Dr Ronak Al-Haddad moved to the UK from Iraq in 2006, studying for both a Masters then a PhD while also raising a family. While studying her PhD she started to seek opportunities in teaching to develop her career.
Ronak's first degree was from Iraq, a BSc in Software Engineering in 2005. She moved to the UK the following year before starting her Masters degree in Computer Science at ARU in 2011.
Ronak was ‘working in parallel as a full-time mum for two beautiful children aged five and three, and a supportive husband. With no other family support in a completely new country, it sounds like a challenge for everyone, but I always believed I could plan and create my chance! I graduated in 2014 with a Masters with Distinction. I subsequently started my PhD in 2015, in full-time study mode, immediately. I started seeking opportunities in teaching to develop my career: https://jobs.aru.ac.uk was the first step towards this.'
And Ronak has been successful in fulfilling her dream. ‘I have been a full-time lecturer since January 2022’, she explains. ‘I started a fixed-term contract in ARU in September 2021 immediately after my viva in July 2021’. This was not Ronak’s first role at ARU, as she had previously worked for ARU as an associate lecturer between 2017-2020.
"I came from a country where universities had very limited resources [so I] made use of all the resources at ARU including study skills, one-to-one support, the library system, and attending conferences and seminars."
Ronak ‘came from a country where the internet was very limited. Universities had very limited resources, specifically following the war in Iraq in 2003’. Coming to the UK and to ARU, Ronak needed to learn ‘from scratch about everything’. But she made use of all the resources available at the institution ‘such as study skills, one-to-one support, the library system, improving my English language, attending annual ARU conferences and attending seminars’. Ronak recalls that ‘all the skills helped me to understand the working environment, the educational system and the culture, enabling me to use everything I learned to help our students.'
In addition to making use of the resources available, Ronak was ‘always active and made myself available for any opportunity, big or small - I was sure I would learn something from it. One day, back in 2017, I was talking to an academic colleague who was also a PhD student. I asked her how I could be involved in teaching as an associate lecturer and where to start. The next day, I spoke with my supervisor and our Head of School, and both were the first supporters.'
"[I was] always active and made myself available for any opportunity... Academically, ARU supported me massively and the Doctoral School played a major part in that."
What advice does Ronak have for PhD students following in her footsteps? ‘Make yourself available for any opportunity; it is your full responsibility to create this opportunity. Networking, networking and networking even outside your faculty! Plan, re-plan if needed, install a helper at the right time if you need to, and achieve small steps to reach the bigger goal.'
In addition to this, Ronak advises that ‘self-management, commitment, and resilience are pivotal for success. When Covid hit us badly, I was severely affected during my writing-up stage in 2020 and suffered from complications that took me more than a year to recover from. Academically, ARU supported me massively, and our Doctoral School played a major part in this support, as well as our counselling services. I felt that I had to be a role model for my children and all my future students; to pass the message that everything is possible if you put in the effort and do what you have to do from your side.'
‘I was always imagining that moment that I would be graduating, and on that spectacular stage on my graduation day - everything was rewarding.'
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