My PhD Journey

Ever since I was a teenager I dreamed of studying abroad to get a doctorate.. But as usual life got in the way. Immediately after I completed M.Ed., landed my dream job, I became a Maths and Science teacher. A year later moved into teacher education. In a blink of an eye four years had passed, my doctoral dreams receded in the background. In 2003, I met my soulmate, got married, relocated, had a baby, life completely changed. Years passed juggling family responsibilities and moving around the world following my husband’s career. My dreams were long forgotten. By 2017, we were living in UK. I stumbled upon a course on Inclusive educationoffered by University of Birmingham.  My husband encouraged me, and I ventured back into academia. Though there was a gap of 18 years, since I had last studied, I absolutely loved it. I was finally doing something for myself, fulfilling part of my dream of studying abroad. I immersed myself in the academic world. My husband suggested I continue, fulfil my dream of a doctorate. In 2019 got accepted for a doctoral programat the same university.  My dream had finally come true.

My PhD Journey began

Having a dream and doing what you have dreamed of for many years are two totally different things. I was on cloud nine, until I walked into induction week and had my first of many ‘what have I done’ moments. By the end of induction week, I felt completely paranoid, confused, overwhelmed, and lost. The only saving grace of Induction week for me, was meeting some amazing fellow PGR’s who are now friends for life. I remember being in a daze for weeks following induction. The first lecture of taught modules, Philosophical foundations of research only added to my confusion. I had never even heard of ‘ontology’ and ‘epistemology’. Must admit have come a long way since, thanks to many discussions with amazing friends and a lot, I mean, a lot of reading. Initially I just had a topic in mind, I knew I felt deeply about wanting to research about disabled teachers, the reason they had opted for teaching as a profession. I really had no idea how I was going to go about the study, what my positionality was, or which theoretical frameworks to base my study on. My first supervisor Gary Thomas, I read most of his books, was in awe during the entire first meeting. He was instrumental in getting me to work on my research design. I decided on multiple case-study based on lived experiences of maximum eight disabled teachers. My research was taking shape, bits were still foggy, but it was coming together. 

During my first year of PhD Covid struck…

In the first year, I completed three taught modules to get them out of the way, Turned out to be best decision ever. Because just as I competed the last module, disaster struck, Covid was here. The whole world turned chaotic, so did my life. My supervisor Gary Thomas retired, and I had a whole new supervision team Neil Halland Graeme Douglas. My daughters GCSEs got cancelled, she had been preparing for them earnestly. As a mother comforting her and being there for her took precedence. Everything seemed so uncertain. I had applied for my Ethics approval by then. My new supervisors encouraged me to work on my positionality and theory. Thanks to my supervisors’ I discovered Carol Thomas, and her writings. Reading her articles had a profound effect on the direction my research would take. The fact that living with an impairment not only has biological ramifications but also has psychological impact on the disabled person which she suggested should be focus of disability studies. The individual experience of the disabled person, their life journey, their interactions with people around them, their participation in social activities, their own struggle with their impairments are a large part of their self-identity which is totally overlooked by the social model. I decided I wanted to explore all these aspects in my study through my participants lived experiences. To accomplish this, I selected two theoretical frameworks to build my study on. The WHO’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) 2001 and Bronfenbrenner’s Human ecological system 2005. My study now had a structure, a backbone, a solid foundation. 

Most exciting phase of my PhD

Being a novice researcher, conducting a pilot study made sense. I carried out a small-scale pilot study with two friends, to try out my interview technique. The pilot study gave me confidence, helped polish my interview questions. By this time, I finally heard from ethics committee seeking further clarification on how I would carry out my study online and couple of further explanations. I reverted with my explanations as well as my Pilot study findings. My study would be completely online, with recruitment, data collection all taking place online. I received full Ethics approval and began recruiting participants mainly via Twitter in May 2021. I also planned to contact gatekeepers if I was unable to recruit the required number of participants. Twitter was amazing, I managed to recruit six participants. The remaining two were recruited with the help of Sharon Smith, my friend. I had eight participants and soon began interviewing them.

The interviewing phase was the best phase of this research journey. I was finally ‘doing’ something real. Everything was not on paper anymore. I was in the real world, talking to real participants. It was exciting, yet nerve wrecking too. It felt like I was thrown into the deep, after just learning to swim in the kiddie pool. At the beginning I felt a bit out of my depth, but I soon managed to gather my wits. The first interview was awesome. When I ended the first interview, I felt such an adrenaline rush, a feeling of such euphoria I cannot explain in words. It felt so good to finally discuss with participants about aspects which I had been planning for over a year and a half. The rest of the interviews went smoothly with a few hiccups regarding rescheduling and last-minute cancellations, but no major disruption. Data collection was collaborative, I conducted the interviews in a non-interrogative manner giving a lot of thought to the power dynamics within interviews. The interviews were free flowing, followed semi structure guidelines, participants shared as much as they felt comfortable. Each participant was interviewed 4 times. All interviews were carried out on Zoom, except four, which were on Microsoft teams. I spent 1235.55 minutes interviewing participants between May 28th and August 16th, 2021. I used Otter transcription services but ended up doing most of it manually because there were so many errors. 319 pages of transcripts were generated from the interviews. All the participants were amazing and very generous with sharing their experiences.

My PhD Journey continues….

I began this journey with just wanting a doctorate, along the way something changed. It is no longer just about me getting a doctorate. It has become something more than a personal dream. It is about highlighting disabled teachers’ experiences, showcasing their stories, advocating for creative research methods for inclusion of participant voices in data representation. My PhD journey is currently at this intriguing juncture.

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