What does your job entail? I am funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council to undertake a three-year PhD in nineteenth century sino-foreign relations. I spend a lot of time reading and sifting through nineteenth century documents held in archives across the world, and I have also been employed by my university as a seminar tutor on an ‘Introduction to the British Empire’ module for first year history undergraduates.
What’s the best bit? Flexibility and variety. Other than my teaching hours, I have to plan my entire working week, including where I will be and what I will be doing. One week I might be desk-bound in Bristol, but another I could be visiting archives in London, Washington, Paris or Shanghai.
And the worst? Funding applications! My research funding does not cover travel costs and my research project involves archival research in four different countries so I find myself writing a lot of applications for government or academic society research funding schemes.
How did you get your job? I applied to seven different universities in the UK and the US to fund my research proposal, and I had to approach a different potential supervisor in each institution who might be interested in my research and brief them about my project and ask them to support funding applications. I was lucky enough to get Arts and Humanities Research Council funding for the project. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do my research.
What qualifications/experience do you need? A Masters degree in a relevant subject and a well-structured research proposal if you are planning an independent project. Many universities run projects with outside institutions which include hiring students to complete PhD research as part of the partnership. Bristol University has run research projects with Bristol Zoo and the SS Great Britain.
What advice would you give someone who would like a job such as yours? Be certain that research is something you want to do. Academic research takes a lot of self-discipline and it will be very hard to motivate yourself if you are unsure about it. Also, if you are considering an academic career, be prepared to travel. Even if you can get funding close to home it is unlikely that you will be able to get your first academic position post-PhD at the same institution. Vacancies are limited so you might have to consider universities as far afield as Australia and America as well as elsewhere in Britain.