In the spirit of helping the next generation of PhD-ers as well as those who, like me, have already begun to wade into in the deep end, I have participated in a sort of academic tell-all. Need a bit of context? Check out the first three posts in the #PhDTag series: Everything You Wanted (and Didn’t Want) to Know about Doing a PhD; Healthy Habits (What are Those?), PhDroductivity.

I have already written a few things about who I am and what sort of things tickle my academic fancy, but for this last #PhDTag post I figured I’d lie back on the figurative couch and dive a littler deeper into the whys and the hows.

Why do you study…what is it that you study again?

The TL;DR version of my academic background is:

You could say there was a definite theme running through all of my studies.

I have always enjoyed, and been good at, playing with language; I was that kid who kept notebook upon notebook of stories I had concocted and words I found interesting. I read Mario Pei for fun in high school (and was probably the only person to check those books out in decades).

The university I attended at didn’t offer an official major in Linguistics, so I ended up cobbling one together and took every vaguely language related class that I could. I even got a schwa tattoo.

After volunteering at both the local community college and a nearby elementary school, I realized that I also liked working in education. I put two and two together, spent a few years teaching in Spain and, yadda yadda yadda, started a PhD in Language Education in November 2017.

Like with many interdisciplinary academic endeavors, Language Education can be more or less molded to what your particular interests are.

Since I have a background in TEFL and earned my stripes doing hours upon hours of Cambridge exam prep and magic tricks, for my PhD I’m interested in innovative language teaching and learning methodologies, such as Project-Based Language Learning. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t other topics that make my academic heart sing. Language learner motivation and the importance of questions in language classroom discourse are also pretty cool too.


Do you want to be an academic or something?

Or something. Even though I do think that jackets with padded elbows are pretty snazzy, I’ve never really seen myself racing down the tenure-track at a university, at least in the current academic job market in the United States.

This stems from a variety of reasons, mostly the realities of life as an adjunct (in the US that is, I can’t attest to the situation in other countries).

Luckily, my field of study can easily be applied to the world of industry beyond the ivory tower, such as publishing companies, think tanks, startups and government organizations. Oh, and schools.

Language education is somewhat of a hot topic in Spain, Europe, and globally. It has become particularly fashionable with the rise of CLIL in schools and the uptick of people learning English to not only better their job prospects but also to be able to watch Game of Thrones without subtitles.

Which isn’t to say that I would discount a university position, should the opportunity present itself in the right context. But right now, I’m focusing more on finding a job in industry rather than academia. There will always be languages to learn and people looking for the best way to learn them.

How did you end up doing a PhD in Madrid?

That’s a question I often ask myself.

In the blink of an eye, I somehow went from a doe-eyed study abroad student who couldn’t tell her ser from her estar to a freshly minted doctoranda with five years of Spanish bureaucracy and embutido under her belt.

Much like my thought process behind getting a Master’s degree, I had always known on some level that I would like to pursue a PhD; it was always more a matter of where, when and in what. My dream job has always included being able to read and write about things that interest me, and that is more or less a PhD in a nutshell.

I looked at a variety of doctoral programs at many universities in many countries around the world to see what options were available, but in the end decided to stay close to (my adopted) home.

By the time I decided to do a doctorate, I had already spent a few years working in both public and private education in Madrid, so I was already very familiar with the linguistic situation and had contacts at various schools. This knowledge will prove to be an invaluable advantage later on in my PhD, since I’ll eventually be testing how different language teaching methodologies work in actual classrooms.

Once I narrowed down my choice of universities to Madrid, I could say that the University Complutense de Madrid stood out because of its reputation in Europe and the opportunities it offers to conduct research at other institutions around the world. To name-drop one known for being covered in ivy, UCM has its own center at Harvard. But, honestly, I liked how convenient it was to get to campus from my house.

What do you wish you knew before starting?*

Basically, I wish I had known just how much time I’d spend staring at the wall. Since I suppose that crushing feelings of despair and futility are par for the course of PhD programs, I also wish that I had known just how independent this endeavor was going to be.

I went into this doctoral program with the North American (and perhaps British/Australian) visions of what a PhD is dancing in my head: years of required classes, comprehensive and oral exams, having to take on a never-ending parade of teaching/graduate/research assistantships in order to make ends meet or to meet the terms and conditions of funding**. Turns out I would have to juggle none of that. I was hoping for structure in a country not exactly known for its organization.

There would be no required classes, no comps, no undergraduate exams to muddle through and grade, no lab, no cohort to complain about everything with. It was just me, my Internet connection and a vague sense of what to do but no idea how to do it.

I do have advisors, but since I’ve started, I can count the number of times I’ve seen them on one hand and have fingers left over.

It took a couple of months, a lot of ignoring reality and a brief self-help book period over New Years for me to finally start getting myself together, and it’s still very much a work in progress. From that came this post on trying to live my best academic life in 2018.

Despite all of this, I still wouldn’t take back my decision to begin a PhD. It really does combine some of my favorite things: reading, writing and becoming a regular at coffee shops.


Though there are many questions I left unanswered, this is the last post in the #PhDTag series (for now). If you’re looking for more Scholar Escolar, make sure to take a peep at the PhD section of Scholar Escolar to see what else I’ve been up to (spoiler: not much) or at the Case Studies series to see what other people are saying about their decisions to go to graduate school in Spain.

Also make sure to check out what the other PhD students from around the world are saying about their own experiences and reasons for pursuing the Dr. in front of their names. They are a pretty fine bunch of leading ladies.

Absolutely Elisabeth, Academique RoseAverage GradBookworm in GhGraduate PerspectiveKaitlyn MaeThe Lit ScholarMariel FreshMason and MilesNerd to FitOkidokibokiPeace with ShaPhD MumScholar CultureSujaneeYeka Science

*Disclaimer: I’m only speaking from my own, very limited, very personal experience. Other people doing their PhDs in Spain certainly have had experiences different than mine, and that is true even for people doing their doctorates at the same university and faculty that I’m enrolled at. PhDs aren’t one size fits all, folks.
**Of which there unfortunately is none, at least this first year. This lack of funding will be the topic of a forthcoming post: How to Survive an Unpaid PhD (Without Too Much Crying).

(Photo: Aula Magna)


2 thoughts on “#PhDTag: Getting Up Close and Personal

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