What kind of a PhD are you?

real phd

I’m a PhD researcher (PhD).

I don’t like to brand or classify myself, but if I need to, I would say I am a ‘social science PhD’. What does it actually mean? In short, social science PhDs are doing research in education, psychology, antrolopogy, sociology, political science etc., basically all the sciences that are concerned with the society, its dynamics, processes, human behaviour and its interconnectedness. My research is in education; but it is the intersection of arts and business. In short.

Why am I interested to know what kind of PhDs are out there? Well, often I come across many assumptions about PhD – the way people think about them, from what they wear, eat or do, to the way they behave. Generally, people think that PhDs are some boring nerds sitting in their labs or reading book all day long, not knowing anything about the ‘real world’. Well, I don’t blame them, as I also know many who seem to fit perfectly to this description. But, not all of us are like that.

In social science, people are usually working individually on their own project, without being part of any ‘lab’ or group. As many students there are – as many different topics and approaches they use. No white uniforms or fancy instruments. Just a laptop and a book. Or online journals, for us who fancy writing from a coffee shop or a beach.

Who am I?

  • I am a real geek for new gadgets, technological innovation and all the tech and business things, although having academic background in music and social science
  • I am also an educator, real fan of Dr Ken Robinson and his theories
  • I’m an advocate for arts education, and bringing much more arts and creativity in life generally
  • I’m a mother of a baby girl
  • I am a youth leader in my community
  • I love startups and entrepreneurship
  • I am an active musician
  • I like leisure time and I always find time for it – walking, gym, reading a book (novel, not an academic book), going out for dinners, cooking for friends and family

I also know many other PhDs, across various disciplines, who are outgoing, fun to be with, very down-to-earth and party-lovers. Still, they are genius in their research.

What kind of a PhD are you?

Let us allow the world to know us better – the real life PhD – use the #reallifePhD and share your thoughts.

Arts in and as research

Dancing your thesis.

Singing your data.

Movie about your methodology.

Have you ever tried to present some aspect of your research through the arts?

Students and staff at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education every term organise the event Arts Kaleidoscope – an hour of research performance through the arts. Today was this term’s event where ten students – researchers – performers – were doing amazing 5min performances of their research and presenting how they make sense of it through various medium.

I presented the inspiration for my research through the poem I made, following by a piano performance of Chopin: Prelude in E minor.

I will share my poem:

Chopin Prelude in E minor

How beautiful it sounds

When one note makes the other one cry,

Leaves you powerless and speechless

In the awe of that divine moment.

How beautiful it sounds

When one note inspires your life

Leads you to imagine

What you love, Who you are

And who you might become.

How beautiful it sounds

When the sound takes you to a journey

Exploring your desires,

Recalling your lost dreams,

Displaying a glimpse of future.

You’re breathing slowly

As the sound opens the door

Of another world

Unknown to your senses.

The world in which you are who you want to be

Free from the past

Free from the present

Filled with expectation.

You follow the melody to unknown direction

as it chooses the longer route

with distractions here and there,

becoming the splendour in itself.

How beautiful it sounds

When a note finds its way to hope

Leaving you breathless

As it joins other notes into a long line.

The notes are melting your heart

Making you feel restless

As the flashes go in front of your eyes.

These are The images of possibilities.

‘It is possible!’ – says the music

All is possible, with the sound.

The melody is wondering around

Avoiding settling down,

Its mission is still not done,

As there is something to be found.

How beautiful it sounds

When a note enables you to spread your wings and fly

To reach the sky, see yourself from above,

And, if necessary, cry.

Imagine only

What you could find

In your heart

if you’re inspired.

Because of these notes,

You are not same again.

They took you to another sphere

Changed your thoughts and your being.

How beautiful it sounds

When you are inspired

To embrace the new reality,

To be a living inspiration.

As a breath of life,

The notes are taking you back,

To the place where you belong,

Where your new self will be strong.

The music takes you home.


PhD thesis into a book chapter. Mission impossible?

For some time, I need to write a book chapter based on my PhD proposal. Thinking how there won’t be ‘so much work’, as I have already done the major, big work, I left it to the last moment. And then… I started working on it. What a surprise!? It is much, much harder than I thought. I realised that I’m not even sure that I have enough material, although I need to put 20,000 words into 7,000. Mathematically speaking, there should be more than enough material. However, I was wrong.

I don’t want to write a lot about the difference between writing for a book chapter or PhD thesis. There are plenty of literature around there (check especially Pat Thomson’s blogs) which can give valuable, professional insights into writing for different genres and audiences.

I only want to share my experience of being easily deceived in my own thinking of ‘will do it easily’. Well, it’s not easy and, after realising it, I was postponing the act of writing for some time. Maybe I was waiting ‘for an inspiration’, although I know that the only way to get inspired, in this case is to sit down and start writing. At least, to start deleting irrelevant parts of my thesis and feel comforted about having some letters on the screen.

And now… The hard thing starts: adding new material, editing, making it completely different. At the end, PhD thesis and a book chapter are completely different, no matter how similar ideas they present.


December deadlines, hold on for a while!


I’m writing this inspired by the book ‘Bird by Bird’ written by Anne Lamott. I’ve read most of the book couple of months ago but it wasn’t so relevant to me as it is now. Also, I have read many times how freewriting can help you get to the ‘real writing’, as I called it. So, now I want to give it a try. Why? I’m stuck. I have couple of deadlines in the next few days – big projects, reports, journals. What have I done so far? Nothing much, just jotting some notes and literature down on the paper. I don’t like that phase. I don’t like being so stressful about meeting my deadlines, worrying what will happen if I miss it, thinking where on earth will I get the strength to write for long hours. Most importantly – what will I write? That is my biggest worry. I could sit with my laptop open and write for hours actually – but that will be sort of a freewriting – writing that will never be read by someone else. Writing that just comes naturally on the screen, as it follows my thought. Yes, I wish that is all I need to do in order to meet my deadlines.

However, I always function on that way only. Tight deadlines. Working in the last moment. Somehow my energy level, motivation and inspiration come only then. After being on many training courses at the University, at least I know that nothing is wrong with me – it is just the mother nature. That is my personality – being sanguine, or ESPT by Myers Briggs – someone who is not bother with the tasks or deadlines until the last minute. And I have realised, no matter what I do – I always put myself in that situation. Over and over again. And every time I say to myself ‘this is the last time I’m doing it’. But it just doesn’t work another way round……

It is so interesting….following what some writing books advise – write every day at least 300 words to keep you going. Yeah, right. This text is already more than 300 words. And what have been accomplished by it? Me typing and practicing my fingers. That’s all. My paper has not been written in the meanwhile, nor journal article or abstract I’m planning to do. Nothing else. According to many writers, I could be content with my success today – it took me about ten minutes for this amount. If only that would work for the academic writing. But we all know how it is….

Anyway, I got myself a great breakfast this morning, full with healthy protein, fruits, vitamin C and other energising food to keep me going today and to inspire me. Strangely, food can inspire me. Thinking of a glass of a healthy, fresh orange juice makes me happy. Don’t know why, but it works, so I won’t complain.

December is coming in a few days. And all that Christmas madness will start. I just don’t have the time to think about it, about gifts, decorations or anything else. I’ll be thinking about it after 15th December and really enjoy my free time, stress free time that will allow me to enjoy the life in it fullness. Currently, the end of term is approaching. Very quickly. Actually, I feel it is approaching at the speed of the light. And I’m not even aware of it. Or, I am afraid to think more carefully about it. December means stress, craziness, and deadliness. Everything needs to be finished. Yes, I am longing for that day – deadlines met.

While I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my favourite coffee shop Costa. The atmosphere is very cosy, with Christmas music and festive hot chocolate. And I feel that I don’t have the right to immerse myself into the feeling of Christmas. Not yet. Not until I finish my big things. Madness. Craziness. Energy. Somehow, when life is much calmer on other dates, I don’t feel as alive as now. But, that’s just me. December, I know you’re coming and bringing not good tidings, but deadlines and stress. Please, slow down a bit!

This could be my experiment today – just enjoy freewriting, and then direct it towards the paper questions I need to describe and resolve. I’m so interested to see will it help, will it get me into the mood of writing academic stuff. Well, I don’t have a problem being in the mood, or in the flow of writing, I just usually don’t know what to write. If I sort that one out, everything would be perfect. If only….

Maybe I’ll even try freewriting on phenomenology. Yes, it does sound weird and crazy. And complicated. How on earth am I suppose to put my ideas down to flow about something full of historical background, complicated philosophy, metathinking and reflexivity? Have no idea. But maybe I’ll give it a try.

Hold on for just a little more! The end of term is near. December is near. Yes, it will be crazy, it will be stressful. But it is like that every year. Every time you survived it. You’ll just be ok this time as well. And then….hold on just for a bit longer – and holiday season will be in front of your eyes, waiting for you to fully be immersed into its beauty, fragrances and cosy atmosphere. It is a reward you deserve. Just, crack on with these papers and meet your deadlines. Meet your new you – fully energised, waiting to get things done, and get them done well.

December, please hold on for a little while!

Unique writing




The writer’s voice is how position yourself in the text that you write. It’s how you make your writing unique and it’s how you convey your own ideas and interpretations on what you have read. (Blog www.literaturereviewhq.com)

I’ve just read this small passage about the writer’s voice on the blog, after spending a morning reading The Thesis Whisperer  blog about writing and tips for getting started and keeping yourself motivated. This is exactly what I need now – to keep myself motivated to do my Literature Review. I have started last week and it was going well, however, then I stopped and now – I need to get back on track.

Also, I realised this might be a good opportunity for freewriting and actually, working with my reflexivity. How is my voice as an author? I could say it is pretty weak – I feel that I take things for granted – I take other scholarly text, as it is so – it is the way they said so. I know it is kind of a ‘wrong’ approach, as I need to be critical on their work. However, even citing their work in my paper is already part of critical thinking, so I can still comfort myself thinking that I am in line with the academic requirements. Not that I care so much about the academic requirements, but I do care for making a good research. That’s why this sentence ‘how you make your writing unique and it’s how you convey your own ideas and interpretations on what you have read’ struck me. Do I really interpret everything I read? How?


I am not so sure about that. When I am reading academic work, I put down interesting quotes – citations I think say something important to my work what I might use later in the paper, connecting with my points. Does it count as interpretation? Actually, I think it is only ‘cut and paste’ easy-to-do technique. I haven’t found myself writing sentences, or paragraphs after these citations, about how I might use it in my research, what are my thoughts about it, how does it fit or opposes my research in this moment, etc. Somehow it seems that I should be doing it. Pat Thomson suggested that (as far as I remember, but can’t find the exact blog post now). Well, I can have the approach of ‘if Pat Thomson says so, than I must do it – as it will produce something good. However, thinking of interpretation of text, I really wonder how other PhDs are doing it – what are these thought that they put on, how can I know will they be relevant for the research? Or, on the other hand, is that exactly what reflexivity is about? I will definitely need to explore that interpretation much more.


But I also wonder – is the interpretation of other texts what I actually need to put my ideas across in the paragraph – chapter – paper? Does it work in the way that I can cite someone, then say my opinion about it, and perhaps even my idea, that finally – that all together forms a scholarly text? If I analyse academic writing now – that could be what it is all about!


Another thing that stroke me in the initial quote is ‘how you make your writing unique’.  Well, I’ve already heard it many times before – I swear! However, was I thinking about it actually? How is my writing unique? Firstly what comes to my mind is the Introduction section in every paper/essay I have written so far. I always position myself in the context, field, and provide reasons for this research. However, now I feel something’s telling me – that is not unique writing! Everyone will do it. Of course, it will always read differently as we are different, have our won research stories and backgrounds to tell and obviously, our research differ. So what is it then unique about my writing? So far I was thinking about it (not too much, I need to say) as writing my voice in the research, as writing in first person, etc. But – ‘I can see clearly now’ – that’s not unique about my writing?

Well, then what is it??

I am really keen to know how can we be unique in our writing. Is it the layout I use usually in formatting, or colours of my headings? Probably not. I think it could also be the way I start or structure my section. I usually  finish with some semi-conclusion or summary, but that is also more to do with the structure then with my uniqueness of writing. I seriously need to figure that one out!


I know, you might say ‘Join the club!’


But I ask you ‘Any ideas?’






Two exercises to help you with your writing life

It is so interested how I also like reading about writing. A lot. I’m reading about writing much, much more than I’m actually writing. It’s actually my favourite and most useful way of procrastination, thinking that at least, I have done something ‘useful’ if there were not letters on the screen….

The Thesis Whisperer

I love books on writing. I have many, many books on the subject, but I continue to buy more because, well – I simply can’t resist them. Just as it’s more relaxing to watch people cook and do gardening on the TV, often reading about writing is so much nicer than actually doing it.

to do listOne of the reasons reading books about writing is so much fun is that they often include writing exercises. I LOVE reading about writing exercises even more than I love reading about grammar and sentence structure, despite the fact that I rarely, if ever, voluntarily sit down to do one myself.

I will, however, happily do a writing exercise in a large group setting and enjoy every second of it. I am sure I am not alone in this. The most insanely popular writing workshop we run ANU is the Thesis Bootcamp, an idea we imported…

View original post 1,172 more words

That’s my spot!

In one of my all-time-favourite sitcoms – Big Bang Theory – the main character Sheldon Cooper is extremely sensitive about ‘his spot’ – the place on the sofa where only he is allowed to sit. Only he. Literally. Whoever else tries to sit there (usually Penny), Sheldon sees it as offence, a catastrophe, they start the argument, and Sheldon needs to explain what is so special about that seat. So, here we go: “In the winter that seat is close enough to the radiator to remain warm, and yet not so close as to cause perspiration. In the summer, it’s directly in the path of a cross-breeze created by opening windows there and there. It faces the television at an angle that is neither direct, thus discouraging conversation, nor so far wide as to create a parallax distortion. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.” Yes – it’s bizarre. Nothing special about it for normal mortal people like you and me, but extremely important for Sheldon.  But repeating these reasons over and over again at least makes Sheldon so irresistibly funny. Well, I can still laugh every time I see that.


Also, hearing that so many times made me think about my favourite spot regarding the work – place where I can work, read, explore, be creative and literally, get the work done. Do I have that spot? Where is it and what is so good about it? After all, why to think about the place? Isn’t a laptop and Wi-Fi all I need?

It made me think about the importance of creating and retaining my ‘favourite spot’. It is well known that, in order for creativity to happen, we need to create environment for it. But that environment is not only ‘an atmosphere’ where we can take risk, explore and allow new things or thoughts to emerge and creativity to happen. I definitely believe the physical place is as important as social environment. Not only for creativity but also for tasks that perhaps don’t require much exploration but simply peaceful time to complete them. I wouldn’t go into theorising about the importance of creative spaces but will just describe my places. It is not one single place, as it also depends on the nature of task, time of the day, and also my mood.

  1. Home office – I am fortunate enough to have a home office – one room designated only for work, containing many bookshelves and seemingly, lots of hands on information. I know that my academic hero, Pat Thomson, also writes from home and there are many places where she is talking about the writing space particularly (if you haven’t discovered her yet, please see her blog http://patthomson.wordpress.com). It works for her and many other academics. For me – it works partially. From my office window I see my neighbour’s beautiful garden full of flowers, plants, vegetables and other products of nature. But I also see my garden – big green ‘space for further development’. Very often I loose myself into thoughts about what can I do in the garden, when will I mow the grass, water it, etc. And the time passes by – I’m lost in thoughts, haven’t started writing, and haven’t even done the garden. Not good. However, at the evening I don’t see anything outside the windows and I can always embark in exploring or writing till the late hours. That room provides the oasis of peace I need to do more challenging tasks, as thesis writing and get things done, usually at the evening.
  1. Library spot – Whenever I come to my Faculty library, I choose the same place (if available) for reading and writing. The library is actually beautiful, designed in wood and glass, providing lot of natural sunlight and the warm atmosphere. The desks are placed just in front the glass wall, allowing me a view on beautiful grounds. Yes, the view is really beautiful and using only one desk can provide an atmosphere of freedom and openness in space – perfect for allowing the openness of the mind in exploring new ideas. The most important about this spot is the quietness of the library. No talks. Perfect. That’s just what I need when skipping through the pale of academic books in search for citations and references. Daunting work in the great atmosphere. Not so shabby after all, I guess.

my spot library

  1. Costa coffee – No, this is not an advertisement (although I wouldn’ mind if Costa Coffee would support my PhD project in turn for advertising it :). But I really like that place. Firstly, they serve my favourite “SmallSkinnyGingerbreadLatte” – the taste I cannot get anywhere else. They also use nice colours for design and furniture. Some of the stores are designed as modern urban places (especially some in London), whereas others remind a bit of a home lounge with sofas and chairs. They offer free Wi-Fi as well – what else would I need then? There is something special about working from the coffee shop. Is it the noise of plates and cups, roasted coffee, the smell, or just the noise from people chatting, I don’t know, but it works for me. Maybe not in doing the challenging writing as developing complex arguments or deriving the theory, but it works pretty well for writing email, doing PhD administration, and editing texts. There is something in the sound of a coffee shop that there is even a company that provides coffee shop sound on your device – coffitivity (check the website www.coffitivity.com). I’m just sitting in my local Costa coffee now, in my favourite spot near the window and writing this blog post. Works great for me!


These three places combined work just good for my PhD journey currently. Each has something special and is a perfect match for some tasks. I’m open for new suggestions and trying new places. What is your favourite spot?

Academic (non)writing

Being in this PhD journey for the last nine months, I’ve learnt a lesson about writing procrastination. That’s one of these ‘everybody does it’ things among PhD students. You know that you need to write the journal, or the report, but you also know that ‘there is time for that’, as you are supposed to have more relaxed deadlines in working independently.

How helpful are the deadlines for you?


I think that I wouldn’t produce any written material without setting deadlines. Most recent, for example, is the writing of my report. I set the deadline for submitting the first draft last week, and guess what? I’ve only started my writing last week. It is so typical of me. Somehow, I simply cannot function without deadlines and I need to do things (or, at least, start doing things) in the last moment. Only when the timing is tight can I actually feel the adrenalin and get the required energy to embark on the writing process.

You might say it is a wrong approach, and I would agree with you. It is certainly not the best one. However, it is the only one I have now. Trust me, I know all about the scheduling writing times every day to keep up with writing, to approach writing as the crucial part of PhD journey, as writing is thinking, ……. I know it all. I mean, I read about it all. And realised it is a good approach. Only – doesn’t work for me.

I suppose it is because I’ve been always doing things in the last moment. Not in terms of enjoying life and being lazy before the ‘last moment’, but I was always a ‘busy bee’, doing so many things that ‘last moment’ for me was lasting continuously, as there was always something to be done.

I just wonder – is it a personality trait or only a habit that can be directed into new direction?

PhD world out there – what are your recipes for writing tasks and how you deal with it? I’d like to hear some new ideas.

In the meanwhile, find many great resources on the amazing blog by my academic hero, Pat Thomson.


“Not enough” syndrome or “more than enough” reality?

good enough

Imagine that while doing your PhD, you are invited to give a talk or a presentation in a business organization. Obviously, the topic is connected with your area of study, however, you are only in the early stage of the research, and you don’t feel that you know ‘enough’ to actually deliver the task to the highest standard. Does it ring a bell?


I call it “not enough syndrome’ – our inner thoughts and speculations whether we still need to learn something more to present our work. Do we need to have ‘better, or more specific findings’ in order to share our wisdom to the outer world, do we need to read more, talk about the research more, prepare more, remember more,……….and the list continues?


Even before starting my PhD, I often thought that I already know a lot and that I’m ready for the opportunity to arise where I could share my insights with someone else – especially, in the professional context. On the contrary, since I started my PhD, I have realised that there is so much more to be learnt, read or done that I cannot ever be ‘now’ to share what I know. At least not with the professionals who are more experienced then me and have much more practical knowledge. Just recently I’ve been getting the opportunity I used to wait for – chances to actually collaborate with experienced business people – and share my insight or expertise on the topic.


Now, this is interesting – an expert. Am I an ‘expert’? I am aware that, by the end of a PhD journey, I should be expert in particular area of my research. However, I’m only a 1st year PhD – does it still count as an ‘expert’? I am sure that I am not alone in these thoughts. Given that the first year is mostly focused on literature and methodology of the field, it is obvious that we all can feel as ‘imposters’ in the field. We discover how much stuff is going on there, how many debates/discussions we could discover and take part in, and how we actually don’t know much comparing to the ‘established experts’ in the field.


Conclusion One: from our perspective, we are only ‘newcomers’ in the field who don’t know much. But does it matter?


Now, let’ see how people in the ‘outer’, or ‘real’ world might perceive us, PhD students. Firstly, PhD is by definition the highest academic achievement. As we have already started our journey, that proves that we have the skills, abilities, intelligence and perseverance to accomplish the highest level of education. Actually, that is per se admirable and I came across many people who really have a great deal of respect towards people pursuing their PhD. More interestingly, these people really think we are some kind of very smart people who need to know ‘everything’. It seems that we might be perceived as “good enough”, or even “more than enough” experts to tackle some interesting business issues. Hmmmm…….


Next, many business experts didn’t have a chance to pursue higher education qualification. Although they are successful in their work and they know the industry well inside-out, they could absolutely benefit from some ‘theoretical’ insights and perhaps a different perspective of their work. Would they like to collaborate with you – a PhD researcher? Well, why wouldn’t they? They would respect your desire to explore theoretically and empirically what they actually do in practice. The results could always provide another significant insight into their work and perhaps suggest better ways of doing it.


I still wonder how can we recognize ourselves at the point of being ready to tackle the industrial challenges. When do we cross our imaginary line between “not enough” and “more than enough”?


Share your thoughts with me and let’s prepare ourselves for the real world, out of the academic ivory tower, and apply our knowledge and expertise.



Don’t get pregnant. If you can help it…

Haha… Nice read. Luckily, I’m already married, so now I just shouldn’t get pregnant while doing PhD?
Let’s see – PhD is not life in itself…

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Walter Reinhardt, a PhD student at ANU’s Fenner school where he is investigating demand management policy for residential water and electricity use. Walter is now at the pointy end of his degree, but he took time out to play with the stats and tell you what the likelihood is of you encountering a major life event during your PhD.

A few weeks ago I had a meeting with my PhD supervisors. Gave them draft chapters, chapter outlines and results enough for a couple more. I asked them, in their experience, if they thought it could be submitted by mid next year and what advice they’d give me if I went for it. Straight off the bat, one of them remarked: “Don’t get pregnant.”

We laughed.

It’s kind of hard for me to do that. I’m a dude with an unappealing mo’ for a start. But…

View original post 1,404 more words