Female sat in a canoe on the water.

My journey to a PhD

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m one of those people who had no idea where they wanted to end up but kept taking the next steps along the path that I liked best, and it has so far, worked out!

Maybe luck has less to do with it. Or, maybe it’s not luck at all. Choosing what you want to do or where you want to go next, based on passion over logic means you’ll inevitably work harder, without feeling like you’re working at all. This includes volunteer opportunities that double as hobbies – meaning you end up far more employable and able to stand out in your chosen field.

Choosing to go on to postgraduate study isn’t always the easiest or most obvious path. For me, finance was the scariest part. Should I go out and get a job and start bringing in an income? My chosen field is tiny, so the odds of making it to the top of the field, even with a Masters, seemed stacked against me.

My undergraduate degree was Sports Science, a huge and expanding field that is replicating what is happening in degrees of all areas, so there are more and more of us are getting degrees. For some that’s all it is, a means to an end – a way to leapfrog into higher earnings. But for some, it’s more than that. For some it’s about finding a passion in life, it’s about nurturing a growing knowledge, talent or interest. For those people, postgraduate study is a chance to refine and grow, to gain experiences that will help you on the path you want to follow.

In the end, I got a career development loan. This has now been replaced by post-graduate student loans but the premise was similar – no interest while you study. In being organised, I was able to use this to ensure I didn’t need a part-time job. Although it was tempting at times to get a little job to give me a bit more of a financial cushion. However, not having one meant I was free to use my spare time to work out where I wanted to go, and how I was going to get there.

I’m now doing a funded PhD in sports biomechanics in conjunction with British Canoeing and the English Institute of Sport. Funded PhD opportunities are few and far between and often you need more than just intelligence to get one, and the same can be said for almost any job. Post graduate degrees give you the knowledge, time and support to make the next step on your path most likely to be a successful one.

There are a number of challenges in doing a PhD in a company/away from University, but there are also a huge number of benefits too. In essence, I have a job, which is great! But, there was also no “easy first year” for me. In fact, I’d say my first year will be the hardest (although I haven’t finished yet…). I have been balancing the demands of the work with the needs of the PhD – trying to get senior staff to realise what I was doing was important and trying to learn about a sport and professional organisation that was entirely new to me.

This kind of experience is almost impossible to gain any other way than throwing yourself in the deep end, but it’s the kind of thing which will add shine to a CV for years to come.

The University and my supervisors, in particular, have been brilliant. I always get a prompt reply and wasn’t given a hard time when the job took a little tangent from PhD research for a while – all in the name of “getting to know the environment.” Email, phone and skype calls keep them up to date and me in line between trips to Lincoln.

I love doing a PhD. I love that no-one knows the answers to the questions I’m posing. But, I’ll admit trying to answer those questions isn’t always smooth sailing, and of course, there are frustrations – but I’ll be the one to bring that information to the world.

Cat Shin – PhD in Sports Biomechanics

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