BY HAYLEIGH BARCLAY
This time five years ago I was in the middle of writing my proposal to be accepted onto the Doctorate program at the University of Glasgow. I decided to undertake the Creative Writing course after completing a BA and MA in subjects specialising in writing, directing, and producing for TV and film at the University of the West of Scotland. A few months after submitting the proposal I had an interview with one of my future supervisors and before I knew it, October arrived and I was starting my thesis. Hogwarts style Glasgow University is split into several campuses and there are some accessibility issues. Before I started, the disability advisor and I set out a plan to ensure that the campus could accommodate my needs. This meant upgrading facilities and relocating classes to wheelchair accessible classrooms. I was aware that these adaptations would take time and happily awaited on word for my starting date.
My excitement turned to frustration, as it became apparent that the necessary equipment would take longer to install than predicted. This meant that I couldn’t spend a full day on campus, due to the need for an accessible loo with some adaptations. Luckily, my supervisors and lecturers were understanding and adamant that I would complete the Doctorate. Eventually it was agreed that I would attend via distance learning. This involved monthly video calls on my progress and classes recorded and made available online. The only time I needed to attend, was for my Annual Progress Review (to decide if my work was suitable to continue to the next stage) and my final exam. This allowed me to feel more like a student and have the experience of campus hustle and bustle. In my application to the Ethics Committee, I included all information relating to my disability, that might impact how the research would be carried out. For example, I was asked to explain how having a support worker (with access to my data) could compromise confidentiality and security. This process is not designed to discriminate, it is to ensure that all information is upfront and also protects the student from any claims of data protection. It is also advisable to inform interviewees how data will be stored and who will have access. Some aspects of this felt very invasive, surrounding my disability. However, it kept my research process above board and none of the participants raised any concerns.
Between writing chapters of my book, reading vampire novels, having meetings and classes, it was busy. I eventually applied for scribe support to assist with note taking and typing. An outside company dealt with the hiring of a scribe (who I got to choose) and the funding by the University. I received a set number of hours each week and attended sessions with the scribe. I very much enjoyed the flexibility of working hours and having dedicated time to work on my thesis, without outside distractions. It meant the nights and weekends were mostly my own, to catch-up on other projects or have some downtime. One of the biggest risks students face is burnout, so having the space to take care of my other needs was vitally important. This allowed me to switch off from everything academic. Throughout previous courses, I was guilty of neglecting my health and my social life. Not this time; I actually managed to have a decent work-life-balance. I found more enjoyment in my thesis, without having to sacrifice my personal life.
Three years went by in a flash and before I knew it, it was time to submit my completed thesis and await the date of my exam. It was a strange time, and if I’m honest, it was a bit of an anti-climax. I’m not sure what I expected, perhaps fireworks or a gold star for effort. Either way, it was a more reserved occasion. The exam came and went (luckily, I passed) and the next few months were spent finalising revisions on my thesis and preparing for graduation. I could at last call myself Doctor Hayleigh Barclay. On the whole it was a positive experience; there were a few hiccups along the way, but ultimately everything went rather well. My advice for anyone considering a post-graduate degree would be research the campus to ensure it fits your needs, be upfront on your requirements, and most importantly, try not to stress. If you’re thinking about it, give it a go, you might surprise yourself.