No, I didn’t get PhD funding, and yes, I am pissed about it.

The Talmud is made up, in essence of two sections, one is a written transcription of an oral tradition of Jewish law and the second is a record of the discussions which take place around this written transcription it includes the discussion as well as the disagreements for all to read and reflect.

Right now, I would be very grateful for something similar to explain to me why I didn’t get funding. I know I shouldn’t be bitter about the situation, and I know I am not alone, but not having closure on a rejection which has, in essence, made the entirety of the last year to be mostly worthless is really, really tough. It is hard to look at my partner, my step children and my friends and feel anything other than a failure and a mug for the attempting this in the first place.

Many reasons have been suggested by those outside of the process: my undergrad degree was a 2:1 in the social sciences, it’s just very competitive, or maybe my institution doesn’t want economic historians. They are plausible reasons, but I know of at least one colleague who has been offered an interview is covering a similar topic to me, part of their first degree wasn’t history, and so I am left to wonder if the problem is the fact that I am older.

In some respects, this might be because we understand the world a little better and are less likely to accept situations which emerge in institutions or maybe because we reflect an increased risk with our children and partners. Either way, despite efforts to prove the value of my research, the contributions made while taking the MRes (writing a journal article, being one of a handful of voices who dare to speak in the seminars, helping colleagues by sharing papers) I was rejected because ‘there isn’t enough money’.

Although admittedly, Keele did say I could pay them to do my research – a final cut of the blade made to somehow force me to feel better. The reality of that is three to six years of being supported by my partner. It is three to six years of not paying off my credit card as well as three to six years of not making any pension contributions, with every penny I earn, at the same time as trying to actually do a PhD, paying a tuition fee. I wouldn’t have been wealthy with funding, but I would have been able to pay my own bills.

This wasn’t simply about funding because I felt entitled. It was about a situation shared by all of us seeking to do this. I am in no better a financial place to do this research than someone ten years younger than me, but it feels as if I have been judged that if I could afford to the Masters then apparently I can afford to do everything unfunded. If not, and it’s just my analysis is generic and mediocre at least tell me. The lack of a reason that accounts for those that receive and those that don’t is both humiliating and incredibly depressing. I knew weeks ago that I was going to be turned down, do the powers that be think that students don’t talk to each other? What isn’t clear to me is why with my experience (see below) I didn’t get at least the opportunity to make my case?

Yes, I am bitter, I am very disappointed and, frankly mortified that I left my career for this. I have no idea what to do. The lie told is that your experience benefits you as you get older – it’s bollocks, all that happens is that experience is a label stuck on the bits of your insight that other people value. It has no inherent value. Being turned down for funding reflects on me, and it is a rejection of that the experience that I understand is central to successfully completing a PhD.

Despite working in a career that saw me project manage national campaigns, despite the ten years of experience I have invested to network and promote my knowledge: not least the time I have spent tutoring and teaching others in history in my spare time. All of that experience gathered from the process of maturity counts for nothing. Basically, in an interdisciplinary university like Keele, my social science degree from ten years ago – doesn’t count, and neither do I.

Facing the future with a sense of the past

When you are facing changes it becomes natural to think of the elements and items which have become familiar.

Strangely enough one of those things for me is the sense of being organised and well-planned. It’s a skill which doesn’t come naturally to me at all but one which i think i have acquired over time through my work.

As an undergraduate i coasted and was generally useless. At least once it led to me letting down colleagues on marked assignments and worse it undermined my standing generally meaning that my sense of not being listened too came to be truthful but because of my own arrogance.

Being older and wiser, I have to avoid this situation again.

Something which the world of work has taught me is that being organised isn’t simply getting stuff done on time; it’s an sense of what you are doing each day and over the long-term. In my most recent position I had a manager, whom i would say, got the best out of me. To put it bluntly he beat the edges off me and rebuilt my sense of how i approach each day at work. Going from a rough guess to a clear plan, is more losing the daily act of faith that you dont miss something rather than somehow betraying your character.

To do lists, blocking time out in calendar, and simply knowing when things are going to hit a crunch point are all obvious points. But the more I think and reflect, I have a tendency to plan without meaning too. Prior to this my approach to work was very much in the moment and i doubt that my studies (much like my career) allows for such a narrow view.

Its been a valuable lesson, looking to my long break before I start at Keele it would be easy to see it as essentially a long holiday. It isn’t, although it is a break, it is a break with the past and thus has to be forward-looking. I am already planning it, but not within an inch of insanity – I am realistic. But the realisation that i am prepared to do that fills me with confidence that i am not planning to fail.

Part of that stems from me deciding to invest in Microsoft Office & Outlook on my Mac. What has brought this betrayal? As much as I appreciate and love google and apple products, the work-inspired familiarity of office and outlook are worth the price i have paid. It’s no more than that, i feel in a better place with familiar bongs and tones of office and outlook shredding my core memory and halving my battery life. And, as i currently have the salary to pay for it, it doesnt feel prohibitive.

However, there is always the pertinent point that best intentions don’t always reflect the best outcomes. But if I mess this up, it wont be because i have been half-witted and badly organised.