Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship: The student experience

By Zaira Solomons, PhD Researcher

The Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment (GLEA) at Coventry University aim to impact positively and ethically on teaching and learning across the higher education sector, and beyond, by engaging with high quality research and influencing policy and practice.

GLEA promotes a supportive research environment that provides opportunity for critical thinking, reflective practice and rich discussions on research. Here you can learn about Doctoral Researcher, Zaira Solomons’s experiences of successfully applying for a Leverhulme Trust scholarship.

I embarked on my studies at the Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment in Jan 2019, exploring the research topic: ‘Access and participation and the role of African indigenous knowledge: The stories of Black female students studying in STEM in South Africa.’

The fieldwork aspect of an empirical study, such as mine, makes up a pivotal part of the PhD and can have profound implications for its final outcome. As a non-funded fieldwork project, I realised very early on that financial challenges would prevent me from pursuing my research abroad.

Any person undergoing the PhD journey will understand that the process in itself is fraught with challenges and added burdens of distractions and obstacles along the way can be a detriment to the progress of any research undertaken. But, instead of being side-tracked, I remained resilient and persevered by seeking out other avenues of funding for pursuing my fieldwork agenda.

During my search, I came across a Leverhulme Trust call for funding. The Leverhulme scholarship is a very prestigious and competitive award, and I would be competing with a vast number of highly talented PhD researchers, some even from elite institutions countrywide. However, this did not deter me. Having already immersed myself in the literature and read up extensively on my topic, I was able to craft a robust and detailed proposal.

My application was shortlisted and I received a notification that my referees were being contacted. Roughly six weeks later I was interviewed by a panel of experts and authorities in their respective fields from various UK institutions, who were assisting Leverhulme in accurately assessing and selecting the winning candidates. My interview was conducted over Skype and the panel displayed tremendous engagement in my ideas and concepts. The very next day, I received confirmation that I had been successful and that Leverhulme would be in touch in the coming days.

The message that I would like to share with other PhD researchers, is that giving up should never be an option. I believe had I not persevered, asserted myself and shown tenacity and initiative, I would not have been fortunate enough to secure this opportunity. I hope that by sharing my experience, it will convince others who wish to make a difference to society through research, but who may also be concerned about funding, to pursue their dreams.

Creating a more just and equal society has always been at the forefront of my agenda and is something that I strive for on a daily basis. The following words by Theodore Rooseveltdeeply resonate with me:

“Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.”

I am a champion for women empowerment and seek to give a voice to the voiceless, and find myself deeply moved by the work of contemporary scholars such as, Boaventura De Sousa Santos, Gloria Anzaldua, Maria Lugones and Michelle Fine, to name just a few, who have all aided my trajectory into critical consciousness. As an independent thinker, I seek to become a dynamic scholar and look forward to contributing and distributing knowledge across my field.

The Leverhulme scholarship will enable me to conduct my fieldwork in South Africa, as well as giving me the opportunity to gain valuable expertise in my area of specialism from leading international scholars in South Africa and further abroad. This award will also undoubtedly enable me to thrive as an upcoming researcher, including the possibility of attending conferences where I have already had a paper accepted. I am also working on a paper for publication alongside my PhD, and this scholarship will allow me to sharpen my research craft and polish up on my writing skills through Summer Schools.

Apart from the developmental aspects of the award, it can also pave the way for future opportunities of funding, career prospects and forging of valuable networks with other researchers in my field.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me thus far, including my Director of Studies, Prof. Katherine Wimpenny, and the rest of the supervisory team (Dr Gurnam Singh and Prof. Deanne Clouder). Moreover, a very special thank you to all who have believed in me and continue to believe in my abilities and potential. I am truly humbled and grateful to the Leverhulme Trust for having granted me this scholarship.

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