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"I looked at lots of Universities, but Bath was the first place where I felt at home."

Tamsyn Hawken talks about her time at Bath, from Undergraduate to Postgraduate, and plans for life after her PhD.

Photograph of Tamsyn Hawken
Tamsyn Hawken, final year PhD student in the Department of Psychology

I came to the University of Bath in 2009 as an Undergraduate student studying Psychology. I went on to complete my Masters (MSc) in Health Psychology and now I’m in the final year of my PhD in Health Psychology. My research focusses on stress, coping and resilience with a particular focus on young carers. I’m now in the final stages of collecting data and am beginning to write up my thesis, so it’s a very busy time.

I’m the first person in my family to go to University and coming from a very small rural village in Cornwall, with a population of around 50, it was a big move and a big decision for me. I looked at lots of Universities, but Bath was the first place where I felt at home and where I didn’t feel too small. Environment was a really important factor for me, in terms of making me feel at home and my productivity. I loved the campus setting and how green the surroundings were, in particular the lakeside. By the time I came to do my MSc, I didn’t feel ready to leave. And by the time I came to do my PhD, I still wasn’t ready, especially as I could see how my department was growing, developing and innovating - so it’s always held my interest.

Getting Involved

During my time at Bath, both the University and my Department have been extremely supportive of me personally and academically. They have made me feel supported and cared for, and like my individual needs, beyond being a student, have been met. My Department gives me the freedom to do things outside of Bath and because of its reputation within Higher Education, I get asked to be involved with lots of exciting projects outside of the University.

I recently delivered resilience workshops at an early careers event for The Microbiology Society which focussed on values and feelings – a tricky concept for fact based scientists, so I was really nervous. But it was really well received which was great. Throughout my PhD I have volunteered for the British Psychological Society (BPS) South West Branch, organising quarterly talks for the general public and inviting psychologists to give talks at Bath. I also write numerous guest blogs for organisations such as the Academic Mental Health Collective (AMHC).

On a personal note, I have my own blog – – my passion project, I love writing. My blog promotes a balanced and holistic approach to postgraduate studies. Something which I am very passionate about.

I am also involved with various functions around the University and am currently working with Student Services to develop a toolkit for doctoral supervisors of students with disabilities to help them to supervise more effectively.

In June 2018, I was awarded the Rising Researcher Award by the Psychological Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPag). I was also awarded funding earlier this year to organise a workshop – Books, Burnout and Balance. It’s an active tool based session which focusses on mental health and wellbeing in academia.

The opportunities I’ve had at Bath have not only helped me to become a better presenter and communicator but they have also taught me how to justify and defend my decisions. Being responsible for my funding grants, I’ve even learned how to manage money on a tight budget. But I believe you should never see a course as just academic. It’s an opportunity to learn about yourself and shape who you are. My PhD has helped me learn how to maintain balance throughout life. It’s given me the confidence to know when I need to stop and not push myself to the limit or allow myself to burnout.

Being supported

As a doctoral student, you need to feel supported to make the right decisions, but also supported if you make a mistake. Knowing I’ve had that support behind me has encouraged me to push the boundaries and take more risks.

In my opinion, there are three key areas of support any doctoral student needs, all of which are of equal importance. Academic support, life/development support and personal support. Supervisors, peers and academics provide support that is specific to your doctorate. The Doctoral Skills programme is a great way to develop yourself and your skills. They’ve got everything from managing your data to presentation styles and everything in between. For the personal touch, there is tons of support on health and wellbeing through Student Services. As someone who suffers from a chronic illness, realising I could get the support I needed helped me to reach my potential. I knew what I was capable of, I just needed the scaffolding in place to get me there.

Looking ahead

My long term goal is to have my own business running resilience workshops, on a consultancy basis in academia, encouraging balance throughout doctoral studies. I’d also like to do a coaching qualification to become an academic coach and work directly with students, one to one. Over the years, I have found my own resilience and now I want to share it. And of course, I’ll also continue to write my blog.

I am fortunate that my PhD is directly linked to my passions and I am able to lift different aspects of my achievements and apply them to my long term goal. It’s amazing to have found a topic that I love and am passionate about and be able to dedicate myself to it for three years. All that said, the first thing I am going to do is to take some “time off” and give myself and my brain the chance to recharge and recuperate.

My advice to new students, just starting out at Bath, would be to prioritise self-care. You’re a person before you’re a PhD student and you’re a person ALL of the time. If you feel like there is something holding you back, no matter how big or small, speak to Student Services and see if there is support available that can enable you to reach your potential.

‘By the time I came to do my MSc, I didn’t feel ready to leave. And by the time I came to do my PhD, I still wasn’t ready, especially as I could see how my department was growing, developing and innovating - so it’s always held my interest.’
Tamsyn Hawken, Department of Psychology


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