Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Two Months In

By Adam Snow, PhD Candidate at Keele

So here I am two months into a 3 year PhD and already the to-do list is piling up!  I started my PhD in April, I’m undertaking a funded study into “on the spot” fines and the future of the magistracy.  Fixed penalty notices are now the primary way in which most “crimes” are dealt with, accounting for over half of all punishments given out by the state.  They are the primary way in which “ordinary” people come into contact with the justice system, either as drivers, receiving FPNs, or social drinkers receiving PND’s (Penalty Notices Disorder).   My study aims to examine both the debates about the use of on the spot fines and the theories underpinning their use.

By now I had planned to have it all worked out, the reading planned out and a very definite direction.  I was so excited when I started that I thought 3 years, pah! I’ll get this done in 12 months no problem.  And then the books and articles started piling up and you realise just how much work is involved, I’m coming to the conclusion that there is literally a book for every idea that has ever been.

You start off with a very definite idea of where you want the study to go; you have completed your masterful research proposal.  Surely it’s just a matter of following this to its conclusion.  And then you begin reading.  That’s when it starts to kick in how naive your research proposal is.  You start off thinking that this study is going to shake the very foundations of knowledge, then soon start to fear that (within about a week) you’ll be lucky if anyone but your supervisor and external examiners will want to read it!

Having worked for years prior to starting my PhD was a blessing; I am used to the early mornings and work day monotony, following the Dolly Parton day 9-5.  It wasn’t like this as an undergraduate: I had friends, we had fun; now I have books and concepts to keep me entertained!  Only 34 months to go...

One question that I keep bugging the other PhD candidates with is when does the study start to take shape, when do you really know what you are doing?  A third year candidate told me to give them a ring if I ever find out because they haven’t found an answer yet.

Having said all that I would still choose a PhD over work every day of the week and twice on a Sunday.  The freedom to determine what you do on a day to day basis is a precious liberty and one that will not be afforded to you at work!

I still count my blessings every day that I obtained this position, Keele is a wonderful place to work and study and the people are incredibly friendly.  The best tip I can give, with all my 2 months of experience, is to get a good supervisor! (I have) It makes all the difference.  I remember a friend of mine telling me how when she was training to become a surgeon her supervisor would boast how he was unhappy if he did not make his students cry at least once a day.  Luckily Dr Wells, my supervisor, doesn’t subscribe to this mantra. Well, not yet anyway.

Anyway it’s time to get back to work: there are books to read!  I’ll keep you posted throughout my study as to how things are developing.

Adam’s project is partly funded by the Magistrates’ Association, and is linked to their ongoing seminar series ‘The Magistracy in the 21st Century’. It is being supervised by Dr Helen Wells, Professor Barry Godfrey and Dr Mary Corcoran. If you are interested in Adam’s project or his experiences as a new PhD student at Keele, you can contact him at  He is looking for volunteers to take part in focus groups or interviews later in the study, so if you have ever received “on the spot” fine he would love to hear about your experience.


Anonymous said...

Hi Adam, I thought I'd leave you a comment as I know how you feel as i am also doing my Phd - i'm in my first year two (I started in Sept 10). Firstly congrats on doing your PhD, it sounds a very interesting subject. I learnt something new from your post that "Fixed penalty notices are now the primary way in which most “crimes” are dealt with, accounting for over half of all punishments given out by the state". I'm a Criminology grad myself (my interests were state crime tho).

For my PhD I decided to turn some of my personal experiences of being what they call a non traditional student into a research project. I'm studying what happens to such graduates post graduation. Here's a plug of my blog

I'm coming to the end of my first year and I would first say, be kind to yourself. You are most probably doing a lot better than you think you are. Also you are bound to feel overwhelmed by the literature as there is so much of it. Just feel proud of yourself that you have taken the plunge into the field. I have every respect for the criminology field and i am finding that it is informing some of my research to date - namely how people are labelled.

I would also say that even though I've just finished writing my lit review I still feel I don't 'get' all the literature. On the other hand, on the odd occasion I feel that I could contribute but fear that what I am thinking is just far to simplistic.

The fact that you were working before you undertook your PhD will definitely come in handy as you will have organisation skills - at the moment you will have just convinced yourself that you don't have any skills! I suppose that is in essence why I decided to send you a message. Everything I had read on the PhD process confirms that most people feel like you describe - I know I did/do depending on what day it is and how much coffee I have consumed. I just make sure I surround myself with as many people as i can who are studying for their PhD - sounds like you are doing that. I have also taken advantage of social media such as blogs and forums such as this one I would also say try and have a break from the PhD and make sure you keep in touch with friends who are not doing anything like this. i don't always take a break from the PhD but I do have lots of friends who are not doing this sort of work, and frankly are not interested.

Re organisation, you will get there - you are only a few months in. Someone said to me that you should set yourself goals for the day, week, month and 6 months as a way of getting through it. I'd like to say that I do that all the time but I don't :-) but the idea does work sometimes lol.

I'll sign off now before I end up writing my whole thesis on your wall. Keele is a great uni, if its any help, graduates from uni's like keele tend to do well in the labour market. i also like Keele as one of my first lecturers is there - Professor Charlotte Williams. I have that wonderful inspirational lady to thank (or to curse lol) for getting me into academia.

Take care and I look forward to reading a paper from you one day :-) Teresa xx

Adam Snow said...

Hi Teresa

Apologies for not commenting sooner, I have only just found out that I had a comment on my blog! thank you for reading!
I'm terrified of the lit review! there is so much! and I don't want to leave anything out! (surely too many ! in there)

Cheers once again for reading and taking the time to comment.