Before I started my PhD, I was teaching English in Taiwan. Prior to that, I was supporting children with special educational needs at a secondary school in the UK where I worked as a teaching assistant. My research project investigates the financial cost of raising an autistic child in the UK. I will be exploring the experiences of autistic children and their families and the ways that these experiences contribute to their living costs.
Loughborough University was recommended to me by one of my former lecturers. I was told the university has a warm atmosphere, and I think that’s accurate! I am funded by the ESRC and the Family Fund. I really benefit from all of the networking and training opportunities on campus. I am also based in the Centre for Research in Social Policy department where I am surrounded by a knowledgeable and encouraging team. I feel very lucky to have all of this in addition to two very supportive supervisors. I have so many places to turn, it feels almost impossible for a crisis to develop. If I do have a crisis, I won’t be alone!
In many respects, a PhD is much more flexible than any other study experience; to a large extent, you manage your own time, your direction, your deadlines and your training. A PhD can feel like a mammoth task but I have to remind myself to break it down into the milestones which can be achieved first. I also have to accept, when I’m struggling to bring my ideas together, that everything will come but I have to keep chipping away at it.
I believe research about the financial (as well as broader) experiences of autistic children and their families is important, especially in the context of recent policy and employment changes in the UK. The Centre for Research in Social Policy, where I am based, has established the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) research technique which assesses the costs of different households. I think that applying this method to families with autistic children provides a unique angle from which to view autism and costs. Equally, as I become increasingly aware of the complex issues surrounding autism (including uncertainty about what it is, what causes it and its usefulness as a label) in combination with the growing neurodiversity movement, I find myself even more intrigued by my research area while also incredibly concerned about 'getting it right', both ethically and methodologically.
My typical day starts at about 9:30am. I usually check my emails first. If nothing comes up that is urgent, I read or type up notes. By about 11:00am, I usually start writing. I try to write every day so that I can get my thoughts on paper and figure out the direction I’m taking with my reading.
I usually have lunch with my department at about 12:30pm and then I try to get back to work by 1:30pm (which is easier said than done some days!) I’m working on my literature review, so I will probably end up doing more reading after lunch! Before I go home, I like to make sure that I know what I am doing the next day so that I can get started first thing without stalling.
Having said all of this, the exciting thing about a PhD is that not every day is the same; the above describes my go-to routine but this is mixed in with training, conferences, meetings and social/networking events in between.
Get a really good diary or organiser. In fact, you might need several in addition to a great big wall planner! The wall planner is good for seeing your year ahead (which you’ll need for planning all of your training, conferences and internships months in advance).
I mention multiple diaries because I use one for planning what I need to do, while I use the other one to jot down what I’ve already done. When you are writing several chapters or reading for several themes simultaneously it’s easy to lose track. Keeping a note of what you’ve been doing (and why) comes in extremely useful for dipping in and out of tasks efficiently.