Eilidh AB Hall
PhD Title, Location, Date of Award:
My PhD project looked at how women negotiate their feminisms in the family as depicted in Chicanx contemporary literature (University of East Anglia, 2017).
Current Role and Brief Description:
I am a civil servant in the second year of the Fast Stream leadership development programme run by the UK government (https://www.faststream.gov.uk/). In my first year, I worked at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency and then was seconded to a Scottish Government Covid-19 Response and Resilience role and worked on all things PPE for the last 6 months. In September, I started a new role at The Office for the Secretary of State for Scotland (aka Scotland Office) and am working on an economic strategy for UKG in Scotland, due to be published early next year.
Other Roles (if any) post-PhD, not including your current role:
Before starting on the Fast Stream, I was in Texas on a Fulbright scholarship. I went to San Antonio in January 2019 for a semester, teaching and researching in a Latinx Studies department at Trinity University. When I returned from Texas, I was unemployed for 4 months before beginning my Fast Stream job. And before that, I had various short-term academic roles including teaching at the University of Glasgow (History) and the University of Aberdeen (Latin American Studies) – these were fixed-term and part-time contracts. I also worked in a children’s book shop, coached lacrosse at a high school, and did some private tuition to try and make a bit more money.
Some of you may also have worked with me in my capacity as Co-Treasurer of BAAS. Nicole Willson and I took up the role of Co-Treasurers in the summer of 2018 and it has been a great way of keeping up with developments in American Studies and, perhaps most importantly for me, maintaining a supportive academic community over the last couple of years.
One example (if relevant) of how you are able to use your PhD skills/expertise in your current role:
A couple of obvious examples of PhD skills spring to mind in response to this prompt.
The first is that of communicating complicated information. In my role in the PPE Division of the Scottish Government, we were regularly preparing minsters and Cabinet Secretaries for committee appearances or for parliamentary business like FMQs, as well as responding to media enquiries and correspondence with the public. This involved gathering and synthesising information from a range of sources, usually delivered in a variety of (sometimes bizarre) styles, and making decisions on what to include and what to cut, all within a quick timeframe and in the style that the particular minister prefers. We do/did this kind of editing and adjusting all the time during our PhDs and it has made this part of my new job much easier.
The second thing that I thought of is my ability to chair meetings and facilitate discussions in workshops. Just like when we’re teaching or on a conference panel, the ability to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, steer a discussion, (politely) shut down irrelevant tangents, and ensure everyone understands what is being said is so valuable in my role as a civil servant. And it’s a skill that, so far anyway, it seems only a few civil servants possess.
On a slightly different but related note, the process of getting on the Fast Stream is very different from all the other jobs I was applying for at the time – there’s no CV, they don’t know you’ve got a PhD, it’s all based on online tests and then in-person assessments. It’s weird and feels scary not having your academic (and other credentials) shining impressively in front of you but it is all based on skills and behaviours and I can reassure you that you have developed these during your PhD.
One piece of job advice you wish you’d had prior to finishing your PhD:
We all know that the PhD can feel all-consuming and the subsequent hunt for jobs (whether academic or otherwise) is exhausting and oftentimes overwhelming. It’s important that we take a step (or several steps) back from it all on a regular basis, when possible. Find other ways to value your life: friendships, conversations, being out in nature.
One of my favourite writers, Gloria Anzaldúa, calls on us to “do work that matters”. For better or worse (and I often think for worse) academic life makes us think that scholarly work is the only work that matters. But we do work, waged and unwaged, that matters all the time. There are so many other places outside of HEIs where we can use what we’ve learned during our PhD and ECR time to have a positive impact. For me, this was about a shift in perspective and valuing my skills and passions, not just the specific content of the work. I now think I am doing work that matters. And that feels good.