting on with it, I really want to achieve this and think I can, but have to say it is a bit of a battle to think of myself as project manager of my own PhD rather than assistant to it.

I’ve signed up to a careers event that the Social Research Association are running. Hopefully this will broaden my horizons where I can start to visualise all sorts of opportunities post-PhD that fit in more with my interests and talents.


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