The Notion of Becoming

Personal Reflections on the PhD Experience by Dr Miro Griffiths MBE

Completing a PhD is hard work. From the initial meeting with supervisors to submission, it took me four years. That was four years of extensive reading, continuous reflection, and frantic writing to meet deadlines that I had set or agreed to, as well as live up to expectations that I had created. Although it was hard work, it was also enjoyable. From my experience, I was able to establish my own working practices, have ownership over what I produced and the directions I wanted to take, and I was quickly able to distinguish between those who had a clear interest in my work and those who were just being polite.

Not everybody submits their PhD, and that needs to be respected. Irrespective of how far you get in the process, whether you submit, and the concluding observations reached by the assessors, the work is valuable and important. I remember being asked, at a researcher training event, what is more important: the doctoral research or the researcher? The student who asked me was very assertive: "it must be the research!" Externally I grinned out of politeness but, internally, I disagreed.

The researcher experience is pivotal during the PhD. It is the time taken to reflect on the development of skills, to understand why there is a level of scrutiny and how that affects oneself. It is about understanding how information is processed, how conclusions are arrived at, how to develop clear lines of argument that can be defended, and the delicacy of balancing expectations by the individual and the institution (as well as the intersecting of these expectations) – all of these matter. I know more about myself now because of the PhD; but, more importantly, I know more about what I want to become.

The research topic was engaging, it was interesting, it manifested questions that I wanted to answer and provided answers that led to more questions. The research investigated young disabled people's experiences of activism and social movements in the UK. There were, unsurprisingly, periods of pressure and frustration. Episodes of doubt and times when the possibility of a different career trajectory were very alluring. Interspersed during these periods were times of excitement, euphoric moments of identifying themes and trends in the findings, ideas slotting into place and times when I caught myself not being overwhelmed and confused by the literature.

At this point, the significance of Liverpool John Moores University should be highlighted. The supervision team that I had access to: Professor Millward, Dr James, and Dr Standing were/are outstanding. From the start, their approach was to be open, transparent, accountable, considerate, and accessible. We worked together, as a team, to understand the boundaries of advice and guidance, whilst supporting me to develop confidence and clarity to take ownership of the research. I felt I belonged to an institution wherein its value and worth comes from the community of scholars and fellow researchers. Whether it was doctoral researchers, or my supervision team, there was a sense of solidarity. I could ask for advice, I could gently resist the suggestions from others, I could make mistakes and realise that making mistakes were expected and acceptable.

Although Liverpool John Moores University provided extensive resources, learning environments, and teaching opportunities, all of which are incredibly important, people may argue that can be experienced in other universities. That is true, but John Moores University remains important to me because it provided a space to learn and reflect. A space to learn about the research topic and the literature that flows from the investigation; however, it established a space for me to reflect on who I am becoming.

People (friends, strangers, students who I supervise) ask me what is the point of doing a PhD. I respond that it is about "becoming". The reply to this is always: "becoming what?" That is when I pause, sometimes smile, and occasionally shrug my shoulders. Professor Millward once told me, a PhD never ends - there is a point where it has to be marked. So, perhaps, the PhD does not give you a possession, it does not open a specific door; it does not make you become something specific. It does not always have to be understood in a prescriptive sense: you must do this, then this, then that. Nor does it always have to be understood as transactional: you get this, the host university achieves this.

I can talk about the success of achieving a PhD within the context of employment, finance, relationships, hopes, desires, and goals. The PhD can be about all of those things, some of those things, or none of those things. Liverpool John Moores University taught me that the PhD experience was about reflecting on the notion of becoming. To make sense continuously of what I should, could or need to pursue at any given point.

The importance of being creative, accepting mistakes and remaining imaginative were reinforced through my experience at Liverpool John Moores University. A place that taught me to think about the purpose of my work and the reasons that underpinned my ideas. The PhD experience was four years but the positive affect of Liverpool John Moores University will continue.

If anybody is reading this and would like to discuss anything I have written, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me:

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