Some notes on the transcription…

I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.

I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.

You can find the full interview here:

Emma Brodzinski (00:02):

Hello, Rachel.

Rachel Campbell (00:04):

Good evening from freezing Canberra <laugh>.

Emma Brodzinski (00:07):

I know, bless you. You are at the, the opposite side of the world. And we were just saying

Rachel Campbell (00:12):

Probably quite literally Yes, <laugh>.

Emma Brodzinski (00:14):

Exactly. And we were just saying, so it’s winter solstice with you. It was just summer solstice with us. But we feel like it’s kind of auspicious cuz we’re,

Rachel Campbell (00:22):

We’re I think so. I think yes, a connection to you know, the, the rhythms of the universe, which certainly you have to be connected to some sort of rhythm when you’re doing a PhD, that’s for sure. I love it.

Emma Brodzinski (00:35):

I love it. And I think it is actually that bit, that’s a whole nother podcast episode. But in terms of really attending to the seasons and where you are in the year, it’s really important cuz your body will, even if your brain doesn’t <laugh>. So that is

Rachel Campbell (00:48):

A Absolutely. And being responsive to the the, the tricky times, the more fallow times, the high pressure times. Like there is a natural sort of rhythm, I think, to the way a PhD unfolds. You know, there’s that optimism when you start where you’re gonna change the world with your, your research and then some tough times of course, too. Yeah,

Emma Brodzinski (01:12):

Yeah, yeah. Well, we’re here to talk about tough times really today. But we are also gonna just, I’m just gonna promise everyone there’s a happy ending <laugh>. And this is, this is about kind of getting to living the dream at the end of it all. So we, that’s where, that’s where we are heading. But we, we are gonna also be, talk about keeping the faith in the tough times too.

Rachel Campbell (01:36):


Emma Brodzinski (01:37):

But before we get into that, I just want to ask you like I do with everybody in terms just to give us a bit of a sense of your story into the PhD through it and out the other side.

Rachel Campbell (01:49):

Certainly. Well, I, I actually went to university late. I had my children first. I have three children. And I had become quite well known in my city for doing musical things. And people expected me to have gone to university, but I hadn’t. So I thought I’d try to rectify that. And when I enrolled as an undergraduate, I just wanted to smash it out as fast as possible. I didn’t care what I learned, I didn’t care about the journey. I just really wanted the piece of paper. And of course I have a lot of empathy for students now who potentially approaching them the same way. But of course along the, the journey I realize, you know, it’s what you learn and who you meet and all those sorts of things. But I had a mentor Dr. Allen Davison, who encouraged me to do an honors year, which I did.

Rachel Campbell (02:38):

And was you know, worked hard but did it tough as well and got first class honors and then he said, Hey, why don’t you do a PhD? And I thought being a Dr, you know, rather suited me. And I thought that I could the most educated in my family and, and I fancied putting Dr on my passport. But really didn’t have very good reasons other than that. Cause I’d never get a job in academia. The state of the industry was so terrible. And my PhD research was about portraits of musicians in the 19th century. So it was celebrity studies and art history and cultural studies. And I had a, you know, I had a whale of a time, but I didn’t think I, I would sort of find an institution that had an alignment of the research interests. So I didn’t ever think I’d get a job.

Rachel Campbell (03:27):

But did the PhD, had some interruptions, had some really you know, life altering things happen. And and I did come out the other side and people now do call me Dr not my niece because she says I don’t fix people. But other people do. And so it’s been lovely to get to the other side of it and, and be able to achieve that goal. But as you said there is a happy ending. And I, I don’t know if now’s the time to, to give the secret away, but I do feel very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in, that I’ve been able to really capitalize on my other transferable skills and and yes, and we can explore the happy ending <laugh>, whenever you are ready for me to reveal it, I can tell everyone about the happy ending.

Emma Brodzinski (04:09):

I love that you’ve, you’ve given a shout out to Anna Davidson cuz we love that we give shout outs to the supporters here. But also this sense of, you said you wanted to put Dr on your passport, that’s one of the reasons that you started it. But also this idea just to kind of, to milk the metaphor of this sense of the PhD being a passport, being a way of accessing different fields, arenas. So, and I love that this is, this is what it ends up being for you. And yes, indeed, we can, we can, let’s not keep people in suspense. You can tell us where, where you are now, then we can, we can work back from that.

Rachel Campbell (04:52):

Certainly. So it was the year before last actually, I, someone had asked me to do a little bit of sessional teaching and I have been a a music educator, a choral director. I’ve really been in that arena, but done a lot of educating over the past 20 years. But someone asked me to just do a little bit of sessional teaching at the University of Canberra. And very quickly they offered me a fixed term contract for a fractional appointment of 0.8 which was last year. This year. They said, we love you, we love what you’re doing, so we are gonna give you a full-time contract. And actually just today I had my personal development plan meeting with my head of school and they’re offering me an ongoing position. So this is a dream in the sense that I’ve walked into a position.

Rachel Campbell (05:41):

I haven’t had to win it except for with my skills. I haven’t had to sort of apply or anything. But also the work I’m doing, I absolutely love. And I’m teaching cultural studies to our first year in, we have a set of core units in our undergraduate bachelor of arts degree. And my main job that I do is supporting students to be successful through pastoral care and wellbeing, but as an academic rather than a professional staff member. People have champions in their lives who say, Hey, you should do this, this would be awesome. But then they actually need a champion when they get to that place. And so that’s what I like to think of myself as is a champion for students.

Rachel Campbell (06:27):

And we have students with a lot of equity needs at the University of Canberra. We have a lot of first in family students first nation students, students from rural, regional and remote areas. And sitting with these students and saying, what are your hurdles to learning? What are the barriers that are stopping you from being successful? Or what do I need to know about you to, to help you be successful and working through those. I just, I really just love it. And so it’s just been this delightful thing that’s happened to me. And, and I did work hard and I do have you know, good skills and I, I have an expertise and I, I do have an empathetic sort of personality, but just to be able to really flourish in a university setting is just yeah, it’s been, it’s been a delight and it’s been something that I’ve even surprised myself at times. When I was in my P D P meeting today, I said to the head of school I said, actually, I’m having a great time. I said, I’m happy, I’m loving it, I’m challenged. And he said, oh, I wish we could bottle that and put it in an aerosol and spray it on some of the other faculty members, <laugh>, who have been here a while. So yeah, I’m feeling even just today more acutely very happy with, with, with where I’ve landed for sure.

Emma Brodzinski (07:47):

I love that. And congratulations on the contract and, and I can absolutely hear the passion in your voice. Love it, love it, love it. And this really important thing about the champion, and I think that especially coming into the PhD, the PhD journey of course starts many years before the PhD and, and you’re kind of looking towards that. And, and then when you get there, as you said, you still, you need a champion still. You’re into a next phase of a journey rather than having a arrived. And so this, this sense of looking out for your champion and making sure that they, you’ve got someone in your corner. So thank you for reminding us of that.

Rachel Campbell (08:41):

I think it’s so critical not just to have, you know, your supervisors and Alan was a supervisor and even when he moved institutions. But someone who’s real with you, someone who’s compassionate someone who’s interested in you getting the results and not just interested in, you know, I’m, I’m pedagogically sort of analyzing at the moment this idea that, you know, we did the tough way and you have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps as well. I just hate that so much because I think it just, yeah, it lacks a compassion and, and an empathy for, for what people go through during the PhD. And of course when you do something for a long time, stuff is gonna happen to you. You’re gonna have tough times just becau because of the reason of you’re doing it for ages, so stuff’s gonna crop up, you know? And I think having that compassion, having that someone’s got your back but in a really practical way I think that’s just so, so important. And I’ve been lucky to have that in my life and it’s a pleasure to be that for students now.

Emma Brodzinski (09:45):

So, so gorgeous. So yeah, so we know it all turns out well in the end, but now, like with all the good films, we’re going back through the montage <laugh> so that actually, as you say, things happen. And, and again, when we are looking forward into a PhD journey, we just think it’s gonna be, you know, we, we just think the highlights and we don’t think that things are gonna come in and life is gonna happen, but of course it does. Cuz like you say, you’re gonna be doing this for a long time and so life events happen. So can you tell us a little bit about what came up for you on your journey and how, how you handled it?

Rachel Campbell (10:20):

Certainly. Well, I I don’t often do things the easy way, put it that way. So I, I worked full time when, while I did my PhD, I also did my PhD full-time. So, and I had three little kids, so that was certainly a challenge in, in itself. And, you know, people say, oh, do you think it’s a very good idea? And I’m like, I’m just gonna do it because I’m so focused on you know, putting Dr of my passport at that point. And I really also wanted the regalia cuz I thought that was pretty, pretty snazzy. So but my, I am the next of kin for my Mum. And unfortunately about five years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer, very treatable form, thank goodness for modern medicine. Yes. But, you know, that took up a lot of time and and emotional energy in supporting her through that journey.

Rachel Campbell (11:10):

Yes. And then about six months before I was due to submit my marriage ended and I’m a very much, you know, taken in my stride kind of person. But one of my supervisors said to me like, seriously, you have to take an interruption. You, you know, you have to have an intermission. You can’t deal with this and support your kids and, you know, move houses and do all that kind of stuff unless you take a, a break. So I bargained him down from three months to five weeks <laugh> because you know, as I said, don’t like to do things the easy way. And, and took the five weeks off. And I think partly I, you know, I was stubborn because I feel too that as women, we have a lot of pressure on us to do all sorts of things and be these super mothers and, and super academics and super students.

Rachel Campbell (12:04):

So I, I did feel there was a bit of that sort of societal pressure in a gender sense on, on me. Whether I put that on myself or whether it was real, you know, I still sort of felt it. But so some of the challenges I took in my stride and some, like, you know, at that time when my marriage ended my supervisor really just put his foot down and, and said, no, you need, you need some time. And you know what it was okay. And I think that maybe that’s a message for, for listeners is that if you need time, that’s okay. And moving back to our chat about, you know, the seasons and the rhythm, that there is gonna be times where the season is rest. The season is, is put yourself first and the season is, you know, put your own oxygen mask on before you <laugh> try to try to do other things. So I probably would do things differently. If I had my time again, I’d be a little kinder to myself, I think because I tell students all the time, you know, university was invented in the year 1000, it’s not going anywhere. But that’s, that’s, that’s advice that I, I find it hard to, to listen to for myself, I guess.

Emma Brodzinski (13:15):

Yes. Oh yes. And I am so sorry to hear that those, that, you know, that’s been part of your journey I hope your Mum is, is fully well and vibrant now. And I’m so sorry to hear about the, the breakup of your marriage. Sadly relationship breakdown is something that’s very common along the PhD journey too, that that can happen to lots of people. And so this sense of <laugh>, I love you, this vision of you bargaining, well, you know, be, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine. A few weeks, I’ll be fine. And again, that’s very common because people tend to see the interruption as a, as some kind of failure of like, I’ve not absolutely done it properly rather than a very common experience. And it is part of honoring the, the, the phase where you are like, I really think everybody should have a kind of in whatever you it’s called in your, in your university, you know, intermission whether it is called all sorts of different things, but you should get a voucher at the beginning that you can kind of cash in at some point, <laugh> or a few vouchers.

Emma Brodzinski (14:25):


Rachel Campbell (14:25):

Like a hall pass. Yeah, exactly. Absolutely. It’s like a to collect $200 on the way pass go or whatever, it’s a monopoly. I, I think you’re absolutely right is that there needs to be structural and institutional change, I think, culturally to support PhD students because the, the, the experience is so vast and varied. And, and not, not all of us have linear sort of trajectories. In fact, I would say most don’t, right? Yeah. And there’s this irritating ad on Facebook that I get all the time, which is a fella saying, here’s how I did my PhD in two and a half years and published 12 papers in, you know, Q1 journals. And it makes me wanna scream because you know, and the comments are fantastic. The comments are all these, you know, academic women saying, oh, well did you have a wife or Did you live at home with your Mum? Or whatever. It’s <laugh>. Cause it’s so not the, it’s it’s, it’s not indicative of, of what the general and more common experience is. I think especially for women, especially for mothers. You know, when, when our hearts are torn between solving the problems of the world with our research and tucking our babies into bed every night, you know and, and there was a lot of nights I didn’t tuck my babies into bed and that’ve turned out okay as well. <Laugh>. Yes. So that’s probably another takeaway for listeners.

Emma Brodzinski (15:49):

Yes, yes, yes. And I, I love that you’re highlighting the, the kind of gendered aspect of this too. And, you know, there’s gonna be, there’s all sorts of different demographic things that come into play in terms of the particular challenges that people might face. But I think this sense of of, of it not being a failure, it’s acknowledging that life is happening and and again, you know, I guess there is, the parcel already does exist because these systems are already there. There are systems for extenuating circumstances, there are systems for compassionate leave, there are systems for sick leave. They are there because people need them because we’re human beings. And it isn’t to failure at all. And, and kind of taking that time and like you say, you took that time. I wonder how it was to kind of come back in after your, after your five week or what was it like to, to go out and what was it like to come back in?

Rachel Campbell (16:43):

Do you know? I think between you, me and however many listeners you have, Emma, I

Emma Brodzinski (16:50):

Probably, there’s

Rachel Campbell (16:51):

Only a few

Emma Brodzinski (16:51):

Thousand people, don’t worry. Those

Rachel Campbell (16:52):

Five weeks. I probably did you know, write a few few or think about a few things. But I think that it took the pressure off so that if I felt good and I felt like I had a little bit of space to do a bit of work, I could do that. But the pressure wasn’t on for deadlines and meetings and, you know, write me this chapter or that chapter. So I kind of had the best of both worlds. I had a safety net there. And then I do feel that, you know, it did give me that space to focus on the children and the moving of the house and the selling of the house and all of those sorts of things. Yes. And so I don’t have strong memories of sort of having this grand moment where I came back because I think it’s something I haven’t said is I did my, my PhD at the University of New England in Armidale Australia, and I did it via distance, so I wasn’t on campus, so it’s not like I made a triumphant return to my office on campus.

Rachel Campbell (17:48):

Right, right, right. You know, I probably just opened my laptop on the couch kind of thing on one day. Yeah. When I was ready to come back. So it’s probably not straightforward in lots of ways, but I think ag again, just mentally the space was probably yeah. Really useful just from a, a healing perspective and a rest perspective.

Emma Brodzinski (18:07):

Yes, yes, yes. And actually this is very, very common that people take you kind of officially get some time. That doesn’t mean that you, you, I mean this is, we need to be careful with this, so it doesn’t mean you need to carry on with stuff. So let’s just be clear on that. But it also means you can do it if you want to, if you took six months off, like you say, it could give you some space, the pressure is off and allows you to have a, have a sort of potter around with your PhD if you want to without the pressure. So I think that, that, again, that’s very common that people might take the time off and then just allow themselves to be with the material as it works for them. For some people it will be more extreme time away as is appropriate.

Emma Brodzinski (18:55):

But I, I think that that’s important to note too, is that you can take, make that time work for you. And I think always, I would always advise people to sort of try and take that maximum amount of time because everybody’s gonna be really happy if you come back early or hand in early. And it’s more difficult to negotiate extended deadlines later on in the process. So I think that allowing yourself time and space so that you can look back on that time, like you looking back on that time and going, yeah, no, I had time to, to make sure that I was able to move house in the, in the best way possible and do what I needed to do in that moment. Because you wanna look back over your PhD time and the life that happened while you were doing it with happy memories as part of it, ideally <laugh>.

Rachel Campbell (19:46):

That’s right. And I do, I think that’s, that’s exactly right. But it’s also for me is modeling good behaviors to my children. Yeah. and you know, saying, no, I’m, I’m, I need, I need a break and that’s okay. Or saying you know, I’m a bit overwrought or, or whatever it is. And I didn’t wanna put my own children off going to university. Right. Because there was a time there, I think during my honors year where my son, my middle son was like, I’m never going to university. And I said, well, that’s okay mate. Excuse me, you know, you don’t have to go to university. And he’d say, what do I need to do to get a job if I really love rocks? And I was like, well, that’s geology mate. You’d go to university to study that <laugh>. And he’d go, okay, I’m not gonna do that.

Rachel Campbell (20:29):

What if I wanted a job where I, you know, looked at paintings and I’d be like, well, art history mate, that’s university as well, <laugh>. And this went on and on for a while because I didn’t want them to, you know, have that sort of like to see me just struggling the whole time and crying and drinking wine and, you know, having a breakdown. I wanted to model yeah, that it, that learning is pleasurable and, and all of those sorts of things so that they could just follow their own path without being scarred by my experience as well.

Emma Brodzinski (21:00):

I love that. And we talk about this here a lot in terms of everybody, you know, the family is going through the PhD experience, your littles are going through it with you, and they’re seeing what’s happening and they care about you and you care about them. And so that has to come into the mix. It has to come into the mix. And I’m, I’m delighted that you were able to have that moment with them and it still worked out well in the end. Because I, I think that again, people kind of feeling like they need to take some time out, think, oh, well this might be it, then I, that will, you know, I’ll, I’ll take time out and I’ll never come back to it and it will won’t, you know, it kind of, it feels a, a massive step and it is, you know, it, it, there is, it’s a, there’s a step to it, but it, it can be just part of the process, can’t it?

Rachel Campbell (21:51):

Absolutely. And a natural part of the process, I think in my you know, I’ve met a lot of UK colleagues through women’s academia support networks and things as, you know, in the same way that you and I connected Emma I think in the UK it seems much more difficult and that the, the, the process is sort of more stringent and seems to be a bit, you know, can be a bit traumatic at times. Like, we don’t defend here, for instance, we don’t have a Viva in, in in Australia. So and I, I’m, you know, PhD students are covered by fair work rules and all that sort of that stuff. So I think, you know, I often thank my lucky stars that I did an Australian PhD in lots of ways because it does seem to have some more sort of sensible approaches maybe then this kind of more, you know, the hunger game style you know, academic life <laugh> where everyone just gets thrown in, in an arena and, and you hope for the best. So I think there’s probably some cultural differences there.

Emma Brodzinski (22:54):

Well, I, I don’t love it, but what a brilliant metaphor in terms of it being like the hunger Games. Absolutely. Absolutely. And yes, indeed, there are good practices out there in PhD land, and let’s hope that we learn from each other and start to think about, okay, well how, you know, let’s, let’s take that bit from that module cuz it’s really humane and thoughtful and all of that. Rachel, I, this thank you so much. I’m aware of time, so we, we need to kind of come to a close now, but I always ask people for a top tip. So if, what would you share with the people who are listening?

Rachel Campbell (23:37):

Yeah, I think my top tip is probably to back yourself is that yes, you need a champion, but you also have to be your own champion. And if there is an intermission or a life event is to sort of back yourself and say, no, I need a break, or, yes, I can do this, or, you know, I need a bit more specific help or, or whatever. And in a way we, we lead the charge of our own PhD very much, you know, from the front and by ourselves. And I think, again, if I could just speak to the gendered aspect, you know, as women you know, so often we have to be our own champions. And so I, yeah, I think that’s probably there’s, there’s probably a lot, a lot of tips out there, but I’d say, yeah, back yourself and, and the day will come the day will come where you get your amazing regalia.

Rachel Campbell (24:27):

And, and it feels great to put it on and it feels, I feel mine’s very heavy, so I feel the weight of it on my body, but I also just feel the success and I feel the hard work and I know how much work went into it. So for me my regalia really signifies all of that. And I love wearing it to graduations and it always gets a lot of comments. So I feel you know, that journey and I, did back myself. I, I had to I along the way.

Emma Brodzinski (25:00):

Here’s the thing Exactly, you don’t only get a PhD; you get great frock as well. So it’s all good. It’s all to play for <laugh>. Oh

Rachel Campbell (25:21):

Man. Mine is just so glorious.

Emma Brodzinski (25:26):

Amazing. Oh, Rachel, thank you so much. And I wish you well in the next part of the, of the journey and congratulations again on your, on your new job. And thank you all for listening.