PhD student from Arkalyk on balancing science and motherhood in the United Kingdom

A heroine of our report is Samal from Reading, where she studies Agriculture and Food Economics. Samal is also a loving wife and mother to an adorable daughter, who was born in England during her studies. In the article, Samal shares her experience of successfully combining research work and being a family person.

PhD student from Arkalyk on balancing science and motherhood in the United Kingdom

Samal Kaliyeva is a PhD student in Agriculture and Food Economics at University of Reading. Her research topic is related to the evaluation of success of dairy cooperatives in Kazakhstan. Samal was born and raised in a city Arkalyk with three sibling brothers. After completing state school with distinction, she won a scholarship at KazAtu University where she studied undergraduate degree.

Samal’s experience of working at Eurasian National University in Kazakhstan before embarking on a PhD made her realise that she wanted to work as a lecturer and researcher at university. Academic job often requires to have postgraduate degree, hence she decided to study a PhD programme. Samal chose the United Kingdom as the country of her studies because it is a motherland of English language.

The education system in the United Kingdom fascinates Samal with its accessibility and abundant academic resources. For example, University of Reading, where she is currently studying, has its doors open to everyone and students can easily walk in and out of it. Samal’s husband could be sitting in the library and reading a book while waiting for her after lectures. It gives an impression of welcoming environment to education. In contrast, at university in Kazakhstan where Samal used to work, access to the building was very restricted and only students and staff was let in by identification cards. Moreover, wide variety of academic resources in British universities such as articles, highly equipped library and easy access to computers give a sense of importance of what you are studying.


One of the biggest cultural shock for Samal was that people do not take off their shoes when entering a house. Another moment that Samal found surprising was that landlords, showing a property to customers, can enter led houses freely with their keys while a renter is absent. Moreover, after returning to Kazakhstan, Samal was reminded by her friends not to leave her belongings unattended because she got used to safety and less cases of theft back in the United Kingdom. In addition, another cultural shock Samal experienced was local people’s ability to patiently wait in long queues at bus stops and bus driver’s willingness to wait for all passengers entering the bus. Samal points out that Kazakh and British people are similar in their willingness to avoid offending each other. For instance, English people would positively comment as “Quite good” which could be interpreted as “bad”. However, Samal noticed that local people are rarely spontaneous and therefore, every meeting and event is planned ahead. Unexpected visits to somebody’s homes are not practiced like in Kazakhstan.

Looking back at first years of PhD, Samal would give younger herself two main advices. First is to start using a template right from the beginning. Writing thesis drafts in a certain style, using subheadings, numbering pages and paragraphs, referencing sources would have saved her a lot of time and not distracted from the actual writing thesis. The second advise she would give herself is to use EndNote or Mendeley programmes for referencing her work.

After birth of her precious daughter in the middle of the PhD programme, Samal experienced more challenges in dividing her attention and time between newborn baby and research. Both parents are busy working and studying in order to be able to provide financially for their family since scholarship stipend is insufficient for students with dependants. Rent for family accommodation is considerably higher than for single students. Both Samal and her spouse divide child care responsibilities and take turns in being at home with their baby. As long as a student has timetable, discipline and a supportive partner, success in studies is guaranteed. Samal considers herself to be lucky person to be able to be have her husband and daughter by her side while doing her postgraduate degree abroad. Her husband gives her enormous support and she does not feel lonely and mentally uneasy as some of PhD students.

Samal recalls that two of her supervisors, who are men, were very supportive and happy for her when she announced her pregnancy. They shared their experience of parenthood since both of them had older children and advised Samal to take 40-day maternity leave because combining PhD and newborn baby might be challenging.

Samal and her family are very grateful for people and friends they met during their stay in the United Kingdom, who have treated them with respect and kindness. They did not feel any discrimination and racism. She finds fascinating that her husband, having no English language skills, has been promoted from a position of a kitchen assistant to a bartender at an English restaurant for his hard work, high responsibility and willingness to learn language. Samal and her partner are very proud to be representing their country Kazakhstan from a positive side. Receiving a title of the “best employee of the year” twice might be served as a proof for her husband’s hard work. Moreover, Samal believes that any person, regardless of his/her skin colour and language level, can achieve high results in the United Kingdom as long as a person is ready to be constantly learning and growing.

Life in a city located on an outskirts of London is very intense and interesting. Samal emphasises friendliness of Kazakhs, who often gather to celebrate major dates. In her spare time from the studies, Samal likes playing sports such as big tennis tournaments. International and local friends and colleagues are friendly as well according to Samal, who meet up with them for coffee breaks on campus, as well as dinner meetings in the city.

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