Sana Salman Dawood Al-Naimi is studying a full-time PhD at Newcastle University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant

After studying a BSc and MSc in Architecture at Baghdad University, Iraq, I moved to the UK in 2002. I worked for several Newcastle-based practices before becoming self-employed in 2011.

Throughout my academic and professional career, I'd planned on studying for a PhD once I'd amassed substantial practical experience. Working as an architect in two different cultures had greatly enriched my perspective, and by 2014 I felt that I'd formulated Doctoral-relevant ideas and questions - primarily concerned with Iraq's culture and architecture.

I was also motivated to apply to Newcastle University because Professor Andrew Ballantyne - whom I greatly respect as an architecture author - was willing to supervise new PhD students.

After being accepted onto the programme, funding then became a major consideration. I learned that I was eligible to apply for the AHRC's Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership. This highly competitive award brings together the resources of Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen's University Belfast - and their strategic partners.

The studentship fully covers tuition fees and provides a maintenance award at Research Council UK's national rate of £14,057. It also affords a research training support grant, and financial support for placements, study visits and the annual Northern Bridge conferences.

I met the academic requirements - a first-class or 2:1 undergraduate degree (or international equivalent) and a distinction or merit at postgraduate level. However, I was also required to present a high-level research proposal that was supported by my supervisors.

Unfortunately, I narrowly missed out on winning this studentship at the start of my PhD in 2014. However, I was encouraged to self-fund my studies and reapply the following year.

Extremely determined and with the fantastic support and research skills gained from Professor Ballantyne and fellow supervisor Dr Zeynep Kezer, I developed my project to a higher standard and, in 2015, successfully won the studentship. Newcastle University's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS) helped me to produce a high-quality application to a tight deadline.

The benefits of the award transcend money. The studentship has opened up access to resources beyond one single university and distinguished me as an outstanding researcher.

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