Contributed by Justin Dolan Stover
Do you consider your PhD to be a job or a vocation? Both. If it were only a vocation the lack of funding and stability wouldn’t bother me. If it were only a job I couldn’t sustain my motivation to work. Having aspects of both keeps me driven and satisfied.
In 20 words or less, tell us why you decided to do a PhD? Being an academic historian is the most difficult profession I could think of; a PhD was the first step.
Justin’s diary: I have several times over the past calendar month attempted to clear my mind, sit and write a diary entry which would illustrate the experiences of an American studying in Ireland. Numerous mental obstacles emerged, however, which prevented me from doing so. Allow me to mention just one: the annual experience of registering with immigration. Last year my wife and I queued for many hours, waiting with others in the cold and rain, to present ourselves, our documents and €150 each, to legally remain in Ireland. The ordeal lasted 13 hours. This year we shaved that down to 7 hours. I rose at 4am to join the queue and secure our place. Arriving at Burgh Quay at 4.30am, I was eighth in line. My wife joined me when the offices opened at 9am as she is four months pregnant and in need of a toilet every 45 minutes or so. The day was wasted and I was too exhausted to pen a diary entry. Adapting to the cultural diversity of Ireland over the past four years has been just as challenging as my doctoral work. So in preparation for this diary entry I posed one question to myself: why study in Ireland? After all, no one forced me to come here; there were certainly other options closer to home, friends and family. I concluded that the answer lie in three categories: education, expense and experience.
I knew I wanted to pursue a doctorate in British history with an emphasis on Ireland. In this regard, I also wanted to visit major archival repositories and study the same primary sources used by leading historians. And finally, after four years as an undergraduate and one year as an MA student, I disliked the idea of spending an additional two years taking graduate courses, a further two years teaching and preparing for comprehensive exams, and a final year fervently preparing a thesis, as is the custom in the United States. I wanted the freedom to research and write at my own pace. The collections housed in the National Library of Ireland, the National Archives, University College Dublin Archives and others have formed an irreplaceable base in my education. Additionally, archives in London, Belfast and Cork are easily accessible. I am fortunate enough to be receiving guidance from two supervisors. Each applies a little pressure and expects continuous work and writing.
But is the freedom worth the expense?
My fees have risen slightly over the past few years, averaging €11,000 annually. This is comparatively low considering tuition rates at American universities with an international rating on par with Trinity College. The true expense has come not in fees, but in the absorbent cost of Dublin living. An additional €11,000 must be provided to facilitate rent, utilities, health insurance and food – thank you Uncle Sam and federal student loan programs. Tallying the overall cost of attendance can be somewhat depressing. I have stopped converting the euro to the dollar when making purchases, or thinking of how the amount I pay in monthly rent could mortgage a nice three bedroom house back home. Finally, in terms of expense, there are very little funding opportunities for non-EU students in Ireland. An excellent source of funding, the IRCHSS, in fact disallowed applications from non-EU students for the 2009-10 scheme. The Fulbright does not accept applications from those already resident in the country in which they wish to study.
Finally, I have published and presented my work in journals and at seminars which specifically meet my interests. The professional experience I have gained in doing so is unequivocal. Weighed against programs and access to material for Irish history in the United States, I have found studying in Ireland to be both challenging and rewarding. Of course there remain policies and practices which I find irksome, but they must be balanced within the overall experience. Sure the library is cold, but it contains every book I will ever need. I must carry my groceries home in heavy bags, but Irish milk and butter are the best in the world. Now if only I could taking a liking to soccer. Sorry, football.