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16th November 2023

Deni from the block

Dr Denitza Williams, Lecturer at Cardiff University and co-lead for public involvement within the Health and Care Research Wales Evidence Centre, has told how she overcame the odds to achieve her dream career while also balancing life as a busy mother of two.

Dr Williams, who is originally from Bulgaria, had just five English words in her vocabulary when she moved to Wales – but that didn’t stop her from becoming a principal investigator in women’s health while also raising two children under two during her PhD.

As a teenager, Dr Williams – or ‘Deni from the block’ – had posters of Jennifer Lopez plastered all over her room and practiced her dance moves in front of the mirror.  As an adult, she took a less conventional journey into research, being determined to balance her academic pursuits with her personal life.

Dr Williams said:

“While traditional academia often demands full dedication with little room for personal life, I wanted to show that it didn’t have to be that way. Devotion to academia does not mean that all other goals and ambitions are paused whilst one completes a PhD. My desire to marry my high school sweetheart, buy a house and start a family whilst also completing a PhD, were seen as unconventional but they shaped my career to what it is today.”

In the end, Deni completed her PhD in four years while raising two children. She has since been awarded Wales Assembly for Women Audrey Jones Scholarship Award for her PhD work in cervical cancer, Enriching Student Life award and nominated for a Chwarae Teg Womenspire Rising Star Award. She has secured funding, becoming a principal investigator in women’s health and has published her work extensively over the years.

Deni’s message is clear:

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness but just because it’s not your road or my road does not mean that they are lost. Just because you have got different ambitions than the ‘standard’ academic pathway does not mean you shouldn’t be here.”

Watch the TED-style talk of Dr Denitza Williams.