“Why would anyone put themselves through such stress and hard work?” This was a question asked by a very competent and accomplished teacher and post-graduate student at the university on Friday afternoon. The question was directed towards another student who had just completed a week of induction activities for research students embarking on their studies towards hopefully gaining a PhD. Listening in to their conversation a part of me wanted to hear those immortal words uttered by the great mountaineer George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest – “because it’s there!” However, the answer I heard was equally profound and gives me great cause for optimism that this young lady has set out on a journey with exactly the right approach. “Because I want to test myself, and in so doing try to make a difference,” she said. “having finished my master’s degree I can see that it has enabled me to improve my teaching and I hope that the PhD will take my teaching and learning on to another level.”
Having received this response I am not sure that her friend was totally convinced that this would justify the many hours of hard work and occasional anxiety that characterises the research degree experience of most students. However, I am sure that this neophyte researcher is commencing her journey with exactly the right spirit and attitude to enable her to succeed.
Progression to study for a research degree is certainly not the best path for everyone, and those who enter such a course of action need to be fully aware of the personal sacrifices, doubts and apprehensions that will most certainly lie ahead. However, for those who complete the path there will undoubtedly be feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction and hopefully a renewed sense of commitment to their subject and the opportunity to make a difference. It is therefore always a pleasure to be amongst enthusiastic students about to launch forth into their doctoral studies and to share with them in discussions about their interests and passions.
On Friday afternoon I spent a little time with around forty such keen individuals each of whom was coming to the end of their induction period and were now about to cast off from the harbour upon their academic adventure. Some will conduct their studies in areas associated with education, and I hope to get to know these students well over the next few years, others working in the sciences, arts, business, history or technology are less likely to come into my immediate purview, but it was a pleasure to be amidst their enthusiastic banter as they discussed their areas of interest with enthusiasm and authority.
Such occasions invariably bring questions to the forefront about why students give such a commitment and make personal sacrifices for learning. Their motives may be many, but it is clear that somewhere along the line they have been inspired to learn, imbued with a spirit of curiosity and encouraged to think critically and develop their own opinions and ideas. I like to think that they have, in part at least, come to this position with the aid of teachers who have committed themselves to their students, whilst demanding excellence and encouraging an enthusiasm for investigation and learning. I am quite sure that if those teachers who had thus inspired these new doctoral researchers in this way had been in that room alongside their former students on Friday, they would have been assured that they had done well by their charges.