Tag Archives: postgraduate

Multitasking academic life with personal events – by Lowri Stevenson

This year has proved to be quite an eventful year for my family – my husband and two children – and me! Not only have I been undertaking the second year of a full-time PhD at the School of Healthcare Sciences, but within the space of seven short months, we have moved westwards as LS2a family, to enable us to enjoy a more rural lifestyle, as well as moved the children’s schooling and got married to boot!

I am unsure whether I would particularly recommend this chaotic way of living (albeit short-term), however, now that the house move and summer wedding are all just lovely memories, I am left with a very happy feeling in my bones that it has all worked out for the best for us as a family. We are a very happy and settled little unit. Thankfully, my PhD continues…

When I returned to studying in October 2013, from working on busy hospital wards as a midwife, I felt that everything should be put on hold whilst I undertook the next three years of study. I initially found it difficult to achieve the right work-life balance and put all other things aside to the studies. I found it quite stressful when anything unexpected cropped up. I remember during the early days of my studies, my supervisors reminding me several times that the PhD journey is a marathon and not a sprint! However, the changes in our lives since last December LS1have shown me, that with military-style organisation, dedication and some busy times, anything can be achieved; particularly if you are fully committed to what you are trying to accomplish. The undo ‘able can be done!

I must say, I did find myself delving my nose into my diary probably more than any other book I own, and utilising the skills of our brilliant family, as well as delegating some tasks out to wonderful friends; particularly with regards to weddingy issues. There were many times when everything else HAD to take a back seat to my studies, and that this had to be my priority at certain times along the way, particularly when there were submission deadlines or organised events. In the main, though, I found that living this double-sided existence became almost enjoyable: PhD student by day, and bride-to-be and full-time mother by night!

I guess the message I am trying to convey, by using my personal experiences, is that when life events occur whilst undertaking a huge professional commitment such as a PhD (which in the majority they will, LS3especially over a three-year period), there are certain attributes which may really help. For me, these were things such as being organised, good time-management, being flexible, not panicking, placing things into perspective and having a fantastic support network of supervisors, colleagues, family and friends to lean on.

Good luck to you all with your studies! Lowri x

Sometimes you won’t feel like talking about “IT” and it’s OK – by Carolyn Graham

As a PhD student, one of the things you will find out quickly is that you repeatedly have to tell people what you are doing, what you are “looking” at. In formal and informal gatherings, at workshops, seminars, conferences and other types of training, university and non-university encounters; either as part of the introduction or in conversations over coffee, a pint or at dinner. It doesn’t matter if you are one day or 4 years into the programme, the FAQs of a PhD student’s life remain the same: What are you looking at? How is it going? What is your topic? What is your theoretical framework? How are you going to collect data? When are you going to be finished? etc., etc. Some think it’s glamourous. “Oh the student life!” they exclaim. “You get to sleep late and work when you want.” If only they knew! IT will become your identity.SNV30975

Your response to these questions invariably begins with, “I am looking at…”

It is beneficial to speak about one’s research. Verbalization is good for formulating thoughts, to try out your ideas on others, to find persons of similar interest, to discover if you are making progress with your understanding of what you are doing, to get assistance, to get assurance, to practice for the times when you cannot avoid talking about IT and many more. Talking about your work is also good training for public speaking, in being concise, in breaking down complex ideas and for the Viva!

A tactic that I have found useful is to ask myself these same questions and write short responses to them or think up responses on the spot. I also practice varying my responses so that I don’t bore myself with my own replay. Recall that different persons are asking you so it will sound fresh and new to them, but not to you. I would recommend attending the 3-minute thesis competition, or even entering, if you are so inclined as it will allow you to develop the skill of being succinct yet thorough, while learning to put your work in a language that non-experts may understand.

Don’t forget however, depending on the situation, you can politely ask for a reprieve from talking about IT, and it is OK. The PhD life is like new parents whom everyone asks about the baby and forgets the parents, sometimes to their dismay. “What about me?” Is the silent lamentation. “I need some attention too!” At some point you feel like screaming. “Hey, I’m not my PhD, I have a life, an identity outside of my PhD. I am multi-dimensional!” Particularly if you are at a frustrating phase, just had a not-so-good supervision and you just want to forget the PhD, even for the two hours you are in a pub gathering some strength to get back to IT. You don’t always have the resolve to speak about IT. The first stages, when there is only a chaos of literature and ideas and you are struggling to put the pieces together yourself, can be a particularly dubious time. The imposter syndrome sets in and it is not made any better when asked “so, what are you looking at?” The writing up phase as well seem to be another daunting time. I am not there yet, but I have heard the tales of woe from others.

Sometimes when asked “what are you looking at?” it’s like a bombshell. The moment immediately becomes surreal, you hear the question but you are not sure what it means. When you, in slow motion, grasp the notion, your brain takes a scramble to put together something coherent and interesting. Of course, all this takes less than 10 sec11759033_958990500818475_1651712378_nonds, but for you it’s an eternity. I don’t know the full psychology, but added to the imposter syndrome is fear of sounding stupid, of not sounding intelligent enough, that your research sounds lame relative to others (all of us think everybody else’s research is more interesting) and even fear of public speaking, or speaking to strangers.

There are also those of us who, having passed through the valley of chaos and began to make sense of our work, have repeated the response so often that it becomes dreary. We have to then think of more creative, and interesting ways to answer the same question, which is itself a challenge. This is where practice helps. We also realize that, depending on who asks, we have to approach the response from different angles, and sometimes we are not sure at what level to pitch the response, ensuring the person understands but we are not patronizing.

Responding to questions about your work is a balancing act and it depends on who, when and where the question is asked. One can politely say, “wow, my brain is a bit tired now I just want to relax.” I have done that. Alternatively, you can beat the question to the punch and ask first. If you realize you are speaking to someone who likes talking about their work (and there are those who do), you continue asking them questions and this should save you. Sensitivity is important here however, people may be in a similar position to you and may really not wish to speak. In that case, it is OK to suggest a different line of conversation, such as “both of us seems to be tired of talking about our PhDs, so where are you from?”, or something similar.

10259561_723480654369462_1859309068_nThe bottom line is, like many other experiences, each person’s experience of the PhD, although there are broad similarities, is different. Personality, support, whether one is an international or local student, culture, language, and so on, all come together to influence the experience. Be reflective, know your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to take a step back if your mind and body ask for reprieve. It is ok if at times you do not wish to speak about your PhD and it is also ok to say so; but you shouldn’t make a habit of it – discussion will benefit your ideas in the long run.

Carolyn Graham

Mummy, Mortgage and Mature (ish) Student – Gemma Harrison-Thornton

I’ve been thinking about writing a “blog” for a while, but finding time to even go to the toilet is difficult in my situation, so sitting down to type something pleasurable became a sort of fantasy; a nice thing to think about on my commute to university. Yet, the urgency to write about my experiences has been increasing and I vowed to myself I would do it! I was then reminded by my partner of six years ( I thought it was five years but after some careful memory recall and calculation it’s actually six years in May that we met!) that there is a certain irony to writing a blog about the intricacies of juggling being a mum, having a house and being a student. Unfortunately he is right…. Firstly, because the purpose of this spiel is to highlight how being a working mum is an extremely busy role with “downtime” being a thing of the past.

IMG_0001By the end of the day there is little fuel left in the hypothetical tank,   other than to crawl into bed with the intention of watching a happy, ‘don’t have to think about anything’ programme with my partner, yet usually falling asleep within about three minutes. The good thing about my situation is that I usually sleep very well – the kind of sleep I associate with being dead. I feel this may need a little more explanation…you sleep without dreaming, without remembering falling asleep without stirring, until you wake up and wonder where the time has gone. That kind of sleep. When I get the chance, I’m pretty good at that (thank goodness!) Needless to say the opportunity to sleep like I’m dead is rare with our four year old (soon to be five…where has the time gone?!) son. We had a pretty good routine going with regards to bedtime, until we went on holiday and I wanted him to sleep in with us for safety reasons. Since that holiday in 2013 He has slept in our bed every night. The routine is rather hilarious when I think about it/ write it down. Noah has to start his sleep journey in our bed. When he falls asleep we have to wait for a little while to move him into his own bed, because if he wakes up then we have no chance of getting him there. Once he’s in his own bed, I quickly jump into my own bed to enjoy a couple of hours of space…because Noah then comes back into our bed for the remainder of the night. This means that I spend the rest of night dangling off the edge of the bed with a small corner of the duvet for warmth! On these occasions, when sleep is off the cards, I often think back to the days when I was first at Uni and would come home for about 4pm and get straight into bed to watch countdown. I would fall in and out of sleep as I when I felt like it…often staying up late because I didn’t have to worry about lack of sleep. Nowadays, I’m preoccupied with getting to bed as quick as I can to get as much interrupted sleep as possible before the nightly ‘routine’ commences.

So, some contextual background (forgive the academic terminology). I am a twenty-eight year old woman; I have a four year old son, a partner, a cat and a sausage dog. I am also a full-time PhD student. I feel extremely privileged to have been awarded funding to undertake my research and having the opportunity to do something that I am passionate about. Of course, everyone who has done or is doing any form of study will know, there are always peaks and troughs in the journey, times of high stress and overwhelming guilt. Guilt which is not only associated with being a working mum but also guilt about not getting enough words on paper (or rather word document)! As I’m sure will resonate with many of you, the prevailing feeling in my emotional bank is guilt. Added to this is a dollop of worry, flavoured with relief (at making it through the day) happiness (that I’m managing being mum and student at the same time and most of the time do it well) and contentment at the end of that long day when the house is calm (but always untidy!!! NOT DIRTY)

IMG_2866So a day in the life of being mum, partner and student goes something like this…. I always feel like I’ve done a day’s work before I get to university, resulting in the need to lie down in the common room with a cup of tea before any creativity can begin! A morning alarm clock is never needed; Noah is up in plenty of time. I negotiate breakfast for Noah (and Bunty and Vegas), while pulling washing out of machine, re loading it, emptying and re filling the tumble dryer. I do make myself a cup of tea and carry it from room to room taking sips when I can, although it usually ends up cold. I have a shower, get myself ready and then negotiate getting Noah ready. Now this is not an easy task. Noah, although a very bright young chap, is not a big fan of school. I don’t think that it has anything to do with the education side; he just wants to be with me at home. He is very good at making my heart strings pang and the guilt gates open. “Mummy why do you have to go work?”, “Mummy can I come to work with you?”, “Mummy don’t go to work I’ll miss you too much and my heart will hurt”, “Is it the weekend yet?” …just some of the statements my son says to me on a morning. My standard response to this is you know mummy has to go to work so that I can pay for nice things for us”, “If I go to work we can afford to go on holiday”, ” mummy can afford to buy you birthday presents and pay for swimming”. This final statement usually does the trick. So I drop Noah off to school, and then drop Bunty off at my Bampis (Welsh for grandfather). It is at this time, I take a deep breath, a sip of my tea in my travelling mug and a long drag on my e cigarette. This is one of the nicest feelings in the world. I begin my journey to Uni. Now this is a very interesting part of the day. I do a lot of my thinking in the car. I start writing paragraphs In my head, and if I think of something good I record myself or if I hear an interesting word on the radio I record it! I always wonder if anyone does this…I know I’ll forget it by the time I get to Cardiff otherwise. I wish these thoughts would come to me when I’m sitting at my desk trying to write!!

Now driving back and fore to Uni has its ups and downs. It’s been great for getting some down time before and after Uni; an opportunity to have an hour with myself uninterrupted and a chance to catch up on Radio’s 4 Woman’s Hour (yes since starting my PhD I have become a self confessed Radio 4 addict). However, I have witnessed some of the most extraordinary driving. As the months have passed doing this commute and negotiating the M4 I have decided to take a more laid back approach to other drivers. They were driving me nuts (no pun intended!), so much so that the commute to work was putting me in a bad mood – I was having to de brief with colleagues in the office before I could get down to any work. On a daily basis I gave myself a pat on the back for making it to work in one piece!


So, how do I negotiate my time to ensure that I am first and foremost mum to my little boy while keeping the house in a habitable state and getting down to studying? The answer to this question is easy for me! I have a rock solid support network and parents and in laws who adore our son and love to spend time with him. My mum is my wing man. Not one day has gone by where my mum has not helped me – practically and emotionally.   There is not enough space to write down the things she has done for me and my family and I am eternally grateful to her for supporting me to pursue my dreams (I can’t help but be soppy when writing about my mum!). I am also extremely lucky that I get most of our ironing done by my mum and my partners mum! In my defense I am useless at ironing – I have ruined many clothes in the process! So for the sake of my partner and sons appearance (in school and work) this arrangement is helpful for all involved! I don’t want readers to think that the only way to negotiate this situation is by having amazing support…because I know for a fact that there are many students who do all these jobs by themselves and do it well. I have tremendous appreciation for those who pursue their dreams whatever their circumstances, and it is this point I want to finish on. There have been a few people who have said to me things like “I don’t know how you do it!”, “when do you find the time?” and “maybe you should have waited until your son was older! I just laugh out loud (literally lol) and say “It’s easy!!!!!”…The look on their faces is priceless!

Gemma Harrison-Thornton,

PhD student, Cardiff University

An Introduction to Marybeth Smith


It’s often the case when you work in a large company or institution that you find yourself contacting people whom you’ve never actually met … sometimes even asking them for work! Although I’ve been covering Research administrative duties since the end of November 2013, and I’ve been in post officially since February 2014, it’s still not been possible to meet everyone in PGR. So if I haven’t met you yet, please accept my apologies and allow me to introduce myself …M Smith_pic_PhDays


Research Support Officer
My job is Research Support Officer, providing administrative support (or professional services) to the Research and PGR section. The Research support team is still coming together and there is work to be done on clarifying responsibilities and procedures. But in practice, I can assist with:
• Admissions queries
• SIMS queries
• Academic regulations pertaining to PGR degree studies
• Enrolment and Induction information
• Monitoring reviews process – forms, deadlines, required work, organisation of meetings
• Thesis submission and Viva
• Staff-student query organisation
• Finance and equipment queries – as a first point of contact, refer to other departments
• Liaison with UGC, Grad Centre about training and funding opportunities and events
• Letters (of reference, permission to travel, confirmation of registration, etc.)

I’ve actually worked for the School for 18 months, having joined the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies (SONMS) in November 2012 as an Admissions Assistant (Undergraduate and PGT). Prior to that, from 2005-2010, I worked in the Schools of European Studies, Architecture, and Physics & Astronomy, primarily in Postgraduate.
Quite a lot has changed over that time — virtual learning and working environments, increased collaboration, paperless processes, etc.–and processes and procedures can vary considerably even across Schools within the University.

But much remains the same – especially in the structure of PGR degrees and in the particular nature of working relationships amongst students and members of staff (academic and administrative). And much has also improved. I’ve seen how facilities, resources and opportunities (both academic and social) have expanded for research students over the past decade. Right now we’re looking forward to the expansion in Eastgate House, which will include new and dedicated facilities and space for PGR/Research.

One thing which cannot be emphasised enough is that students need to take charge of their degrees and take advantage of the resources available in the School and throughout the University. In the coming months, we hope that the PGR community will grow and become even more active and engaged in shaping the PGR experience within the School.


  • Resident in UK since 2004
  • Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA)
  • First trip abroad – to Ireland, six weeks in July/ August (high school trip) – my first lesson in understanding that the British Isles don’t really have a ‘summer’
  • First trip to the UK — study abroad semester at the School of English and American Studies, University of East Anglia, Norfolk 1993 (when Britpop was sweeping the nation)
  • First degree – BA English and history (concentrations in English language/linguistics and medieval literature/history) from Temple University in Philadelphia (a city campus, like Cardiff). Studied Old English and Latin (also know a bit of German and Spanish). Worked in a bakery, a coffee shop, a department store, catering company, and a book store.
  • Further studies — I’ve since done some Postgraduate studies (not yet completed) at Cardiff University in Medieval British Studies. Main interests – early medieval (Anglo-Saxon and Celt) period literature, archaeology, church history.
  • First real job — corporate communications assistant (General Accident Insurance); since then, I’ve been employed in editorial and marketing for an academic publisher (Harcourt); content management for a software start-up (Kenexa); editing, production and project management for a proposal production group (KPMG Consulting ); and as a freelance writing/editing.
  • Taught English to employees of SanofiPharma in Montpellier, France for a semester internship.
  • Own a bass guitar, guitar and a metal detector – not yet proficient in any of them!
  • Hobbies, interests and side projects– writing; genealogy/genetics and social history research; archaeology; travel; live music (Globe, Cardiff Students Union), performances (WNO, Cardiff Philharmonic, RWCMD, etc.) and theatre; books and film;hill walking;visiting heritage sites; lectures and workshops (Cardiff Lifelong Learning does some great ones, but there are history and civic societies as well as national heritage sites that also deliver worthwhile talks); photography.
  • Pets – currently, one tortoiseshell cat named Olwen whom I found living in the garden of my first home in Cardiff 10 years ago
  • Current challenges – growing veg, learning to drive, cycling

Hope to see you soon.

Marybeth Smith

A day of positives

I’m not sure many people actually enjoy speaking in public. As with many things in life, the more you do it, the better you get. But actually enjoying it?? Seems unlikely. So knowing that my name isn’t on that programme list gives me a nice warm feeling inside. I can just sit back, relax, and listen to what other people have to say. However, listen and understand are two very different things, and if I said I understood every part of every presentation during the 2012 PGR symposium I’d be lying. Some of the ideas were far too complex for my tiny, first year PhD brain to comprehend. At times I felt the look of confusion and bewilderment creep across my face that I see so often when one of my friends or family asks me about my ‘course’. Therefore I would never attempt to relay the information from each presentation in this blog entry (which I “volunteered” to write…and which had nothing to do with any coercion applied by Dominic or Katie!).

However, what struck me was the passion and enthusiasm that these people had for their subject. Each of the PGR students spoke with such pride that they had been able to nurture the smallest nugget of an idea into a substantial and original piece of research, regardless of how near (or far) they were to completion. It’s hard to imagine that these people, these researchers, were in the same position as me not that long ago. While I’m still battling with the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’ and trying to concentrate on what I’m doing, while out of the corner of my eye looking at the door, waiting for security to escort me out of the building because my supervisors have realised they picked the wrong person, these people are well on their way to being called “Doctor”. The realisation that with a lot of hard work and support I can be in their place one day is incredibly reassuring.

Of course those who were not speaking did not get off the hook completely, as many of the attendees had submitted posters describing their research. While it was clear that everyone had put a great deal of work into their posters, a special mention should be given to Laura Goodwin and Abdulrahman (David) Aldawood (oh, and myself) who were chosen by Professor Gareth Williams as the top three. Our reward? An I.O.U. from Katie for an Amazon voucher…which of course we will only use to buy books and other educational materials!

So by any measure, today was a day of positives. The only negative…realising that sooner or later I’ll be one of those up there speaking!

I Won!!!!!

I received information recently from Mina Kerai (who is the research administration support assistant at SONMS) sent on behalf of Dr. Katie Featherstone. She has informed all the second year research students about our Annual PGR Symposium, which will be held on Tuesday 13th November 2012. We are required to attend this event and to give a 25 minute presentation outlining some of our preliminary findings from our data analysis.

Last year, when we celebrated the SONMS Annual PGR Symposium at our University, all research students attended and presented information about their research project in the form of a poster or a presentation. I was so excited at that time, but I was not sure whether I would have enough time to do my research poster due to my busy schedule. But I decided to spend all my free time at the weekend and made a research poster.

This was my first experience of producing a research poster. However, I got some ideas from Jessica and Catherine (my office mates) and from their posters that are placed on our office wall, as well as some ideas from both my supervisors. I designed several sections including the background of the study, study aims, methodology and research impact (outcome continuum and expected outcomes). You can see the results of my work below.

Although making a research poster was a challenging task – presenting my project on a single sheet of paper – in general I found that this task helped me to focus more my ideas about my project. I stood next to my poster during the lunch break on the day of the symposium and answered some questions of each delegate and other visitors. At the end of the symposium day, the Dean and Head of School announced me as the winner of the poster presentation that I had titled “Teaching self-care behaviour to adolescents with type 1 diabetes in Saudi Arabia’’.

Yes! I Did !!  🙂

I won first prize and a voucher for simply presenting my research poster at the SONMS Annual Postgraduate Symposium 2011.  I can hardly believe it. The competition took place as a part of the celebration of SONMS annual post graduate research symposium day. The decision was based on quality of content and design. So, the committee judged my poster as excellent. Incredible!!!  In addition, I was also very happy to talk to people about my research project. I think it can be really inspiring to see that people are really interested in your research. For me it is even more inspiring to see the impact that my research can have on people. After that I also presented my research poster two more times at Graduate School activities in 2012 – Spotlight on Social Sciences and The Voice of Humanities Conference.

I have new good news about my research poster. I had submitted an abstract to the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Diabetes (ISPAD). The abstract review committee has informed me that my research poster has been accepted as a poster presentation :))

So soon I’ll be presenting my research poster again at the 38th Annual Meeting of ISPAD, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey from October 10th –13th, 2012. I look forward to it!!!