A Day in the life of a PhD Student – Jenny Mackay

Guest post by Jenny Mackay, Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement

Most days I feel like I’m leading a double life. Sadly, not an MI6-style double life. But one where I’m simultaneously explaining why it’s not ok to let the dogs lick chocolate spread off my daughter’s mouth and why some women are violent towards their partners.

I’m a first year Forensic Psychology PhD student at Coventry University and also a mum to my 5 year old spirited daughter. By the time I get to sit down and work on my PhD in the morning, I’ve already been up for a few (stressful) hours.

My day usually starts at around 6am. My longer term aim is to start getting up earlier so I can get a bit of work done first thing in the morning, but at the minute 6am is fine! I walk the dogs, get myself ready, get my daughter ready (a bit like trying to get a deaf puppy dressed) and then do the school run. Back in the house just before 9am and then the computer gets booted up and actual work begins.

I’m studying the treatment needs of women who commit Domestic Violence and how this compares to men who are violent towards partners. It’s not an easy topic, and not without its controversies, but I guess that’s the same for most PhDs.

From 9am onwards, I spend my day at the computer, reading and writing. I go into the University about twice a week to attend workshops or events that are useful and beneficial to me. Fortunately, I am able to do most of my daily work from a location of my choosing – the beauty of self-directed study at this level. I work from home, libraries, cafes and sometimes from the Research Centre office. It’s a great balance.

Starting a PhD in the area of Forensic Psychology involves lots of desk reading. I’m about to begin a Systematic Review of the risk factors of women who commit Domestic Violence and am currently writing the protocol for this. Once the review is done, I’ve been accepted to present the findings via a poster at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Forensic Psychology conference in June 2016, which will be fully funded by Coventry University. Next year I aim to do some data analysis on Prison Service data and then get out to interview some female offenders.

I completed my Undergraduate Psychology degree in 2002 (De Montfort University) and my MSc in Applied Forensic Psychology in 2006 (University of Leicester). So for me, as someone returning to University after an almost 10 year gap, it’s taken me the first few months to learn how to learn again.

Coventry University, the Faculty and the Research Centre, have set up an amazing induction programme. The opportunities I’ve had to attend a huge variety of workshops has been phenomenal! The Research Centre I am attached to (the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement) includes us PhD students in their wider work by inviting us to talks and workshops, meaning I’ve been able to attend so many different, interesting events. This has been fantastic personal and professional development.

me1On days when I’m at home, by 3pm my other life as a parent begins again! Switch to playing snakes and ladders, negotiating what’s for tea and reading books about Winnie the Witch. I occasionally manage to fit in a bit more PhD work at this time. I hope desperately that every time I utter the words, “Just after I’ve finished this bit of work…” that my daughter is learning that mummy works hard and is a good role model.

I try and fit in a little more work sometime between 7 – 9pm. Sometimes I work a little at weekends too, when my husband is around, to make sure I get done what I need to do. I’m expecting this will increase as I get into my second and third years.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I haven’t been so happy in my day to day work in such a long time. And I have learnt so much already. Only 6 months in and what I’ve learnt from my supervisor so far has been life changing. My supervisory team have given me space and support to settle back in to University life and have given me some great feedback on my work so far.

There are other perks too. I’ve been able to apply for external statistics training, funded by the Faculty. I’ve also started lecturing, something I’d never done before. I’ve been observed and had some feedback, which leads me to feel more confident about doing some Hourly Paid Lecturing in my second and third years. I will be attending a Faculty wide Poster Symposium soon, which will give me a chance to practice making a poster and then presenting it. I’ve attended a Westminster Briefing on a topic related to my field of study, which was funded by my Research Centre. Coventry University seems to be investing well in its PhD students!

It’s helped me to think of my PhD like a training course, and that’s what I would advise to anyone who’s thinking of applying – this isn’t the pinnacle of my career, this PhD is the true start of it. I’m using these three years as an opportunity to learn about becoming a lecturer or a researcher, as I think this is what I would like to do when I’ve finished. I was extremely fortunate to receive a studentship to complete my PhD – there’s no way I would have been able to return to University without this funding. Juggling being a parent and being a PhD student is complicated enough without having to find work to fund my studies at the same time. I think it helps having already worked in the field for a number of years; I know the complexities and politics of the field I work in and can work towards making sure my research has the desired impact.

So what does my daughter think of me doing a PhD? Well, my husband recently asked her, “What do you think of mummy being back at school?” Her response to him was, “well she’s not very clever, you’re much cleverer”. I’ll think we’ll chalk that one down to her being five…



Coventry University