So, why are you doing this again?

This blog may or may not be used regularly or irregularly to vent frustrations or happiness during the next 3 years or more. I will try to keep it updated fairly often with the trials and tribulations that I come across whilst studying for a PhD in Astronomy at the University of Sheffield. I will officially begin on April 1st – possibly the most dangerous day to begin a new chapter of life.

The first question that springs to the minds of anyone directly involved in higher education or Astronomy is probably “Why aren’t you starting in September like everyone else?” This has a very simple answer. Because I didn’t want to. I was offered a PhD position beginning in the academic year immediately following my final year of undergraduate studies. I’d been in full time education for 17 years, and I needed a break. I’d always intended to take some time out after university, and thankfully my start date could be deferred for 6 months, giving me time to travel a little, hoping to come back refreshed and ready for anything. Whether or not this was successful is yet to be determined.

A more apt question, which many might be wondering, is “Why on earth are you doing a PhD?” The answer to which is not so simple. I’d always considered it as an option, but never decided that it was definitely on the to-do list. It was something to think about during my year out. Unfortunately, the best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry (Interestingly, I recently discovered that this concept was first conceived by Robert Burns, rather than John Steinbeck. Who knew?), and I was forced to consider the possibility of embarking on 3 years of study for a PhD much earlier than planned. Less than halfway through my final year, my Masters project supervisor wrote to me, explaining that he would be looking to take on a PhD student in the following academic year to help out with the many research projects he would be undertaking. It sounds innocent enough so far, but the terrifying thing is that he specifically asked me to apply for the position. He’d already taught me much of the software and hardware concepts which he would be working with, and had decided I would be a useful person to have around. Sounds perfect, right? Wrong.

The problem was, I wasn’t ready to go straight in to a PhD. I didn’t even know if it was what I really wanted to do, and I definitely didn’t want to do it straight away. I’d imagined myself being able to come to a decision about it whilst traveling, but there I was, faced with making the decision imminently, before I’d even finished my Masters! After some persuasion from family, friends, and my supervisor, I managed to put off the decision for a little while. I applied for the funding, and decided to wait until the outcome had been reached before thinking about it any further. Why worry about something that might not even occur, right?

Well, as you may already know, I have an almost embarrassingly strong academic record, and with a very supportive supervisor behind me, I was offered the PhD place. Not only that, but I was also offered one of two Harry Worthington Scholarships awarded directly by the university each year. This, apparently, is a very prestigious award, and is not something easily turned down. So, hopefully you can see the predicament I was in. Suddenly I was faced with the decision of whether or not to spend the next 3 years stuck in Astronomy. I really was enjoying my Masters year, but I simply couldn’t picture myself as an academic, stuck in an office most days, endlessly reading books and papers, and fending off pestering undergraduate students. I just wasn’t sure I had the passion for it.

After much deliberation, wondering whether I’d have enough enthusiasm to get me through another 3 years of studying, and worrying that I’d be bored out of my skin, I had to make a decision. Despite meeting several people over the past few months who had, for one reason or another, decided to quit their PhD, and a lengthy phone conversation with Mum who gave me a whole list of potential reasons not to go for it, I decided to accept the offer. It’s hard to say exactly why I came to that decision, but at the end of the day, in such a harsh economic climate, how could I pass up the opportunity to be paid for 3 years to do something at least mildly enjoyable? How could I say no to the possibility of becoming ‘Dr. Hardy’? I couldn’t.

So, here I am. Five months of traveling and pondering the meaning of life later and I’m almost ready to start. It’s quite possible that the only person who will read this is in fact my Mum, but that’s OK.

Right then, when’s the next trip to Chile?