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I am working with two remarkable supervisors, Professor Alan Wall of the Department of English, and Professor Emma Rees, also Department of English and Director of the Institute of Gender Studies.
PhD, Gender Studies, English, Creative Writing, Research, Postgraduate Research

Sheila shares her experiences on her PhD journey with the Department of English and the Institute of Gender Studies at the University of Chester.

 

Hello, I’m Sheila, and for my Ph.D. here at Chester I’m reading and writing about historical fiction, as well as completing a novel set in the early 1500s.

I had a very traditional route through education - school, university, a lifetime in teaching - and I was in my mid-fifties when a chance remark by a friend led me to the part-time M.A. in Creative Writing at a university close to my home. I relished every moment and having gone back into academia I wanted to stay there.

Two years later, I was itching to study for my Ph.D. I already knew the city of Chester well, but knew nothing at all about the university. I didn’t even know where it was. Plus, I had dire warnings ringing in my ears: “You’ll be all on your own, it’s a very lonely thing to do”, “You’ll have no life” (I was still teaching full time, though close to retirement), “You’ll only ever see your supervisors, and you won’t see them very often”. And this was long before Covid. 

Undeterred, I applied, submitted a proposal, was interviewed and, to my astonishment, was accepted and embarked on a six-year, two-part Ph.D., 80% Creative Writing and 20% Critical Commentary. From the beginning it was clear that all the warnings were unfounded. I was plunged into a friendly, supportive community; learned to write abstracts and present papers; attended symposia and conferences; was invited to social events; made good friends. Don’t underestimate the importance of making friends who understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to worry for half an hour about whether or not to include the Oxford comma.

I am working with two remarkable supervisors, Professor Alan Wall of the Department of English, and Professor Emma Rees, also Department of English and Director of the Institute of Gender Studies. As my novel tells the story of Anne Boleyn from the point of view of her close friend and confidante, Kat Champernowne, Emma was keen to help me develop Kat’s feminist viewpoint in challenging the male hegemonic ideologies of the time, which has added an interesting dimension to my writing.

You may initially think 100,000 words is a lot, but my experience is you will leave out far more than you include. I have spent a lot of time emerging from a warren of rabbit-holes with a head full of information I’m unable to explore as fully as I would have liked. Do keep an open mind and be prepared to go off in a direction you hadn’t anticipated.

What other advice would I offer? Only the obvious, really. Be well organised. Pace yourself. Share your concerns with other people and listen to theirs. Keep every draft and devise a filing/numbering system you can follow. Create a folder containing all deleted chapters, paragraphs, sentences, sometimes even simply a good word: nothing is ever wasted. Date and reference everything you look up. Start setting out your bibliography and footnotes properly right from the beginning.

Most importantly – enjoy it! It should be fun, most of the time at least. I wish you the best of luck and hope you have as great a time as I’ve had.

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