One of the most important things in my life is philosophy. I live it and breathe it. I’m not in academia but I manage to fill my life with probability matrices and applications decision-theoretic tools in my work. I moonlight for certain friends who are philosophers publishing monographs and I am a ‘consultant’ expert on a few topics for an academic publisher. I do it more for the free books and keeping in touch with the latest literature as there’s basically no money in it.
When I did my Masters I had several mental health issues and a couple of other disabilities to boot (aspergers and dyspraxia). I’m also an ethnic minority. Except for being male I’d be the last person who has any kind of representation in academia, philosophy, or most anywhere in British society. Except for how these issues impact on my life my real passion is for a certain 18th Century virgin who I believe defined the landscape of philosophy since his time. I’ve even developed my own assistive technology named after his manservant.
I really want to do a PhD. I have a topic that I could probably write in 16 months if I just had time to sit down in libraries and be alone with a laptop for that time.
The thing is, that’s just not possible. I am drafting papers and doing my literature review on my own, but it cannot be the same quality as when I’m supervised or supported. That said I do have a few publications and talks under my belt from my dalliances outside of academia.
I appreciate that it’s hard for anyone to do a PhD, with the job insecurity and emphasis on specialisation. My contention is that it is even harder for someone with multiple disabilities and ethnic minority to get in.
I feel increasingly that even though I would want to be an academic more than anything else in the world, Academia does not want me.
I remember a PhD interview last year where one of the panel – not themselves a philosopher – asked me: wouldn’t you just be happier in an admin job?
I wonder if they’d ask a white male that after a short presentation on re-interpreting the Vienna Circle.
The cultural capital divide of being a minority in a predominantly white environment notwithstanding, my biggest barrier to PhD participation remains financial.
I’ve recently received a PhD offer. It’s my dream thesis topic and an ideal supervisor. I didn’t win the funding I applied for to do this PhD. In addition to paying fees, living costs, I have extra needs when it comes to academic work. I have issues with motor skills and I can’t do handwriting. I sometimes have issues with anxiety so benefit from a quiet room in the library. Like other disabled and chronically ill students I am inventive about improving my efficiency: I use book racks to help me turn pages or use PDFs which are easier to read as handling books can be an issue. With the cuts in the UK Disability Student Allowance I worry whether these and other reasonable adjustments will be available to me.
Perhaps the worst thing is not being able to afford doing the PhD. This is not a unique problem: lots of non-disabled persons apply in a competitive environment.
It hurts me to know that I am so mentally able and cannot pursue academia. I am going to have to turn down my PhD offer for financial reasons. I am working two jobs at the moment which are very unstable as they are. I am very fortunate that my disabilities can be accommodated in these jobs where the universities often cannot.
It hurts that people like me aren’t represented in academia when I have so much to offer. Both of my parents came from countries where they were exiled due to political and ethnic purges and worked incredibly hard so that my siblings and I could have a better life and pursue careers and aspirations bigger than those available to my parents. It hurts that I won’t be able to go as far I want to and am capable of doing. Despite being a more multicultural and accepting society than when my parents migrated here, I have less aspirational scope than they do.
So with great heaviness, I have to say no to that PhD offer. Maybe next year if my job situation is better, my best bet would be a part-time PhD.
UPDATE: Since writing the post I have made inquiries to the university and the PG administrator has said that it might be an option to defer the course until next year (i.e. when and if I can save up to afford it). The PG administrator told me that I can bring this up when the applications for the next academic year start in April-May time. I have said no for now but it seems that the window is open for if and when I’m in a better financial situation to afford living and self-funding to do a PhD as well. The only condition is that the proposed supervisor is still in the university.
This post was submitted by Conatus, a UK based independent researcher on a certain Modern Philosopher. They have an MA in Philosophy and a BSc in Sociology and Philosophy. Currently working odd jobs in a major media organisation, striving by name and striving by nature.
Image is the author’s own photograph of Moderato from Rachmaninov’s Etude Tableaux Opus 33 no. 5 (1911)