Why I completed a PhD

numeracy leaders teachers Aug 26, 2022

Often people ask me about my ‘journey’ to complete a PhD, so I thought I would share it here in case it sparks your interest!

My journey began when I was a classroom teacher.  I started off completing a Masters of Education at Melbourne University. I decided to do this course because, at the time, the Catholic Education Office of Melbourne (the system I was teaching in) offered sponsorship for teachers wishing to complete their Masters. By this point, I knew that I was keen to develop my skills and knowledge in Maths Education, particularly to support me in reaching my goal to be a Numeracy Leader.

I chose almost all maths education based subjects, and one 'leadership' type subject.  

I really enjoyed the challenge of completing my Masters,

however at no time did I even consider doing a PhD!

In one class I remember a lecturer saying to our class, we should consider doing a research subject so we can go on to complete a PhD. I remember laughing at the thought!

There are pretty much two ways you can complete a Masters- by coursework or by Research project.

Coursework involved me taking 6 (I think?) different courses across the two years (I completed this part time). From memory, I went to a class once a week for 3 hours each semester, and one of the subjects was an intensive which took place over a few full days (on a weekend). This was a good fit for me as I received a solid overview of different areas of maths education- I remember studying one subject which looked at Maths Learning Difficulties, another Maths and Technology  and another Maths in the Middle Years.

If I went down the 'Research Project' route, I would have spent 2 years on an independent thesis. Essentially this is a mini PhD.  At the time I did not want to do this as I wanted to develop a broader understanding of Maths Education first. With hindsight a research project may have helped me in my PhD as I would have been more familiar with research methods (and having completed your masters by research makes you more likely to be accepted for a PhD place at a university), but I am glad I went the way I did, because by the time I started my PhD I had a broad background to draw upon.

When I started doing further study, my sole goal was improve my instruction and learn more about the teaching of maths. Of course, there was also the bonus of getting a higher qualification, but I really looked as it an opportunity for quality PD, (with a 'side serving' of assignment writing!).

Once I got to the end of the Masters, I did not even think about further study, until I took maternity leave with my first daughter.

After almost a year on maternity leave it got to a point where I had to decide if I was going back to school part time. I really liked being ,at home with my daughter and I wasn’t ready to go back to school, but I needed to do something to keep my brain ticking. I started doing some work for ACER writing assessment items from home, which I really enjoyed. Then one day I saw an advertisement for a PhD scholarship in maths education with Professor Di Siemon at RMIT University.

I still have the moment I saw this ad etched into my memory! 

I thought, this sounds perfect, but I remember being nervous telling my husband and family about my plans to apply!

I didn't need to be nervous- they were all incredibly supportive, and this support never wavered for the whole 4 years!

The PhD scholarship was full time and meant I was able to work from home, receive a wage (equivalent to a couple of days teaching per week) and further my career. 

So I applied for the scholarship was lucky enough to receive it. 

I was on a full time scholarship for four years. 

I really loved every second of my candidature! It was a very steep learning curve and very stressful at times, but essentially I spent four years running my own research project on a topic I was (and still am) incredibly passionate about. 

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to complete this research.

In 2014, after 4 years of hard work, I completed my PhD. Submitting the final copy was a truly magic moment- I felt like a HUGE weight was lifted off my shoulders! As hard as it was, I have absolutely no regrets, and feel like completing my PhD has completely changed the trajectory of my career. A PhD (or any study) opens so many doors and gives you so much confidence and knowledge.

So, if you are thinking about completing further study, maybe a masters, maybe a PhD, remember there is never a perfect time so just jump in!

I am currently supervising two PhD candidates as part of my role at RMIT. I really love helping the 'next generation' of scholars forging their own path.  So if you are just curious to find out more about what a Masters or PhD involves, please reach out- I am more than happy to help! 

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