a centenary
of Learning

  • 41
  • by Dr Elizabeth Anthony
  • graduated 2012
  • studied Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)
  • from Malaysia

Beginning my 17 hour journey from Malaysia to Bristol I was faced with a mixture of emotions about what I was about to discover in a foreign land.

All organisations are subject to constant change and universities are no different in that respect. We are constantly finding ourselves presented with fresh, sometimes distinctive challenges and prospects. This makes ever more important our commitment to create a positive working environment that makes working life productive, rewarding, enjoyable and healthy for all staff. Key to this is the opportunity for every member of staff to develop both personally and professionally.

Consequently, this quest brought me to Bristol in the south-west of England; a truly international city that has plenty to offer students and visitors. The University of Bristol is located in the heart of Bristol – one of the UK’s most beautiful and inspiring cities and it is a very lively place to live as it has so much to offer.

Spending over three years in a foreign country at a foreign university and being foreign was a very daunting prospect. At the university I was registered under the Doctoral Programme at the Graduate School of Education (GSoE); home to a rich mix of early career and experienced researchers. This provided me opportunity to work alongside academics and research students who were at the forefront of their respective field. I was assigned two supervisors; Prof. Dr Richard Kiely & Dr Sheila Trahar, and maintained regular contact with them regarding the progress of my research.

As a research student, I jump started with a research training program in my first year as well as setting my sights on a research topic that linked two fields close to my heart; language learning and problem-based learning, which was exciting and challenging. At the end of my first year, I had my upgrading; a very crucial milestone in my PhD journey. I wrote the first chapter and prepared a literature review, along with the methodology and chapter outline. The upgrading itself was less stressful and hostile than I thought it would be. Both external examiners were extremely helpful and friendly. I must admit though, during the first two minutes of my presentation at the upgrading meeting, I could feel my voice trembling! After a brief gruelling session, my supervisor and I were asked to leave the room and were called in 10 minutes later to be told I passed my upgrading and can now consider myself a real PhD student.

In addition, I became Associate Member of couple of research centres; Culture, Learning, Identity and Organisation (CLIO) and Centre for Research on Language and Education (CREOLE). Both held open seminars and lectures by prominent speakers on a weekly basis. In fact, I was honoured to coordinate CREOLE over three semesters alongside its advisor, Prof. Kiely and Dr Jim Askam (fellow postgraduate students). This provided me opportunity to work closely with staff and other students interested in high quality research relating directly to my own field of interest.

By and large, my three and half years experience in the United Kingdom was truly fascinating although I experienced some tough times initially, especially getting acclimatised to the weather. My first month in Bristol was one of the hardest of my life. I was desperately homesick. What’s more, it was freezing. I had arrived on the 25th of October 2006, smack bang in the very midst of late autumn, early winter but I kept going. Much as I wanted to get on the first flight home, my pride held me back and I’m glad it did. The best part of studying at GSoE was meeting so many amazing people. Most students in my program were international students who introduced me to completely different traditions. Culturally, I did not face any barriers as the people; the locals and students alike were very friendly and open. Thus, my cross-cultural appreciation widened, as I met people not only from the UK, but also from all over the world. They were very interested in meeting someone from Malaysia and we always had good conversations about our different lifestyles.

My take on the PhD experience is two very 'philosophical' points, so to speak: you are alone, but you are not alone. A PhD is a lonely journey that can be completed by no one else other than one’s self. But with good colleagues and helpful supervisors, one can get through it and even enjoy it. In this sense, the 5-star Graduate School of Education (GSoE) was a great place to be.  My PhD was very different from my Master’s programme, given that the PhD was a very private programme managed between my supervisors and I. To be honest, from the beginning I set out my priorities and immersed myself in my world of research and never looked back (well, apart from a few panic-stricken moments, but they are all part and parcel of being a doctoral student!).

I liked to ponder over things and read extensively before putting my thoughts to paper. I often used to work after the daylight was long gone as I found myself to be very productive then. My supervisors were very helpful in accepting my way of working, whilst also always being available for a brainstorming session (or just reassurances that I was still on track, even when I felt a bit lost). The irony, on the other hand, of doing my PhD was that it was not as lonely and miserable as claimed by many. I had lots of opportunities to discuss and share ideas with fellow research students, going to conferences and meeting people in the same or similar field. I benefited from the CLIO and CREOLE, where I got valuable advice and comments on my research plan.

I also felt extremely lucky to have been part of a strong and supportive PhD student group. We constantly supported and learned from each other. We were there for each other during our times of ups and downs despite being vigorously involved in our individual and dream pursuits. One of the most outstanding episodes that lingers in my mind is the numerous occasions of home-cooked pot luck meals that we used to enjoy. It was indeed a luxury!

Besides the PhD being my priority, I took the opportunity to travel as “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Travelling was one of the most exciting things that I was able to experience while abroad. For example, in the highlands and the beaches of Scotland it seemed everywhere I turned was a place more beautiful than the next! Those are places that I will never forget.

As a conclusion, I consider studying at GSoE as one of the most exciting adventures of my life as it opened doors to many opportunities. I’m currently the Head of Language and Communication Department at the Faculty of Science, Technology and Human Development at University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM). It has impacted my life in so many different ways and thinking back now, I am confident that studying at GSoE was the best decision I have ever made though I was very reluctant to study abroad initially. Bristol is an amazing city with so much to offer the world. I will never forget the kindness of the people, the good friends I have made, and the host of wonderful opportunities that the PhD journey and the UK offered me. I miss Bristol as if it were an actual person, my friend. I made lasting friendships and strengthened existing relationships, as well as creating a stronger relationship with myself. I would recommend studying at GSoE to everyone!