Interview with Shane McLoughlin - PhD Student at University of Chichester


Moving to the UK

The good thing about a PhD though is that you get a lot of chances to travel and network, so you’re not confined to where you’re based. I go to Ireland every few months to visit friends and family (I’m currently spending May to August at home, because I can). Now we have the Brexit scandal upon us, but the Chancellor of the University has guaranteed that once you’re accepted to a course here, you will be allowed to finish it. I assume it’s a similar situation elsewhere. I’d think twice about working here after graduating because of the lack of access to EU funds, but this doesn’t factor into my time as a PhD student.

One thing I’ve found about the UK culture is that its inherent politesse makes it difficult to be blunt about the merits or flaws in ideas, which is a crucial part of academia. Yes, you may catch more flies with honey than vinegar, this is not how academia should be, in my opinion. I subscribe to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion: “let me never fall for the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted”. Ideas are either useful in certain respects, or not. As a researcher, making those distinctions should be your primary objective. Being wrong is a learning opportunity to me, which I consider valuable. In this culture, providing those learning opportunities in any direct way can often be taboo, which I think stunts progress.

As regards the University of Chichester itself, it’s quite small, and perhaps not the most prestigious when it comes to getting a degree. It’s also quite new, though that’s hardly a reflection of failure; there are some great courses here despite its brief existence. I did my undergraduate degree at a small institution where there were only 2000 students, studied at an institution of 15000 students, and now I’m collaborating with the top people in my field while based at a small institution of about 5000 students. In other words, networking is much more important than the institution to which you are affiliated once you finish your undergraduate degree and transition into research. In terms of progressing as a researcher, it’s all about publishing research articles to raise your citation index, and most articles are reviewed anonymously anyway. In terms of progressing even further, winning grants for research is important, and those applications are similarly blind-reviewed. So again, it all comes down to who your supervisor is and how much you care about your topic. There is a lot of faux-expertise across the world of academia, but the UK also happens to be quite high in genuine expertise.

What the scholarship means

The scholarship means that I can do what I love and get paid to do it. I get to expand my skillset and gain teaching experience so that I’m competitive when it comes to looking for my first postdoctoral position. I have flexibility to visit my family and friends relatively often. I can take a day off whenever I need a break (thinking is part of the job which doesn’t stop once you leave the office, so non-teaching or writing days aren’t necessarily days off). I can work from home a lot, if I choose. I have time to go to conferences and network with my heroes. I filled a gap on my CV by winning a scholarship in the first place. The scholarship makes me feel validated for sticking to my principles and working hard for three years after graduating. To me, the perseverance to win a scholarship is analogous to the perseverance it will take to become a full-time academic later on. That is, it gave me self-belief and reinforced the importance of working hard and caring about your topic. A scholarship is the breathing space to turn that caring into something that matters to you, and hopefully also to society writ-large. It’s the opportunity to leave that little mark on human progress for a long time after you’re gone. You don’t get that opportunity in many other careers.

Find out more about studying Psychology at the University of Chichester

See why other international students chose to study abroad at the University of Chichester

Read blogs by students from the University of Chichester