I returned to full-time education after over 20 years working in the public sector in the UK and internationally, including for the United Nations.
My undergraduate and Masters degrees were in the humanities - literature and film - but questions arising from my professional experience as a bureaucrat and negotiator drew me to politics and social science and my PhD research was focused on bureaucratic identity in UN peace operations.
My supervisors Dr. Karl O'Connor and Dr. Máire Braniff supported me in that shift from practice to theory!
I'm most proud of the fact that I actually did it. I finished in 3 and a half years, during a pandemic and with a small child: I somehow managed to keep focused on my research, write a thesis and pass my viva without going completely insane.
It was an extremely isolating experience. One of the reasons for doing a PhD was to connect with other people interested in ideas, to learn from and talk to other researchers - even if they were working in quite different areas, and to find an intellectual space that wasn't just about delivering projects and work.
Sadly, that didn't really happen. However, my favourite memory - and a truly wonderful experience - was the Chapelgarth writing retreat I went on in March 2022 where I actually finished my thesis.
Being around other researchers, sharing ideas, being in a space where we could really focus and share was fantastic - especially after so long of only seeing people on Zoom!
I couldn't have got through it without my family - my daughter, who basically grew up while I was studying, my husband and my parents and siblings. Regular sea swimming on the beach in Castlerock with the fantastic "Mermaids" also did wonders for my mental health.
And if I was speaking to myself at the start of my PhD.... enjoy the first year, make the most of the time and luxury of reading, and get out there - if you can - to conferences etc, you never know when there might be a global pandemic that shuts everything down again.