Grads of the UK is an Instagram project and series of articles run by graduates, for graduates. We are documenting what being a millennial in 2017 is really like, with honest stories about life after university.
Every week we hand over our Instagram account to a new grad and share their unique story here on GradTouch. This week Ross is taking over. Ross is currently studying for a PhD in Ancient Roman Military History at the University of Liverpool.
You can read our interview with Ross below, and see more daily insights into his graduate life by following @gradsoftheuk on Instagram.
Ross says he is currently “dead in the middle of the PhD process”.
Ultimately, he wants to build a career lecturing Archaeology students, doing fieldwork and publishing research; his focus and passion is military history.
To balance his studies, interests and working towards his goals, Ross tells me that he feels he hasn’t really stopped working in years: “I went straight from school to university. Then I spent a year working while applying for postgraduate positions and then I went straight into [my] PhD when it was offered.”
“From there,” he continues, “I'm looking at going right into the military. There's certainly been a lack of breathing space, for want of a better phrase.”
Since early lessons in primary school Ross has loved studying History, and recalls that his mum explained the difference between being an Archaeologist and a Historian to him at a very young age. This led him to pursue Archaeology, as it's more hands-on and, he says, will allow him “to actually go discover and explore history firsthand”.
Ross adds that his interest in Archaeology is fuelled by the fact that “there’s something incredibly personal about the discipline”. He thinks it’s really important to preserve humanity’s cultural heritage, for the benefit of everyone, “rather than it remaining buried and forgotten”.
Yet, having spent such a long time dedicated to academia, on-track to become a lecturer, Ross tells me he wants to fully experience the military life he’s studied for years, away from the books:
“Military study is both a hobby and a professional interest… and it’s a love I would very much like to explore ‘in the field’, as it were.”
Once he finishes his PhD, he’ll be sending his application off immediately to join the Marines as an Officer – something he set his heart on determinedly a year or two ago.
When I ask Ross what motivates him to serve in the Marines, before he then returns to lecture and conduct his own Archaeological research, it becomes clear it’s something he’s thought about a great deal and is truly invested in. He tells me about his “deep and profound respect for the British forces” and the duty he feels to do his own part in that.
Ross says serving in the marines will not only satisfy this sense of duty and fulfil a personal passion for the armed forces, but he also feels serving could be crucial in his future as an academic.
“Whilst not strictly necessary, I would feel a little out of my depth writing, lecturing and discussing commentaries on military psychology, strategy and the circumstances of combat without having experienced such things on a personal level,” he explains. “Few Historians or Archaeologists have, and I feel it’s a glaring lack in the knowledge base.”
On average, PhD students extend their three years of study by one additional year. If Ross wants to make it into the Marines, there’s no time for that.
Having turned 24 this year, the clock is ticking for Ross to get his application in, as they don’t accept anyone at Officer level over the age of 25.
This determination to make it into the military is somewhat at odds with his current commitment to completing his PhD to the highest possible standard. Ross tells me his belief is that “good work takes time”, and if that means extending his PhD and cutting off his chances to join the forces, he will, reluctantly.
Until then, Ross splits each week between PhD work and keeping up with the physical training demanded if he wants to get into the Marines. He goes for a run every single day and spends up to two hours at the gym daily too. Not only that, but Ross works as a Graduate Research Assistant for his mum, who is a Marine Consultant.
This makes for a pretty intense schedule: four hours a day on paid work and four hours on the PhD, with three days a week devoted exclusively to “a full eight hours of PhD time”. Though he tries to keep to this structure, there are days when his paid work takes up an entire day, forcing him to study late into the night as best he can.
This rigorous schedule is what will be required if Ross is to achieve everything he’s set his mind to in the next couple of years.
He says, “If I don’t work hard, I won’t be able to achieve either of my life goals; becoming a lecturer and researcher without the proper qualifications and proven dedication would be borderline impossible, and the same goes doubly-so for military service.”
It seems he’s stretching himself and his time pretty thinly, leaving little room for social activities. With a routine that sees Ross commuting from home to uni, working on the PhD and balancing a job and physical fitness training – he admits, “I’ve left myself a little isolated… I’ve admittedly not integrated into the culture of university as much as I perhaps should”.
This isolation bothers Ross “a little”, and I ask if he thinks he’ll need a break - perhaps a while spent travelling with friends and having time off from the several intense, time-consuming endeavours he is currently balancing. He says no.
“I'm not sure I'll need a 'break' as such, it’s more that a change of scenery would probably do me good. Switching from spending 24/7 sitting in front of a computer monitor or with my nose in a book to a more physical pursuit likely wouldn't do any harm,” he reflects.
If all goes well, the next few years will see Ross’ hard work and dedication pay off. Finally, I ask if he fears not being able to do it all - finishing the PhD in time, whilst keeping up with his fitness training and paid work. What if he never gets to experience being an Officer in the Marines, as he dreams of doing?
Ross tells me he's "somewhat nervous, but also hopeful" for the future. "Either I'll succeed or not, based on my own merits, and so I feel I'm approaching a part of my life that's going to offer one of the greatest challenges I've faced so far.
"I look forward to taking it on and, hopefully, overcoming it."
Ross is running the @gradsoftheuk Instagram until Saturday 8th April.