In this article, Leah Henrickson, former Doctoral Researcher from the School of Social Sciences and Humanities and former Doctoral Researcher President tells us about what she gained from her PhD, the importance of wellbeing and her current job as a Lecturer in Digital Media.
What department and school you were part of when you were a Doctoral Researcher at Loughborough?
For the majority of my doctoral programme, I was based in the School of Arts, English and Drama. Towards the end of my programme, our School merged with a bunch of others to become the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. The latter definitely better reflects what I was actually doing.
When did you graduate?
I graduated in December 2019.
Did you do an undergraduate and master’s degree? If so, was it in Loughborough?
I did both undergraduate and master’s degrees, but neither was at Loughborough. My undergraduate degree is from the University of Toronto, where I majored in Book & Media Studies and minored in Anthropology and Writing and Rhetoric. My master’s degree is from the School of Advanced Study, University of London, where I studied the History of the Book.
Did you work between the time you finished your undergrad/master’s and the time you started your PhD?
I went straight into my master’s from undergrad. However, I took a year to work between my master’s and PhD. I used this time to figure out exactly where and what I wanted to study. I did some administrative work for a commercial real estate company and kept bees. It was nice.
Can you give us a quick layperson description of your PhD research?
Computers are writing books. You should care.
Was your PhD funded? If not did you manage to get any external funding?
My PhD was fully funded by Loughborough University, but a large chunk of my maintenance fees went towards paying off the difference between domestic and international tuition. To offset some of my finances, I worked as a sub-warden in University halls of residence and held part-time jobs across the University but had to be careful to adhere to UK working restrictions for international students. I also managed to get quite a bit of funding from external sources that allowed me to participate in international workshops and conferences – I simply responded to calls for applications for each event.
I wouldn’t have done my PhD without it being fully funded, though, and in most cases I would discourage others from self-funding. Self-funding can very easily get stressful and exploitative. Unless you’re just doing a PhD for fun, try your best to get funding that can sufficiently support at least your basic needs during your programme.
Did you get involved with any societies or clubs and did you work outside of your PhD during your time at Loughborough?
I wasn’t involved with societies or clubs at Loughborough but was highly involved with doctoral researcher activities and governance. I was a Core Member of the PhD Social and Support Network for the first two years of my programme, and also served as one of my School’s Doctoral Researcher Representatives during this time. Then, I served as Doctoral Research President for the University in my final year.
I also worked as a sub-warden and held various part-time jobs across the University.
Can you think of one skill that you developed or improved during your PhD?
Time management is probably the skill I most improved. Doing a PhD requires an incredible amount of self-motivation and planning, since it’s such an individualised and self-directed experience. No one is standing over you, telling you what to do. While your supervisors are there to support you, it’s really your responsibility to use your time effectively and manage your project (and anything else you choose to take on!).
What advice would you give a Doctoral Researcher reading this article?
Calm the heck down.
Seriously. Nothing – and I truly mean nothing – that you are doing for your PhD is more important than your mental and physical wellbeing. There are so many support services available at, in, and outside of Loughborough that you can make use of if you’re struggling. If you need to, take a break from your work and do something else that makes you feel happier and calmer. You can’t do your best work when you’re suffocated by your own anxiety.
Can you tell us more about your current job?
I’m a Lecturer in Digital Media at the University of Leeds. This role includes teaching, research, and admin responsibilities.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part of my job is definitely getting to work with brilliant students who are passionate about what they’re studying. My students inspire me every single day.
I also love the flexibility of my role. Every day looks different, and I have a lot of freedom in organising my schedule and choosing what projects I get involved in. I’m never bored or without things to do.
The worst part of my job is that there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do. Like my PhD, my current role is largely self-directed – no one is standing over me, giving me instructions. It can be difficult to ‘turn off’ from academic work.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
I think my biggest achievement so far is actually an ongoing process rather than any single event. I’ve been working towards letting go of the belief that things aren’t worthwhile if they’re not ‘productive’. This means I’ve started feeling less guilty for ‘wasting time’ watching series, playing games, and just generally enjoying myself. Ironically, letting go of my expectations of productivity has actually made me more productive in my work. Breathing room, innit? These new interests have also given me more material for enjoyable conversations with my students and colleagues.
What is the biggest hurdle that you managed to overcome so far?
I had some physical health issues throughout my PhD and ended up spending quite a bit of time in doctors’ offices in Loughborough, Leicester, and Nottingham. I needed a lot of help from others to get me through these issues: emotional support when I got told bad news, distractions when I got stuck in my own head, and rides when I had appointments in places with bad transport connections. I needed to get over my fear of asking for help from others and feel more comfortable with my own vulnerability. And you know what’s amazing? Literally nobody freaked out when I told them what was happening. People were happy to help. Many of my relationships grew so much stronger and more open, and I became more self-confident. To keep with the ‘hurdle’ metaphor, I jumped and landed in a delightful cushion of love and support. Cue the vuvuzela.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
See question 3.
What is that one thing you’re good at that is not related to your work?
I love working out and spend a lot of time physically pushing myself. If I weren’t doing what I’m doing now, I’d probably be training to be a fitness instructor. This is totally Loughborough’s fault.
Anything last tip?
Show up. Make yourself seen. Keep making new friends.