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I am George Musgrave and This is How I Work

Today, I am interviewing George Musgrave for the “How I Work” series. George’s BA was in Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge where he was elected into a Titular Scholarship. He then did an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics before doing an ESRC funded PhD at the Centre for Competition Policy (UEA). Throughout this time he was making music too. He was playlisted on BBC Radio 1, was the first ever unsigned act to be placed on the MTV Brand New List, and eventually signed a global publishing deal with EMI/Sony/ATV in 2013.

Current Job: Visiting Lecturer, University of Westminster & Songwriter signed to EMI/Sony/ATV
Current Location: London
Current mobile device: iPhone 5C
Current computer: MacBook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I have just passed my PhD Viva and graduate in July. I was undertaking research at the Centre for Competition Policy at UEA on the behavioural and psychological ramifications of competitiveness in creative markets, looking in particular at unsigned musicians in the UK. I am currently a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster where I deliver lectures on cultural intermediation, entrepreneurship and qualitative research methodologies.

What does your workspace setup look like?
This is no exaggeration when I say that my workspace is on my laptop, on my lap, sat in bed. Tranquil.

What is your best advice for productive academic work?
Don’t let your PhD be your life, deadlines are everything, have faith in your ability! During my PhD, there would be weeks and weeks where I would procrastinate away days, or write elongated passages only to delete them as I convinced myself they were worthless. But there’s nothing quite like the pressure of a deadline to make you productive. About six months before the end of my PhD I probably only had about 10,000 usable words. I wrote the remaining 80,000 in six months and passed with no corrections. I was utterly convinced that everyone else doing a PhD was better than me; imposter syndrome and all that. But it’s nonsense. You were accepted on the program for a reason, you passed the upgrade for a reason. I had exactly the same problem when I was an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. I drove myself into the ground towards the end of the first year trying to outdo everyone, and then I realised it was a stupid exercise. In the final year I just relaxed. I went out with my mates a lot and for huge chunks of time forgot I was really at Cambridge. I did work when I needed to and chilled out the rest of the time. I got a first. You have to balance your life.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
I think two things. One is my writing style which is hugely informed by my background as a poetic songwriter. It’s expressive and literary. I suppose the other is my dual life that I lead as an artist which, methodologically, gives me a unique vantage point to explore creativity and contemporary cultural markets.

What do you listen to when you work?
Drum and bass, or sometimes house. Anything without lyrics. During the final few months of writing up I actually one track on loop for months: Melo by Pryda. When you’re lagging and need to get moving, music like that really propels you and keeps you reading through the 50th journal article that day!

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading Howard Becker’s ‘What About Murder?’. Honestly, I’m not a big reader

What’s your work routine like?

During my PhD, my partner was working as a school teacher. For a long time – maybe two years – I would stay up all night working and see her when she went off to work at 7am. Then I would sleep until she got home at 5pm. Sounds surreal but doing a PhD is lonely, and I hated being awake in the day when she wasn’t there. At least at night I could work on the laptop and she would be in the same place as me, even if she was asleep. It felt less lonely. Plus the world is so much more peaceful and night. It made me more productive. I could never work in the day.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Don’t work hard, work smart.

I suppose I want people to hear ‘the other side’ of doing a PhD. Many stories I read online speak of the tiresome drudgery of doctoral work. Of institutional politics, of abandoned social lives, of perpetual anxiety. I just didn’t find that. Sure, there were moments where I felt low – but these were mainly due to a lack of money and a lack of direction. But honestly I loved doing a PhD. It was 3/4 years when I ran my own schedule. You have the rest of your life to work all the hours god sends and to moan about things. Use the PhD to enjoy being young and free. I’m only a few months out of it and I miss it already!

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