The question I get asked most often is ‘why’
That is ‘why do a PhD’ and ‘why study that’ so at the risk of sounding like an academic paper, these questions I will attempt to address here.
Why do a PhD? Well I first remember hearing of a PhD when I was in Sixth Form and one quick cocky individual (he was, there’s no other way to put it) declared that’s what he was going to do. Well anything you can do as they say... Also learning, education is the only thing I’ve ever been really good at so as I continued to work my way through the education system it became apparent I wasn’t going to be happy until I’d gone ‘all the way’.
Just being quite good at studying, and rather linking learning however isn’t really justification or motivation for a PhD, some of that comes from the topic which I’ll come on to, but it comes from other things too. I tried to like other careers-well I say careers, I had several temp jobs ranging from a ‘dresser’ in the theatre (best job ever, highlight dressing a male chorus as Roman Soldiers, then priests, then slaves) I was a Civil Servant (I lack the discipline and lack of personality) a receptionist (lack the sucking up skills) and a secretary at a Higher Education Institute not a million miles away from here (academics love me, secretaries hate me, clearly this was a sign) Finally I trained as a Secondary School History teacher (least said about that the better). So I tried, I really tried to find something else I was good at.
But that doesn’t answer why. A PhD isn’t about being clever in fact I’d argue a good memory and observation skills outweigh the need for a high IQ. What a PhD does is catalogue information, collect it, and use it. And that is why I love it. I’ve been doing that for years doing what my Mum calls ‘going into things’ I call it ‘Endless capacity for useless information’. For as long as I can remember if something interests me it’s not enough just to like it I need to know as much as humanly possible about it. I affectionately call it being geeky, some might call it obsession. But what is a PhD other than a three year obsession with a topic? So to turn my useless skill and obsessive tendencies and use them for good instead of evil (or to put it another way to gain something from boring people to death)
There’s another thing on the general ‘why’ something that those who treated me with such hostility when I said I didn’t want to teach Secondary School (it’s one of the most deadly sins you know, to say you don’t like being a teacher) is that I didn’t like teaching SECONDARY SCHOOL. I do love, almost as much as my PhD itself, teaching. I get to talk about things I love, with people who (mostly) want to be there. I learn from my students all the time-often they know more than I do about a given book or subject. And they inspire me. But that deserves a blog post of their own.
So that’s the ‘Why’ overall. So why this? Why HIV/AIDS? To be honest I don’t know, and I feel like I should know. There’s two strands I can pin it to; firstly I’m a child of the 1980s I grew up terrified of AIDS- I was convinced for a good portion of my childhood AIDS was going to kill me and I wasn’t even sure what it was. I blame John Hurt and the tombstone adverts.
The second part is more simplistic, and a general act of serendipity, I discovered two plays that inspired me and that have become central to my research at the same time. I was living in Canada, it was a long winter and my flatmate (sorry ‘roommate’) suggested we rent ‘Angels in America’ her words I believe were ‘It’s about people with AIDS but it’s supposed to be good’ and my oh my it was. At the same time the musicals geek in me finally discovered Rent, and lightning bolts went off in my head. Simply two pieces of amazing theatre coming into my life at the same time and things started to fall into place. I did work on both for the end of my Undergraduate degree and then for my Masters. So far it’s been 6 years since that discovery and I still have more I want to know. So I suppose that’s why. The chance to do what you love, to think about something you love every day. It doesn’t get much better does it?