Skip to main content

PGR JourneysResearch

The power of following your heart: A PhD journey

1 September 2020

Every PhD journey is different, and here at the Doctoral Academy Blog we aim to bring you a wide range of stories that reflect the diversity of the PhD experience. Some researchers hit the ground running and never look back; some have struggles along the way; and others take a while to get to the point where they feel happy and content with their PhD. Here, Faisal Farooq from Welsh School of Architecture shares a journey full of highs and lows, taking him from England, to Scotland, and finally to Wales and his perfect PhD.

Get in touch with Faisal: @fasifarooq

I am a first year PhD student studying indoor air quality at the Welsh School of Architecture. I have an amazing set of supervisors and I love every single minute spent working on it. However, much like other people who have found something they enjoy doing, my life has seen its fair share of dark days before bringing me here. In this post, I am sharing my story which has lessons for others trying to find their path in life. After all, it is said that, “While it is wise to learn from experience, it is wiser to learn from the experiences of others.” ― Rick Warren

My story starts in the north of England in the summer of 2018 when I found myself in a soul-crushing, mind-numbing PhD that broke every dream I ever had of a life that I had imagined for myself. I was away from home; my colleagues didn’t like me and there was a serious gap in my supervisor’s research interests and mine. My supervisor was convinced that the research had great merit as it could revolutionise the way we consume and distribute electricity. The problem was that my heart just wasn’t in it. 

Some evenings I would sit at my desk, too bored to work on my PhD but too awake from the extra cup of espresso I shouldn’t have had, and search for adverts of PhD topics that I found more interesting than mine. I would bookmark my favourite ones, without giving any real thought or reason as to why I was doing so. Amongst the bookmarked pages was an opportunity in my hometown – a master’s course on Environmental Architecture at The Glasgow School of Art. At times when I would have a bad day, I would stare at that webpage and imagine what would life be like if I were to pursue that course and escape my miserable life. The thought of enrolling on that course made me feel good because it was the perfect combination of interest and artistic pursuit, yet I’d be overrun with guilt and would thus start the Alt+F4 smashing sessions to close all tabs in dismay. 

One afternoon, on a fine Northumbrian summer day, my supervisor and I coincidently were sharing a lift when he asked, “Is there something you want to talk about?” and I said yes. We sat down at our usual meeting spot and without knowing any other way of putting it I said, “I want to leave my PhD”. My supervisor, unsurprised, complied and said he supported my decision. Within a week I was on the road, back home to Glasgow. 

It was the month of September; deadlines for almost every job application and PhD position had passed. I opened the old bookmarks folder and found a link to the master’s course at The Glasgow School of Art. I was directed to a webpage on which it read that, due to a fire in one of the University buildings, applications were still open. Little did I know that destiny was working its magic. I couldn’t think of anything else but to call the course leader and ask him whether there were any scholarships available. I discovered that there was one scholarship, and since there were no other Scottish students on the course, I had a good chance of getting it. I took that as a green light and applied to the course. A few days later, I got an acceptance letter. 

By the end of my first semester, I applied to the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) and won a fee waiver scholarship of £7,800, based on a research proposal that I had submitted. This gave me a massive confidence boost and earned a lot of respect in the eyes of my lecturers. The project was about working with a ventilation company, Monodraught, on evaluating the performance of their prototype device when installed in a classroom for primary school children.

A few months before the end of my master’s, I saw an advert for a PhD at Cardiff University’s Welsh School of Architecture, fully funded by Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS) which was about designing ventilation systems for low-carbon housing in Wales. The project involved working with Professor Phillip Jones and Welsh-based ventilation company, Nuaire. The topic sounded like the domestic version of my master’s dissertation and I knew straight away that this was the one for me. I submitted an application and, when I heard the news that I’d been accepted, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. 

The reason I wrote this blog post is to share my experience of what can be achieved by listening and surrendering to your heart’s desires. The day I truly listened to what I wanted to do in life, everything I did brought me closer to achieving my goal. As if destiny was holding me by the hand and leading me to where I am today. If there is one thing that you can take away from my story it’s that, no matter how big or small your dream is, it can come true; all you’ve got to do is hold out for it.


  1. Amad Ahmed

    What a read! It truly encompasses the idea of finding one’s purpose in life, also serves as a case on point to the famous quote “following all the rules leaves a completed checklist, following the heart leaves a completed you” – Ray Davis.

    However, I’d never forget my personal favourite “there are no rules. Just follow your heart” Robin Williams.

Comments are closed.