Don's Diary

August 2, 1996

MONDAY. Refreshed by a weekend away from my computer, I am awoken as ever by the noise of trucks passing my bedroom window on their way to Spitalfields market in east London. Even the double glazing and four years of experience cannot prevent this early wake-up call.

I endure the crush on the Central Line train and pass the journey by imagining what my journey to work will be like when I finally land one of the PhD studentships I have applied for.

One of the criteria for a university having the benefit of an application from me is that it be located outside the M25. The number of institutions considering me is more than 20 and less than 100.

Arriving in the office, I check the email. This is an action that requires about 30 key strokes but as I perform this ritual about 20 times a day, I am getting quite good at it. Will there be a message to arrange an interview for one of my more hopeful applications? Alas not. I apply myself to the latest layout work on the "work at your own pace" statistics book I am helping to write here at the University of Westminster.

Things go well in the morning and so I am able to go to my afternoon's invigilation session with some marking, some reading, and a clear conscience.

The evening brings a treat as an old friend who recently landed a record deal is finishing recording some B sides in a studio in Waterloo and has invited me along to "hang out".

Glamourous it certainly is not - the studio has been built in a railway arch - but it is fun to see him and the band at work. It bears little relation to work as most people know it but then again, I doubt that my research project does either.

TUESDAY. Veritably bounce into the office. Today I must surely hear about the job. I have new mail I but just from a friend inviting me to lunch. Morning cup of tea and playing the first CD of the day on the CD-Rom soon cheer me up. Not much time for work on the book as invigilation calls again.

This time I am watching students on the MBA course in the second half of a six-hour exam. Six hours! Will it really improve their employment prospects? The room is stiflingly hot as summer has fallen on a Tuesday this year so I take a short break and search out a computer (hey I know how to relax!) to check email. Nothing.

WEDNESDAY. Today must be the day I finally find out. No messages on arrival. I apply for two more jobs from yesterday's paper and it suddenly dawns on me that I have been applying for studentships since August. The cautionary advice "too late for 1995, too early for 1996" rings in my ears. Now it is becoming too late again.

There must have been an ideal application window on about March 13 between 2.30pm and 2.45 pm but it seems I missed it. How hard can it be to get a job in a university? The main problem seems to be that every institution has its own way of doing the PhD selection thing and you only find out what this really is after the fact.

Points to note: an advert for a studentship does not necessarily mean there is one there - and if there is one there it has probably been allocated already but equal opportunities policies demand that the post be advertised anyway.

As a mature student with a previous grown-up job in the recruitment industry, I thought I should be good at this job application thing I THURSDAY. More invigilation but the exam marking has arrived so I have a way of passing the time.

I only graduated last year and feel a little apprehensive about marking exam papers but I get good support from colleagues and the module leader spends more time than she has to with me making sure I know what to do. It is invaluable experience.

FRIDAY. I smile inanely to myself as I get dressed - I have never had a proper job where I can wear shorts to work in the summer and I still find this sort of novelty amusing. No email. Yet more invigilation but the end is in sight and I am making inroads into the marking.

My girlfriend arrives for the weekend and patiently enquires about the latest crop of job applications.

She is a careers adviser which I suppose could be seen as rather ironic.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY. Relax with friends near Sandhurst.

Seeing the company Saab in their driveway gives me momentary longing for my pre-academic days when I was paid properly - am I really thinking about taking a job for Pounds 5,000 a year?

A brief conversation about a friend's electronics job fills me with horror and reminds me of the benefits of the academic life - the relaxed working atmosphere and the people, and even the marking I do not think is too bad. I resolve to keep plugging away and, dammit, I will get a studentship. Maybe there will be some email on Monday I PATRICK TISSINGTON

The writer starts his MPhil/PhD at Robert Gordon University this month. He is sponsored by the Fire Service College.

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