In this week’s blog post, catch up with guest and voice from the past, Brittnee Leysen. Brittnee was the SGSAH Blogger in 2018 and is in the final year of her PhD in Aotearoa New Zealand Place-Names at the University of Glasgow. She is an advocate for Endometriosis Awareness and an obsessive tea drinker. You can find her and her cat, Raglan, on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter @BrittneeLeysen.
Where has the time gone?
I look at my CV, it says the SGSAH Blogging Intern was my job in 2018, but how has it actually been three years since then??
If there is one lesson I have learnt during the past three years, it is that everyone has their things. No one has a straightforward path through their PhD journey and things will always get in the way. Supervisors retiring, having a baby, losing a relative, a pandemic… life and things will always happen. But you don’t have to go it alone.
When I ran the SGSAH blog in 2018, I was still in the early days of my PhD and trying to find ‘my people’. I ran some writing days, I got involved with PhD Women Scotland on their blog and forum, and I took over as head of the reading group for Onomastics at my University. Three years later and I can say that while these activities definitely took extra effort to engage with alongside my PhD, I am so, so glad I did them. Connections I made then, and groundwork I did to establish myself as not just a researcher in my field, but someone others could be candid with and relax around in the sometimes cold and distant world of academia, has paid off tenfold. Especially in this now mainly digital age.
It is a delicate balance doing life alongside the PhD while also trying to zhuzh up your CV for post-PhD employment opportunities. Some opportunities I’ve had to learn to turn down: be it due to their lack of financial compensation, the time required, or because it was just too far of a stretch from the trajectory of my research (and personal) goals. No one can make the decisions of what to take on alongside your degree but you, so whilst I cannot advise on the ‘do’s and do not’s’ of jobs, internships, projects, etc. alongside your PhD, I do have some general advice on what has actually made a difference since the beginning of my PhD some four years ago…
Taking a break when I needed to.
Back in 2018, I wrote about Taking a Break in what was the most nerve-wrecking post I made during my SGSAH internship. Little did I know at the time, this would be the first of four suspensions of studies I needed over the course of my PhD. Having a chronic illness like Endometriosis has meant I have needed multiple surgeries and time to heal during my PhD, which I used to feel guilty about. I thought taking time away meant I was not as good as those pressing ahead around me. But the more open I was about my experience, the more I discovered others like me who struggled with prioritising their mental and physical wellbeing. Over time I’ve come to realise one main thing: as the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and likewise, you cannot expect to produce work when you’re running on empty. Quality research requires an attentive and engaged researcher, which means taking the time you need to fill your cup.
Collaborating with like-minded researchers and individuals.
As I said in the beginning of this blog post, you should never feel like you have to ‘go it alone’ just because the PhD is an independent degree. I touched on this a bit in my SGSAH blog, ‘Developing Groups or Associations During the PhD’ but I would like to reiterate it here: being part of, leading, or creating a group or association during your PhD is extremely rewarding. And not just in the CV-building way. Now near the end of my PhD, I have been involved in two highly rewarding collaborative projects: a short film on Gaelic Emigrant Songs and Narratives, and a week-long PGR training event on Indigenous Methods. The latter project is one that involved collaboration with researchers, academics, and individuals in institutions across Scotland and across the world. I am beyond proud of what we managed to accomplish with over 200 participants, and highly recommend you take the leap and reach out to anyone doing research similar to you no matter what stage they (or you) are at- you never know where it might lead!
Allowing myself to chase more than one research interest/passion.
I am a place-names researcher. If you don’t know what that is, I’ve got a whole blog about ‘Why I Study Place-Names’ and would be more than happy to chat place-names anytime. However, I am also a passionate advocate for Women’s Health, vocal about the difficulties faced by International students in the UK in the post-education visa process and job market, and keen on changing attitudes in HEIs around support for students with chronic illnesses. I am multifaceted, as are we all. Yes, you are doing a degree that relies on you narrowing in and becoming an expert in your field, but you also need to feed your soul by not neglecting the other parts of you that make you, well, you.
Putting myself, and my research, out there.
Before I became the SGSAH blogging intern, I submitted a post for the SGSAH blog on giving my first conference paper. The following year, I used this experience as part of my application process for the blogging job: and was hired. That conference that I attended? I submitted the paper for it before my PhD had even commenced, feeling very much like I was throwing myself to the wolves coming in as an unexperienced student speaking to the most successful body of researchers in my field. Four years later, I have been nominated as a Board member for that same body. You never know what doors will open to you if you just put yourself out there. You don’t ask, you don’t get.
It is easy to be pessimistic about what you accomplish during the PhD, as your main objective all those years is one thing: finish the PhD. But don’t forget to count all your many victories along the way…and yes, life victories also count.