James Mason

Talking about
Being a PhD researcher

I graduated from my undergraduate degree 10 years ago and then worked for eight years. My job was just about earning money to live, and it wasn’t something that I really enjoyed, so I quit to do a Masters in Film Studies. I loved studying for that so much that I thought “yes, I can do a PhD”.

My main motivation for doing a PhD was to stay in academia; I just love the research side of it. I really enjoyed the independent study for my Masters and a PhD takes that a step further; you get to direct your interest where you want it to go. My research is about film audiences, specifically looking at how audiences understand the films produced by the Walt Disney studio.

I try to treat my research like a nine to five job because you have to be quite self-disciplined. I don’t want to end up working all hours. During busy periods I do sometimes end up working evenings and the odd weekend but I don’t have a problem balancing work and play. Sometimes having a two-hour lunch with a fellow researcher is just as valuable as spending two hours reading, as we’ll talk about any problems we’re having with our work and bounce ideas off each other.

The city is brilliant, especially the cultural side. There are loads of theatres and I regularly go and see plays at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and at the Leeds Grand Theatre – they put on some really good stuff. Then there are all the music events which are fantastic; I’ve been to gigs at various locations, including the new First Direct Arena. The International Film Festival is amazing as well. There are some great bars and also loads of restaurants – it seems like a new restaurant opens up each week so you’re spoilt for choice.

I’ve found that there are lots of ways to meet other people; you don’t need to worry that you’ll feel isolated whilst studying for your PhD. You’ve got your fellow researchers – there were 10 of us that started at once in my School, and then there are those in their second and third years – and I’ve also met people at training events and through conferences; there are lots of opportunities to network.

Being part of the Postgraduate Society is also a good way to meet other people. Every week there is a postgraduate coffee hour which is a great opportunity to just chill out and take a break from work. We go to a pub quiz once a month and then there are other social events throughout the year. Last weekend we went on a steam train to Haworth’s Brontë Country and we’ve got a barbeque planned in a few weeks’ time. I think sometimes there is a tendency to get blinkered and think it’s all about the work but there is so much more to a PhD.