Brian Melaugh, a Lecturer in Social Science at Maynooth University in Ireland, started studying part time for his doctorate six years ago, successfully combining his studies with lecturing to his own students, most of whom are training to be youth workers and community workers.

However, as he was completing his thesis and preparing for his viva exam, he was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma. The condition causes the immune system to collapse and is currently incurable.

“The diagnosis came completely out of the blue,” said Brian, “I considered myself to be fit and active, cycling up to 100 miles a day on my bike. One day I got a pain in my leg. At first, I didn’t think anything of it – I thought I might have pulled a muscle – but when I asked my physio to have a look, he suggested I had a full body MRI scan.

“I had the scan in the morning and was admitted to hospital immediately; I was given the diagnosis that same evening. I was very shocked to learn I had multiple cancers in my bone marrow.”

Brian took time out of his studies to start a course of six months intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. He is now in remission but must take a drug every day to keep well.

Determined to finish

Determined to complete his Doctorate, Brian submitted finally his thesis in May 2016 and will be awarded his degree by the University of Bath’s Chancellor, His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex, today (Tuesday 6 December) in the Assembly Rooms in Bath city centre.

Brian said: “My supervisors Dr David Wainwright and Dr Maurice Devlin were very supportive and encouraging; I could have taken longer but I really wanted to finish.

“Although I did most of my research whilst living and working in Ireland, keeping in contact with my supervisor via Skype, the virtual learning system used at Bath worked really well – it was easy to discuss papers with other students and get support when I needed it.

“My doctorate was on how leaders manage the emotional aspects of organisational change. As I underwent treatment, my own experience began to mirror my doctorate. It was a huge challenge but thanks to support from my tutors at Bath, the Department of Applied Social Studies at Maynooth University, my husband and other family and friends, I’m delighted to finally be collecting my degree.”

Dr David Wainwright, Senior Lecturer in the Department for Health and Brian’s supervisor, commented: “Brian has been an inspiration. When he received his diagnosis I thought he might let the doctorate go, but he has shown great spirit and tenacity in completing his studies.

“Throughout his illness he has continued to support other students on the DHealth programme and to campaign for social justice back home in Ireland. He’s a very kind and thoughtful man and I’ll be delighted to see him receive his award.”

Putting research into practise

Brian is now back lecturing and doing research and has kept in touch with a group of five other Irish students who were studying the Doctorate at the same time, collaborating on several projects on health policy.

With another Bath graduate Dr Austin O Carroll, Brian helps run an organisation called Safety Net, which gives homeless people and drug users access to mainstream health services by placing heathcare professionals in drug centres, homeless shelters and food kitchens.

Brian added: “Safety Net is a great example of where academia can have a real impact – we are putting our research into practice by devising interventions that save lives.”