I am a third-year PhD student in film studies. This academic year, instead of burying myself under a pile of DVDs and notes in an attempt to nail my original contribution to knowledge and finish my thesis, I decided to do something drastic. With the support of my supervisory team and funders, I chose to put my PhD on pause, and undertake a five-month work placement—and here’s why you should too.
It will make your thesis better (yes, really)
During the PhD, I found it almost impossible to ever approach my own work with ‘fresh’ eyes. All I could see was that less-than-perfect paragraph, or that paper that once got rejected from a conference. But spending five months devoting my brain power to a project in a completely different field has given me a whole new perspective on my PhD. Another unforeseen benefit is that I have had to learn to become much quicker at, and less precious about, writing. This will be a huge help as I have a lot to do this year.
It will boost your career prospects
In addition to growing my network by making new connections and adding valuable experience to my CV, my placement has been an opportunity to develop new skills by trying things otherwise way out of my comfort zone. For example, one of my favorite experiences has been working on a podcast—something I’d never thought I could do. More importantly, by giving me a break from ‘impostor syndrome’, and the inevitable obsessing over this thorny chapter, or that urgent conference paper, my placement has given me the breathing space I needed to think more meaningfully about my career.
It will be good for your well-being
From the outside, doing a PhD sounds like a dream job – a way to escape the grind of the 9 to 5. But the coin can flip the other way too, and it did for me. By the end of my second year, I was nearing burnout. I found that picking up new skills and making new friends was a huge boost to my confidence and self-esteem at a time where I needed most. By providing me with a different structure, working environment, and colleagues, my placement enabled me to shake up my routine, and finally commit to healthier habits and a better work/life balance.
In short, doing a placement has the potential to transform your PhD experience for the better—so why not give it a shot?
Marie-Alix Thouaille is a doctoral researcher in film studies at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and regularly blogs about her research at All the Single Writing Ladies. Marie-Alix recently undertook a five-month placement with Vitae, where she led a project investigating the professional development behaviors of Arts and Humanities PhD students. She has also contributed to Taylor & Francis and Vitae podcast, ‘15 minutes to develop your research career.’