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Samantha Strong

PhD Optometry and Vision Science (2015)
Post-Doctoral Researcher, BBSRC Funded, University of Bradford

Samantha Strong

Why did you apply to the University of Bradford?  What was your first impression of the university and the city?  What did you enjoy most about your time in Bradford?

I am local to Bradford so I already knew the city fairly well, and as a Psychologist with a passion for vision science, I was very keen to work in an Optometry Department if possible. The Optometry department here at Bradford has an incredible reputation so it was top of my list of potential institutions to study my PhD. I remember visiting my supervisor for the first time and being blown away not only by how friendly and welcoming the campus was, but also by the idea that I could feasibly be a part of this wonderful Department. Now that I have finished and can look back at my time here, it’s clear that I have fully enjoyed all three years – it’s definitely been three of the best years of my life – but in particular I have loved the people I’ve met and the opportunities I have been given by being lucky enough to study here. I have been able to present my research at a variety of national and international conferences which has benefitted me greatly both personally and professionally, and it’s the University of Bradford that has made that possible. 

Why did you choose that particular course?  What did you like and enjoy most about your course?

I chose to study my PhD in Optometry and Vision Science here at the University of Bradford because the supervisor I most wanted to work with is based here (Prof. Declan McKeefry) and I already knew the Department had a great reputation for research because I had been reading some of the research articles published by members of staff during my Undergraduate degree.

I know this is going to sound cheesy but coming to Bradford for my PhD was genuinely one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was fully supported from day one and I learnt so much that I actually felt totally prepared for the next stages of my career (following completion). I had the opportunity to present at conferences, teach undergraduate students, participate in workshops and short courses, get involved in the Students’ Union, host events and socials, and be an active part of positive change within the University. Being a research student is of course challenging, but I absolutely love being busy and I love solving problems so it was the perfect decision for me.

What tips would you give to prospective students (about the course at University of Bradford and the university itself)?

For any prospective PhD student, my advice would be to go for it – completing a PhD at the University of Bradford will be a brilliant experience and will open so many doors in the future! I found it very useful during my time here to make the most of the free resources that students have access to (skills advice, career development advice, short courses, teaching workshops etc), because it’s there to be used and if it can save you weeks of stressing then it’s well worth the effort.

Also for anyone specifically interested in PhD research; my advice is to email potential supervisors to express your interest in a specific research topic.  I absolutely loved my research topic and that made it a lot easier to put the hard work in. I also really enjoyed being part of the Postgraduate Research (PGR) Society because it allowed me to create a network of like-minded peers who were able to provide social and emotional support within a creative interdisciplinary environment.

How did Career Development Services support you during your time at University?

Whilst undertaking my degree, I attended two short courses run by Career Development Services: ‘Careers in Academia’ and ‘Careers Outside Academia’. I was confident I wanted a job in Academia so the course that outlined the career path within Academia was very useful for my personal goals, whilst the course describing careers outside Academia really helped me to understand what other options I had if I happened to hit a bump in the road of my dream career which really helped to set my mind at ease.

Tell us about your current job.

I am currently a very happy Post-Doctoral Researcher here at the University of Bradford (still in Optometry and Vision Science). I am responsible for designing and running experiments and analysing and writing up data. My research interests surround the human brain and understanding how we are able to perceive visual motion (e.g. which parts of the brain are responsible for allowing us to process direction?). To investigate this I use a variety of experimental techniques including: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

What action did you take to improve your employability whilst at University?

Whilst at University, employability was something I thought about a lot – I knew I wanted a career in Academia so I knew that I needed a strong academic CV if I was going to give myself the best chance. In order to strengthen my academic skills set, I made sure to present at conferences, publish papers, do extra-credit type work such as writing magazine articles and agreeing to be a guest speaker, collaborating with other research labs, networking with anyone and everyone who was interested in similar topics, achieving relevant qualification for higher education teaching (AFHEA), getting as much teaching experience as possible, and finally, I achieved administrative experience by being the Postgraduate Officer within the Students’ Union and a Student Trustee. I was certainly very busy but I enjoyed every second. I think getting completely immersed in the PhD experience has allowed me to feel very prepared for my first post-doctoral job.

What advice would you give to current students wishing to enter this type of career?

Always work hard and definitely try to prioritise things appropriately. I was very keen to work on my career prospects by doing extra-curricular type activities and taking a part-time teaching job, but I could only do this in periods of my PhD (and personal life) when I had enough time to get everything done. Finishing your PhD is so important because you need that qualification to start a career in Academia, but it is important to also do the best you can to learn and develop as a researcher and an individual alongside this.

If you work hard, create opportunities for yourself and take ownership of your PhD then I’ve no doubt that you’ll be able to find success.   For anyone reading this, I wish you all the best!