Graduation 20.04.24

PhD student Emma’s happiness at graduating despite multiple challenges

A PhD graduate, who moved nearly 200 miles away, started a family and had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, has expressed her happiness at graduating with her doctorate nearly five years later.

Emma Duncan, who also undertook both her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University, is graduating today with her PhD in Contemporary History, bringing an end to her 12-year association with Salford.

Her thesis ‘The Emergence of the British Security State – An Evaluation of the Security Executive 1940 – 1953’ looks at the operations and security work of the British Government during and after the Second World War. It argues that whilst the post-war era has been described as Welfare State and Warfare State, it can also be seen as a 'Security State' and Emma demonstrates this through her analysis of the workings of separate government bodies, namely the Security Executive.

Emma graduated from her MA in Intelligence and Security Studies back in 2017 and then instantly began developing writing proposals and applying for funding to commence her PhD. However, in August 2018, she and her partner moved to Reading and then later that year, found out Emma was pregnant.

Despite being based 200 miles away and becoming a mother to daughter Cassandra, Emma secured funding to begin her doctorate at Salford in 2019, however, she continued to face other challenges with the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020 leading to a two-year closure of the National Archive in London - a major research source for her studies.

Ahead of collecting her degree, Emma said: “It’s going to feel slightly surreal to collect that degree as I’ve been working towards this for quite a while and I’m not sure it’s truly sunken in yet.

“When I think of all of that’s happened over the years, working full-time in a school as well for the last two, it’s been really busy and I am really proud that I have been able to do this. There were some fleeting moments when it didn’t feel like this was going to happen but I’m fairly stubborn and was pretty determined to see it through!”

Emma was particularly thankful to her supervisor, Dr Christopher J Murphy, Lecturer in Intelligence Studies, for his support throughout the PhD process. When Cassandra was very young, Emma would travel up on the train for her monthly supervision with Chris and she said that Chris would set up play areas in the office to accommodate for Cassandra.

She said: “Chris has been everything I could have asked for in a supervisor and more. He has been so understanding and supportive, critical when necessary, encouraging and challenging in the right manner. I am so very grateful to him. I don’t think I could have done this without him.

“Having Cassandra during this has been challenging at times. You want to be fully committed to parenting but at the same time, when you’re conducting a lot of research, you just want to get lost in it.

“For me, I’ve been using this whole experience as inspiration for Cassandra that you can really achieve your goals and to set an example to her that you don’t just have to be a mum or a researcher, you can have it all if you want it.

"I'm very thankful to my husband who has been so supportive of me through my studies and has made it possible for me to commit the time needed to my research and has always been encouraging and had every faith in me."

Emma first started her journey at Salford back in 2011 when she did her BA in Politics and says she’s is going to miss being a student with the University.

She said: “After twelve years, it’s weird to think that I won’t be affiliated with the University in one way as even when I was researching for my PhD, I was still using the University library.

“I’ve had a really positive experience with the University in lots of ways and it’s been a big part of my life. I’m going to miss that but I guess as an alumni, you’re always part of it!”

Emma received funding from the University’s School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology and The Lady Monica Cockfield Memorial Trust for her PhD.

Emma Duncan with daughter Cassandra