Wednesday, February 06, 2019


Occasionally I get asked about my experiences as a research higher degree student, so I'll put my thoughts here to make it easier to share.

I completed a masters in project management in around 2005 and then my PhD in 2013.
I was a management practitioner during all of my studies and I still am a full time management practitioner now, although I still publish papers. When I did my PhD I worked full time and had half time responsibility for raising my kids, and also did a real-estate development. I started late in 2008 and finished in 2013 (5 years). My thesis was on management for dynamic environments.

Why did I attempt a PhD?

· To investigate material not covered by coursework degrees: I was working in industry – applying for jobs – I had certain career aspirations so I did a Masters. My masters included a research subject that I enjoyed because I could investigate problems directly related to my professional work – that had not been covered in my coursework degrees. I liked this because sometimes the coursework felt irrelevant. I work in Technology and Higher Education so most of my problems were about how to plan and manage amidst rapid change- so that’s what I wanted to investigate.
· I wanted to investigate challenges I was having in my own job to see if I could fine tune and improve the way I did things.

- Start earlier than you enroll: I spent a year narrowing down my research subject and the literature hole before I enrolled. I highly recommend this approach to reduce the pressure on yourself – if you can.
- Publish as you go: Writing papers during your research is not only satisfying but takes the pressure off your defence process. You will have already proven yourself amongst your peers.
- Working in industry for a number of years after my undergrad may help finding an interesting topic: - and be motivated by the chance to find knowledge that helps your work.
- Make it a daily part of your life. Budget time and stick to it: Set short term goals. Don’t worry about the end goal if you are investing time. Focus on enjoying the process and making it part of your life. 1-2 hours per day every single day during the week (weekends off). Research time should be like a treat - not a chore, interesting and fulfilling. Once I had some papers published I drafted the thesis and then it was constant refinement.
- Keep looking for new and additional supervisors that offer the skills you need (e.g discipline or the research method etc.). Ask the advice of other academics. Try to make the questions simple and quick but have the courage to ask different people to get different views. For instance you might have one supervisor that is good at PhD paperwork/process and one good at the discipline and one that’s good at the research method you choose… and one that’s a good editing or formatting or a general sounding boar, or a motivator.
- Try to enjoy the process – or you won’t make it.
Where did my PhD lead me?
o My PhD was in management and I honestly think its made be a better manager: Its helped me do my job better – I do actually apply some of the things I learned.
o I work at a University so its helped me understand academics.
o Gave me a feeling of being a little bit useful. People read and referenced my work. I continue to publish so I got a productive hobby.
o Sometimes I feel like I have my PhD in professional practice in case they think I’m too theoretical.. or I might be snobby or uncompliant.
o Best for the education industry OR anywhere you are expected to the your organisations expert.
o Satisfied my curiosity for a while in a useful way. I would not do a PhD for the title because it may not be sufficient motivation or reward.

Speaking to really interesting people. Doing research was an excuse to speak to people like the head of NASA’s project office, astronauts, staff at Virgin Galactic, drug manufacturers, movie directors etc. It also feels useful when people come to hear to share your thoughts at conferences in places like Washington, Beijing, Sydney and Singapore, occasionally getting enthusiastic ovations.