A jouney to a PhD Studentship

By Sarah Goldsmith


I started the MACYS course in September, after many years working as a playworker in after school clubs and holiday clubs as well as delivering playwork training. The MACYS course enabled me to think differently about various aspects of childhood across a range of disciplines, which has in turn allowed me look at children’s play from different perspectives and expanding my knowledge. It has also encouraged me to be more interested in the research side rather than just the practitioner view and I would like to see how the two can work together.

In November an email went around advertising for PhD post at Glasgow Caledonian University entitled ‘Boys’ toys and ‘Girls’ toys: learning through play. It was an area that I was interested in and on the off chance I thought I would apply.

Glasgow uni

However I realised that the post was due to start in May and I wouldn’t finish my MA until September, so I emailed them explaining that I wouldn’t be able to apply, they replied saying that the start date was negotiable, so I went back to the application form, but having never applied for a PhD I headed to the library and the careers advice service and they helped me to write an academic CV (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!) and gave me some advice about what to write on the application form. The application form was submitted before Christmas, and I didn’t think anything more about it as I didn’t expect to hear anything further.

I was really surprised in January when I received an email saying that I had an interview and could I prepare a 5 minute presentation about how I would implement the PhD. I thought about this for a while and put the basics together but having never prepared an interview for a PhD I turned to Rachel Thomson and Rachel Burr, they were very supportive and because Rachel Thomson supports PhD students here at Sussex she had some great advice and helped me a lot with the presentation, for which I am really grateful. So if you ever apply for a PhD she is the person to talk to.

I have always wanted any research I complete to be useful to the playwork field and my proposal was inspired partly by the book ‘We don’t play with guns here’ by Penny Holland. She worked in a nursery and following the trend at the time had band gun play and super hero play. By observing the children the staff realised that this wasn’t necessarily what the children wanted as they still found ways to incorporate gun and super hero play within their play narratives. Eventually the staff not only relaxed their rule but actively encouraged this type of play.

Although views and opinions about weapon and super hero play have shifted and become more acceptable, it seems that more gender specific play has become more pronounced and stereotypical especially in the eyes of many adults.

As a result I am interested in the children’s responses to adults’ views and opinions and how they use play and toys to either rebel, conform or simply digest those views, especially if there are different opinions between the adults in their lives. My focus would be on how adult’s anxieties are mediated in children’s play. This could then be used to inform practice.

In order to do this there are 3 main areas of political and theoretical debate that underpin and converge in the project and they are;

  1. Policy concern on the commercialisation of childhood
  2. Theories of gender
  3. Theories of play

This was the basis of my proposal that I was going to present.

I was really nervous leading up to the interview, as it was out of my comfort zone and I was completing the interview by Skype! So many things could go wrong! But I needn’t have worried too much, the skype connection worked and we could hear each other and they could even see my Powerpoint! After that it was a bit problematic as we couldn’t see each other, but luckily the sound was mostly ok. They asked me some questions about my proposal and my opinions about various subjects and then it was over. I thought it went well and it wasn’t as nerve racking as I thought it was going to be!

I was happy that I had been offered an interview, it was a completely new experience and I had learnt a lot about applying for an academic post, which is quite different to applying for a ‘regular’ job. I was happy that I had done it and was pleased with how it went (apart from the slight hiccup with skype), but I was expecting the ‘sorry you haven’t been successful’ letter, especially as over a week later I still hadn’t heard anything. I emailed them to find how and when I would find out if I had been successful or not and they replied said “Sorry our admin for post grad support has been off so the letters are taking longer than usual. However I am delighted to tell you that you were successful and we will be offering you the PhD” I was in shock, I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I was reading it correctly, Once it sank in I was so excited I couldn’t stay still! I phoned my parents, but they had gone out, so I phoned some friends.    Everything is going to change come October and I’m really looking forward to it! Moving to the other end of the country, taking on a new challenge of the PhD, learning so much more about play and gender and I will also be doing some teaching, it’s just what I needed. I’m really excited and a little bit nervous, but it’s great! So look out for the PhD offers that come around, who knows what path you could end up on, and if you do apply for a PhD defiantly speak to Rachel Thomson.

If you’re in Glasgow after October come and say hi!

horse cone

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