Back to the beginning
As the Postgraduate Open Day approaches, we talked to alumna Dr Janet Starkey about returning to Edinburgh more than 40 years after completing her undergraduate degree.
Dr Janet Starkey (nee Milne) came from a Scottish family in Aberdeenshire and was attracted to Edinburgh for its reputation as an exciting and culturally stimulating city. Additionally, social anthropology was an unusual and dynamic subject for which Edinburgh had an excellent reputation.
Janet gained her MA (Hons) undergraduate degree in 1971 and, because a doctorate wasn’t then seen as essential for academic career progression, chose to study for a MPhil at London University.
During this period she spent a rewarding year living with the Amarar, a Beja nomadic tribe, in the Red Hills, Sudan. Following completion of her MPhil, and having caught the travel and research bug , Starkey continued her explorations with an extended period working in the Middle East including Jordan, Oman and Qatar, and at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research.
By 1980 postgraduate study and a PhD was very much on Janet's radar but marriage to Professor Paul Starkey and the birth of twins in 1982 meant that family life took precedence. In addition, Paul took long sabbatical trips to the Middle East and they often travelled throughout the world with the family in tow.
When the twins left for university she made a conscious decision to read for a doctorate and prove that she was as capable as any of her academic colleagues who had followed the more modern route. With this in mind Janet returned to her alma mater and the old haunts of Edinburgh to complete a PhD in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) in 2013 - 46 years after first coming to Edinburgh to study.
Apart from wanting to revisit the city and explore forgotten memories, the university's international reputation in the field was a strong reason for her return.
In the early 1970s it was quite possible to follow a career without a doctorate but today it has become a key step to academic career progression. Without a PhD it was almost impossible, especially in the last 15-20 years, to get on the formal academic ladder: senior lecturer, reader, professor and all the rest.
The other side
More accustomed to supervising students, Janet initially found it strange experiencing the other side of the student-teacher relationship. Plus her other academic commitments meant that time management and the balancing of life and study was something that required consideration and planning.
After having published extensively on the Middle East, another challenge was not how to write - as it might have been had she moved directly to postgraduate study after completeing her undergraduate degree - but how to condense all the knowledge gained over many years into 100,000 words. Thankfully this was made easier with the support, and patience, of understanding supervisors.
By attending a Postgraduate Open Day, prospective students are given the chance to talk informally to mature students and successful graduates and gain insight into the personal and professional benefits of doing a doctorate. Something which Janet believes is important to gain reassurance and encouragement from those who have been there themselves.
Having a PhD gives one self-respect and the confidence, as well as gaining respect and recognition from the academic world.
Dr Starkey is the co-editor of the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, for an international event held annually at the British Museum. Two books, one on eighteenth-century Scottish physicians in Aleppo, Syria, and another entitled Huntly 1913, are awaiting publication and more books and lectures are planned.
Edinburgh's next Postgraduate Open Day takes place on Wednesday 18 November 2015 and is an opportunity to find out more about the University, get a feel for our vibrant postgraduate community and meet staff and current students.