Forget the Oscars,give me a PhD

19th July 1996 at 01:00
Another degree. Why did I do it? I must have been mad. Having now obtained my PhD it would be ever so easy to put on rose-tinted spectacles and say it had been a wonderful experience, it has opened up all sorts of avenues and it is something that everyone should do. However, although I do wear spectacles, the lenses are not rose-tinted and I can view the situation with a degree of reality.

The past four years have undoubtedly been an experience not only for me but for my family and friends (echoes of Oscar speeches here). Working full time in an environment which is now dominated by an ever increasing workload, it has not been easy balancing the demands of work with the desire to carry out research. This has led to a situation in which weekends and holidays have been sacrificed and evenings spent by a flickering computer screen (technology has moved me on from the candle) were the norm.

Added to this has been the isolation I have felt. I have often had fond thoughts and, if I am honest, aspirations regarding the ivory towers of academia. Now I am not so sure. Working on a PhD is a lonely experience, especially in the area of education. Most teachers do not want to talk about the theoretical aspects of research and its implications. In the main, they are concerned with day-to-day tasks and survival to the holidays. It is a stressful job and I cannot blame them.

No my lenses are not tinted grey, they are clear. I have discovered that I am both tenacious and passionate. Things rarely went according to plan: whole chapters were written and then discarded, deadlines came and deadlines went and sometimes my printer just ran out of ink. How I kept going and, more importantly, how those around me put up with it all is still a mystery (more echoes of the Oscars).

What is not such a mystery, however, is the source of my passion. I cannot say, in true romantic style, that it was love at first sight, but I was born and educated in Scotland and could well be considered a "product" of the Scottish education system. It is a relationship which has grown and matured as the years have passed (perhaps like a good wine?). By conducting the research I have I feel that I have gained an insight into what makes Scottish education "tick".

Writing my thesis has given me more than teaching ever could: a sense of being part of a great tradition. Yes, I do firmly believe that despite the current situation Scottish education has a great tradition and one that should be preserved. Now, standing on my soapbox, I speak with passion. What must be preserved at this point in time are the traditions of democracy, equality and collectivism. The teaching profession must not allow the Scottish system to degenerate into selection and a frantic race for high-status certificates.

So what do I do now? Naively, to many people, especially those outside education, there is a belief that having obtained a PhD doors would suddenly open. Not that I personally ever thought that they would. Twenty years as a classroom teacher has nurtured my natural cynicism. To say that no one is interested in my thesis on "Implementing Curriculum and Assessment Reform: A case study of the English 5-14 curriculum" would be untrue. However, the education authority that sponsored me and the school in which I teach have shown no interest at all. Indeed, I have never been asked even one question about it. I had always joked that my thesis would gather dust on a shelf, but I have only now faced up to the reality that many a true word is spoken in jest. Yes, I am disappointed.

Recently I have come full circle. Two colleagues have been studying for the diploma in special educational needs. I have followed their work with interest, and a feeling of envy at their enthusiasm. I was quite flattered when they asked my opinion. Thankfully my cynicism was overcome by my passion and I have really enjoyed talking about the theoretical aspects of education. Ironically, as they toil over their last assignment I find myself missing the world I had initially been so glad to leave behind.

In a heated moment one lunch-time last week I heard the question "Oh why am I doing this?" and I laughed to myself. Up until that moment I had not really known. Now I do. Like all true romantics I allowed my heart to rule my head. I followed my passion. So where do I go from here? Retire and breed dogs.

Yes, many a true word is said in jest.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today