Why do we love stories so much? Could it be because of that powerful space it creates where our personal experiences connects with someone else? We love stories in The Hub and in today’s article, Dr Yewande Pearse shares her triumps and challenges enroute to the qualification called a PhD! Amara got to learn about Yewande through her campaign and was (and remains) inspired by her journey. Enjoy!
APH: Please can you share your academic and professional background?
YP: I completed my BSc in Human Sciences at King’s College London in 2006. I then returned to King’s in 2009 to complete a Masters in Neuroscience with a Distinction. After my Masters, I worked as a Research Assistant for two years before taking up a PhD studentship at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. I have just completed my PhD in Neuroscience, which aimed to explore the potential for gene therapy in multiple forms of Batten Disease, a childhood brain disorder.
In layman’s terms, can you share what your research study/area is about?
Batten Disease is a group of inherited disorders that cause profound neurodegeneration and predominantly affect children. The symptoms are progressively debilitating and include blindness, seizures, intellectual decline and disability, dementia, loss of speech and motor impairment, with many children eventually becoming wheelchair-bound. Currently, there are no effective treatments available for any form of Batten Disease. My research is about finding innovative ways to treat this group of diseases with a focus on gene therapy.
So what is your PhD story? When did you realise that you wanted to undertake a PhD and how did you get into one? Why did you choose your topic?
PhD candidates may have a lot in common but are by no means a homogenous group. In today’s #PhDChat, we share the ‘behind the scenes’ stories of our successful PhD candidates and graduates. We hope that their honesty and openness will encourage and motivate you as you proceed on your journey. In today’s article, Amina, a final year PhD candidate shares her experience of combining parental responsibilities with studying full time as an international student.
The pursuit of a PhD is a huge investment in your career and yourself. I had applied for a scholarship for Nigerian based academics to finance a PhD program that I had my sights on in the United Kingdom. When I learned I was successful, I was overjoyed yet pleasantly surprised, as it was keenly competitive. After the initial euphoria wore off, the enormity of what I was embarking on became apparent. This article is meant to share my experiences and offer some advice to mature students with similar plans.
Strain on Familial and Social Ties
A PhD will test your relationships, it is important to find balance. Working towards a PhD abroad will be even more exacting. Leaving my parents and other relationships for 4 long years; adjusting to a new culture and environment; the strain on my husband, our marriage and on our 3 kids as he travelled back and forth between both countries was going to be hard. I tried to minimize these challenges by relying on modern telephony.
Settling into the Program
Do a lot of research. Carefully examine details of the campus and community you will study and live in. I consulted widely before commencing the program, weighed the pros and cons with my husband, and we tried to mitigate all challenges. However, every PhD experience is different so we couldn’t foresee the peculiarities of my own PhD, particularly the severe and persistent economic crises that would make it almost unbearable. I didn’t realise my campus was not even in the same county as the main campus of the University. This is where a little research could have made things easier. I was to be located in a beautiful rural campus a 30 minute shuttle away from the main campus which itself was 45 minutes from the inexpensive home I secured prior to arrival. Relocating closer to my campus wasn’t an option, as it was expensive (yes, rural living costs a lot in the UK) and too isolated for my children.
Last week, Amara and I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with other blogging “experts” at the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) summer conference at Edinburgh to chat all things blogging with a group of early career scientists… Edinburgh itself is a really good welcoming city, with great sights to see and lots to do and if you are a big fan of shopping, well, you might quite like it..oh and the scottish shortbread biscuits..enough said there!!..
The conversation about blogging was varied and went from the simple to quite complex. I’d like to share some of the questions which were asked and responses from the session and for the benefit of our readers, some extra useful information Enjoy reading!
Starting from the basics, what is a blog?
There are different definitions of what a blog is – according to the Oxford dictionaries, a blog is “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style.” Blogging can be formal or informal – blogging can be as simple as having an online diary where you share your thoughts or experiences on a regular or irregular basis (whatever is convenient for you) or it could be something much bigger e.g. blogs run by University departments, biopharma companies sharing information with shareholders and consumers or simple trivia blogs with lots of fun things. In effect, a blog could be whatever you want it to be and that is what makes blogging an exciting and often rewarding activity.
I have a personal blog, is there a space for it out there and how do I grow it?
I have observed a few cases where PhD candidates either not completing or failing at viva stage. A common theme was a major breakdown in the relationship between the candidate and their supervisor(s). In this article, I share four ideas, from my experiences as a former PhD candidate who’s now learning the ropes of PhD supervision that I hope can help prospective and current PhD candidates manage this very important relationship.
Choose wisely – In the PhD survival guide, I shared why it is important to spend quality time while making this decision. You will have a smoother journey if you have a good working relationship with your supervisor. I decided to join my PhD supervisor’s group after I had spent a year working on my undergraduate project with him. Some people call this luck but I call it choice. I decided to work with him and he decided to work with me.
If your PhD is funded, your PI is usually your de-facto Director of Studies and you may not have much choice in the matter. However just like when you attend an interview, the choice to work with an organisation is still yours. Two or three member supervisory teams are now more common so it is worth asking if there will be some leeway in choosing your other supervisor(s). For self-funded PhD candidates, you have a choice in where you spend your tuition fees, so do not be scared to ask for who you need. A PhD is an apprenticeship not indentured slavery (at least it should be). Invest time in getting information about your supervisor, research group etc. Speak to postdocs. You can find them at conferences and early career researcher networking events. Ask questions;
How many PhD candidates have you supervised?
Who else will be on the supervisory team?
How many successful completions?
How many didn’t complete and why?
Do your students publish during their PhD?
Do not be so ‘hungry’ for a PhD position that you dismiss the information your research pulls up. I know a PhD candidate who left after six months because she could not get on with her supervisor. Successful completion is Win/Win for all parties involved so choose wisely.
Be proactive – After a skill training session I recently conducted, a 2nd year PhD candidate walked up to me and spent about 15 minutes sharing all the issues he was having with his supervisor. Poor communication, poor supervision, dismissive attitude…the works. I let him speak because I could tell he was very distressed and then I told him ‘Be proactive.’ I could tell he was puzzled by my response but I told him that the only part of the equation required for his successful completion that could be modified was his courage, attitude and how he responded to the issues he was having with his supervisor.
In our journey as aspiring professionals, we will face a lot of challenging situations. How do you deal with the pressure that comes with achieving your personal as well as professional goals? Do you react impulsively or respond resiliently. We stumbled across this article by Uche Ezichi and he has graciously given us permission to share it here. I believe this is an important lesson to us all.
When I left my investment banking career, I was thrilled to join the Goldman Sachs (GS) HR team. Considering their performance, what better place to start my new career of developing leaders. So what went wrong? Nothing really changed with GS. My team remained the same, 100% dedicated to their job and willing to give 120%. The issue was with me.
Isn’t it funny how when we are not happy about our situation, we sometimes complain and expect our organisation or team we joined to change for us?