Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Natalie Donohue

PhD Education | 2016 - 2019

Photo of Natalie Donohue

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I’ve been an English Language teacher ever since graduating from my BA (Hons) TESOL with a Modern Language (Japanese) in 2012. I taught on the JET Programme in Japan for two years from 2012-2014, then moved to Ankara, Turkey, to teach on a preparatory English language programme at a university for a year. During these three years I was also studying a part-time, distance MA in TESOL and Applied Linguistics, and after finishing in September 2016 I decided to return to Scotland and study a full-time MSc Educational Research at the University of Edinburgh. After this, I moved to Leeds to start my PhD in Education.

What motivated you to undertake your PhD study and why did you choose the University of Leeds?
I’d never been to Leeds before, but I’d heard a lot of positive comments about the university itself. My PhD topic is quite niche, so I struggled to find supervisors who were willing and able to take me on, but I found two here at Leeds and subsequently applied. I was lucky enough to be granted funding as well, which influenced my decision.

What is it that makes you passionate about this area of study?
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher (though admittedly, the subject matter changed a few times!) so I’ve got a lot of intrinsic motivation for it. Teaching in Japan was fun, but not particularly challenging as I was an Assistant Language Teacher and therefore never taught my own solo classes. I took the university teaching job in Turkey because I wanted more of a challenge, but the workload between teaching and completing an additional requisite teaching qualification as well as my ongoing distance MA was really intense and I found myself burning-out. This got me thinking about the topics of burn-out, motivation and self-efficacy in EFL teaching, and reading and subsequent research further developed my passion for the area.

Please tell us about your research topic…
I’m looking into the motivation and self-efficacy levels of novice English language teachers who are going abroad for the first time. Transitioning from education to work is difficult in any career, but for EFL teachers there are often the additional challenges of moving to a new country, adapting to a new culture, learning a new language, and establishing a support network. All of these factors can influence the motivation and self-efficacy these teachers have for teaching, and I’m very much interested in seeing how the levels of motivation and self-efficacy fluctuate over the first year of an EFL teacher’s career.

How has your experience been at the University so far?
I love being a student, and the facilities and opportunities at Leeds are amazing. I try and make the most of the variety of study spaces (particularly the PG researcher floor in Edward Boyle!), and training on offer, but outside of study I’ve also tried things I never thought I would. Through the Leeds LINKS St John Ambulance Society I trained to be a qualified first aider, and have had the chance to first aid at events in Leeds Uni Union, as well as further afield, such as Total Warrior in Edinburgh, the Kendal Calling Festival, and Wimbledon! Despite reservations about my abilities, I joined the cross country club too and found a really welcoming and friendly bunch of people there. The Orienteering and Fell Running Club has also helped me test and push what I thought I was capable of. Essentially, studying at Leeds has made me a more rounded person by offering such an array of facilities, clubs, societies, and opportunities.

What would you say about the learning and research facilities in the School and at the University in general?
I think they’re great! I particularly love the floor on Edward Boyle which is solely reserved for PG researchers – it’s the perfect atmosphere to get lots of work done surrounded by like-minded people. 

Do you take part in any activities outside of your study? (Clubs & Societies/activities in the School etc).
Yes, I’m currently a First Aider and secretary of the St John Ambulance Society, the secretary for, and active member of, the Orienteering and Fell Running Club, and a member of the Cross Country Club. I also use The Edge facilities regularly, attending classes and going swimming.

What do you like to do outside of studying?
I hate not feeling productive, even when I’m not working and trying to relax –so I tend to keep very active by running, tennis, squash, cycling and walking my dog.  I also volunteer as a First Aider with St John Ambulance society and attend regular events such as Fruity and Leeds Rhinos Rugby Matches in a first aid capacity. Of course I like normal hobbies like reading, watching films, and crafting too.

What do you think of Leeds as a city?
I’m definitely a country-girl and prefer the peace and quiet of the countryside in rural Scotland, but as far as cities go, Leeds is great. Everything is so convenient and close-by, the public transport links are really good, and there are plenty of activities, museums, and things to do to keep occupied during down-time!

What would you say to someone considering a research degree in the School?
Go for it! I’ve absolutely no regrets coming to Leeds, and, in fact, think it’s probably the best decision I could have made. I love completing my PhD, I’ve made some fantastic friends, and I’ve had some opportunities that I would never have even dreamed of. Studying a research degree anywhere is difficult, but the facilities at Leeds are ideal if you know how to make the most of them.

What are your plans once you have completed your PhD?
I’ve still got two years left, so a lot could change in that time, but I think I’d like to teach abroad one more time –preferably getting some experience teaching at a university in Europe, Asia, or South America. In the future I’d probably like to return to the UK and settle down, with my dream job being a university lecturer where I can combine my three loves of English language teaching, teacher training, and research.

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