26 July 2019
Luke Graham reflects on his journey from being an LLM student to studying his PhD.

My name is Luke Graham and I am coming towards the end of my second year of my PhD in the Law School at Lancaster University. I knew I wanted to do a PhD when I started getting really stuck into and enjoying my undergraduate dissertation a few years ago. I made this known to my dissertation supervisor Dr Amanda Cahill-Ripley and she really encouraged and guided me in the process of considering, and applying for, postgraduate study. After 3 years as an undergraduate I couldn’t afford to self-fund a PhD, and at the time the Government hadn’t yet extended the postgraduate loans to cover the cost of doing a PhD. So instead, I took advantage of the masters loan and studied a Masters degree to strengthen my chances of securing PhD funding from a Research Council. 

Like my undergraduate degree, I studied for my Masters in the Law School. This was an incredible year for me. I was lucky enough to receive a number of opportunities to get involved with research projects and co-organise a conference alongside studying which gave me a firm footing.  I applied for PhD funding to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) with the support and guidance of the Law School’s ESRC liaison, Dr Gary Potter. That’s the thing about the Law School, you can really build positive relationships with the staff and they genuinely do want to help students succeed.  I found out in the March of my Masters year that I had been awarded funding and I know that this was partly due to the support I received from staff in the Law School.

The Masters year really allowed me to focus my studies and I was able to do much of my work with my PhD in mind. This meant that I was able to hit the ground running when I started my PhD. Even so, the transition between the two was not what I had expected. For the first time I had no short-term concrete deadlines and I’d say it took me a term to adjust into a PhD mindset. One piece of advice I’d give to anybody starting a PhD who will be based in Lancaster is to make use of your office space. I’ve made my office my own and I’m productive there. For me, it’s so important to have a clear divide between my PhD work and my personal life. I do my best not to do any PhD work outside of my office.

I view my PhD as training for my future career. Whether I end up as an academic or not, I know that the opportunities which I’ve been fortunate to experience alongside researching and writing have equipped me with, and bolstered skills, that employers are looking for. Plus, I’ll be a Dr! As a PhD student I’ve been fortunate enough to teach undergraduate students and to act as a writing tutor in the LAWs Clinic. These were new challenges and ones which I have really enjoyed and I have also secured a teaching qualification. I’ve also accessed training in relation to my PhD, with one of the benefits of being here at Lancaster being the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Research Training Programme. 

I have been the representative for postgraduate research students in the Law School, sitting on the postgraduate committee. This has really allowed me to see how much work goes on behind the scenes to make the learning experience in the Law School as positive as possible for all students. As part of this role, I organised a writing retreat for the PhD students and the Law School funded this. The School regularly supports PhD student initiatives, for example the postgraduate conference that took place earlier this year (LINK).

Having studied for my undergraduate, Master’s and PhD at Lancaster, I have been here for 6 years now (almost all my adult life). I often say to people who ask me how I am not bored of being here yet, that taking on new challenges is the key to staying in any place for such a long time. Outside of studying, I’ve been fortunate enough to captain two different university sports teams, I’ve worked in Grizedale College as an Assistant Dean, I have undertaken research for staff in the Law School, and I even spent 15-months working in the student nightclub! The one thing all these experiences share is that I was working as part of great teams, and to me that’s incredibly important. So that would be my second piece of advice, find a sport or a society, find likeminded people, find something you love to do, and make sure it is separate to your studies. There's so much on offer at Lancaster it would be a real shame not to.