Progressing to Postgraduate: My PhD Journey

Posted on: 1 July 2022 by Richard Finch in Graduate stories

PhD researcher at University of Liverpool

Alex is an incoming PhD student who will be researching environmental psychology mixed with hospitality and technology.

About Me

Hi, I’m Alex and I’m an incoming PhD student at the University of Liverpool where I’ll be researching environmental psychology mixed with hospitality and technology! Before starting my PhD I’m just finishing my MRes degree at the University of Stirling after my undergraduate in BA Marketing at The University of Liverpool!

Why a PhD?

When I was younger, I heard a quote from Steve Jobs that said: “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back”. Looking over my life I’ve seen how the dots connected starting from college and leading me to the PhD. It started in college when I decided to study ICT, despite shortly after realising it was more of a hobby than a career option, so I decided to study Business after completing my ICT course.

Through studying business, I found I loved studying marketing and sort of knew at the time I wanted to go into that area. So, after finishing my Business course, I had the chance to live in Hong Kong and Macau for a couple of years. I spent most of the time in Macau and had the chance to visit some huge casinos and leisure centres which I’d never seen anything of the sort before - basically, I was in awe of them and their design. My friend at the time told me “If you look around, you’ll never see a clock anywhere because they don’t want you to know how long you’ve spent here.”. At the time I didn’t think much of it until I studied Services Marketing in my second year of my Marketing degree at ULMS

During the Services Marketing module I learned about all different models and theories, such as the servicescape (the physical environment of an organisation) which directly related to my fascination with Macau’s casinos, but I learned about how consumers’ come to understand what quality is and how it’s measured. I loved this module and decided to take it further during my undergraduate dissertation. Combining my interest in technology from college, my previous hospitality experiences in Macau and my knowledge from the Services Marketing module, my dissertation explored “Are robots' cognitive abilities and physicality adequate for delivering high service quality in the hotel industry?”.

Once more, having loved my dissertation and the topic, I decided to pursue an MRes degree at the University of Stirling but incorporating my interest in service escapes into my research - and having done that has led me to apply for the Management PhD at ULMS. So, for me, I had very different experiences at college to living abroad that ultimately shaped my research interests and encouraged me to pursue a PhD to explore these interests even more!

The Application Process

Having decided to do a PhD I set out on the application process. What I didn’t know at the start was how different a PhD application was to a bachelor’s or Masters. So, the PhD application process is usually split into 3 parts: (1) Proposal Creation and Supervisor Allocation, (2) Formal Application, and (3) Funding.

The hardest part I found was the creation of my research proposal. It took a fair bit of reading and help from my lecturers to identify a research gap I could use to focus my research proposal around. What I found really helped me was a paper by Alvesson & Sandberg (2011) titled Generating Research Questions through Problematization. So, for anyone struggling to find a gap - I highly recommend this paper! Once I finished my research proposal, I sent it off to a lecturer who was unable to supervise the project but helped me through putting me in contact with a few colleagues that would be able to supervise it. So, after a few emails I met with some potential supervisors - it was quite nerve wracking, but it was after a few questions they said they’d be happy to supervise my PhD, so that was box 1 of 3 ticked.

I was quite fortunate as when it came to boxes 2 and 3, I managed to tackle both together. Having allocated supervisors I needed to submit a formal application to the university in which I also applied for funding the Graduate Teaching Fellowship (GTF). After a few weeks I had an interview for the GTF, and I really did learn that preparation is key! Interviews are not my cup of tea, but my friend who worked for the university's careers studio helped me prepare and that made all the difference, which ultimately lead to me receiving my place on the PhD program with full funding!  So, my PhD application experience has taught me three things, so for anyone considering applying or in the process of applying for a PhD, here are my three top tips!

Advice for PhD applicants

  • Take a step back - It’s so easy to get hung up on small details or to question yourself on every what-if scenario you can think of. But take a step back, look at the big picture and you’ll realise there is always a workaround. If you can’t figure out what that workaround is, never be afraid to ask for help from potential supervisors or old/current lectures. Every academic has gone through the PhD process before, so they will know what you’re going through as you start the PhD journey (even if it’s just the application) and often, they’re more than happy to help!

  • Do your research before - Finding a supervisor, university, or funding places is difficult. But there’s so much information out there that will point you in the right direction. If you’re searching for supervisors my biggest tip is to use Scopus and narrow down searches and you’ll soon find several researchers that are researching a similar topic to yours no matter how niche it is! - and then check their university profile as they usually already say if they’re accepting PhD students - don’t be afraid to ask! For PhD places, or are the greatest assets you’ll have - they are always updated with new places and applications. Lastly, regarding funding - find your research council! The government gives research councils money to fund research like yours! So, whether your research be STEM or social science related, check your research council for any funding opportunities!

  • Do something you love! - It’s a cliche but it’s true. Doing something you love and are passionate about will keep you motivated when receiving rejection emails, during all the reading and writing of your proposal. But most importantly, it’s only going to be an uphill climb after the proposal, so if you’re struggling to create your proposal, always think: can I do this for another 3 or 4 more years? So always make sure your love for your research surpasses any frustrations you also have or will encounter!