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 (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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.



00:25:32,000 --> 00:25:37,000

Part of that community. Community of learners.



00:25:37,000 --> 00:25:45,000

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



00:25:45,000 --> 00:25:51,000

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



00:25:51,000 --> 00:25:54,000

And that seemed to be something that kept coming through.



00:25:54,000 --> 00:26:07,000

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.



00:26:07,000 --> 00:26:16,000

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



00:26:16,000 --> 00:26:21,000

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



00:26:21,000 --> 00:26:25,000

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



00:26:25,000 --> 00:26:36,000

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.



00:26:36,000 --> 00:27:08,476

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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