Pandemic, pregnancy and now a PhD for St Andrews’ Amy

Thursday 13 June 2024

Amy McTurk-Starkie with baby RuaridhStudying for a PhD is tough at the best of times, imagine throwing in pregnancy to the mix – that’s the reality Amy McTurk-Starkie faced in her final year, giving birth to baby Ruairidh two days after she submitted the final copies of her thesis.  

Amy, who is currently on maternity leave from her position as Executive Officer to the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, was awarded her PhD in Nineteenth-century French Literature in ceremony at the University’s Younger Hall today (Thursday). 

Amy decided to pursue her doctorate after completing her MLitt in French Studies at St Andrews in 2018-2019, which, she said, introduced her to a broad range of works which eventually inspired her thesis, titled ‘Re-telling the Stories of Artists who are Women: Lessons from the Multimedial Fictions of George Sand,’ under the supervision of Professor Mary Orr. 

In addition to researching for her thesis, the program offered Amy the opportunity to undertake a research trip to Paris in February 2022.  

She said: “Finally getting to walk through the doors of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF) after multiple delays due to Covid-19 was amazing,” she said. The trip was supported financially by the School of Modern Languages and the Scottish International Education Trust. 

“I also enjoyed having the opportunity to gain teaching experience in the School of Modern Languages, where I taught on first-year French language and literature modules,” she added. “While these courses were much broader than the subject of my thesis, I found my teaching experience really helpful for thinking about how to present texts to different audiences in an engaging way, which was ultimately useful for talking about and writing my thesis.” 

When asked about how her doctoral journey has influenced her, Amy said she always believed that pursuing a PhD would build a certain level of resilience and ingenuity, “and even more so while doing it alongside a global pandemic, then a full-time job and a pregnancy!” 

Pandemic and pregnancy notwithstanding, Amy advises anyone thinking about taking on a PhD to engage in as many experiences as possible. “While your research is of course at the centre of it all, taking part in teaching, going to conferences, and participating in other pieces of work via internships or collaborations gives you a chance to think about your work in a multitude of new ways,” she said. 

Commenting on what comes next, Amy said: “I’m currently on maternity leave, so my immediate goal is to convince my baby that night-time is for sleeping, not playing. In the longer term, I would like to turn my thesis into a book, using the helpful feedback from my viva examiners.” 

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