Skip to main content
School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

Amy Dowse

Amy Dowse is studying for a PhD in Computer Science. Amy's thesis is titled 'Mobile Health Technology for Patients Suffering with Anxiety and Chronic
Pain', and is researching if existing techniques used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be implemented into an ecological momentary intervention (EMI) to provide support to people with anxiety and chronic pain during times of heightened anxiety. 

How would you describe your doctoral experience at Queen Mary?

Like a rollercoaster! There have been times when I’ve felt on top of the world, there have been times I have really struggled and felt lost in what I am doing, and there have been times when everything has been on an even keel. Throughout my PhD I’ve learnt that none of these states are permanent; I won’t always feel that way. Accepting that things change, and even learning to anticipate these changes, has made dealing with each state much less stressful.

What challenges have you encountered during your PhD?

For me, I have encountered three key challenges throughout my PhD which, over time, I have learnt to overcome. Firstly, being a PhD student can be extremely isolating. Your area of research is so specific that you are unlikely to meet someone who is working in the exact same field as you. This makes it easy to feel alone. However, I have learnt the importance of talking to other PhD students and reaching out to the support systems at QMUL when needed. There are hundreds of other students who are on the same journey as you, experiencing the same emotions as you are. It’s so helpful to talk to other PhD students - they can offer advice and support, and generally help you to feel less alone.

Secondly, when you are months into the analysis of your data, it can be easy to get lost in the detail. You can lose sight of what you are trying to achieve. You can end up in endless cycles of analysis and questions, branching off on different tangents with each new piece of data you look at. When I get to this point, I have found that it is best to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. For me, this often looks like talking through my study from start to finish with someone who is not involved in my research. This helps me to reidentify the purpose of my research, and what it is I’m trying to find, so that I’m no longer drowning in data and analysis but can organise it in a way to answer my research question.

And finally, the jump from master’s to PhD was huge – going from taught modules to self-motivated research was difficult. I found that without the structure of lecture, labs, and assessments, I wasn’t sure how to work. I spent a lot of time experimenting with different styles of working – trying early starts, late starts, making notes on paper, making digital mind maps, listening to music, listening to instrumental music, and so much more. At times this felt tedious as I was going from one method to another, not finding anything that felt right. However, with perseverance, I finally found a way of working that suits me.

 What's a typical research day look like for you?

Every day for me looks different and each day is filled with a mixture of activities - reading papers, planning studies, completing ethics applications, conducting interviews, chairing focus groups, analysing data, and writing, to name a few. Alongside my PhD research I’m also involved in a cross university collaboration project looking at neurodivergent students experiences in higher education, as well as being a senior demonstrator for a large first year module where I manage a team of 60 junior demonstrators. All these things keep me very busy meaning time management is important. I treat my PhD as a full-time job, meaning I try to stick to ‘work hours’. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with when I am most productive and have found a working pattern that suits me. This helps me to make best use of my time, allowing me to complete all the tasks I have whilst still maintaining a good work-life balance.

What's been your most rewarding research experience so far?

There are two research experiences so far that have really stood out for me. The first is when I presented my research poster at the British Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting in Glasgow earlier this year. As I began my PhD in 2020, just as the pandemic hit, I missed out on attending face-to-face conferences/meetings for a long time. The British Pain Society Annual Scientific Meeting was both the first in person conference I had attended, as well as being the first time I had presented my research to anyone outside of my supervision team. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by experts in the field of chronic pain and have discussions with them about my research and the potential impact it can have with patients. The second is talking to participants and hearing about their lives. I have conducted studies that have involved both interviews and focus group sessions, meaning I’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk to participants. I am always greeted with such enthusiasm and excitement about my research and the potential impact it may have. I find it so rewarding to carryout research in an area that is of such importance to my participants and have the opportunity to try to improve their situation.

Any advice for anyone about to start their PhD journey?

Don’t let fear stop you. It can be very easy throughout your PhD to want to have everything perfect. For me, this involved delaying the start of studies because I was worried they weren’t perfect, telling myself that I needed more time to tweak things. In reality that wasn’t the case. My studies had been carefully planned, successfully approved, and were ready to go, but I let the fear stop me. Sometimes you just have push through what you are scared of, and more often than not, once you are on the other side, you’ll wonder why you were so scared to start with.



Back to top