In this episode I talk to Tracey Warren about the challenges of being a self-funded, distance, international PGR. You can find Tracey on twitter @TraceyW19521302

 

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to R, D

 

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And the inbetweens, I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

 

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Hello and welcome to the latest episode of R, D and the In Betweens.

 

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece. And in this episode, I'm going to be talking to another of our postgraduate researchers, Tracey Warren.

 

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So Tracey contacted me after we released an episode of our doctoral college podcast, Beyond Your Research Degree,

 

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where I talked to James Alspp, who was a self-funded postgraduate research student and is now working as a secondary school teacher.

 

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Tracey got in contact because she was pleased to hear the experiences and the challenges of being a self-funded student articulated in this way.

 

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And so we decided we'd record an episode of the podcast about her experience of

 

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being not only a self-funded but international postgraduate research student.

 

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So, Tracey. Are you happy to introduce yourself? Okay.

 

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My name's Tracey Warren. I'm a self-funded international.

 

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Research student on the EdD programme, which is a bit of a mouthful.

 

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I sometimes have to remember which part of that sentence to remember.

 

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So I'm self-funded, which means that I pay for it myself.

 

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I'm an international student, although you can probably tell I'm British.

 

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But the main reason I'm an international student is because I lived abroad for quite a long time.

 

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And when I started this research degree, I was living in the UAE in Abu Dhabi, and hence why I am classed as an international student.

 

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Why the EdD and why a research programme? Well, that's a, that'll probably take up a lot of the time, but

 

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Yes. It's something that has been on my mind for quite a long time.

 

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I'd say about 15, 20 years.

 

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So it's been something that's been part of at the back of my mind, thinking about doing.

 

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Whilst I've been having my very busy career and 15 years ago or thereabouts, I had had an offer to do research at Manchester.

 

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And then life comes along and a whammy. So I put it to one side and life carried on.

 

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And then in 2016, I decided, you know what, I need to revisit this.

 

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So I say, yes. The grand old age.

 

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I think at the time, 52, I decided that this is something I need to take up before I got too long in the tooth.

 

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Why a research degree? Because I've had a lot of experience in education, management, leadership.

 

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Special Needs Inclusion International UK that I just thought that I could bring something to the wider audience.

 

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And that's why I wanted to do something in research. At the time, I thought I knew what I wanted to do.

 

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But obviously, as time's gone on, it has become much more narrow.

 

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And I'm in the fourth year. So it's been quite a long journey for me, though.

 

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So for two years, I was at Exeter for February and then summer.

 

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So it's been quite a lengthy journey, but one that's not only been challenging, but also completely interesting and totally absorbing.

 

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That's fantastic. What an introduction.

 

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So you've spoken a little bit about why you wanted to do the research degree, but I wondered if you could talk about the other side of that,

 

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which is not just the decision to do the research degree, but to fund it yourself.

 

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Well, the self funding was a no brainer, really, living abroad meant that I had very little in the way of access to opportunities for funding.

 

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So not even from the company that I worked for would have even considered that.

 

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I mean, we are talking of when I think I first started out,

 

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it was about seven and a half thousand pounds a year and it's risen to about nine and a half.

 

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So it's a lot of money and therefore the decision to go down this path.

 

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I knew that I am a complete a finisher, so therefore I knew that I would get there.

 

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But the decision to actually go down the route of doing a research degree at that level of funding requirement,

 

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I sort of knew that by the end of it, with flights we travel with, accommodation, we are talking of over 4-5 years of an investment.

 

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And that's the word I would use of about fifty thousand pounds, which is a heck of a lot of money.

 

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And it was something that I knew from the start.

 

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And it's only now just becoming challenging because obviously I'm going to approach a fifth year.

 

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So the rationale was very, very clear.

 

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The reasoning for going self funding was very clear that I had no alternative.

 

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But also, I knew that I had to work to find that funding myself.

 

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So I did work full time for the first three years, as well as juggling everything else that I was required to do for the for the cause.

 

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So that was a leadership director position and trying to juggle a research.

 

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Part-Time Degree. So let's just pick up on that a minute.

 

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What is it like to undergo that juggling act of a full time job and a part time research degree?

 

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You have to be very organised and also almost blinkered because, for example,

 

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I also commuted between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which took out three hours a day minimum.

 

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So during the working week, it was very much blinkered work.

 

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And then weekends, it was very much focussing on. I've got two days.

 

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This is how many hours a week I could do. So it was being very organised about my timing and planning well ahead, like I'd write an action plan.

 

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And also, I had very little in the way of holidays. Living abroad is very different.

 

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You have very different terms and conditions to your employment.

 

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So I was only entitled to 22 days a year.

 

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So even coming back to Exeter. For the requirement for I think it's February or March, like a two day weekend and then the summer school.

 

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That was part of my leave. So for the first two years, it was hard work, knowing full well I had very little in the way of holiday.

 

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So being very well organised, well planned and focused was the only way to get through it.

 

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It was tough the first few years. Yes, incredibly tough.

 

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And the level of dedication it takes to undertake a research degree under any circumstances is huge.

 

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But to do that was working full time and knowing full well that you you're giving up your free time, you're giving up your holidays is colossal.

 

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But I think that's that's a level of. Not just focus, but eagerness to to make that leap, because I also had a lot of backing.

 

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You know, my husband who has been amazing because it meant me spending a lot of time in my study.

 

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So that in itself was a big decision at the start that we knew that I'd have to give up a lot of time.

 

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So the big holidays that we'd have, we reduced and the time going out at weekends was reduced.

 

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So there was like a not a written, like a not to a code,

 

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but we had the understanding that it was for a very short period of time and that so long as I

 

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was clear and dedicated that I could get through it with the support of my husband and my family.

 

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Absolutely. And a lot of the rhetoric around being a part time student is that it's not just an individual commitment.

 

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No, you have to have a level of support.

 

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Like, for example, there were times when I had to get assignments in that it was all day all nighters and he'd throw food in through the study with,

 

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you know, door like he or his food. So, yeah, I think it's the level of support you've got behind you that that helps.

 

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I know I, I couldn't have got to this stage without that level of support.

 

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What's it like being an international student? What is it like starting out at what is a very considerable distance from the university?

 

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There's two things, really, because I have relocated back to UK and September the 30th of last year.

 

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So I've got two perspectives. So as an international student, I think up to and I'd say up to almost COVID, I would say it's quite disembodied.

 

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I felt very much part of Exeter and being a student when I was there, especially during those spring and summer schools,

 

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I found them great because it was that opportunity to connect with like minded people, academics, my tutors, my supervisor.

 

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And therefore, it was it was quite it was quite absorbing being there during those times and all embracing because you

 

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met others in your cohort and mix with other people from different cohorts in different groupings.

 

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So it was an amazing experience, but very disembodied I would say because you'd fly in or I would fly in as an international student,

 

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arrive, check in, throw my stuff into my room and start reading and preparing.

 

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So those times are really great because I found as if I was part of the university when I was away.

 

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There was a little bit of disconnect, and I found that quite challenging because I actually quite like a spark with people.

 

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I like that engagement. So I had to then think about how I was actually going to gain that.

 

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So a group of us actually did like a WhatsApp group and and supported each other through the first couple of years.

 

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So that was nice because we actually kept in contact. But as an international student.

 

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It's part time and living abroad. There is that little bit of a disconnect,

 

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and I will then talk about what's happened recently because I would be constantly sending e-mails about what's happening.

 

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And I'd be really fascinated.

 

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Oh, I really want to join in and listen to that, or I'd love to be there during that time, or there will be some course that would be really useful.

 

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And when I'd ask for perhaps it could be put online or whether it could be recorded.

 

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That wasn't possible at that time. Which was. I'll say disappointing and disheartening, but I'll say since COVID it's amazing what's happened.

 

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I feel as if now, though the opportunity has been embraced by Exeter,

 

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and I feel that now they've recognised that the use of virtual online training access is possible.

 

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And I feel much more part of the university.

 

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Now more than I had before, because there's a lot more happening through zoom through teams.

 

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So there's much more engagement online and a good one, I think, is how we got in touch with the shut up and write sessions.

 

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I was fascinated. Oh, OK. I'd love that. But since they've gone online, I have actually been attending, I think, for the last five, six weeks.

 

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And to me, that has really helped my writing really helps with engagement with other students and understanding that I'm not the only one.

 

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I'm not actually alone. There's other people struggling as well and sharing those successes as well.

 

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Even if they're small, those type of sessions have been great.

 

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The fact that they're now online and I can access them. So I think there's almost been like a journey for Exeter.

 

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And for me, as well as a distance international student, because I had to find a way of being engaged, motivated.

 

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And I think it has been.

 

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Very. Upsetting about what's been happening in the world.

 

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And for certain people, it's been really distressing.

 

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But there's also been another side of seeing what opportunities have happened and taking note.

 

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And it's been amazing to see what's happened with the university about it now going much more online and giving greater,

 

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greater access to people like me. So I wonder, what have the other challenges been for you as a part time international self-funded student?

 

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We've talked about access to on campus support. But what else what else has been a real challenge or a barrier to you?

 

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That's quite tricky cause I always try and turn things around. I talked about the negative and I'm not one that always harps on the negative.

 

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I always try and find positives. I think if you got if you are doing a research degree or a degree part time with.

 

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You have to be well organised and planned.

 

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I think the best thing was actually being provided with all the dates of assignments so I could put them in my calendar.

 

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And I'm a very electronic person anyhow. So I had all of that down, all of my dates.

 

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It is about being organised and about developing that, developing a rapport with the other students in your group.

 

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Also with your supervisors. I think that was crucial for me,

 

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especially if the last two years whilst I'm in thesis stage developing that rapport has been crucial because there's times or I've been like.

 

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You know, I've got to write reports for my CEO. And having that relationship to be able to say I need that space, but also for my supervisor,

 

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Yeat but Tracey, you know, you've still got to keep within target dates and then and timescales.

 

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And for them to understand that you're in a different you have different priorities.

 

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So it's those priorities ebb and flow.

 

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So, for example, I knew that I needed to get an assignment done.

 

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So work didn't just take a backseat, it rolled along.

 

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But I was able to change my priorities during that period of time.

 

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So it's it's looking at your priorities being action, planning, being well organised.

 

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Knowing the library really well. Yeah.

 

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I'm a great reader and organising not just your time, but organising your files.

 

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That was something that I learnt.

 

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From doing an open university course was that, you know, to get your literature sorted out very quickly and a system for that.

 

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So I think that's fair. Any student. But for me, it was very much so.

 

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I could find it very quickly, both it in my literature organising my filing so that I could gain it easily.

 

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So, yeah, I'm being very adept.

 

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So, for example, I'm talking about I love to learn.

 

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So like youtubing, I've had to do use and NVivo this during my thesis.

 

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So I'm adept at looking at courses online to check out how to use things.

 

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So it begue being self disciplined as well as self-reliant.

 

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And that's part of being a researcher I think is actually eagerness to learn.

 

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And therefore, if you've got a problem, how to work around it.

 

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And I think that's those are the key things I've had to do, be independent, self-reliant.

 

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And a problem solver. Okay, so imagine for me that there's another Tracey out there who's about to embark on a research degree

 

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and they're going to be thinking about doing it part time.

 

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And as an international student and funding it themselves, what advice would you give them before they started?

 

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I knew would be tough, but actually that's the part that's been the toughest, is the writing up their thesis?

 

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I'm used to writing. I had to write reports for various people and thousands of words that I've never been a problem.

 

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But writing this thesis up has been the biggest challenge, whether it's the case of the blank screen.

 

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I'm not sure. But I am now at, say, two thirds through.

 

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I think if it was, the advice to myself would be.

 

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Think about the writing beforehand. Okay.

 

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I've taken a lot of time preparing all the data, collecting it, analysing it, but I really hadn't anticipated how challenging this writing had been.

 

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So I think if I'd have known that my my the advice myself for myself would be to go read many more ideas

 

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that I'd been published to go and have a look at some of those before I started writing.

 

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So that's one of the things I think also that the old adage of it's a marathon, not a sprint.

 

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That's never been me. I'm such a goal orientated person.

 

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Yeah, I could do this. I can do this. But actually, that has been one.

 

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Probably one of the best things that.

 

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I had to remind myself of especially the last couple of months, because I have found through writing since about March.

 

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And I think some of COVID, it has impacted on me. So I think keep reminding myself that you're in for this for the for the long term.

 

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So even if you only write 100 words a day, just do it.

 

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I think for me, that was the best thing, was keeping myself motivated and always give myself some space.

 

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I think those were the three. If I had to give myself that advice four years ago, that's when it would be.

 

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And be kinder to myself. Think sometimes we're not.

 

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I think sometimes we're not. We might be kinder to others, but we're not always kind of kinder to ourselves.

 

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That's a really poignant piece of advice and I think.

 

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So if that's what you need, if that's what you'd say to Tracey, what would you say to universities?

 

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What do they need to think about more in terms of the lived experience of being a part time international self-funded student?

 

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For me, I think the university needed  to engage much more with their international students,

 

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not just send an email saying, oh, those these courses going on at the student, there's this seminar, this I just felt.

 

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Yeah, okay. But that actually doesn't help me. And I feel that they have they are making those changes,

 

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and I feel sad that it's taken some some of it has taken a pandemic for it to make that big change.

 

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Yeah, I completely get that, but I think, like you and I try and see the positives.

 

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And I felt really, really energised by some of the shifts and changes that have come about lately because of the pandemic and the shift online.

 

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And it's like so it's like when you're thinking about accessibility and inclusion, you don't make things accessible.

 

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You don't think about inclusivity just to support the needs of one person.

 

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You do it because actually providing things in multiple formats, in multiple kinds of engagement, it benefits the entire community.

 

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It benefits everybody, not just that individual person with specific needs.

 

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Oh, you said it so beautifully. Yeah, I'd say I'd say it's about inclusivity because that is actually part of my research is about inclusion.

 

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And to me, when I've been doing going through the process of a thesis and writing,

 

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some of it was quite poignant and it was a bit that's how I actually feel.

 

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And and being part of something and that's why I said the key words to me were about engaging,

 

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feeling a part of something, and therefore that helps you with motivation and inclusivity or diversity.

 

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It's amazing the world out there.

 

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And the university has the opportunity to engage much more with international students, which will then increase their diversity of ideas.

 

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And that in itself is is worthwhile because there's a lot happening out in the world.

 

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And it's just saying that there is a blinkered view or there has been because this is amazing research,

 

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some amazing ideas, but it's sad that it's it it it's inward looking.

 

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And I feel that that engagement,

 

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participation and idea of opening out and being much more inclusive would gather these ideas and increase participation by international students.

 

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I think what we've seen with the Shut up and write sessions is actually it doesn't need to be anything particularly complicated.

 

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Oh, absolutely. I love watching and see where everybody is.

 

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I mean, I can see the same the same group, core group comes in and that's great because that's that's probably the stage you're at.

 

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I mean, certainly for me, it's very right. So between nine and 12, I'm going to do this.

 

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And that's great. It helps to organise your day if you're that type of person. And it helps you to focus.

 

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But not only that, it also helps you to feel part of a community. And that's why I talk about engagement and participation.

 

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You need to feel part of a community, the community of Exeter,

 

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and that that should be what the that the university should be about of making people feel.

 

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Part of that community. Community of learners.

 

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Thanks so much to Tracy for taking the time to talk to me and making some really, really powerful and salient points about.

 

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About kindness to yourself and but also the importance of community of learners.

 

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And that seemed to be something that kept coming through.

 

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About the challenges of being that international part time self-funded student is how how you engage with and how you develop that sense of community.

 

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I was also really, really interested to hear her talk about the disembodied nature of being an international student,

 

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particularly somebody that used to research embodiment in in digital world.

 

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So that's something that to me sounds like a challenge.

 

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And I'm one I'm going to think a lot more about, about how we can bring embodiment back into the virtual world, into the online training that we do.

 

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And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to, like, rate and subscribe. and join me next time where i'll talking to somebody else about researchers, development, and everything in-between!

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