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Dr Amanda ‘Millie’ Light graduates from Ulster University this summer with a PhD in Social Sciences.

Before studying at Ulster University, Cornwall-based Millie was a professional classically-trained dancer who didn’t enter academia until she was a mature student. Millie started out her higher education journey with an undergraduate degree in English, a PGCE qualification and a Masters degree.

As Millie explains, there was one particular facet of higher education that really drew her in:

“It was always the research aspects, dissertations and longer projects that interested me, and I knew I wanted to research to a higher level. The PhD opportunity at Ulster University was called ‘Critical Epistemologies’ and this really intrigued me because I am curious about the way a problem, such as precarity, can look quite different from different perspectives, and I saw this an opportunity to bring my eclectic range of experience andresearch interests together to make a contribution to knowledge.”

Millie moved to Belfast from Cornwall in 2018 and began her PhD: ‘An exploration of precarity’s material and political effects’ at Ulster University, which focuses on how the insecurities and uncertainties of precarious employment practices have an effect on mental health and wellbeing. It critically analyses the contemporary political and economic climate that creates or reinforces precarity and argues for a more eco-systemic response to the problem.

As the first year of her studies with Ulster University was drawing to a close, Millie received some unfortunate news – she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the next seven months would become full of appointments and tests, before undergoing major surgery followed by a course of radiotherapy and hormone treatment.

Millie was determined to continue her studies, as she explains:

“Despite having to return home to Cornwall for treatment, Iwas still keen to keep going with my PhD, the focus helped me to not be consumed by what was happening and to have something in the future that I was still trying to achieve. My research director and supervisors were extremely supportive, and I was very much able to lead the research with timescales and targets that could be balanced with the ongoing treatment and side effects, which lasted throughout the entire project.”

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis at any time is challenging but Millie returned to Belfast just as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning and this complicated matters further:

“This added layers on top of the already difficult time I was having due to the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Like everyone, I adapted well to home working and digitally-enabled relationships and training, but the timing of it in addition tothe delays due to cancer meant that I had to make significant adjustments to what I had initially proposed for the research regarding the fieldwork. Because of this, I had the opportunity to really spend time with philosophical theory which has enriched my work and the way that I continue to think, research, and move in the world going forward.”

Despite the challenges Millie faced, she went on to pass her viva, an oral examination where PhD researchers discuss their thesis with experts in that field, and successfully completed with no corrections, as Millie recalls:

“This is quite rare and it was an outcome I couldn’t have dreamt of. It was such a wonderful way to complete an, at times, challenging but also enjoyable journey!”

Millie is keen to continue her higher education journey and is looking into postdoctoral research. She hopes to develop her thesis through practice-based research and publication, and is also exploring how dance and embodied practices might affirmatively support people living with cancer.

If you’re interested in finding out more about undertaking a PhD at Ulster University, visit: Postgraduate Research (