Why I chose to return to university

I was very fortunate in landing a graduate job after just a few weeks of finishing my studies. I worked hard, made friends, and even managed to secure myself a promotion. By the time 2016 rolled around I was managing a small team of people. I was also wearing ironed shirts, successfully getting out of bed before 9am every morning, and I’d started drinking coffee. It was official: I was a grown-up.

Then one night I decided to log onto MUSE, before my access was rescinded forever. I thought it might be nice to read through some history articles one last time. I read one article and then a second. A third and fourth quickly followed. This went on until it struck me that I’d essentially spent my entire evening – my free time – reading academic journals. I wondered; when was the last time I’d been this engrossed in my actual, paid, work?

From that evening on, I knew I wanted to come back to university and do my PhD. To that end, I got in touch with my MA dissertation supervisor and we cobbled together an application. I knew that funding for research in the humanities was (and still is) very tight, so I wasn’t holding out much hope. I crossed my fingers and threw my hat into the ring.

Months later I got the email I’d been waiting for. I’d been successful in my application and, unbelievably, I was being offered a full scholarship. The message came through while I was at work, so I quietly excused myself and padded through the silent office. Once in the stairwell I danced around on the spot for about three minutes and then, not knowing who to phone first, called my grandmother. Overjoyed, she shouted to her friend in the living room; ‘my grandson is going to be a doctor’. I promptly asked her to clarify exactly what type of doctor I was going to be, before her geriatric comrades started asking me for prescriptions.

Since then, more than a few people have raised their eyebrows at my decision to leave a perfectly comfortable job in order to study history at doctorate level. ‘What are you going to do with that?’ and ‘how will it help you get a job?’ are the most common questions flung my way.

Each time I explain that my return to studenthood isn’t about trying to enhance my CV, nor is it about pursuing a future in which I repeatedly insist that my Next catalogue should be addressed to ‘Dr Heffron’. As far as I’m concerned, if you can spend your time doing something that interests you, rather than simply working to cover your rent, you should do it. We’re all living longer, which means we have innumerable decades ahead of us in which to endure the daily eight-hour grind. There’s no need to start dreading Monday mornings before we have to. We’re only young once, so now’s the time to do the things we’ll never get round to doing when we’re older.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I chose to come back to university. Well, that and the fact that I never quite got used to the 9am starts.

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