How my PhD at UWE Bristol has helped me to pursue my passion.

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By Anna, PhD student.

Our PhD student, Anna, tells us how she pursued her passion for community-led housing and social change through postgraduate research study. Anna shares how she gained funding for her PhD and how UWE Bristol have supported her as a mature student. Read more about Anna’s story.

How I decided postgraduate study was right for me 

I chose to apply for postgraduate study relatively late in life, and through an unusual route. After I completed my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences in 1996, I started out volunteering in the environment and conservation sector. I then went on to work for 10 years in an environmental science and policy role.

During this time, I also built an eco-home in Bristol with my partner, and this kicked off my interest in community-led housing as a route for social change. In 2010, I left my job and started a business in community-led housing support and consultancy. However, I never lost my interest in academia, and I started to consider applying for postgraduate research study.

“For several years, I kept an eye out for opportunities to undertake a funded PhD on a topic related to my work.”

Why UWE Bristol?  

I chose UWE Bristol for a mix of practical and academic reasons. Since I was already settled in Bristol with my family and job, a local university was the obvious choice for me. When I started researching, I found out that UWE Bristol had existing expertise in community, housing and planning within their Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments.

A friend of mine had recently completed a PhD on community-led housing at UWE Bristol and recommended someone for me to speak to about my research interests. This conversation led to me developing my own research proposal, which I then used to apply for funding so I could start my PhD degree.

Funding my postgraduate study 

I was fortunate enough to access 50% funding from UWE Bristol’s 50:50 scheme, which requires the other half of the funding to come from an industry partner. At the time, I was working closely with Power to Change, a National Lottery-funded organisation who support community businesses through funding practical support and research.

Power to Change was launching a programme that offered 50% funding for PhDs relating to community business. This enabled me to combine the two programmes and receive 100% of the funding I needed for my PhD. As well as funding, Power to Change has provided me with valuable networking support and opportunities to connect with others in the sector.

The benefits of postgraduate study

Returning to academia after over 20 years away from university was challenging. I had developed an in-depth knowledge of my topic from a practical perspective, but I didn’t have the academic research skills to match. Fortunately, UWE Bristol require all their PhD students to complete masters-level modules of their choice, which are worth at least 60 units.

During my first year, I was able to select two modules that would develop my knowledge and skills in research theory, critical writing, methodology and statistical analysis. Not only did this help to improve my confidence, but it also enabled me to plan and carry out my research programme effectively.

My experience as a mature PhD student

At the start of my PhD, I was initially coming onto campus two or three days per week to attend teaching sessions and use the library. Now I’m in my second year, I don’t need to come onto campus for my lectures or research, so I’m flexibly working from home. I still choose to visit campus one or two days a week as it’s good to connect with other people and have a quiet study space.

I’ve had the added challenge of studying during the Covid-19 pandemic. When we went into lockdown, I had to home educate my children for a significant chunk of time, which impacted my study schedule. Fortunately, the University have enabled me to apply for my research deadlines to be deferred for six months.  

“UWE Bristol have been really understanding.”

Final thoughts

I still have a couple of years left of my PhD to finish my research and write my thesis. Once I’ve finished my postgraduate study, it’ll open many doors for me. I could build on my previous career, applying my new research skills to professional work in the community-led housing sector. I’m now also open to considering a career change to a more academic role.

PhD students are supported and encouraged to take on various teaching and mentoring roles, which prepares you to work in an academic environment if you wish to. I’ve already had the opportunity to try lecturing on UWE Bristol’s undergraduate Planning course, which has been a valuable experience. Wherever my career takes me next, I know my PhD will enable me to pursue my passion.

Find out more about postgraduate research study at UWE Bristol.

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