News – Sarah Smith Shares Her White Rose Studentship Experience

Sarah SmithMental Health and Ageing Research: White Rose Initiative (MARWIN)

Sarah Smith, 2nd year PhD student, White Rose Studentship Network on “Dementia

“I originally applied for a job for my current supervisor as an RA – I was interviewed but didn’t have the right academic experience as I didn’t have a PhD. Then the White Rose Studentship Networks were advertised and I applied for the ‘Processes of Social Inclusion and Exclusion in Dementia’ Network, and was successful. I was asked which of the White Rose Universities I would like to be considered for if successful and decided on Sheffield because of my supervisor, Professor Gail Mountain and her area of academic expertise, and also this is where I live.

My studentship network, and the associated ‘A Multi-Disciplinary Approach for Supporting an Ageing Population’, comprising of 6 students and 12 supervisors, are part of the MARWIN network (Mental Health and Ageing Research: White Rose Initiative) led here in Sheffield by Dr Praveen Thokala, with Dr Mary Godfrey in Leeds and Prof Gillian Parker over in York, and funded by the White Rose Collaboration Fund Mental Health and Ageing Research

I attended the ESRC Induction Conference in York in Spring 2012 where I submitted my first poster. Although there was supposed to be only one winner, because of the standard they ranked the first three and I came second. Constructing a poster was a really useful exercise so early in the process and has stood me in good stead ever since. The Conference had some good presentations and workshop sessions and importantly gave us the sense of being part of a large cohort of students.

As part of the White Rose Social Science DTC, the initial aim was for students to access core modules across the 3 universities although these only became available through the University of Sheffield. I spent my first semester doing 3 Core Skills courses which were all really helpful, and had students from across all Social Science areas. I earned credits from the courses, which I needed as I hadn’t done a Masters and this was part of the conditions of my accepting the PhD. As far as I know, the others from York and Leeds didn’t do core skills at that time.

Our 2 studentship networks meet as a group every 6 months and it’s been invaluable– we present our research and offer comments, questions and ideas to each other. Although the 2 studentship networks are focussing on different areas, we all contribute to each other’s ideas. It’s a good way to share learning, problems and solutions. After the supervisors had organised the 1st three meetings, it was up to us to organise the next one and I organised the seminar here in Sheffield in April. I invited 2 external speakers who were very well received, including Alan Marshall, from the Cathy Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR), University of Manchester. Also Professor Arlene Astell, School of Health & Related Research, University of Sheffield kindly agreed to talk to the group about her experiences of technology use working with people with, with dementia.

I’ve already submitted one paper to the International Journal of Computers in Healthcare (IJCIH), Vol. 1, No. 4, 2012, as first author and I’m currently working on my second. My supervisor is keen to provide me with these opportunities and remains consistently active and interested in the project.
The opportunity I have been given with the White Rose Collaboration is huge and I intend to continue engaging with every seminar, lecture and event. As a mature student, and mother of 2 children, I did my undergraduate degree quite late and I appreciate that the 3 years will pass by very quickly and there is a huge range of learning you can access across White Rose. I’m very focussed and motivated and really love my work with older people with dementia using assistive contemporary technologies to increase social interaction and meaningful activity. This multidisciplinary project is based in the Health Services Research section of ScHARR which aims to produce research that can be directly applied to the Health Service and so I represent the inter-disciplinarity that White Rose stands for.
I’m also one of the student representatives within SCHARR, and organise social events for the students, as from my experience of studying for my undergraduate degree remotely, students can be at risk of isolation. We get about 35 students along to our events and this again builds a good network for support and friendship. As a representative I also sit on the Faculty PGR Committee and contribute to the student experience in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health.

At first, I didn’t fully grasp the significance of having a White Rose studentship and being part of the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre but I quickly realised the value of being funded and being part of such a prestigious network. I would like to continue an academic career once my PhD is finished, and having been part of MARWIN with nationally and internationally recognised supervisors can only be beneficial. I’m lucky to have had this opportunity and I’m making the most of it.“