First and foremost, I would like to thank the organisers for putting on such a fantastic event on 31t January 2019. UoM Stories is about presenting stories to inspire, to show PhD students that the road to success is not all about academia, and to highlight that everyone has a story to tell.
Over the course of the evening 8 speakers from different disciplines and walks of life gave their stories. These speakers can be considered to be successful people through their high-status jobs and their achievements in their lifetime. But these speakers were also shown as human beings with their own personal challenges which they have overcome. What came out of these stories is that none of these narratives have ended, life will continue and there is no top to reach.
Dr Hamied Haroon is a research associate in the Division of Informatics, Imaging and Data Sciences. He began his story with telling us how he always wanted to be a doctor but was told he could never enter the medical profession because he is in a wheelchair. Despite this, Haroon remained resilient and found a way to enter the medical field through Medical Physics. He has also acted as an ambassador for disabled access as a student and now as a staff member. Haroon’s story shows how a barrier can act as a motivator and without it, he would not have realised how much more rewarding his job is now than had he just trained to be a doctor.
Professor Vikas Shah resonates with Haroon’s story. Shah is considered a top UK entrepreneur – he holds an MBE and started running his own company by the age of 16. However, his story highlighted four important pieces of advice; don’t define yourself by your job, be resilient, be curious, and failure is inevitable. Shah has had a turbulent life and his opening up on his mental health presents an important lesson to PhD students; be open and know that failure is fine. After all, how can you be successful without first failing?
Leena Gade is a Formula One race engineer. Being the only woman to graduate in her year from the Aerospace Engineering degree at Manchester, Gade has always had to be resilient and believing in herself. Motorsport is a difficult field to break into and she notes how she sent over 150 applications out for jobs, all of which were rejected. She was not deterred. Working on weekends and even using her holiday, she worked for free on motor sport teams for experience and her work paid off. Since then, her path has continued to be rocky – she was fired from the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar team for something she didn’t do. But, she has since returned to racing proving that a little set back is merely a bump in the road.
Professor Dame Nicky Callum is the head of nursing here at UoM. She calls herself an ‘accidental academic’ and an ‘accidental nurse’ as she had never planned to be either when she was growing up. She graduated from Liverpool as a qualified nurse with a degree in pharmacology and with aspirations of being a vet. However, her first job was as a nurse at a hospital in Liverpool in an understaffed ward. She recalled how the phone call from the university asking if she would like to do a PhD was like her lifeline to get out of the path she was going along. Since then she has made remarkable progression in the research of nursing and patient care, for which she was made a Dame in 2013. Despite her achievements, Callum retains that need for resilience, like the other speakers, disappointments often turn out for the best and if you find your passion, you will find your way.
Lemn Sissay, poet and Chancellor of UoM, continued with these ideas. His story was less about himself and more about what we should see in others; we all have a story, and all are equally relevant. In recalling his recent visit to China, he invited us to think more openly about the world, about what stereotypes we assume and instil on people. But we should not let others stop us from the path we wish to take, ‘universities do not hold the monopoly on learning’, he notes, and ‘creativity is not monopolised by artists’. Sissay’s poem, which he performed at the end, continued with these important themes of openness, resilience, and passion.
Dr Jack Rivers-Anty, a research fellow in the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, also has a story with an important message threaded through; ‘Usain Bolt shaves his legs’. Although this might seem like an odd message to have, River-Anty explains how important the small differences, such as shaving your legs, can make a huge impact. Rivers-Anty is an example of what many of us PhD students could be in only a few years’ time, and his message of the importance of the small differences represents how he has managed to achieve his successes in funding applications and job roles. For instance, his win at the 3 Minute Thesis competition put him at the top when applying for jobs. It is the extra things we do outside of our work which will make the difference in the long-run.
Dr Emma Ferguson-Coleman is a research associate for Deaf with Dementia and has previously worked on projects on deaf with autism as well. Having recently achieved her PhD in 2016, she feels she is still adjusting to being called a doctor. Ferguson-Coleman is a minority language user, she was born deaf and has always used sign language. She recalls her ongoing challenge of representation and how she is continually being represented through her translator. This can create a barrier between her and the outside world and it can be difficult to ensure her personality shines through her translated words. However, the fact that she is a minority language user has not stopped her in anyway and her story shows how factors such as being deaf should not be presumed as insurmountable barrier.
Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President of UoM, gave a final story through video. She tells her story of her progression into research, and how on moving back to Manchester she chose to shift her focus away from the area of research she had always worked on to a new field of research. Although this was difficult she recalls the need to ‘listen to your head but follow your heart’. And how did she become president? She jokingly says ‘by mistake’; she had never planned on doing any administrative work and yet when you listen to your head but follow your heart you might just end up as president of UoM.
These stories show some potential paths we PhD students could go on, they show how we might tackle the difficult journey we have ahead. But these stories also show a resilience; a resilience to change, to disappointment, to failure. UoM stories was an interesting evening, and for myself, it certainly held some valuable advice on how to embark on my future story.
And finally, what’s your story? The UoM Stories team want to know! Send in your story, in no more than 150-200 words with a picture of yourself, using one of the following links: