In the autumn of my second PhD year, after 3 glasses of 99p wine (stipend-allowing), I reluctantly agreed to help a friend out running campus tours at the University’s Postgraduate open day. I knew I’d have to walk around on the day with a lime-green, plastic ‘here to help’ sign, like a weird student-recruiting Lollipop Lady. But. . . my hob was broken and there was a free dinner in it for me. So I said yes.
The truth? Green lollipop aside, I actually sort of enjoyed it. I enjoyed the simplicity of being helpful. So for the next year, I carried on helping with campus tours and advising at open days and other events. It gave me a break from my niche research. It gave me perspective. It even gave me a few extra quid to get my hob fixed.
Fast-forward seven years, I’m chatting with another friend about to start his new job as an Academic Liaison Librarian, making sure researchers have access to relevant and effective resources to support their work. In our PhD years he’d made ends meet working late shifts on the counter in the University library, picking up awesome tips to help us evade loan fines. ‘Funny isn’t it,’ he said, ‘how seriously we ended up taking our side hustles.’
Then, the penny dropped. Those little extra things we’d done during our PhDs had ended up leading us to our careers. Moreover, they were careers that we enjoyed; careers that also gave us time to pursue our outside interests of acting, comedy and poetry.