Sarah Foxen’s piece originally appeared on the NEWBROGUESANDBLISTERS Blog and is reposted with permission.
Last year I did a POST fellowship. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Applications are now open for the next round of fellowships and I cannot recommend it highly enough; here is an A – Z of reasons why.
You engage with all sorts of people during your fellowship; there’s no hiding in the corner. You find your voice and your assertiveness develops.
You see academic research from beyond the academy and that is really useful. Inside the academy, you only see half of the story. Engaging with research outside the institution balances your view of its place and function in our world.
A PhD can be quite a lonely experience. However, during your fellowship you (learn to) work collaboratively; with colleagues, fellows and others that you engage with.
You have a clearly defined task on your placement and a clearly defined goal. You also have a relatively short time to do it in. You need to work to a plan and you need to go for it. In so doing, you develop – and work with – a drive to achieve.
You’ve been developing expertise in a particular field for some years now. Your placement puts you in contexts where you get to call upon the expertise you’ve worked so hard to develop.
You meet really nice, interesting, dynamic people, some of whom will become friends.
It’s not just about what you can get by doing a fellowship, but also what you can give. As a funded PhD student, several funding bodies have probably invested in your development over the years. By doing a fellowship and using those skills, you get to give back.
You will have developed a lot of skills and knowledge over the years. These may be unique to you. On your placement you can use your knowledge and skills to help colleagues and fellows.
In a completely different environment, meeting new people, going new places, doing new things, making new connections, inspiration strikes.
A fellowship looks great on your CV and provides you with fantastic experiences to recall in cover letters and interviews.
On your fellowship you research a topic in depth. In so doing, you gain a lot of knowledge in that area.
PhD students love to learn, but PhDs have us focusing our learning. Doing a fellowship, you learn lots of different things through the things you do and the people you meet. Some of the things you learn are really valuable and worth sharing.
If a PhD is a marathon, then a fellowship is a 10k race. The pace is faster. You’ve only got three months to turn it around, and that means you’ve got to keep moving, which is really welcome when you’ve been creeping along at a snail’s pace with the PhD.
During your fellowship, you engage with all sorts of different people; some you meet just once, others you liaise with repeatedly. They introduce you to others. Connecting with them on social media, you connect to others who are connected to them. You grow a fantastic network.
Opportunities come at you from left, right and centre. You will also be in a position to make your own opportunities. You must take hold of those opportunities and go for it.
Sometimes we are disheartened by the thought that our esoteric thesis will be read by just a handful of people and is unlikely to change the world. The work you produce on your fellowship has purpose. It is widely read. It is useful. It feeds into parliamentary and policy debate. It is impactful.
On your fellowship you scrutinise all kinds of documents and evidence. You become much more discerning and your default becomes to question things.
When you’re in a different context, you see yourself from a different perspective. Your fellowship opens up a space for you to reflect on where you’re at and where you want to go next.
Your fellowship gives you space and distance from your own research. It allows you to think about it differently and see it from a different perspective. When you return to it you are refreshed with new ideas of how to approach it.
Based in Westminster, interacting with all sorts of fascinating people, carrying out research of contemporary societal importance, you come away with great stories woven into your life tapestry.
Working in Westminster, you gain a lot of understanding into how Parliament and Government work and how they interact with wider society.
Your fellowship allows you to see how academic research is made meaningful in the wider world. You see it through the eyes of parliamentarians, policy makers, charities, industry, journalists and others. You see it in a whole new light and that changes the way you do research.
During your fellowship, you write in a way you probably haven’t written before; you write about complicated things in a concise and accessible way. You learn a whole new useful way of writing.
The calibre of people you mix with on your fellowship is pretty high. People work hard, have high expectations and get things done. Being in that environment, those things rub off. You grow into that kind of a professional, and come away with those kinds of expectations.
The idea of doing a fellowship might feel overwhelming: ‘I could never do that,’ you think. Well, you can. Your colleagues are supportive and helpful, and you will get there. Be brave, go for it, YOLO.
The POST team and fellows are dynamic, motivated, quick, engaged, and on the ball. It’s an energetic and inspiring environment and it’s contagious.
Sarah Foxen is a postgraduate researcher in French Linguistics. Her research investigates the interactions between language and identity in the Franco-Belgian borderland. She is also interested in trends and developments in academia, and blogs about researcher skills, research and impact from the perspective of a junior academic.