A day in the life of a Centre for Reproduction Research PhD student

My name is Sasha Loyal, and I am one five full-time PhD students undertaking my doctoral research within the Centre for Reproduction Research (CRR). I am currently in the second year of my PhD but I have been a student at De Montfort University for several years as I also completed my BSc in Psychology and MSc in Health Psychology at DMU. My interest in doing a PhD stemmed from the work I did for my masters dissertation which explored men’s experiences of infertility and it was during this time that I was introduced to the work of the CRR. After completing my masters degree I was sure I wanted to continue further study and research in the area of reproduction so after many research topic brain storms, and with the support of my supervisors, I submitted a proposal for a PhD. My proposal was accepted, and I was even able to secure a scholarship to pursue my PhD full time. This scholarship covers my fees, provides me a bursary to cover my living expenses, and even gives me some money to spend each year on research costs and to enable conference attendance.

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My PhD research examines perceptions of reproductive timing within British South Asian Communities and builds on existing strengths within the centre on reproductive timing, ageing and the attitudes towards assisted reproductive technologies held by those of South Asian descent. My research is highly novel because whilst ageing populations and decreasing family sizes in Europe have led to questions in political, public and academic debates around reproductive timing, little is known about how British South Asian women perceive the ‘right’ time for parenthood or how cultural beliefs and values shape these perceptions.

The Centre for Reproduction Research is very multidisciplinary and has researchers working on theoretically grounded and socially relevant research across Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, Bioethics, Nursing and Midwifery as well as Biomedical Science. By being a part of the centre I have been introduced to a wide range of research and research perspectives. My project is thus interdisciplinary and draws on theoretical and methodological insights from Psychology and Sociology. In particular, I am using the sociological concept of intersectionality, which is focused on the how a complex range of social identities and psychological attributes overlap to shape an individual’s experience of the social world. Readings such as Cole (2009) has helped me to grasp the value of considering the way in which identities are associated and helps explain why the ‘intersectionality gap’ in psychological research needs to be tackled.

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The day in my life as a PhD student is never really the same especially at the moment as I am currently working as a paid DMU Frontrunner which is kind of like an internship. The Frontrunner placement I am currently undertaking is as a research assistant within the CRR, specifically working on the EDNA Project. This interdisciplinary project is focused on how egg donation is experienced and regulated in the UK, Spain and Belgium. Whilst being in this role, I’ve performed impact related tasks, assisted with participant recruitment and the day to day running of the centre. As well as broadening my knowledge on wider reproductive issues, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about research ethics, publishing and grant writing. My Frontrunner post has been invaluable in providing me with a real insight in to the job of a research active academic and has helped me develop and further evidence key skills in qualitative research, networking and working in an interdisciplinary research group. I am hopeful that the experience I gain as part of the Frontrunner programme will make me more employable at the end of my PhD by providing me with a clearer understanding of the demands and responsibilities of academic researchers.

I only work one day a week as a Frontrunner and so I am able to spend the rest of my time focused on my PhD. The structure of my PhD working days depend upon my current workload, upcoming deadlines and other research tasks. At the moment I spend a lot of my time at my computer and answering emails which means I can work wherever I choose which is normally at home, university, or in a café. Working in different places gives me a good balance but I tend to be most productive at university.

When I work on campus I try to get to university at around 9am, and normally spend about 30-45 minutes catching up on emails and organising myself for the day ahead. A quick check of my to-do list normally makes my day more manageable and structured. As PhD life is so independent, sometimes planning what to do is overshadowed by ‘what should I actually be doing!?’. This can sometimes really dampen my motivation, especially when the to-do list runs off the page, but keeping in-check with my supervisors and prioritising tasks help me to focus on one thing at a time. Slow and steady wins the PhD race… or so I’ve heard!

Top tip – Coffee (and lots of it throughout the day!)

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At the moment I am in the data collection phase of my PhD. I am currently carrying out interviews so I am busy recruiting and transcribing. Talking to women about their experiences has been the most exciting part of the research so far and I’m looking forward to the next phase where I will be analysing the data. When I’m not carrying out data collection related tasks, I try to spend my time tackling my never-ending reading list and making notes which I use to support my writing.

Whilst the completion of a PhD can very much be a solitary and individual task, I welcome breaks and opportunities to talk to other PhD students and researchers in my area at the monthly CRR reading groups, PhD student writing groups and CRR seminars. These meetings are a great opportunity to discuss or listen to reproduction related research and it’s always enjoyable to catch up with my CRR friends. The CRR seminars always host researchers working on really interesting topics such as Kinneret Lahad who this summer gave a fascinating talk based on her recently published book ‘A Table for one: A Critical Reading of Singlehood, Gender and Time’. I often leave these seminars re-invigorated with lots of motivation, ideas and notebook scribbles.

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After picking up some lunch from the university cafe, I’ll normally take this back to my desk to crack on with the rest of my day with occasional catch-ups with other students. If I find that I’m losing concentration, a change of scenery always helps me to stay focused. There are great places on campus to park up with my laptop or books including the library and lounge spaces specifically for postgraduate students.

The PhD journey is really independent and flexible, but I try to stick to a 9-5 workday to ensure that I’m progressing whilst having time to relax outside work. After I leave campus a quick session at the gym usually gets me moving after a day at my desk and I spend the rest of the evening with my family or friends.

Whilst intellectually challenging, I have so far enjoyed my PhD studies at the Centre for Reproduction Research and I would recommend the centre to students and researchers working in the field of reproduction as it always feels like there is something going on to be involved in. I feel lucky to have secured a bursary to undertake my PhD and I look forward to completing my research and sharing the research findings with the academic community and wider public so ‘watch this space!’.

Written by Sasha Loyal, PhD Student.

Cole, E. R. (2009). Intersectionality and research in psychology. American
Psychologist, 64(3), 170-180. doi: 10.1037/a0014564


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