The Doctor Caroline Croser-Barlow Session

In this Session, Dr Caroline Croser-Barlow talks to Steph and Tamara about how following her ‘tribe’ led her to studying defence in the UK, learning about information led wars during a time of global conflict in the US, lucky-happenstance in doctoral research, and what bought her back to Adelaide, and her current role in the Department for Education.

I was really lucky because I had two wonderful supervisors, and (I had) an opportunity to engage with people who have spent their whole lives thinking about this thing that you’ve just started poking around the edges on, and for them to be curious about what you think… wow! That is kind of incredible!

Listen to the Interview with Dr Caroline Croser-Barlow

Q&A with Dr Caroline Croser-Barlow…

What is the title of your PhD: The New Spatiality of Security: Operationalising Uncertainty and the US Military in Iraq

Where did you complete your PhD: Lancaster University

What year did you graduate: 2007

Other Degrees: BA; MA in Defence Studies

What is your job title, today: Executive Director, Early Years and Child Development



Interview with Dr Caroline Croser-Barlow

Steph: Okay. So today we are speaking to Dr. Caroline Croser-Barlow who graduated with her PhD in 2007 from the department of politics and international relations at the University of Lancaster in England. The title of her thesis is “The New Spatiality of Security, Operationalizing Uncertainty, and the US Military in Iraq”. Her career has taken her around the world, but in 2012, she found her way back to Adelaide and into roles with the essay government. We’re really excited to hear more about your journey. Thank you, and welcome Caroline. Thanks very much for having me.

Tamara: Okay. We’re going to start by setting the scene and where you are now. What is your role and what does your day look like?

Caroline: Well, it’s a long way from where I began. I’m currently the Executive Director of Early Years and Child Development at the Department for Education here in South Australia. My day looks like what it looks like when you’re busy running a division of 600 people who kind of do things like we run the speechies and the OTs in schools, we do support for disability. We do thinking about early learning and we do stuff on anti-bullying and attendance. We kind of do all of that child development and wellbeing part of the department, the enablers of learning is kind of what we talk about.

Tamara: Oh, okay. Were you a first generation, a university student? Did your parents go to university?

Caroline: Yeah, I was talking to mum and dad about this. No, my family, long line of university attendees, on my mother’s side and my father’s side, he and his brothers were the first ones in their families to, go to university out of their parents. I was talking to my dad about it because he did a Bachelors Degree here in Adelaide. He went over to America to do a Masters in Viticulture. Of course, this is like the seventies. He’s over there and he’s done his thesis and he’d spelt sulphur wrong, like Americans. Of course, in the before word processing, he had to resubmit his thesis for that one. He didn’t, so he never got his Masters. My mother has a number of degrees as well, which she did kind of when she had us as kids. She got a law degree when I was like 10 and anyway, so long line of lifelong learners, I think.

Steph: The university is a big part of your home life. Did that influence you in deciding to go or was there ever a choice to go or was it just assumed that you would go?

Caroline: Very much assumed. I’m really aware of how privileged I am, and I have a really privileged background, so strong expectation that we would go to university and my parents really supported me in university. They supported me to do my post-graduate study. I was lucky enough to study overseas. Yeah, it was a really supportive environment. I think they kind of thought they didn’t quite know what was gonna happen or become of me. So, they thought university was a safe way while I worked out what I might want to do. I think they got alarmed when I started studying all this stuff about defence and whatnot, but in the end, as you say, I came back to Adelaide and it all came good. So, they are pleased enough now.

Steph: Did you go to university straight after school?

Caroline: Yes.

Steph: Did you know what you wanted to study?

Caroline: No. I went to the Australian National University where I was enrolled in a double degree in Arts and Law. I never finished my law degree. A bit like my father, I got nearly there and didn’t quite do the thing. I mean, in those days, things were easier now; easier in terms of the government amount of money that you would get for study. You know, we actually had youth allowance, all of these things. [Students] have none of those have far fewer opportunities. It was a really great opportunity to kind of find my way, muck around, learn lots of different things in that kind of art history, politics space.

Tamara: What took you to Canberra?

Caroline: My big sister was living over in Canberra and working in the public service. It was either wanting to go to Melbourne or Canberra just wanted to kind of…

Steph –To be in a bigger city than Adelaide.

Tamara: So what was your undergraduate degree?

Caroline: In the end, I think I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History.

Tamara: Okay. Did you do honours?

Caroline: I didn’t do honours. I was halfway through and I got sick, like I like a chronic fatigue thing. Then, I was going to go back and enrol in honours, but instead I decided to enrol in a Masters yeah. Lancaster University.

Tamara: And so what was your Masters?

Caroline: Well, so I enrolled in a Masters in Peace Studies. I was really interested in kind of, thinking about, international development, thinking about those kinds of issues. When I got to Lancaster, where there was a really great Professor called Professor Mark Duffield who was working on those issues at the time, I realized that like the general cohort of people engaged in peace studies were not necessarily my kind of people and like the boys were better looking in the defence studies. …. I feel so bad. Mum. That’s not why I changed. I switched to my defence studies Masters. Actually. I was really lucky. I got, one of the Professors working there, a guy called Professor Mick Dillon who is a really seminal person in the critical security field. He was my Masters thesis supervisor and he was who encouraged me to stay on and do my PhD.

Steph: At what point did the PhD become an option that was on the table for you?

Caroline: I really don’t remember. Like, I’m just, I’m old enough for it to be enough to get all the faded. And I mean, it didn’t. Like, my Masters was, there was a lot of social activity alongside the Masters activities, so, yeah.

Steph – Did you straight from masters to PhD? Did you get to pick your own project idea?

Caroline: And it’s another way in which I’m really conscious of my enormous privilege. Part of being an international student and being a self-funded international student is you get to choose where you want to go and what your interests are. I recognize that’s almost unheard of and so I really did get to follow my own interests and pursue what I was interested in learning about.

Tamara: Did you have a scholarship at all to study?

Caroline: No. So at that time, I think, there were a lot of EU scholarships, so Erasmus scholarships and those sorts of things, but I was really lucky. My parents were willing to support me and I always felt a bit weird about getting scholarships if I could pay for it myself, which is a weird way of thinking about it.

Steph: But it absolutely opened the field for what you could study, and who you could study with. Did you get to pick your supervisor?

Caroline: Yes. That was Mick Dillon, who asked me to stay and do a PhD with him. He was always going to be my supervisor. In terms of my second supervisor, I was really privileged to have, a man called Professor John Law, who was in a completely different field. He’s a kind of an actor network theory sociologist, and really doing some incredibly interesting things at the time and still is. I think he might’ve been reluctant to take on a defence and security studies PhD student. He was working much more in thinking about, public policy, how does public policy come together, but he was very patient. I talked to him a bit about the sorts of things I was interested in looking at and he got really interested in it. I was really lucky to get to two really great supervisors.

Tamara: Was there much of a decision-making process going into your PhD or did it just fall into place?

Caroline: So bits of it fell into place. The kind of conceptual framework, that’s the big things that I was interested in thinking about. I was really interested in thinking about, I mean, it’s hard to imagine, right. It was 2005, so we just had 9/11 America had invaded Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. Things weren’t going well, but they also weren’t like now of course we know that they were just dreadful, right. At the time there was kind of this lingering sense of self-assurance.

Steph: That this was all going to be over soon and that were, there was definitely going to be a winner…

Caroline: All of that. I think the people that I was working with were talking were critical security theorist, and we’re talking a lot about the incredible Imperial violence that was being enacted and the complete disregard for human life, for the agency of the Iraqi people, which was just in no way ever considered in any of the planning for the war. So, there was some, there were really interesting and alive conversations and what I was interested in doing… There was a lot of, kind of rhetorical and discursive analysis happening on this side. At the same time, there was actually quite a large change in the way that the US military was conducting its war. It was the first really networked war. It was a really information led war. I was kind of interested in understanding actually what that looked and felt like and how that was different from previous ways of operating war. Like really kind of get under the hood with a view with a really kind of critical mindset to kind of thinking about how could you use that insight to drive changes or think about things a bit differently.

The theory, that kind of things I was interested in were there, and really then it was just about finding the right field work. For me, that was the kind of lucky happenstance. I fell into it a bit. I met some people at a conference, and they introduced me to some more people. In the way that you do, I ended up spending a bit of time at Fort Hood in Texas, which at that time, was not famous for the very sad thing that happened to it later. But, where First Cavalry Division were just back from their first tour in Baghdad. I spent a bit of time talking to them about what they’d been doing over there.

They were led by a guy called Major General Peter Chiarelli, who was one of the most forward-thinking US army generals. He was really, he was doing counterinsurgency. He was doing, he was doing a more sophisticated and nuanced and thoughtful approach to conflict before, well, before Petraeus was doing it in Afghanistan. I had time to spend talking to him and talking to his people about what they were doing and that kind of really rich interview experience, which I just fell into just by luck of being a person who got recommended to….

Steph: I can’t even imagine how you would plan that..

Caroline: You don’t, you just don’t. When I think back on it I think it would have been good if I’d had some training in like how to ask what you do.

Steph: How well, were you received like, were you seen as an outsider who was coming in and questioning the US military or were they open and up to talking about what was happening?

Caroline: I think like there are lots of times in life where being a woman, even a wealthy white woman, which has lots of advantages, but lots of times where being a woman is a disadvantage. This wasn’t one of those times, because I think there was something very non-threatening about me. I was really young, I was kind of curious and interested. I had political views and strong views about the invasion, which I was fine share if someone asked me, but I didn’t feel like I needed to walk around with a t-shirt. Genuinely curious about what was going on for them and what had happened for them. They’d all just come back from this conflict where, I mean, and this is the other enormous disconnect when people deploy overseas into these conflicts and then they come back to their homes, they’ve had this experience that is entirely separate and disconnected from your ordinary life. People actually want to tell you about it and want to talk about what for them was a professional craft in how they went about doing what they were doing. So, no, I didn’t have any problems with that.

Tamara: Was that data collection?

Caroline: That was data collection. There were other bits and pieces. I went and visited Fourth Infantry Division who had deployed after first Cavalry and I went and visited them at their home in Fort Benning, in Georgia. They weren’t there, but it was the people left behind doing the support stuff. I talked to them, I spoke to some people in the Department of Defence in Washington, so did other bits, but the, really the core part that is the core of my thesis was based on those interviews. Yeah.

Tamara: How many people did you get to speak to?

Caroline: It is so long ago? I can’t remember probably about 15 over that time. Like I think, it was at least a couple of people from every brigade, five brigades, and then, so I think probably about 15.

Steph: Just to put all of the work that you did into context, what was the research question you were trying to answer?

Caroline: I think I wanted to understand how an information fed organization like the U S military had clearly become operates in a really complex and messy world and how they coped with the kind of mess of that world, because, organizations and bureaucracies, which in one way, the military is aren’t terribly good at interfacing with messy worlds. Tamaraand I know each other from a public service context and the public. Yeah. This is not always good at understanding lived experience and thinking about it. The military is like the very pointy end of that. Yeah. I think that’s what I was interested in understanding is how they made sense of it, what the practical things that they did to make sense of it.

Steph: Wow. I have to think a bit hard about what the next question we’ll just, we’ll sit on the PhD for longer, but I do want to ask you about the value that the PhD led too, but first off, like what were the challenging aspects of your particular PhD project?

Caroline: So, I mean, definitely one of the challenges was working with subject matter that I find really, troubling. Yeah. I think another challenge and it’s a challenge I was aware of at the time. I’m so much more aware of now. I mean, especially in this kind of Black Lives Matter moment is the complete silence and the complete absence of access to the other side of the story. I had lots of really good visibility and access to the US military to the UK military to a lesser extent to the decision-making on the Western powers as it was.

I was reading a lot about that and there was a whole public discourse around that and the silence and the complete exclusion of Iraqi voices in that conversation is to me, I kind of look at my PhD and think, God, I was an arrogant, little schmuck wasn’t I like, I just kind of completely wrote this thing with none of the other side. I think, there’s a practical part of that. Didn’t speak the language. But there is also, I think, the fundamental challenge; a lot of theory that I was working with was really founded from, even though it was framed as a critical theory, it was really founded from the premise of a kind of Western centric perspective.

Steph: Yeah. It’s the silence, is it becoming a bit more apparent, but obviously we’ve got a lot to learn still on how to approach these sorts of research questions.

Tamara: How did you keep going? Was there ever a time where you felt like you had to really keep going or was this process something that was pretty easy for you to kind of keep moving through?

Caroline: I don’t think it was ever easy, but I think, I did make a decision and so about two years in, I moved back to Australia and I got a job and I just started doing it while I had my job. I think that was probably the only reason I finished to be honest. I know a lot of people, a lot of my peers, a lot of my friends got to that third year and found it really hard to complete.

Steph: Yeah. You think of all the work you’ve put into it, but that third year is a slog. Yeah. About 50% of people who start PhDs don’t complete. I was really horrified when I heard that. I’d think that might be discipline specific. I don’t know what it is.

Caroline: It sounds very familiar and quite redolent with the people that I went through.

Steph: When you’re doing a PhD, you look around you and people, it looks like they’re dropping like flies. But yeah, you soldiered on through the third year by working, by getting a job.

Caroline: Because the reason why that was the most useful thing to do at the time was because it just like, it just completely deprioritized it for me. I was much less invested in it being perfect.

Steph: Ah, yes just take a step back and just get it done.

Caroline: I was also working in a field that was reasonably related. I was working in Strategic Policy Division in the Department of Defence in Canberra. It was reasonably related in content, but I could see how none of the kind of critical security, sociological theories that I was working with were of any interest at all to my bosses. None at all. That was actually quite a useful kind of way of just being like, right, well I’m just going to write what’s in my head, I’m going to bring all these things together and put it down and then move on. And so that is what I did.

Tamara: Yeah, so it helps not to be right in it.

Caroline: Yeah. It didn’t matter to me if it was perfect or not. Cause at that time I wasn’t thinking I wanted to be an academic.

Steph: It was clearly good enough to make a book out of,

Caroline: Oh, look, it’s a pretty bespoke and niche area of publication. Not many people do the thing that I did. I’m not at all surprised that someone was like, Oh, she went and talked to someone actually in the military, we should put that one in a book.

Tamara: Do you think too many people actually did that that [talk to the military]

Caroline: No. There were people who were it really divided into two camps, the people who talked to the military and spoke back to the military and their own language and the people who talked about the military and spoke back to each other in our critical security discourse language. My book was trying to bridge those things.

Tamara: It must’ve been, it’s almost like, bringing people here today to talk about their PhD. When you talk to people you’re interested, so people are willing to talk. And that’s a really useful thing. I think, especially when you’re trying to elicit, pretty well full-on information from people who have had an experience that is pretty unique. Was what was the most exciting thing about your PhD? Do you think?

Caroline: I mean, there was nothing I would say was particularly exciting. I think I look back now and the opportunity to spend time with people who were at the same point in their intellectual lives and who were studying adjacent but not the same things to me and to kind of have that camaraderie and that peer connection was incredible. Like that’s, like I just, anyway, Danielle, Louise, love you guys. Like, there’s just, there’s these people who you get to really spend time with and learn kind of things from them. Also, I mean, I was really lucky. I had a wonderful supervisor, two wonderful supervisors, in fact, and the opportunity to kind of, I don’t know, engage with people who are so who have spent their whole lives thinking about this thing that you’ve just started kind of poking around the edges on, and for them to be curious about what you think, wow, that’s kind of incredible. To be able to engage in that back and forth with them. That’s a real blessing. It’s something I look for in my work now, I always want to have a boss who wants to do that with me, but to have the time, man, what an honour.

Steph: With your PhD, you obviously have a product because you have a book at the end. Why was your research project important? Like can you explain for the population? Like why is this an important question to investigate? What did we get out of it?

Caroline: I don’t know that I would say it is important for the different population, controversially. I think, when I was reading it today, this is why I have it out is because I had kind of forgotten about what I’d written, cause it was a long time ago, but when I was reading it today, I was the thing that was important for me as a person in the world is that, really, it helped me develop a way of looking at and thinking about the world.

I was surprised when I read it that in my methods section, it talks a lot about openness, curiosity about doubt, like one of the kind of critical things that is in my thesis is about doubting the coherence of things. People assume that institutions all run one way and everything is glunched together

Steph: Like they have got a plan.

Caroline: That’s exactly right. That doubt, that kind of, and I mean doubt in a kind of, not in a sceptical mean way, but in a gentle, like usually how do these things hang together and what is the work that people are doing to make it hang together? And could we change some of that work so that it hangs together slightly differently and starts to benefit different people? For me, that’s what I have taken from it. What do I think society got out of it? I don’t know.

Steph: A skilled person who is working in early years in child development. Yeah.

Tamara: People that you interviewed, have you given it back to them to have a look at?

Caroline: Such a good question. So, I was trying to remember that. I know I published a few articles out of it and I did send them the articles at the time. In particular, so General Chiarelli was working with a guy called Pat Michaelis. They co-authored some articles at the same time. Cause they were quite intellectual about what they were doing. I know he’s definitely seen some of it, but I don’t know if I ever sent anyone the book. I mean the book was like $115. I’m not going to send it to everybody.

Steph: They can have an e-version.

Caroline: And I’d like to say, my royalties came at $30 in total, so yeah.

Steph: Perhaps you didn’t make your fortune out of it.

Caroline: No, I did not make my fortune out of it…

Tamara: Go back to just the PhD. When you said you moved back to Australia and your supervisors were still in the UK, so we’re in the time of email. It made life easier as previously we’ve had a speaker talk about having to post chapters.

Caroline: I’d never even thought of.

Tamara: How did you find that experience? Did you feel alone at all? Did you feel that still feel that kind of nurture and support from your supervisors?

Caroline: I really did. Like I was really lucky with my supervisors. I did, I think also, and it might be a function of the kind of PhD, like the kind of social sciences, soft social sciences in which I was working. By the time you got to writing it, you were kind of, you knew it and it was the feedback and the kind of rigor and the challenge was much more in the gestation. By the time we got to here, it was kind of either it was going to make it or it wasn’t going to make it. Probably would have been helpful I think if we’d been able to like Skype. Cause I did, I flew back to the UK for my Viva, like to do that oral defence. I was talking about my anyway and I was like, Oh, and of course Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari they talk a lot about assemblage and blah, blah, blah. The person on the other side of the Viva said, do you mean assemblage??? I realized like, I’ve been pronouncing it completely wrong because I had only ever read them in the book and emailed my supervisor about them. There would have been things that could have been saved from… but…

Tamara: Maybe you wouldn’t have had to fly back to the UK. You could have done your Viva by Skype.

Caroline: Wouldn’t that have been amazing. Yes. That’s true. That would have been good.

Steph: It’s very interesting hearing about the Viva. I had not realized that you had to… I certainly, I think I would have died. If I had to sit in front of a panel of experts and justify my PhD.

Caroline: Yeah. It’s kind of an intense experience. I think, I was lucky I think, because I knew most of my panellists by, like I’d been at conferences with them and those sorts of things.

Steph: See that wouldn’t have helped at all. I would have horrified.

Caroline: Well, here’s my tip for it, because it’s the tip I use. Like in almost every part of my life is I think like there’s only so much time, so how much can they really ask you? And also people are much more interested in hearing about them than they are about you. I seem to recall talking quite a lot about their research.

Steph: Very good technique.

Tamara: How did you get from military to education?

Caroline: Long journey. So, mostly by stint of a real interest in public policy. I came back to Australia. I was working in defence. Did a fair bit of time there. I spent time lecturing at UNSW at ADFA in Canberra as well. I had my baby and as part of the usual South Australian immigration program. I came back to my hometown with my baby to take care of the free babysitting. Yep. Yep. Thanks, Mum and Dad. I was really lucky to win a role at the Department of Premier and Cabinet in South Australia. Since then, I’ve just hopped around in public service roles. I think, until literally until today when I had rewritten my thesis, I thought that it was a thing that I did back then that had been really useful in terms of establishing for people that I was capable of thinking about something for a long period of time and kind of pulling together a coherent thing, but that it probably wasn’t terribly relevant to my life. But actually I think it probably has framed the way that I approach thinking about the world. So, it’s been really useful.

Tamara: Was there ever going to be, were you ever thinking about academia or did you always think about Government and Policy?

Caroline: I was definitely not going to be an academic that was clear to me. At defence, I did a couple of years in roles and I did a short stint, deployed as the Civilian Advisor to the Commanding General in the Middle East. This about 2009, I guess, Australia. The Rudd government had just announced the withdrawal of Australian forces from Iraq. I’d worked on probably one of the most meaningful things I’d ever worked on, which was a program to bring out the 500 interpreters and their families who’d worked with our forces in Iraq and trying to get them safely out as we withdrew our forces. So I’d just done all that. I went over and I was acting as a Civilian Advisor to the military for six months. At the end of that, I came back and I guess there are kind of two paths from there.

I could have stayed at defence and, got deeper and deeper into that part of the world. Instead I took a stint lecturing at UNSW at ADFA, which was like, it’s, I feel like it’s probably like being an academic in an old school world. Like there was a lot less pressure than in other academic environments where I’ve been. They were a really beautiful and supportive faculty, interesting people that I was working with. I had my baby, really great Maternity Leave provisions. Again, really conscious of how privileged I am and how my PhD set me up to be in a job where this was prior to the really good government funded Mat Leave. I was really lucky to have that Mat Leave. I realized in that time at ADFA that I don’t have the stick-to-it-ness of finishing a thing if I don’t have a kind of deadline and I just, I couldn’t do it. I’m not dedicated enough to that. I need someone to be like you must do this thing and no one was doing that.

Tamara: What did you bring from your PhD? Either the knowledge or the skills to the job that you’re in now, cause you said that has led you to where you are, but do in the most overt way, did you use any of your research skills in your current role or any of those transferable skills?

Caroline: A like a transferable skill. So my boss teases me that I’m like the least policy person he knows. Cause he says, you’re always really interested in kind of the operations of things and how things actually work. That was what my thesis was. I was like interested in what is the gap between how we say things work and how we describe what they do and what’s actually happening down here. How do you kind of use knowledge of what’s happening down here to make things better? I use that every day.

Tamara: Did you publish from your thesis?

Caroline: Not really. I think a couple of articles and yeah, and my book.

Steph: It was by thesis, not by publication.

Caroline: What does that mean?

Steph: You know when you write that big fat volume of 80,000 words that perhaps only you and your mum crack, and at least two reviewers, versus doing it by publication where you have five publications, five papers, tied together with a few paragraphs?

Caroline: Oh, wow. That sounds harder work.

Steph: Well I guess it really depends. I mean, it makes it harder for the examiners to fail you, because all of your articles have already been peer reviewed. I guess it means you leave your PhD with publications. Yeah. If you don’t complete your PhD, you at least have some publications.

Caroline: That sounds quite humane actually. Sadly, it was by thesis. Yeah.

Steph: Do you think that you would be where you are now, if you didn’t have a PhD?

Caroline: Having a PhD has been incredibly helpful for me, in terms of establishing credibility in audiences where I would not always be viewed as credible. In that respect, I think it’s been really helpful as I say, I think it really informed the way that I think about the world. What’s making me uncomfortable about this question is I think the challenge for me in relation to PhDs is that I think about all the people who are excluded from them for all the reasons that we know to be true. Like I made a decision to be quite upfront about how easy my ride was, because I want to be really clear that I know that’s not everyone’s experience at all.

There are so many good and smart people with so many interesting things to say who don’t get that opportunity. We need to think really seriously about the structures that lead us to that place. So, do I think, yeah, probably I would have been fine without a PhD because I come from a real position of privilege and so the sad fact is that it would, but for other people I know it is their way in. That’s kind of terrible as well. We need to find more ways in.

Tamara: Yeah. So, I suppose in a world where, the value of the Bachelor degree is not as much as it used to be. Suddenly now that we’re having careers where you have to have a Masters in order to compete, teaching psychology, a few of them that I can think of.

Steph: Yeah. It’s funnelling opportunities towards people who have resources.

Tamara: It’s the business of university. I had an easy ride as well because I did my undergraduate degree in Edinburgh.

Caroline: I did a year at Edinburgh.

Tamara: I love Edinburgh…. and that’s a free undergraduate degree because I’d been living there long enough to access free. I came here and I did a free PhD. It is, it was, I experienced a similar, easy ride, although I had a baby halfway through, so maybe not so easy.

Caroline: It’s so funny though, because I was talking to a friend about it, about coming on this podcast and she was saying, the thing Carolineis, it’s the system. The system is the thing that we need to think about how we get it to be more inclusive and how we get to have more voices. I was reading on Twitter, just don’t read Twitter, but I was reading on Twitter just before I came on, this tweet from this woman who was saying like (February 2020), a fellow PhD student said, I looked up that fellowship that you won and I can see it’s a diversity fellowship. Right. I just think, that if that is, and I know that still exists,

Steph: It is baffling that in 2020 people can still go, are you were given support because you’re a minority.

Caroline: And maybe because there are all the institutions in place that mean that we took everything away earlier. There’s a whole thing there that I feel uncomfortable about.

Steph: It does lead us to the question then, from your own perspective, what is a PhD?

Caroline: Well, so from my very personal perspective, a PhD for me was a wonderful, magical opportunity to spend some time thinking about the way the world works and kind of understanding it and turning it over and thinking about it in different worlds. It was also like, I think you had in your notes, a passport, like I think there is a passport quality to the PhD, which I find more problematic and more difficult. Yeah.

Steph: For some people it is a stamp that allows them to a next level. For some people it’s, transformative experience, a personal transformative experience rather than a ticket. 

Tamara: If you were talking to graduates who are contemplating a PhD, what advice do you give to those people who maybe ask you, should I do a PhD today? When there’s 11,000 people graduating with a PhD every year, is there room for me? What do you say?

Caroline: I ask people to think about why they want to do it. I try to encourage people to think about the good and the not good reasons to do it. I think the not good reasons are the kind of sense of panic that people feel. The kind of one-upmanship of the thing. I think there’s also a kind of, some people kind of anyway, so those are the not good reasons to do it. Like, I think about kind of what is it that you really want to learn and what you want to do and then just the practical things. Cause you know, anyway…

Tamara: And what about kids who are finishing school now and who have all the pressures of life on their shoulders and their parents going you must go to university. So what do you say to them?

Caroline: Oh, like no kid would ever ask me for my opinion on anything, let’s be clear. They all know way more than me about all the things. I, I don’t know you, I think I would say, first workout what you’re doing at uni. If you want to go to uni, what that means for you and then think about it. I mean, what I do say to people is, I don’t think academia is necessarily an easy pathway and you really have to want it. I look at the people I went through with, and I was looking at their Twitter feed today. A couple of them are protesting in the UK around casualization of the workforce. We’ve all had our PhDs for 15 years, still, not in tenured positions, so there’s some real challenges there, but then I can see that they love the work that they do. But you have to really want it. If you want to be an academic, if you don’t want to be an academic, then a PhD can be great as well. You want to think about what you’re building when you do it.

Tamara: Knowing everything that we’ve talked about today, would you do it again?

Caroline: Yeah. I am a big believer in kind of, you shouldn’t have regrets. What could I regret? It was an amazing opportunity. Okay.

Steph: But would you do it differently?

Caroline: Yeah, I would a hundred percent do it differently. I would actually make a lot more time and space to realize all of the things that I completely excluded from my consideration.

Tamara: Yeah. I suppose it was really of the moment there wasn’t great opportunity to sit back and think about every perspective because not only is it of the moment, but you’ve got only a short amount of time and you’ve only got three years to complete something and you’ve only got months to plan it. If you had hindsight great, but we don’t have that. I am doing a review around COVID at the moment. I just feel like everything is being: because it is of the moment it’s been rushed out. It’s so interesting to look at it from that perspective. I’d imagine for you, it might’ve been quite similar in that you had a moment in time to do something important. I can see how, yeah, that hindsight would have been brilliant, but Hey, you put out a,

Steph: Lovely little book.

Tamara: The last question that we’ve got is around myths, which might be a nice way to finish with you. What myths do you hear, or have you heard about being a PhD, academic or studying, or that you would like to kind of set the record straight on?

Caroline: My boss teases, he’s got a couple of people with PhDs in his leadership team. He teases us about being the smartest people in the room. I think that would be the myth, right. That the PhD is the thing that signals exceptionalism, I think it signals something, but it’s certainly not that.

Tamara – You’re not the first person to say that, interestingly, I wouldn’t be surprised. Yeah. You’re an expert on this thing.

Steph: There’s nothing like doing a PhD to make you feel really dumb. Actually. You suddenly realize all the things you don’t know

Caroline: But, I mean, that’s the wonder, isn’t it? Because then you’re like, huh, I could find out about this.

Steph: So, that is all the questions that we have for you today. There anything that you wanted to add?

Caroline: No, thanks so much for having me along.

No, thank you. Thank you. It’s been an amazing story.

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