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: https://thephdliferaft.libsyn.com/

Emma  

Hello, Nicole. Hello. Thank you so much for getting up early, yourself into the office today to talk to us. I really, really do appreciate that. And it is a subject today that is really dear to my heart and we’re gonna we’re talking about first generation scholars and I’m really looking forward to talking to you about that and we were just talking before about how really important part of this podcast can be helping people to feel less alone. And I think it can be a really scary journey as a first generation scholar going into a PhD and the plan is now today is to love everybody up so they feel feel supported on this journey. So that’s no pressure. But that’s that’s where we’re getting to begin to start with finding out more about you. So if you could just tell us about about your story.

Nicole Patrie  

Right. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to talk to you today. So I guess my my story is a little bit crooked. And so I grew up in a small town, in the prairies in Canada and I was good at math and science. And so I went to university to become an engineer. I was told to do I am clearly not an engineer anymore. I switched to my second year of university. I was in this class that everyone looks forward to and it was supposed to be the highlight of your second year and it was terrible and I hated it. And so someone told me, You should be a teacher. You’re really good at explaining things. And so in a week, I switched into education and did my undergrad training to become a high school math teacher. And so I did that for a year. And then I moved back to a larger city and didn’t find a teaching job. I ended up finding a teaching job inside of a prison. And I loved it. And so that is sort of the beginning I guess of like the way finds you right? Yeah. Oh,

Emma  

yes, yes, yes. Yeah. So

Nicole Patrie  

I taught them for them for a few years and decided I needed to do some more graduate school to do some more. We’re not We’re not trained to teach in prisons. And nor is there a master’s degree program anyways, that does that yet. So I did a master’s degree while I was working in adult education, and then I moved into program admin, so sort of like a vice principal principalship of the prison school. And then I got to the point where I wanted to think more deeply about the issues and contribute to society more broadly, instead of just my little prison school circle. And so that’s how I ended up being in a PhD. And I wish I could say I thought deeply about all of these transitions, but I really, really didn’t I just sort of looked at what, what could happen and what what happened quickly and then I just kind of jumped in every single time without much forethought.

Emma  

Oh my goodness. Right. So first of all, I love that. I didn’t know this about you that you’ve done a lot of prison work. I’ve done quite a bit of prison work as well and what what are settings we’ll be working in and got right so we need to after this podcast ends, right. I’m quizzing you. Right that’s just that’s just for us everyone right so but what I also love about what you said was it uses a cookie story and what I love is so many people can watch this podcast ago right when it’s no straightforward and I think this is the first point of sharing right isn’t it? That people’s PhD journeys are very rarely straightforward and straight down the line and I love it because the crookedness of your story is the beauty of it. And I also love Bill way find you that totally is because he during the during the podcast, I rightly so you you say I’m writing these things down to kind of like what’s the quote from this the wavefront is already we’re done. Job is done. We’ve already gotten the quote for today the way fine sheet but this sense of of following the breadcrumbs, I guess, really isn’t it and now getting to a point where like, actually and what a beautiful thing you said in terms of wanting to do this, this study in order to serve your community and serve the wider community. So this is This is gorgeous, right? I’m already in love. So. So this is this is what’s brought you to the PhD. But what I also know from what you said is that you are your first generation Scholar so I and that’s what we’re here to kind of unpack so you didn’t intend you didn’t set out at the age of five and go, do you know what I’m going to do a PhD? Definitely not in education, obviously. So talk to me about that. Talk to me about coming towards the PhD program. Yeah. And the challenges and surprises of that.

Nicole Patrie  

Yeah. So I’m a first generation scholar in the broadest sense of the word so my parents do not have university or college degrees. We didn’t no one else in my family. My brother went to university for a bachelor degree the year before me. So we have very, very little experience in that and so I think that’s part of why I say my journey is crooked because we don’t really know what we’re getting into. I like I signed up for a master’s degree program in the university that was in the city I lived in because it was there and I didn’t know what it I didn’t know what it was about. And I wish I could say I knew what the PhD was about when I signed up and applied but I really, really didn’t. I knew that I would be doing a dissertation, which was like a big research project. But I didn’t know how long it would take what it entailed. I had no idea what candidacy was about or comprehensive exams, all of this stuff that most people know I just knew that I was going to do this thing, right.

Emma  

Sometimes that can be brilliant, actually not knowing what you’re letting yourself in for.

Nicole Patrie  

And terrifying. I mean, we don’t know how scared and How worried should be right. And because of that because I didn’t know what I was getting into. I sort of treated it like a job because I was moving from my job as like a program manager of the prison school into a Ph. D program and I had a little child and so I was working from eight to four, because that’s the time I had and I was very, very clear that like I quit my job to do this thing. And I wasn’t getting money for it because I didn’t know about funding. Until later, I know funding now Oh good. I didn’t have a funded I didn’t have a funded PhD in the way that I’ve come to learn that people have them. Right. And so I was putting together a sessional jobs and TA chips and stuff like that. But I really didn’t want it to impact my family because my partner has a Bachelor degree he works in industry, but no one else in our family does. And so I didn’t want this. I’ve heard that PhDs and graduate studies are all encompassing and that’s all like eat sleep. PhD. Right? And you can’t do that when you have kids. And now I have two kids and you really can’t do that. So I I treated it like a job and I just kind of did what I tried to do during the day and then went home and tried to forget about it. Right. Right. Right, which works really well until the pandemic happened. And then because I was the one without a job. I was the one who was doing the childcare. Right. And so that’s, I mean, it’s a decision we had to make, but it meant that I was a full time PhD student who wasn’t actually doing any PhD work. Right. And that’s okay. And I think when I when I think about first gen scholars and even I mean broadly, just people in graduate programs, we don’t really know what to expect and we don’t really know what’s normal. Yes, yes. And I remember standing in an elevator and probably my first year so I started my PhD in 2019. So I had five months before everything shut down of regular graduate studies. Okay. I remember standing in an elevator with some education, undergrad students, and they were talking about an assignment that they had and one of them said, oh, I’ll just get my mom to help me. She’s a lawyer. And just the way that they talked about it too. So off the cuff and it never dawned on me before that people had parents who went to university and I know this should make sense, right? Because, like I have people in my life who are professors who are clearly older than I am who went to university so it makes sense that people I never understood that people can ask family members

Emma  

Sheesh, yes. I know exactly what you mean. As you know, that’s my story in terms of I was the first one in my whole family to go on and and exactly that thing of if someone could ring up their mom and ask them how to do footnotes. I mean, like, I don’t, that’s another world right? Yeah.

Nicole Patrie  

And I wish I could say I realized this before I was 36. But I did it. It took me until then. To realize that

Emma  

normal is normal. There a noise normal. Yeah.

Nicole Patrie  

Yeah. And so I think that was the moment where it where I started realizing that things that I was experiencing it differently than other people. Yeah, right. Yeah. And then started to be more intentional about getting and finding and asking for support. And being a little bit more open about that because in my positionality, I’m a white middle class woman who just kind of fits into academia, right like I fit in very nicely. I can walk the talk I can game the system. I can learn the things I need to learn. But I do also have this side struggle, right. And I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s a giant side struggle, but it’s there and I needed to notice it in order to do something about it.

Emma  

Well, I think it’s something isn’t it of like you say what I love, you said about getting intention about asking for support, because there will be lots of people with invisible supports this will invisible to you support systems. And you might be thinking, why is this so hard? Why does everybody else just seem to know what they’re doing or they must be amazing and I’m stupid. That’s what people kind of come to the conclusion because they don’t know that on the other end of the telephone line for that person is a whole set of information, and all those contacts and all that information. So I think this is this is brilliant in terms of you saying okay, yeah, actually they’ve got support systems I need to gather in my support system to brilliant. Yeah.

Nicole Patrie  

And I mean, an example thinking back to how I didn’t know that funding was a thing. I was applying for scholarships and didn’t know I was getting them, right. But I asked somebody if I could see a copy of their scholarship application who was successful and of course, they sent it to me because people share things but I didn’t know that people sharing things, right. And so I started being, like, very specific about emailing people, like can I see a copy of your research proposal? Could I see a copy of your scholarship application? Can you have a look at this for me, right? How did you format it? Because if we don’t create that, that support for ourself, the only person we have is our supervisors. Right? And they’re lovely, and they’re great, but they can’t do everything and they’re not meant to do everything. Right. To find like, find it ourselves, you know?

Emma  

Well, I think we think the other thing is that first and scholars tend to be incredibly resourceful. And they tend to have done a lot of things by themselves and done a lot of that research by themselves gotten ourselves to a place and then maybe it’s okay to ask other people to help. A people will be very happy to help. And so to know that that is a possibility. You don’t have to do it all by yourself and make it super hard, and you can get that support in place.

Nicole Patrie  

Yeah, for sure. And I think the other the other, I’m just looking at my notes, and I wrote down one other thing, like finding the supports, but also not needing to hit the ground running. And so we have this idea, or I’ve seen other people when they enter PhD programs that they need to start publishing they need to start researching they need to start working on their proposal right away. And we have coursework that we do, right, we have a I had to do eight classes before I wrote my research proposal. And so we don’t need to start. Like yeah, you need an idea to get into the program. Right, but you don’t need to be that over overachiever that we all are at the beginning. We can we can sit back and we can watch other people and we can ask and we can go to their we can go to their workshops, and we don’t have to give our own yet right. And, and so we can we can learn in that way too. Because we’re not we don’t we don’t know what it’s like we’ve never been in this environment. before. And so we can sort of, I don’t like the term be an anthropologist, but we can be an anthropologist in academia and watch for trends and see how things happen and see what the field is like, right?

Emma  

Yes, always just broke up there. But I think I think yes, so that’s a bit so it’s a bit different in the in the US and the Canadian system than it is in the UK? Because you do because because there you do sort of start but how brilliant that you do get, like you say a bit of a soft start into just observing and I do recommend people when they are thinking about the PhD and they can do this, you know, in the UK system where you need to sort of get going, That You Might Have a look around perhaps go to some of the people’s presentations, those kinds of things. So you get a sense of like you say to be an anthropologist get a sense of what kind of language of people using where you know who’s in the room, what’s going on so that you can sort of acclimatized yourself a little bit. So it isn’t just kind of like jumping in at the deep end. And I think it’s important because understanding that it is a big step up as well. It’s complete stepping into completely different arena than your master’s program, then you’re definitely from your undergrad, but even from your master’s program and so kind of knowing that that is going to be a big shift. And and readying yourself for that I think makes a lot of sense. Absolutely.

Nicole Patrie  

And I mean you don’t like I’m from education, so we don’t go into a school and start teaching on the first day you go into the school week before and you set up your classroom and you organize things and same with prison education, we don’t hire new teachers and then send them into a classroom on their first day we let them look around we let them observe right and so why should it be any different? Right and so we can we can watch and we can try things and I like what how you brought up going to workshops and seminars and stuff before you even apply because I’m realizing that I did that. I mean, I applied and then I decided to see what this was actually about. And I did go to a few like roundtables on campus and just sort of sat in the back and listened and like it was intimidating because people sound so much smarter because there’s ways to ask questions in academia that you you would never ask in a professional conference or a professional setting. And there’s there’s all of these ways to do things and act and write notes or not write notes or whatever. And we need time to sort of find out what that new culture is. Right.

Emma  

Exactly. And I love that you kind of framed that off as being an anthropologist because it is just because it can be very intimidating. And especially if you’re first generation, you’re kind of like I don’t even know what they are doing here. But from that anthropological point of view, you can be really curious to go oh, this is interesting. There’s different codes going on. There’s different types of behavior, and I can learn the codes. I’m a good learner. I can learn the codes. And so I think that that having that perspective is really gorgeous way of looking at it. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I’m aware of time this tight just space by so there’s there was a lot of good stuff there around the experiences and also ideas that you that you have employed for yourself. You know, getting intentional about supports being the anthropologist treating it like a job when those kinds of things anything else that you had that you wanted to say? Yeah,

Nicole Patrie  

the other thing I wanted to talk about in terms of game supports is that we we know now that you ask for things and you get them and it’s easy to get samples of scholarship applications and CVS and stuff but I think there’s that other element of that we have to complete the circle and we have to continue to give that back to other people. And so we have to we get support and mentorship from other people and we need to give it back to others and not always do people know that they can ask for these things. And so once you get to that point where you feel sort of comfortable in the environment and you have some some networks and you have some answers and you’ve won some awards to even offer like to the new student, would you like me to send it to you, right? Let’s talk about it. I can I can send these documents to you. It’s not a secret, right, and that we can continue to support others in the way that we’ve been supported. And I think that’s the whole point of it. Oh,

Emma  

Nicole, you are so gorgeous. Your generosity and being here showed that to absolutely yes, absolutely. Yes. And I think that that that paying it forward is a is awesome. And this is the way that we change academia to isn’t it in terms of that kind of generosity of spirit that we’re not sort of hiding out hiding our work and that we can be truly collaborative? And that’s a that is a beautiful place to be

Nicole Patrie  

like yes, it’s a competition, right? Like we can’t hide the fact that we are competing for money and jobs and whatever but if someone’s already won it, they’re not gonna win it again. Right. So you can you can you can pass that information along. You can you can celebrate other people’s successes and you can be happy for your colleagues and your fellow students. And like you said, you’re we’re only usually the only person in an institution studying something. I’m the only person studying prison education, so I can be happy for my friends studying queer education, or teacher education when they when things are good things because I’m not in the running for those and even if I was I would be happy anyways. That uniqueness makes collaboration and success. More sweet, I think. Oh,

Emma  

yes, yes, yes, yes. I’m going to do it now. I’m going to ask you for top tips while I did it. Everyone’s very cruel. I know. But out of all of that, do you have a top tip for us?

Nicole Patrie  

I do. I don’t think it’s a tip so much as a statement. And so I’m halfway through my PhD and I ended up getting an assistant professorship position, just bad luck. And my supervisor looked at me and said, You do belong here. Like you, you are here and you can make a valid contribution. And you belong here. And so I think that is, that is my thing is that sometimes we don’t feel like we do, but we can. And the fact that we are, maybe quote unquote untraditional means that we have something new. And that’s how we can change it.

Emma  

Oh, right. That’s going on a t shirt. There’s the merch right there. You belong here. There’s the merch. But also I do just have to say it wasn’t by luck, Nicole. You’re brilliant. That’s why That’s why you’ve got your professors, your assistant professorship. And so thank you so, so much for this. Yes, I will. We will have your details if people want to make contact, because I’m sure they will want to make contact with you. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And thank you for being just such a gorgeous, generous, spirited soul. Thank you. Thank

Nicole Patrie  

you so much for having

Emma  

me. And thank you all for listening.