STRIDE is a UKCISA-funded project that unpacks the social transition of PhD students and the aim of this blog is to provide public stories of students’ experiences. This week’s story comes from Megan Sinclair, a PhD student at the University of Dundee. For more information about the project, please visit the ‘About the Project’ page.
Transition for me is perhaps not the right word, I have always had a strong support network all throughout my University career. This is my seventh year at University, I have been studying at Dundee ever since leaving high school. I am from Dundee and have stayed at my family home so in many ways I have the same network and routine I have always had. However, in the third year of my Undergraduate, my family and life were turned upside down by the sudden death of my father. I lost a vital part of my support network, he was always encouraging me, reading and listening to my work, he and my Mum took turns to go through things with me. (My poor mother now has to read over everything and my workload is only getting bigger and bigger!)
It would have been easy to shut down completely after that day, at times I feel I did. I took a few months off University, those few months my family and friends meant everything to me. There are too many people to name that pulled me through, they comforted me whilst I cried and fell apart, and they lifted my spirits and made me laugh and smile. They gave me space when I needed it, and they forced me out of my shell when I just wanted to isolate myself. If not for them I wouldn’t have been able to return to University that September. I would never have had the strength to finish my final year. Because of their support, I went back to University with a newfound drive and strength, I was determined to make my Dad proud and ended up graduating with a First Class Honours.
From there I got funded for my Masters in Comics which I received a distinction in, which in turn led me to where I am today; studying a PhD in Comics and Education. Again I was lucky enough to receive funding, this time from the SGSAH. The money has allowed me to dedicate all my time to study and has freed up space so that I can still maintain my strong support network. (It also gives me time to look after my PhD partner in crime Buddy!) Having a dog breaks up my day and gives me the much needed fresh air to reflect and plan my work.
The funding has also helped me go to some amazing places and expand my career networking opportunities, last year I was a presenter at the world’s largest comic convention in San Diego. I met with some amazing and influential people. In fact, the comics scene in Dundee in general has been imperative to my work, through the Dundee Comics Creative Space I have met with many inspiring creators and professionals in the industry who have shaped my research. The space has allowed me and my fellow PhD pals to start our own comics club, which too has been great for the social aspects of my study. We meet every two weeks to chat about different comics, it is casual and good fun to meet people from both in and out of academia that share our interests and I have learned lots of new comics and ideas from it despite that never being the real intention.
My supervisors have also been incredible, I have had Chris as a tutor since third year, he has helped me hone my skills and always encourages and believes in me. Divya too has opened up lots of opportunities to me (including this). In addition to the people who form my support network, comics themselves have also provided support throughout my university career. Comics as a medium are an extremely engaging and communicative tool, as part of my study I have been creating my own healthcare comics. Through doing this I have been encouraged to open up and discuss both my work and my personal life, I have used the medium as a form of healing and through such things as workshops and conferences I have met like-minded people.
My PhD journey is at the halfway mark and my University career as a whole is nearing its end. Part of that scares me, since I was a toddler I have been in education, I have had part-time jobs here and there, but primarily being a student is all I have ever known. I am anxious what graduating will mean and if I will still maintain the strong network I have always been so fortunate to have. I know this is a fear of pretty much every PhD student however. The SGSAH have introduced me to many people at the same stage as myself, we go on annual residential events and we meet for conferences and workshops, we are all in the same situation and it is comforting to know you are not alone. In fact, no matter what happens I know I am not alone, outwith University I have an amazing support network of family and friends who help me in any way they can, whether it is reading through my stuff, walking my dog so I have more time to work, coming to my events or helping fund my projects and published work, it means the world to know they are with me every step of the way. My tutors, as wonderful and professional as they are, are also my friends as is everyone at the Comics Creative Space, my ending of this chapter is by no means the end of the relationships I have built so far.
Overall, University has been an incredible experience for me so far, as is the case with most people, it wasn’t without turmoil and emotion, but in a way losing my Dad has made me stronger and more determined to do well. It has also shown me the value of life and of all the relationships I have made, I noted in the introduction that transition was perhaps not the right term. Maybe I was wrong, although I don’t feel my social network has changed, other than expanding, I myself have. I am not the fresh-faced Undergraduate I was back in 2011. I am confident, I am excited by my research and I know regardless of what the next few years hold I have the most amazing people standing by me through it all.