Monthly Archives: June 2013

From DSW to PhD


Last week I received confirmation that my application to change my enrolment from DSW to PhD had been approved (subject to successful completion of my current Unit of Study). I’m very excited about this, not only in terms of the reasons for seeking this change, but in the secondary benefits, which I am already experiencing.

The reasons:

  •  My research topic is morphing into something with a heavier emphasis on conceptual elements. While the core remains parent-carers’ experiences of their interactions with complex service systems, what is emerging is a need to explore participants’ interpretations of their own identity as parents, carers, and ‘parent-carers’, and the meanings they give to their relationship/s and interactions with formal services systems. The third category, ‘parent-carers’, doesn’t seem to have been well-conceptualised in previous studies, so this is turning out to be one of my personal ‘contributions to the field’. (Yes, feeling a bit more confident than I was in my last post, did you notice?)
  • I really want the opportunity to write a longer thesis on this. 50,000 words will just not be enough… I am greedy for words. Like some pathetic scavenger crouching around the edges of PhD student conversations, I have been coveting my neighbours’ word limits. And I mean lean, fit, tight words, not fat and flabby fluff. (In case you are wondering, I have a thesis voice, which is quite different to my blog voice, and features – I hope – neutral, concise vocabulary and coherent structure, with a notable absence of feral parentheses and snakily meandering sidetracks.) (Like this one.)

The benefits:

  • It’s important not to confuse reasons and benefits. Reasons are probably also benefits, but benefits are not necessarily reasons. For example, there is status attached to a PhD that other doctorates don’t seem to have. I think this is undeserved, but there you are. Probably related to this, PhDs are more widely recognised. Many of my friends have responded with delight at the news that I am now doing a PhD as if this is a huge leap from the DSW. It really isn’t. A little leap, is all. Same timeframe, same topic, same supervisors, etc. But now, when I introduce myself by saying ‘I’m a PhD student’ people say ‘Ah, wow, that’s great, good on you’, where before they might respond with (blank look) ‘Sorry, what? A DS..what? Is that, like, a diploma or something?’ I hate to sound like an academic snob, but no, it’s isn’t quite like a diploma or something. At least, I suppose it is, in the way that a Mini Cooper is like a bus. Not better, not worse, some similarities, but just not the same thing.
  • There’s also a benefit in feeling more included in study resources. By this, I mean all those blogs, books, and articles that refer to PhDs as if no other doctoral study exists. I won’t name any, because they are written in good faith with a particular audience in mind, and the other forms of doctoral study probably vary enormously from one country and one institution to another, but there is a whole genre of PhD study guides and ‘how-to’ literature, and not so much about doctorates per se (or even postgrad research in general). It’s a subtle point, but in its way is as important and alienating as gendered language. (Well, maybe not as important. But a bit disenfranchising, I think.)

I should mention that I was going to be able to call myself ‘Dr’ whether I graduated with a DSW or PhD – many have asked me about this, and assumed it was my reason for seeking the PhD letters. So the grand title of ‘Doctor’ doesn’t qualify as either reason or benefit. In fact, I’m not at all sure what use I’ll make of that title when the time comes. The Thesis Whisperer has stimulated an entrancing conversation on this topic (, which includes discussion-posters pointing out both the disadvantages of being asked to help out with in-air medical emergencies, and the advantage of having a title that doesn’t imply one’s marital status or feminist philosophy (I’m a Ms, btw, and may eventually become Ms Postgradpanda, PhD.).

My dad has significantly influenced my thinking on this. When I was born he was in the middle of his PhD studies (engineering), and he is both one of the brightest and one of the most humble people I know. He has always been very discerning in the use of his title. If there is any suggestion that its use would elevate him over the people he’s around (apart from conferences, journals and university events etc), he avoids it, and away from academic contexts he is always plain ‘Mr’.

So there you go. Reasons – tick. Benefits – tick. Woo hoo!