I wasn’t sure when would be the right time to write about this, because it’s still half a year away, but it was all confirmed yesterday and I’m just too excited not to share…
I am incredibly fortunate to have been offered two PhD scholarships; at The University of Sheffield’s Information School and The University of Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Science.
For those new to my blog and me (hello!) I completed an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield in September 2010. I wrote a PhD proposal for a project based on my Masters research into public libraries and democratic engagement in December/January and applied to Sheffield in the hopes they’d have a scholarship available. It turned out that AHRC funding wasn’t available for the School in the coming year (which we found out about afterwards) but I did manage to secure Faculty funding, for a half scholarship. Before that, when it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to get anything at all, though, I started looking around for alternative places to apply, and Strathclyde became an option. I applied and was offered a place, and was then offered an ESRC scholarship as part of the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science, which is an ESRC Doctoral Training Centre. Deciding which offer to take has been incredibly difficult for a lot of reasons, but I realised that full funding in a place I’ve wanted to live for ages is just too good an opportunity to turn down, so I’m off to Glasgow in January. You can download the full proposal (including cringey bigging-up of self section) if you’re particularly interested, but here’s what I’ll be researching (subject to changes when I actually get started of course!):
Title: What is the role of public libraries in improving the democratic engagement of UK citizens?
- What information about national and local democratic processes do public libraries provide? Is it enough to facilitate democratic engagement?
- What formal schemes to promote and develop democratic engagement do public libraries participate in? How successful are these?
- What factors influence public libraries’ involvement in formal democratic engagement schemes and related information provision, in terms of:
a) Central government, local council and library authority policies?
b) Staff perception of the meaning of these policies, and the associated concept of the ‘neutrality’ of public libraries?
c) Library users’ perceptions of the role of libraries in democratic engagement?
- To discover extant areas of democracy-related information provision, and:
a) Identify areas of strength;
b) Establish areas in need of improvement.
- To determine which of the formal schemes available are used by public libraries and assess the impact they have on democratic engagement.
- To explore the barriers to libraries’ involvement with democratic engagement activities and suggest ways these could be overcome in order to strengthen the role of public libraries in improving democratic engagement.
- A novel contribution to the framework for greater citizen engagement through a focus on the role of public library and information services;
- The suggestion of amendments in policy which would reduce barriers to libraries’ involvement in supporting democratic engagement;
- The recommendation of ways library services could develop schemes and justifiably integrate democratic engagement into library service strategies;
- The encouragement of library services to explore their role in democratic engagement, thereby adding value and enhancing libraries’ position within local councils.
I thought it might be useful to give some pointers in case anyone else is thinking about applying for a PhD (for example, this fantastic opportunity at Sheffield) so here are some tips and useful links:
- Everyone who’s supported me throughout the process, including current PhD students and researchers, has said: Only apply for a ready-made PhD if you’re really interested in the topic, and if you’re going to write your own proposal, make sure it’s something you love. Otherwise, researching it for three years will destroy you. I’m inclined to believe them.
- Be prepared to justify why your chosen topic is really important and why you’re the right person to research it. You’ll be in stiff competition with people who want to research topics similar to you and a lot of completely unrelated competition too, if you’re going for a University scholarship or research council funding, so you need to be able to explain the value of your research and your skills. Plus, research in the Arts and Humanities (all research, really) is going to have to defend itself even more over the next few years. If you’ve got doubts about the relevance of your topic or your dedication to it, think twice about applying.
- Follow the guidelines for the application process. Different institutions want different levels of detail. For example, I had to massively reduce the length and detail of my original Sheffield proposal to meet the preferences of Strathclyde. This can (seriously) be the hardest part of the process, so make sure you’ve set aside enough time to do it.
- Don’t be afraid to show other people your proposal as you’re writing it. I’m very fortunate to have the support of some incredible and experienced people and can’t thank them enough for reading through my drafts and making recommendations for improving/clarifying parts. Potential supervisors will want to see your proposal, and they’ll have their own recommendations. Listen to them.
- Look into who might be able to supervise you and approach them early. I know from working in an academic department that deals with postgraduate research that it’s extremely beneficial to do your homework. Departments can’t take you on as a research student if they don’t have a member of staff with the relevant expertise or they’re on research leave etc. It’s also good for the potential supervisor to know that they might be asked to supervise – it’s up to them to accept you in the first instance, so make yourself known to them if you aren’t already!
- Finding funding is confusing and messy and takes time. I found it really difficult to find out what kind of funding was available and where. There are two research councils that can fund LIS research: ESRC and AHRC, and then there are internal scholarships within universities. Unfortunately, databases like Find a PhD don’t necessarily show you exactly what’s available and aren’t brilliantly searchable. If there’s nothing there, don’t assume it doesn’t exist. Keep looking! Having a scout around university websites is time-consuming and sometimes difficult too, but you can uncover some opportunities that you might not have otherwise found.
- Consider interdisciplinary research. When it looked like all hope was gone for me I started contacting departments with links to areas such as social policy and democratic engagement, and asked them about the possibility of research within their department looking specifically at libraries. They seemed keen, but ultimately there weren’t any scholarships going there. I think this is something that might have legs, though.
- PhDs explained and FAQs – Find a PhD
- Applying for a PhD – Prospects
- PhD Funding: Library Sciences – Postgraduate Studentships
I can’t wait to get started; January seems absolutely ages away! I know it’s going to be a very tough and busy few years, but I really believe in what I’m going to be studying and hope it makes a valuable contribution to LIS research and UK public libraries.