I began contemplating undertaking a PhD almost ten years ago (and even just putting that in writing really makes me feel odd as it doesn't seem that long ago). At the time I was advised that as I hadn't completed an honours programme with my bachelor's degree I would be best placed to enrol in a graduate certificate in research methodologies to demonstrate my research skills to a university admission board. This I completed in 2003 - whilst I was living in Dublin...though sadly I wasn't studying in the library at Trinity College as pictured above.
Instead I completed the grad cert, and subsequently the PhD as an off-shore distance education student through an Australian university. So, my studying was wedged in to evenings and weekends in order to fit around work...
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...and I can't even claim that it was a beautiful, calm studying environment - more often than not, studying took place with the laptop on my lap, sitting on the sofa with copious references spread out on the floor around me.
So, after enrolling in 2005, the intervening 6 years have seen the PhD being a constant background noise to my daily life. At times it has taken a complete back seat, and at others it seemed to consume all of my non-working waking hours. When I think back to what else has occured during that same period of time, it brings into context just how long a period of time it was. I immigrated (again) from Australia to the UK, was able to travel more extensively, changed my career path, and lost my father to cancer.
So here I sit now, having just heard today that my thesis has passed. But, fairly quickly following that thought is the 'what next?' question. Practically, gaining this qualification makes very little difference in my day to day work - it is not something I necessarily need for career progression, and it certainly makes no difference to salary levels. Equally, whilst the PhD prepared me for a career in health research - that day to day reality is already in place, and doesn't necessarily give me the option to conduct research into areas that interest me personally.
The topic of my thesis was in relation to supporting parents of premature infants during an admission to a neonatal intensive care unit - this was something that was very close to my heart after working in this area through much of my clinical career. Even during the course of the degree when I was no longer working directly with babies and their families, I found that every time I re-engaged with my research I re-visited my reasons for undertaking this research, and became energised by the hope that the results would ultimately be of benefit to these families.
So, whilst I try and process what the impact that the news of this award will mean to me - both career-wise, and personally, I know at least that I feel that I have succeeded in one of my aims - to give parents of premature infants in NICU a voice. I have to trust that what else may come from this event will make itself known in time..