Jane Smart – Practical Theology Doctorate

Practical Theology Doctorate student Jane Smart says the course has opened her eyes to new ways of thinking. We found out more about her experience as a researcher at the University of Birmingham. 

jane-smartWhy did you choose to study the Practical Theology Doctorate?

My background is in primary education with a particular interest in RE teaching. I completed my MA many years ago also on a part time basis, so the organisational aspect of the course really appealed to me. After some exploration, I felt that the DPT would enable me to use and develop my existing skills (professional and academic) and my interests in RE teaching and Theology, as well as introducing me to new ideas and ways of thinking.

Why did you choose to undertake research at the University of Birmingham?

Birmingham seemed the logical choice, its reputation, location and facilities are excellent. The course design suited my needs exactly. I really liked the feel of the university when I came for the Open Day and felt the tutors were people I would enjoy working with. The course is a long one but there is a degree of in-built flexibility should personal circumstances change, I liked the forethought and consideration given to student welfare in this regard.

What are the best things about your course?

I think the structure of the course, my tutor and peers. I’m only a year into the course but I like the way I am starting feel part of a research culture. Being able to access online books has been really helpful and meeting via zoom has always been well organised.

What is life like as a researcher at the University of Birmingham?

Due to the pandemic, that’s almost two questions. As a researcher it’s challenging; getting to grips with a lot of new and subject specific vocabulary and concepts. Reading academic texts and then developing and expressing my own views and opinions has been an even greater challenge, but eventually it has become more attainable! In terms of being a researcher at Birmingham in particular, I have only been to the pre-Covid Open Day and once to the library, so I’m looking forward to being able to go the University in person this year.

What support have you received during your PhD?

I am now a second year student. My experiences have all been supportive and encouraging. Meeting tutors, other potential students and asking lots of questions on a wet, autumnal Open Day, left me feeling encouraged and excited about the course, the people I would be working with, and joining the university itself.

I received help and advice with putting together the research proposal required as part of my application and again this was a great opportunity to ask more questions, discuss my particular circumstances (I hadn’t written essay for at least thirteen years, combining study with working and so on) and make a really informed decision about what I would be committing myself to.

I have regular online meetings with the other DPT students who are at various stages of their research and it’s been valuable and enriching to share their experiences, both practical and academic. Personal supervision sessions are tailored opportunities to develop lines of enquiry, receive feedback, support and advice regarding further reading and assignments.

Support has come in other forms too – short on line courses to help with literature reviews, note-making etc. The library staff are easily contactable for help locating books and journals, IT technicians that help with setting up accounts and passwords and so on.

Outside of your research, what experience have you gained and how will it help you in the future?

The DPT has opened my eyes to new ways of looking at things which will be of benefit in my current professional life as well as my subject. Speaking to an adult audience is a new departure, much more nerve-wracking than primary school children! Going back to study has been good, waking up skills that had all but fallen asleep. At times it has been hard to remain motivated with Covid always in the background, so I have had to find ways to remain resilient and stay on task.

Find out more about our postgraduate opportunities in Theology and Religion.