Ronan Miller, PhD

The end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 was dedicated to finishing and defending my doctoral thesis at the University of Valencia.

At the beginning of October, I submitted the final version of my thesis, titled: “Anxiety and Self-Related Constructs in Learners Who Stutter in the Learning of English as a Foreign Language”.

Tying up four years of work on one project was a challenge full of stress and uncertainty, but I was also able to reflect on the time spent working on my thesis and all I had learnt. I felt very happy to have had the opportunity to explore a topic that I am truly passionate about and to meet so many other people who stammer along the way.

The final hand in of the thesis was done electronically and felt like anti-climax in some ways. I was relieved to have finally completed it, but also drained. I celebrated by going to see the film “Amazing Grace”, a recording of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 concert at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

I then began to think about what may come next and to spend a little time recharging.

What did come next was a wonderful opportunity to work on a research project at the University of Reading, with Dr David Ward, an eminent voice on stammering therapy who I had cited in my thesis. I was offered a job working as a research assistant assessing the efficacy of a new digital environment for people who stutter, BeneTalk.

As a result, I moved to Reading at the beginning of December and started working at the University, whilst also preparing for the defence of my thesis. This was the final act in the process of receiving my PhD and in many ways was not too dissimilar to conference presentations I had done many times before.

After spending a month in Reading, I returned to Valencia and locked myself away for 3 days rehearsing for the big event. I worked as hard as I could but also wanted to find time to relax a little. I was able to go out for a run along the riverbed that I love so much and catch up with a couple of friends.

The big day soon came around and I awoke feeling queasy. I made my way to the Faculty of Education, where I had spent almost every day during the last 4 years. As I stood outside gathering my thoughts, I wondered how many hours I spent in the library there. My trips to and from the library were often filled with daydreams about the life that would await me upon finishing my research.

I was due to begin at 9:15 and I arrived at least an hour before to prepare the room and allow any nerves to dissipate. By the time I began I felt relatively calm. I was clear minded enough to remind myself to enjoy the experience and be mindful of this opportunity.

I was confident in the presentation I had put together and my ability to work through it clearly and concisely. What I found concerning were the questions posed by the external examiners after I had finished. All of the examiners were scholars I respected enormously, and I was intimidated to be in their presence. Thankfully, the post-presentation discussion was an enjoyable back and forth, touching on the topics included in the thesis and potential future avenues for work and research.

The external examiners were pleased with my work and awarded me the grade of “Sobresaliente mención Cum Laude y mención Internacional”, which roughly translates as “Outstanding with summa cum laude and international honours”.

As is customary in Spain, I took the external examiners and my thesis supervisor out for lunch after we had completed the relevant paperwork formalising the end of my PhD. As we were in Valencia, it was only normal to choose a traditional paella restaurant and we enjoyed a beautiful lunch together in the outskirts of the city to the south. I particularly enjoy this custom and its symbolism, at the start of the day I was a PhD candidate, but now I was sat at the same table as bona fide experts, breaking bread with them and being welcomed to the club. It was a rite of passage I look back on with much affection.