Male student wearing a keffiyeh (Arabian headdress)

PhD in Health Sciences

Supported to build my future academic career

“I brought my new skills home”

Dr Murhaf Korani, Assistant Professor and Vice Dean for Hospital Affairs at Umm Al-Qura University in Saudi Arabia, discusses his experience of undertaking PhD research at Swansea University, and how the support and guidance he received has helped him to build his academic career.

My research

My PhD research explored how obesity differs between ethnic groups. In the UK, researchers have considered how social, economic and cultural differences may affect variation in the levels of childhood obesity between different ethnic groups, alongside other factors such as differences between genetics, nutrient intake and activity level. My research measured the differences between maternal perceptions, child-feeding style and the eating behaviour of mothers themselves between UK ethnic groups. I was particularly interested in how the behaviours of some mothers were deeply linked to food, meaning of culture, traditional religion and social work.

Lucky to choose Swansea

When I was searching for a PhD opportunity, I was looking for a supervisor who had expertise in my research interest of childhood obesity. I found Professor Amy Brown, based in the College of Human and Health Sciences in Swansea University. I was lucky to choose Swansea – it was a quiet, safe city with a lovely coastline, and I was based on the beautiful Singleton Campus. I had no regrets!

The University is located just a few steps away from the beach, and the city is surrounded by hills, so you can quickly get out in nature and enjoy a beautiful atmosphere. The people are so friendly in Swansea compared to other cities I visited in the UK.

Everything I needed to do my research

The University had everything I needed to do my research – a wonderful building and lovely staff – and I liked it from the very first day.

You are given the opportunity to meet a lot of researchers from across the University, which helps you build a network. In my College, we set up a regular group meeting for postgraduate researchers, where we could all exchange ideas and brainstorm solutions for overcoming common difficulties. We may all have had different supervisors, but we shared a common experience and research field – for example, a fellow postgraduate researcher recommended a book to inform my focus groups which proved really useful.

Staff in the College of Human and Health Sciences, and my supervisor, were so supportive and encouraging. I was struggling to finish in time due to an issue in data collection, so I asked the PGR Manager, Maria Davis, what I could do – she helped me to build a case for a 1 month extension, and even supported me to discuss this with my supervisor.

Encouraged to publish and broaden horizons

Every year in my College we had a PGR Conference where postgraduate researchers could present on different topics alongside distinguished Professors and Lecturers, which helped me get vital experience of presenting and explaining my work. Make sure you participate if you get the chance!

One of my proudest moments was when my supervisor, Professor Amy Brown, told me that two of our papers had been accepted for publication. I am so grateful to Professor Brown who encouraged me and every one of her students to publish their work. My supervisor also gave me the confidence to present my work at an international conference in Amsterdam. I was so nervous, but she said to me: “Don’t worry, I am here.” It turned out to be a great experience and really helped my PhD research to develop.

My PhD studies really gave me the knowledge and confidence of how to be an academic, and through this experience I really started to enjoy research. It gave me the knowledge of how to do research from A – Z – from writing a proposal right through to publication.

Gaining a different experience

I came to the UK to have a different experience and to learn, and I have now brought these skills home to Saudi Arabia. My role is Assistant Professor and Vice Dean of Hospital Affairs in the Faculty of Health Sciences in Umm Al-Qura University. I am continuing my research into obesity, building on my PhD, alongside connected interests in diabetes, hypertension and social behaviour. I am looking at the prevalence of obesity in primary school children in the surrounding region, and also how parental feeding can affect children’s weight. I have a varied academic role, so I also connect students with hospitals for training, deliver lectures and supervise final year projects.

My advice for postgraduate researchers is to strive for knowledge, read as much as you can and don’t be shy! We are all learning, so speak to your fellow postgraduate researchers and supervisors if you are struggling. Present your work at conferences (you will get used to it!), and use the questions you receive to broaden the horizons of your research. A PhD is a journey, and you may occasionally find it challenging or isolating – keep going, and you will find your way.

In the future, I would love one day to return to Swansea University to undertake a postdoctoral role. Every year I try to come to Swansea on holiday too!

Learn more about our PhD in Health Sciences.