Postgraduate Guest blog: Four cities, four years, one PhD.
This week, we caught up with Rosemarie Stolte, who has travelled, married and has still managed to fit in her PhD. She told us about her journey and why it has all been worth it…
As the title indicates, my story is not so straightforward. At 30 when all my friends had gotten married and were having children – or the other way around – I decided it was time to work on a project that I had been thinking about for a long time. At that time I was already teaching German at the University of Southampton. I was lucky enough to be accepted by the supervisor of my choice and I decided to continue working while studying part-time.
What I really enjoyed about the PhD was the clear structure: first year presentation, upgrade, hand-in, viva, graduation. There was always a goal to work towards. I also liked the postgraduate community. It was fantastic being surrounded by like-minded people on a similar path. Even if you’re not in the same city or country you can keep in touch with your fellow students via Facebook, email or Whatsapp.
Working and studying at the same time made the PhD more enjoyable for me. I love teaching and I always had the opportunity to do one thing to avoid the other while never feeling like I was wasting my time. One thing that helped me was that even as an external student you can get a library card to access most of the local university’s resources.
After my contract in Southampton ended, I got a position at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Next I moved to Hamburg, this time for personal reasons. As I’ve been working in the area of modern languages for a while, I found different language teaching positions. About a year ago I started looking for a post-doc. After applying for a job in Australia and being offered one in China, I found a position in Switzerland that sounded ideal. So I moved countries again, finished my PhD, and sent it to England – sounds straight forward, but it was very hard.
So this is a brief summary of the facts, the stories behind them are probably more interesting. Re-reading my dissertation I have memories of reviewing literature in the sunshine in my garden in Southampton; of writing my methodology in Berlin while it was snowing outside; of collecting data in cozy university cafés in England, of transcribing for hours in my bohemian apartment in Berlin; of looking out onto a pond that’s visited by a heron in my home office in Hamburg; of spending quiet days in the state library in Hamburg writing my data analysis, of trying to explain in French that I needed the PhD printed urgently to two very accommodating employees at the Print Centre at the University of Fribourg.
After four years and three countries, I am a different person. I am much more confident and I am not scared of failure any more. In fact I really enjoyed working on my PhD and moving around. I found, you can write a PhD whenever, wherever; it is about your mindset and not about what’s going on around you. When I felt, I could not write, I just did something else until I felt focused again.
In the end it is not all about the work; it is the people that really count. Building up a professional network can help you find support when you need it. I found a good way was to go to conferences, to join research networks/groups or to just email a person, if I really thought they could give me advice. Not everyone replies, but you’d be surprised how helpful and friendly most people are. A personal network catches you whenever you fall. It’s important to make time for your family, your friends and your relationships, even when you are incredibly busy. They are the people who tell you that you can do it, even if you don’t believe it anymore.
If you would like to get in touch with Rosemarie directly, you can contact her via Twitter at: https://twitter.com/rosemariestolte or via her website: https://lettres.unifr.ch/de/sprachen-literaturen/mehrsprachigkeitsforschung-und-fremdsprachendidaktik/team/stolte.html#c35753
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