Telling Our Stories – Sarune Savickaite
Each year we meet wonderful women at womENcourage™ celebrations. We ask womENcourage participants to tell their stories in blog posts. We start 2022 with Sarune Savickaite, a PhD candidate at the School of Psychology, University of Glasgow, funded by ESRC/SGSSS. Sarune’s current research project is titled ‘Using VR technology to understand the inner world of autism’. Other research interests include depth perception and stereopsis, art and aesthetics, perception and cognition. Without further due, we are leaving you with Sarune’s inspiring journey to academia.
Per aspera ad astra¹
My journey to academia
By Sarune Savickaite
Perseverance Mars rover landed in February this year signifying achievements of everybody involved in years of planning, building, and executing the mission. This momentous occasion got me thinking of what ‘perseverance’ means and how it has been a significant part of my own development.
I am a second year PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow looking into the use of Virtual Reality in psychology research. I do feel like I am in the place in my life where I feel more confident about what is coming next. However, my journey here was not straightforward. I had to re-start, re-evaluate and re-think many stages of life.
It’s never too late
Deciding on a path you are going to take in life is challenging to say the least. Many of us get ushered out of high school straight into higher education without much consideration around what our future might look like. Many students find themselves ‘stuck’ in the chosen profession thinking it is too late to start fresh and redirect their efforts.
Straight after graduating in 2009 with a degree in Illustration and Graphic Design, I moved to London, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thinking I will be changing the world of art. But London in 2009 was a different place. The economic crisis was making jobs sparse and my dream of becoming an illustrator started to fade. I kept reading popular science books and I wanted to be Ellen Ripley in Alien or Ellie Arroway in Contact, pursuing dreams, shattering gender stereotypes, and making a difference. I often found myself wondering… what if. In 2011, I made the leap and started a new journey once again. I packed all my drawings, pencils and Anne Rice novels and moved to Scotland to study psychology.
Many students will find themselves in a similar position. Many quit university to pursue other professions, change their speciality or get lost somewhere in between. Whatever the journey one thing is clear, in early teens we rarely know where we wish to be in the future. But it is never too late to change your path, whether you are 18 or 80.
Initiative and flexibility
As a mature student at St Andrews, I had a lot of useful knowledge to share and I started teaching graphic design, helping with various projects, and joined multiple societies. My workspace was split, on one side I had my brushes, ink, and sketchbooks, and on the other side, there were my lab reports and heavy science textbooks. And the reason I was able to do both was my own initiative and flexibility.
The best advice I could possibly give is – do not be afraid to ask. If there is a research project you would like to get involved with or an engagement activity you wish to initiate – ask! What is the worst thing that could happen? You will hardly get a straight ‘no’. It is all about initiating the first conversation or an email chain. But also, make sure you are not rigid in your views. Plans often fall apart and you have a choice to make – will you continue headbutting a wall and pushing your opinions, or will you step back, reconsider, and change your approach and re-evaluate your thinking? If the latter, you are already on the right track.
In 2015 I graduated with BSc Hons in Psychology and I knew I wanted to pursue teaching and a career in academia. I soon moved to Glasgow and started applying for PhD programmes. I waited a few years working various jobs, from bridal consultant to project management. I finally got a funded PhD position by sheer serendipity. I was ready to throw in the towel hundreds of times. Every interview and every rejection chipped away at my confidence, but I always hoped. And although support and encouragement from friends and family are helpful, in the end, it is all about you. Never give up. But also prepare yourself for the alternatives. Place yourself in the dream job you wish to have, and then prepare plan A on how you will get there, and then plan B and all the way to plan Z. And once again adapt, re-evaluate and keep your goal in mind. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Finding yourself and most importantly turning your disadvantages into advantages, is the hardest thing you will ever do. But do not be afraid to show how passionate you are about the path you have chosen. Find your own uniqueness and persevere. Without sounding like a motivational speaker – underneath those thousands of academic papers, chapters and textbooks, there are people just like you and me, riddled with imposter syndrome and jumping through hoops, but willing to help if you just ask.
- Per aspera ad astra is a popular Latin phrase meaning “through hardships to the stars”.