Sarah A. Simons
Student name: Sarah A. Simons
Course title: PhD
Once Sarah has completed her PhD she intends to return to Kenya to focus on crime victim assistance and crime analysis capacity building at local, national, regional and continental levels.
Why did you choose Cardiff?
As a practicing crime investigator and trainer based in Nairobi (Kenya), I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree about how maritime piracy in East Africa was affecting those working on ships. I was successful in obtaining an international competitive Fellowship offered by The Nippon Foundation. Thus I came to Cardiff University courtesy of a fully-sponsored SIRC-Nippon Foundation Postgraduate Fellowship.
Tell us about your course. How is it different to classes back home?
As a life-long learner, I strive to keep improving on my skills-base in order to remain relevant to the evolving nature of social science research skills.
I therefore embarked on a PhD with a realisation that I needed to update my research theory, data collection and analytical skills. The 1 + 3 PhD structure in the School of Social Sciences offered the ideal opportunity for me to ease back into academic life as a student after two decades of raising my children and building a forensics career.
The one year of research methods training provided me with skills and a Diploma in Social Science Research Methods (SSRM), before I embarked on the literature review, data collection, analysis and other aspects of the doctoral research proper.
The 1 + 3 PhD structure improved my understanding of ontological and epistemological underpinning of research, research design, theorising facts that were all helpful in grounding analyses in social theory. Devoting the early stage of PhD to the SSRM is so unlike PhD programs that I know of in Kenya, whereby candidate embark on PhD without a sound footing in research methods.
During my research, there were additional procedures, protocols and support that were I found to be invaluable to me as a researcher, and that provided me with a conducive atmosphere, guidance and motivation unlike doctoral programs in my country. For instance, at Cardiff University, PhD candidates are encouraged to attend the free research and study skills training workshops provided by the University Graduate Centre.
These enabled me to acquire soft skills that are an asset for any researcher, and enhance one’s competitive advantage for post-doctoral assignments in lean financial times. These included publishing, teamwork, presentation of work, project management, IT skills, networking, and entrepreneurship, among others. These are some of the many aspects that I observed about this course which I carry back to Kenya from my research experience at Cardiff as worth emulating.
What you have enjoyed most about studying at Cardiff University?
Studying at Cardiff as a mature postgraduate research student was a difficult experience for me because I was separated from my children and parents for long periods at a time.
However, the University provided programmes, facilities and guidelines that combined to create a conducive atmosphere for combining both academic pursuit and leisure time, while developing a balanced student life-style. These include the postgraduate study centre, funded multi-disciplinary networking activities, postgraduate day trips to other cities, distinguished lecture series and a thirty day holiday time annually for every doctoral student.
What is the best thing about living in Cardiff?
In Cardiff most of the facilities students require are within walking distance. This, combined with the relatively-low cost of living, make this a good student city. In addition, the number of freely-accessible parks make Cardiff an eco-friendly student city.
This aspect was very important because due to the abundant rainfall in Wales throughout the year, a student at Cardiff University can easily take advantage of short spells of sunshine to sit outdoors in a nearby park and read, while also feeling safe.
Are you a member of any clubs and/or societies? What’s it like to be part of a society?
I am a member of Timothy Bible Study (TBS). Initially I had wished to join other sport-related societies. After attending a sample of activities to test the waters, I eventually stopped all together. Also, I found some of the informal society/club activities unsuitable for mature international students. TBS is an international mix of undergrads, postgrads and doctoral students.
It is a warm and welcoming society that meets throughout the year. This latter fact meant that I had a regular group I socialised with once a week even during the cold and dark winter days, as well as the long lonely summer evenings when only international students remain at the University.
How has the University supported you during your time here?
Throughout my studies at Cardiff, I received immense moral support from my PhD supervisors. In the absence of any family support, their emotional support, understanding and encouragement was a lifeline for me during bereavement, during recurrent bouts of malaria that visited me annually on return from home leave.
The University has provided a very unique international and student support service that has been very helpful in providing me with confidential and free counselling during difficult times.
For instance, I received a number of free counselling sessions when grief overwhelmed me following the West Gate Mall and Garissa University attacks. On a different note, the international student support service assisted me with my visa applications on four occasions throughout my time here as a student.
What would be your advice for prospective students thinking about coming to Cardiff?
I had not heard about Cardiff University before I came here to study as a mature student. But having studied and lived here for over five years, I know from personal experience that Cardiff University is very student-friendly and inexpensive.
The University makes a genuine effort to make students, and especially international students, feel welcome and comfortable. The International Office (IO), is one of the two best support services for students offered by Cardiff University. It is extremely supportive to prospective students and new students at the University, both before coming to Cardiff and while settling in here.
My friends received phone calls, information brochures and emails from the International Office while still at home and they found this communication very helpful in providing them with enough of the information that they required to make informed-decisions to come to study at Cardiff University. I therefore advice any student wishing to attend university in the UK to first try Cardiff University before going further afield.
In addition to the practical help, Cardiff provides to its students before and after their arrival, this institution is part of a group of world-leading universities called The Russell Group providing excellence in teaching facilities. On leaving Cardiff University, your degree will be well respected anywhere in the world.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to return to Kenya to contribute to the development of my country and continent. Kenya has abundant opportunities to offer me, and I too have a lot to contribute to my country. In the next decade, I see myself focusing on crime victim assistance and crime analysis capacity building at local, national, regional and continental levels.