Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?I am very new to my PhD having started in October 2019. I am researching how writing poetry can help cancer survivors to work through mental and emotional issues such as health anxiety, fear of recurrence, poor body image and other cancer-related stresses. I’m researching this because as well as being a writer my whole life, I’m also a three-times cancer survivor and as such, this topic is very important to me because I don’t think the emotional after-effects of cancer are talked about enough.
Check out Sam’s personal website writersam.co.uk
What does a typical day or week look like for you?I work 30 hours per week at my day job while doing my PhD part-time and living 200 miles away from my university. With the Christmas break at the time of writing this, as well as having lots of annual leave from work, I’m yet to get into a proper routine. However, the general idea is that I have Monday and Friday afternoons off my day job to work on my PhD, and work an hour or two on Wednesday evenings and spend some time on it at the weekends too – while also making sure I have some downtime. To help with this, Tuesdays and Thursdays are PhD-free days for me where I socialise with friends and family instead.
What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?Working remotely means I only visit my university a couple of times per year, but I have monthly Skype meetings with my supervisors and I find our chats really invigorating. The meetings act as tiny milestones to give me an opportunity to take a step back and look at what I’ve done in the month and see the progress I am (hopefully!) making. Having that connection with my university, through Skyping with my supervisors and also when visiting the campus, which I love, have been my favourite things so far. The induction seminars were also very encouraging and exciting, and driving home after visiting the university for the first time, I felt like a university campus is really where I belong. So it’s that feeling of excitement and belonging that I’ve enjoyed so far.
What’s been the most challenging part of it?Getting into a routine and not being distracted while working at home is probably the most challenging thing at the moment. No matter how interested I am in my subject and how much I enjoy writing and researching, there are so many other things on the internet and television that I also enjoy! So it’s a case of trying to compartmentalise work and recreation and stay focused.
Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?I have no idea, which is quite exciting! I’m hoping my PhD will open some new doors for me. I’d like to be seen as a knowledgeable figure in my subject area, and I’d like to have made a difference by boosting the conversation around emotional issues and the support required for cancer survivors.
What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?I’m not sure I have much advice yet this early on, but I think your supervisors are so important. I’d say go where you think you’ll get the best support for your subject, and where you think the best people to guide you are. I think this is especially true if you’re working at a distance from your university and your supervisors are your main link to student life. Go where you think you’ll receive enthusiastic, supportive guidance from people who are experts in your field.
What makes your university a good place to study?My supervisors are really leading the way in the field of writing and well-being, and they are so thoughtful and encouraging with their input. I could have gone to university somewhere a lot closer to where I live, but I am glad I went where I thought my best supervisors were, and I hope I grow to be another expert in their field alongside them.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?I love listening to music and going to gigs, and of course writing poetry, as well as some creative non-fiction. I’ve had poems published in several literary magazines, journals and anthologies, and also run a literary magazine myself. (I know that sounds like more work, but it is enjoyable!) I also love going on holidays, both to new places as well as revisiting my favourites.
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