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The University of Southampton
Clinical Ethics, Law and Society

My first experiences as a joint PhD student in the UK

Juliette Schuurmans

Column by Juliette Schuurmans, joint PhD student

About four months ago I left the modern, flexible workspace of the Genetics department at the University Medical Center, Groningen for two years in an old-fashioned cosy office in a faraway corridor of the Southampton General Hospital. Now I’ve settled in a bit, I thought it would be nice to give you an impression of my life and work here. Since I am enrolled in a joint-PhD degree I will spend two years in Southampton and two years in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Doing a PhD in the UK and in the Netherlands is quite different. In the UK I’m a student again which has some nice advantages, such as discount on the train !, although in NL it felt quite good to have my first ‘real’ job after 8 years of student life. Also, Southampton and Groningen are cities with a different atmosphere. Here, I especially like the University campus , because it feels like a tiny village, with a student cinema, pubs, a concert hall and theatre. In Groningen, I love the old city centre, with its large Academic Hospital right in the middle. So far, I’ve also really enjoyed attending the many science outreach and public engagement events that are organised on a regular basis on and off Southampton’s University campus, such as a researchers’ café and Bright Club where scientists talk about their research as stand-up comedians.

Cycling is a whole new experience. Compared to the Netherlands, where biking with a helmet and yellow vest is not so cool, here I don’t dare to leave without either of them. Surprisingly, steep hills, lots of rain and a bike with very small tyres seem to negatively influence my biking skills…Clearly that is why nearly everyone here travels by car or walks wherever they go.

Research-wise, I have just started generating my first data, which is very exciting! I am using focus groups and interviews to explore the views and experiences of patients and health care professionals about expanded carrier screening as part of fertility treatment. In addition to my research I also attend the meetings of Southampton’s clinical ethics committee, where clinical cases are discussed that raise difficult ethical dilemmas. In this way, I learn about the differences and similarities between the UK and the NL on sensitive ethical issues within different legal frameworks which is really interesting.

Although I also sometimes miss home in the Netherlands, for now I am really enjoying this new experience and hope to bring back some new ideas to Groningen when I return for the final year of my PhD.

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