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Cath Brislane: A Laidlaw case study

The Laidlaw Scholarship has given me faith in my own leadership abilities.

Cath Brislane had done her research before even arriving at the University of York. She knew all about the Laidlaw Scholarship and was interested in applying. Providing her with a paid period of high-quality research and a qualification in Leadership seemed – in Cath’s words – ‘almost too good to be true’.

Cath, who is undertaking a combined degree in English Literature and Linguistics, chose to focus her research project on the untapped potential of the human language. She has spent the Summer testing rare and untested phonemes – a phoneme is any of the perceptually distinct units of sound in a specified language that distinguish one word from another – and people’s perceptions to these; although her plans had to change last minute due to Covid-19.

“I found out three days before my final research proposal submission that I couldn’t undertake my research in a lab. It wasn’t a surprise as the research included using electromagnetic articulography which goes inside the participant’s mouth to monitor and measure their articulation. So I needed to quickly re-write my proposal and it went ahead as a perception study instead.”

Regardless of the last minute changes to her plans, Cath has enjoyed undertaking the research and she is committed to applying for a Masters following her degree. In fact, she admirably used the experience of last minute changes due to the pandemic as a personal learning curve:

“Being a Laidlaw Scholar during a pandemic has provided me with many valuable skills including perseverance, compromise and the mindset to respond positively to challenges.”

Cath has been keeping busy since arriving in York. She was a course rep in her first year at university and was elected as a faculty rep just before getting a place on the Scholarship. She has found the personality testing and coaching elements of the programme to be useful tools for reflection and in supporting her in her volunteer positions.

Another element of the Scholarship that Cath has enjoyed is the interaction between scholars although the timing of the pandemic has resulted in much of the networking taking place online.

When she’s not busy with her many other roles, Cath has also been active in the Laidlaw Network – managed by the Laidlaw Foundation and responsible for establishing the Scholarship in 14 universities across the world.

She was tasked with the role of Subject Lead, piloting the creation of an Arts and Humanities sub-group within the community and she has established a network of 26 scholars. They talk to each other regularly and share research ideas and input. Cath is hoping to continue to grow this network and is looking at developing a schedule of guest speakers to run online sessions for the group.

In previous part-time roles, Cath hasn’t always experienced the best examples of leaders and taking part in the Laidlaw programme has instilled a confidence in her own leadership potential. She summed up by saying:

“The Scholarship has reminded me of my own work ethic and professionalism and clarified the skills I can bring to a team. All of this will be of tremendous benefit for whatever I choose to do in the future.”