Case study

PhD student — Florian Breit

Florian's degree in linguistics provided a solid foundation for his PhD research into phonology

How did you get on to your PhD course?

Having completed a degree in linguistics at Bangor University, I applied for an MRes in Phonology at University College London (UCL).

To get onto the course I had to submit a research proposal and go through an interview, in addition to the usual Masters application process. After completing the MRes successfully, I applied for a PhD programme, also at UCL.

The application for the PhD programme was very straightforward, as I already knew who I wanted to ask to be my supervisor. I had to write another research proposal and submit a CV, together with references from my MRes.

To get funding, I had to write different versions of the proposal for the funding bodies I applied to. There were also some interviews where I had to give a short presentation showing why my proposal should receive funding.

How relevant is your degree to your PhD?

Very. Even though I now specialise in phonology, it's very important to know about the bigger issues in the subject, and so the things I learned throughout my linguistics degree at Bangor continue to be highly relevant.

What does your PhD involve?

My working day varies a lot, depending on whether I have backup classes teaching BA and MA students, or a participant come in to take part in a study.

I spend some time doing admin work, such as writing emails, filling in forms and tracking down papers I want to read, before doing some reading and note taking or some computer work, like programming or analysing data.

I often attend research seminars, where people come in from all sorts of places to give a talk on their research.

Because I'm most productive in the evening, I often come back into the office to do some 'thinking work', like playing out different proposals to analyse a phenomenon I'm working on, or coming up with scenarios and questions that can help me find out more about a problem I'm trying to solve.

I also spend time writing, either for a paper or presentation I have to prepare or to help me turn my ideas from something abstract into a more concrete and well-defined shape.

How do you use your degree in your PhD?

A lot of the research I do now goes back directly to subjects that started to interest me toward the end of my undergraduate degree. Also, a lot of my research centres around the Welsh language, so I'm using the information I learned about Welsh during my undergraduate degree (including a basic command of the language) pretty much every day.

What career do you plan to go into?

If everything goes well, I'm hoping to stay in academia, ideally in a role like lecturing that involves both research and teaching in a linguistics or Celtic studies department.

How essential is what you're studying to getting your chosen job?

Very. It's extremely rare that people without a research degree find permanent jobs in academic linguistics.

Do you also need work experience?

A PhD alone is usually not enough to be competitive in the academic job market. It's important to try and start giving presentations at conferences and publishing papers before you finish, as well as getting some teaching experience.

What do you enjoy about your PhD?

I really enjoy the whole problem-solving aspect of doing research, and the fact that I get to work on problems that I actually want to know the answers to.

It's an awesome feeling when you find out something nobody else knew before. I also really enjoy teaching backup tutorials for the BA and MA students.

What are the most challenging parts of your PhD?

It can be hard keeping yourself motivated when things aren't going as planned or when you feel you are doing a lot of work that isn't getting you anywhere.

There is a lot of delayed gratification, and you often don't have tangible results for things you do for quite some time, so it's easy to start questioning yourself and wondering whether you're doing enough.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to do a PhD?

Spend some time thinking in detail about the major questions that interest you and then talk with people about your ideas at every opportunity you get. This will help you shape them up and get a good idea about what part of the bigger questions will make a good research topic.

Then do some research on who you'd like to work with as a supervisor and get in touch with them. If they're as excited about your ideas as you are, you're probably good to go.

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