Keele lecturer heads back to class and graduates alongside her students
Keele’s Head of School for Allied Health Professions has spoken of her pride and relief as she joined her graduating students to accept a PhD herself this week.
Dr Anne O’Brien, who has been Head of School since 2019, has been balancing her duties alongside completing a PhD which she began researching in 2015, and joined the graduating class at this week’s Winter Graduation to celebrate her achievements.
Dr O’Brien worked as an NHS physiotherapist and clinical specialist in rheumatology for 15 years before becoming a full-time lecturer at Keele in 2006.
In 2012 she was asked by her colleague Professor Christian Mallen to speak at a workshop about the role of physiotherapists in an inflammatory musculoskeletal condition called Polymyalgia Rheumatica. Her presentation led to an influx of interest and discussions with colleagues, and the topic became the focus of her PhD research.
Dr O’Brien said her dual role as both academic and student was challenging, and said at times it felt “impossible”, but added that it gave her a unique perspective on the role that she plays as an academic mentor.
She said: “I enjoyed my degree much more than I thought I would and consider it a real privilege to have had this opportunity. In particular, I really valued the time to read in depth around my subject, get to know the experts in the field, debate with my supervisors, and learn more research skills”.
“It's also reminded me of the importance of the feedback we give our students as lecturers - fortunately for me my supervisors were always constructive in their advice - but it reminded me how as lecturers and academic mentors we need to be sensitive to all the challenges of being a student, many may be unrelated to studies, but these still need to be managed alongside a degree.”
She added that celebrating her own achievements alongside those of her students would be extra special, adding: “Every single student will have had an up and down journey, just like I have myself, before getting to their graduation day, so this year pride will be shared with relief of having finished! I always enjoy meeting students' families and seeing the joy on their faces too, but am really excited my husband and children, my greatest supporters, will be with me sharing this special day.”
To the graduating class, she said: “Keep believing in yourselves, with hard work you can achieve anything. Today is the start of a brand new exciting chapter of your lives, go and make a positive difference in society applying what you have learnt with us at Keele!”
And does Dr O’Brien have plans for any more degrees?
“No, being Head of School keeps me busy enough!” she said, adding that she was looking forward to more quality time with her family as well as progressing her research to improve future patient care.
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