Lorie Kloda graduated with a PhD from the School of Information Studies in 2012. She currently works as an Academic Librarian.
Q: What made you decide to do a PhD?
So I was a librarian and I had worked in different contexts and different settings. I’d been hired at a university to work in an academic library as a health sciences librarian. In that role, I was encouraged to do research. I was also collaborating and working with faculty and clinicians in health care settings throughout the beginning of my career. I came to university librarianship just within a couple of years of finishing my Master’s, but I’d already been exposed to many different types of colleagues in health care who were also conducting research.
So I was surrounded by people who were doing research while working in their jobs and who are inviting me to join the research teams as the librarian. I was finding myself collaborating on research anyway. I really had this kind of research bug because I was surrounded by people who were doing research as part of their job. I was expected to do research as part of my job. Then the other side of that was I had a Master’s degree in librarianship, which was a non-thesis degree with no research training so I really felt underqualified. I felt like I could use more guidance because I wanted to be good at research. All these factors built up over time as I was conducting research and trying to publish as a librarian.
I was also working at McGill University and there was the School of Information Studies. There was a new professor who was hired during that time. I worked with her just guest lecturing for the class and got to know her. It made sense that while I was working, I could pursue a PhD degree in the same institution where I was working with somebody that I knew and respected, and who understood my work. The opportunity was right there and so that’s why I decided to pursue the PhD at that time. It was the right person and the right time and everything.
Q: Who were the most important mentors throughout your experience as a PhD student?
My mentors were definitely my supervisor, Joan Bartlett. She was a good mentor to me. The mentorship that I was looking for during my PhD might have been different than other people because I was already a practicing librarian and I was not planning on changing professions—I was just planning on enhancing my ability as a professional librarian to add high caliber research and feel more confident about that research. I had contemplated doing a second Master’s or something else to improve my research skills. My mentorship needs were quite narrow: I was looking for mentoring in my research; I wasn’t aiming to get a position as a tenure-track professor. I also had a committee right from the start because I did an ad hoc PhD. Back then there wasn’t yet a formal PhD program in the School of Information Studies.
Q: Did you feel financially supported throughout your PhD?
In my first year, I did the PhD part-time—I just enrolled in one course per semester. But because it was an ad hoc program, there was not a lot of coursework required. Then I got an FQRSC award so I took a leave of absence from my job so that I could focus on the PhD full time for a couple of years. I didn’t take the third year of the award because I would have had to quit my job. So I went back to work because I had a salary that paid better than the award. But in those two years of full-time school, I made a lot of headway. When I went back to work, I was eventually entitled to a sabbatical year, which is a paid leave to do research. In that year, I did my analysis and write up and defense. The school didn’t offer me anything when I was accepted into the program—I enrolled in the PhD program without any financial support, which I think nobody else would do or should do, but I did because I had a job.
Q: How did you balance working and doing the PhD at the same time?
In retrospect, I know it seems crazy to do both. It wasn’t like I just started my job and I was totally overwhelmed. But I had the benefit of having very little anxiety about my finances. There are lots of times in a PhD where you are sitting and waiting for things to happen—like waiting for ethics to be approved, or for your supervisor to get back to you with comments on drafts, or you’re thinking and digesting readings. So during that time, if you’re a student, you’re feeling unproductive. I think in the social sciences or in certain types of work like qualitative research, you have to wait for people to meet with you to do data collection—you can’t just collect it in a certain way. There are so many aspects that are out of your control that you can’t do any faster no matter how efficient you are. At least in my case, I don’t think I would have been any faster had I not had a full time job.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that you experienced during the PhD?
Probably just the discipline of getting the work done. Since I had a job, I didn’t need to do the PhD to get a job and there were no negative repercussions to not finishing. There were consequences, but those were that I invested money and time in the PhD. I’d be disappointed in myself but it’s not like my whole career will be up in flames. So I didn’t have the external motivation that a lot of PhD students had.
Another challenge was definitely getting over the criticisms for things I wrote. Some committee members were very difficult and it’s always tough. My self-esteem was pretty high as a librarian but my self-esteem as a PhD student was very low. It was difficult to deal with that as an identity because I got so much respect and then suddenly the same people that I worked with who were on my committee would say things that made me suddenly feel like I’m stupid. So it was a bit hard on my ego and my self-confidence to suddenly be relegated to a student when I had been professional for so many years. That was definitely a challenge, having that student status.
Q: What would you say was the most valuable experience that you had during the PhD?
The most valuable thing was starting and completing a very large research project from conception to finish. I didn’t take a piece of my supervisor’s research—I did a project I conceived and proposed. I undertook all the work and finished it. It’s an enormous project that even today, is probably one of the biggest projects I’ve done. But it was the first time I did research. I’ve undertaken many research projects since then.
Q: Was there anything unexpected that you got out of the PhD that you didn’t foresee?
I think just managing expectations of the quality of things. For example, my dissertation is good—it’s not perfect, it’s not amazing, but it’s done. I think it gave me a lot of perspective on the importance of doing things a certain way. Most things don’t need to be amazing so it’s made me much less of a perfectionist.
Q: Is there any advice that you would give to students doing their PhD now?
My advice to people is that if your livelihood depends on having a PhD, make sure you have several options and they’re not all related to being a tenure stream professor, especially in this climate. It’s very difficult.
If you have a choice, choose your supervisor carefully. Your choice of institution or department should always be based on the supervisor because that’s going to be a huge predictor of the quality of your life during your PhD. Everyone’s personality is different, but I would say to know your personality and choose your supervisor accordingly.
My PhD was relatively enjoyable. I mean, it was difficult and it was hard work. But compared to most people, I had a great time and most of that is because I worked with Joan. I had somebody who I could just be honest with about what was going on. If I had a different supervisor, it would have been a very different experience. I can’t imagine it having gone better.
Many thanks to Lorie for sharing her PhD narrative! You can find her on LinkedIn.
This interview took place in May 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.