Guest Blog: Unique Journeys in Academia

This blog post is by Gilly, who shares her unique experience in academia and the important lessons she's learned along the way!

Gilly is a current PhD student in Australia.She has a long study history, previously completing a bachelors and 3 masters degrees. She currently studies a PhD in autism and physical activity/sport. Being autistic and ADHD herself, her aim is to improve understanding surrounding neurodiversity and help people acknowledge they can achieve success despite some difficulties. Follow Gilly on Instagram and at her blog.


Crowns & Coffees is always looking for new guest bloggers. If you're interested in featuring your research, knowledge, advice, journey or more please email arcadia@crownsandcoffees.com



My academic journey has been a long and interesting one. I have completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in speech and language therapy and three master’s degrees in various subjects.


Since I was very young, my career aim was to help autistic children, like my younger cousin. I studied for years to be a speech therapist, but I was no good at the placements. I found it hard to have my performance constantly analyzed, and my nerves got the best of me every time. In the final year, the final placement, I was bullied by my clinical supervisor. My university did not back me up, and I was lucky to scrape through with 40% of my final year grade, depending on that placement. Nevertheless, it was my first insight into academia, and people didn’t care that I was struggling. It was a rude awakening.


After I finished, my family decided they were moving to Australia, so I made the most significant decision of my life to move across the world, from my home comforts of Manchester, England, to Brisbane, Australia. Unfortunately, my speech therapy degree did not translate, and I ended up working in a call center (with what I will tell you later, this is almost laughable!). I HATED it. I bounced from the car and home insurance claims, dealing with angry customers every day, to travel insurance claims, and I could not stand it. I had enrolled in my second master’s degree by this point and was specializing in disability.


However, my passion for life and a purpose was back, and I worked so hard! I had an excellent mentor and published my first academic article about communication

after a traumatic brain injury. I was so proud of this achievement and thought I might actually be good enough to do a PhD and go into a life of academia for the first time in my life. My mentor thought I would be the perfect fit, and we had prepared a project. I was so excited. I was going to show my old university precisely what I could achieve. Except I didn’t. Someone prominent in my life said I should not do it, and I never sent my application.


I stayed working in insurance, now at a brokerage, and I was not too fond of this. Then, I had a break to give birth to my beautiful miracle of a daughter. When I was on maternity leave, I wrote multiple books for her and decided to self-publish. It was something exciting, and it was fun; I had always loved reading and writing. Devastating personal circumstances took my life in a completely unexpected direction. I was a single mum and thinking about making a life for my baby girl and me. I wanted her to be proud. So I enrolled on a third master’s degree, this time in family studies. I completed this while living with my

parents, and during this time, she was diagnosed autistic. This was not a shock, as I had suspected since she was nine months old.


However, this drove my passion and career plans ultimately towards autism, full force this time. I wanted to make her proud. I wanted to make a difference in some way for autistic children. So I found a Ph.D. scholarship researching autism and physical activity, but I was too nervous about applying for a Ph.D. Indeed, I didn’t think I was good enough for that; however, after many inner conflicts, there was nothing to lose, so I applied. I think I had $16 in my account to last the next few

days!


To my amazement, I was selected for a scholarship and began my Ph.D. It has allowed my daughter and I to have our independence and has changed my life. I am so grateful. I am coming to an end and in the writing-up stage, but it has been challenging. I am balancing being a single mum, looking after a child and a house, attending therapy appointments, extracurricular activities, etc. I would tell you I have a great system, but that would be a lie. The absolute truth is I stumble through! I was recently diagnosed as autistic and ADHD, which explains my whole life up to this point. It explains why I feel like a duck furiously kicking under the surface. It explains why I lose things and forget things, and my

office looks like a bombsite. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world because I see things

differently from others, I can hyperfocus with the best of them, and my mind is full of ideas every hour!


I want to show you that your journey to this point may have been straightforward, or like mine, it may have been fraught with challenges. However, the endpoint can still be the same. You can still achieve what you want to. You can still get that Ph.D. You can still call yourself Dr.


I see so many of you exceptional young Ph.D. candidates, particularly in the SciCom Instagram community, and I see you want to achieve everything straight away. Your ambition is incredible, and I respect it greatly. However, I also know academia is like a pressure cooker. They want multiple publications; they want you to teach, present and apply for grants, and answer emails at 11 pm on a Saturday. I have not been able to do that because my daughter has needed me, and she is my priority. You don’t need to either!


Life is too short to put that pressure on yourself. You can achieve great things even if you release that pressure. Travel, enjoy time with the people you love, do something that sets your heart on fire. You are only young once, don’t waste it at a desk or in a lab for the copious hours that may be expected of you. It might take some additional years to get to the position you want, but you will be much more fulfilled. Your physical and mental health will be better for it. Your work will be better for it; your family will be better for it; YOU will be better for it.


If my journey has shown me anything, there is always a way to circle back. You can overcome

obstacles, you can navigate life, and you can still follow your passion. I am at another crossroads. Once I submit, I have no idea what will happen, but I know I still want to help autistic people. I want to show my daughter neurodivergent brains can do wonderful things, and I still want her to be proud of me. My Ph.D. scholarship changed our lives for the better, and I will be forever grateful for my time as a Ph.D. student. The end of one incredibly challenging chapter of my life will close, but I am excited for what our future holds.

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