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.


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.

The Art of Negotiation and Influence

I love Cambridge. In fact, I love being a PhD candidate at Cambridge, simply because of its amazing opportunities for self – development. Since I have started my course in October, I attended numerous researcher development programs, women’s development programs, professional development, etc. Apart from providing some useful tips on doing a creative research, maximizing PhD experience, and building resilience, training programs are an excellent place for networking. As more programs I attend, the more familiar faces I can recognize. That’s how I build relationships and create new networks. That is a real blast in a PhD journey, which can often be, by default, lonely and daunting.

This week I attended a marvellous training program, The Art of Negotiation and Influence, and would like to share some stunning tips I learnt. These could be applicable in almost all the contexts. Workshop leader was Richard Mullender, an ex former Lead Trainer at the National Crisis & Hostage Negotiation Unit at Scotland Yard. Yes – it sounds pretty awesome. Mysterious and dangerous. Having negotiating with suicidal individuals on the bridges, Al Quaida, and having worked with some world governments and Secret services, Richard is definitely the successful communicator worth listening.


I will share with you some of the thoughts that surprised me:

1. You never need to be bored at meetings!
If you are chairing a meeting, summarize the main points every five minutes and you will be in charge of the meeting. In that way, you will also silent annoying people who just like talking too much…

2. Be careful with the empathy
Although you can try to understand other people, their behavior or situations, it is far from the actual understanding. Why? Because we are who we are based on our background, circumstances and worldviews, which is very different for each person. Even putting ourselves into others’ shoes means that we will look at their problems from our perspective, and the solution that might work for us doesn’t need to work for others, as they’re likely driven by different set of values and beliefs.

3. Active listening is the most important part in communicating and negotiating
That means listening to others without asking questions, or asking as few questions as possible. For example, open questions like ‘tell me all about…’, ‘why is that?’, ‘yes, and?’ are the best to use. Also, active listening allows us to focus on particular words that others are using, which we could use to manipulate the conversation in our style, asking questions relating to words they used and we want to find more about.

4. Listen to the person and sell your ideas based on his/her believes. Especially in job application, write your CV based on their values and beliefs, and let them know how will you make money for them. Negotiating means understanding their objectives and providing solutions based on their beliefs.

5.  When you ask questions – you change the agenda of a conversation. Therefore, better listen and allow the person to tell you what they want. After a while, they will reveal secrets and you can use that to manipulate.

6.  Always rehearse! Practice your job interview with someone in the first person! Prepare what you need to say.

7.  There is no difference between influence and manipulation

8. Body language theory is rubbish.
Although there are so many books based on this theory, in principle, it doesn’t work – you can’t know what other people wants if they didn’t say it. You can easily see how someone is feeling based on his/her ‘big’ body language (for example, furiously talking and gesticulating), but you can’t analyse small body language

9. We are selling ourselves all the time and we are different versions of ourselves depending whom are we talking with. For example, you probably won’t have the same communication or topic choice with your friends, supervisor, business partner, spouse, or children. As Shakespeare put it in Richard III –  “And frame my face for all occasions.”
Also, we received some interesting reading list so I will share some books worth reading:

Harry Beckwith: Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing

Paul Eckman: Emotions Revealed: Recognising Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life

Kevin Dutton: The Wisdom of Psychopaths


Share some inspiring workshops that you are attending!

Why not to get a PhD? Best / worse case scenario


He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not…..

To do PhD. Not to do PhD. To do PhD. Not to do PhD.

Is it that easy to decide whether to get a PhD or not? Or, should I better say “to pursue a PhD degree or not”? Getting a PhD is a trophy at the end of the research journey. It is not just an action of getting into a store and asking: “Could I get one PhD, please?” It requires lots of motivation and thinking about the outcomes, our goals, career aspiration and family/social bonds surrounding us.

 In thinking of the motivation for PhD, there are many reasons we might have listed in our “pros and cons” list, trying to make the right decisions. Also, there are always many questions considering the decisions. What I like doing the most, is examining the situation by a simple best/worse analysis I read in one book (don’t remember which one. Luckily, here I won’t be persecuted for not stating a reference J).

Here are the questions for analysis:

1) What is the best thing that can happen if I do a PhD course?    (++)

 2) What is the worst thing that can happen if I do a PhD course?    (- +)                

 3) What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do a PhD course?    (+ -)

 4) What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do a PhD course?    (- -)

These four simple questions can refer to anything else in our lives. No matter is it a choice of holiday destination, taking a summer course, buying a new car, learning to play a music instrument, etc., these best/worse analysis can always help us predict and imagine the outcomes.

So, let me try to give some of the reasons for yes/no.

1) What is the best thing that can happen if I do a PhD course?  (++)

  • degree – someone might call you “ Hey Doctor!”
  • confidence in your ability and knowledge
  • career progression
  • honour
  • status
  • prestige
  • make a significant contribution to the knowledge (or, at least “ a contribution”) 

2) What is the worst thing that can happen if I do a PhD course?  (- +)                

  • being a student again
  • limited student income
  • lack of work experience for the market employability
  • delaying family planning
  • setting a  PhD as a priority, in front of family, friends and “real life out there”
  • focusing on the same subject for at least three years

3) What is the best thing that can happen if I don’t do a PhD course? (+ -)

  • find a decent job and start working on your career
  • set your own business
  • plan a family
  • enjoy your holidays and travel
  • having time for hobbies and anything else

4) What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do a PhD course?   (- -)

  • being stuck in the same place for the next three years
  • not progress in career
  • maybe not even having a job
  • not having a clear career or life goal
  • having time
  • regret the wasted opportunity
  • ….

So….why wouldn’t we do a PhD course? This small, simple analysis will show how the best/worst scenario might look like. The decision is yours.

Do you agree with the analysis? Share your thoughts and reasons for and against. 


P.S. BTW, I remember now the author’s name. He is an incredible role model, my childhood hero Dr Benjamin Carson. Find his book Take the Risk Dr Ben Carson: Take the Risk (or many other published books), or take a look at his inspiring and courageous speech from National Prayer Breakfast with US President Obama, February 2013 

Link-ed-In your PhD – How a polite introduction email can change your career


I would like to quickly share with you my life-changing experience as a result of putting one simple idea into action. All it included was writing a simple, two-sentence email or introduction through LinkedIn.

Some time ago, while reading an article for my PhD proposal, I was so impressed by the content and the author that I decided to contact him. Not that his writing style was extraordinary, or his ideas revolutionary. However, reading through the article made me realise what research topic I would like to do in PhD, and finally, what kind of career I want to pursue. Couple of simple steps that resulted into many other links and connections were the following:

 1. Google the name of the author

Why is it still important to consult Google as a first point of search? It is still the best search option that can provide very broad perspective and information about the name. When I put the author’s name in the search, I found out many useful information: his website, important organisation he is leading, links to his speeches at YouTube, his other publications etc. On that way I got a picture of his career, research interest and title of a new book, which actually became my main literature in research.

 2. Check the available websites

Then, I started to check his website, read about him, researching what his company is doing and in five minutes, I felt like I know him substantially, as he is my faculty mentor whom I know for ages.

 3. Search the name of the author on LinkedIn

Then, I put his in LinkedIn “Search for People”. As it usually goes, there were many names in search result but I recognized the name of the author by the description underneath the name. Somehow, I am always happy to find that academics are on LinkedIn. Maybe just because I’m frustrated when I don’t find someone on LinkedIn. Seriously, who is not using the LinkedIn today? In cases like that, it takes me much more time to find the contact details of people who refuse to use it. However, the next step is the one that changes everything:

 4. Write a simple introduction email

Writing a simple “Hello, My name is ­­­__________, and I am a student…..very much interested in you work…….” Changed everything for me. Why? Well…there are many reasons for that. Firstly, there is no harm in introducing yourself as a student saying that you are interested in someone’s work. Or even better, that his/her research was an inspiration for you to find your PhD topic. Who wouldn’t like to hear that? Then, you are a student, not professional who is trying to sell his services or to get prospect business partners through LinkedIn. You are only sharing your enthusiasm and maybe even asking for further details about the topic. When I got a response, it also contained links to his other works that I found useful, but most of all, I had a strong professional link in my field.

5. Connect with co-authors or collaborators as well

On another occasion, I was reading a book that contained many collaborators in different areas of expertise. Then I decided to find all theses names on LinkedIn and to briefly introduce myself and connect with them. It was a simple idea that brought great results. Most of them were on LinkedIn and connected my request. Then, surprisingly, some of them contact me stating that they are impressed with my CV and wanted to find more about my interests and why are we actually connected.

These five, incredibly basic and simple steps resulted in great opportunities for me:

  1. Skype meeting with two of them, which followed to
  2. Introducing me to their professional web network – where members are allowed to join only by invitation
  3. Connections with other specialists in the field
  4. Volunteer options in some of their companies
  5. Incredible source of professionals and their expertise – only by reading their biographies, “About” sections of their companies’ websites or
  6. Points of contact at any time for information about the research or opportunities

All of these connections happened in last couple of months, through LinkedIn. Most of the people, no matter how successful they are, will be more than happy to respond to email written by a student who wants to learn from them. For these accomplished professionals, it is almost an honour to hear that their work is actually beneficial and interesting to others. Most of all, they just naturally behave like mentors to younger professionals or students.

Today, even before the official start of my course, I feel that I have a strong professional network that can support me in my course. All I needed for that was proactive idea, copy-paste two-sentenced introduction email, and a humble learning attitude.

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7 Things you should probably do before starting your PhD

It is still a blessed summer time, so we have less then two months before our lives changes forever as we enrol into PhD course, which will take at least three years of our lives. So…what should we do before getting ourselves into the PhD adventure? How to use the summer vacation prior your PhD?


♯1 Read a book

OK…it doesn’t sound very romantic, I agree, as we know that at least 80% of our PhD activities will be – reading books. However, there is a huge difference in reading a book for fun and reading for academic purposes. Reading for fun would probably mean reading an interesting novel, or adventurous book, or anything that we really enjoy and can relax with. Reading for academic purposes, on the other hand, means skimming quickly through the content, couple of paragraphs to see do we actually want to invest next 30min in reading the book. Academic reading usually can’t be connected with reading on the beach while drinking a nice cocktail. It is mostly followed by writing notes from the book and thinking where it could match in our research.So…..take a nice book, find a relaxing place……and just enjoy it!

♯2 Write a blog

Writing a blog while doing your PhD can be amazing and useful experience. In case you are writing a casual diary type of blog, it will be useful for your mental health, as diaries usually are useful. It can help you set your goals for PhD, your expectations, decisions and in later phase, reading through these can be beneficial in re-examining your studying purposes, emotions and other feelings.

Also, you can write a scientific blog, where you would like to write about your current research, new findings, interesting studies you came across in your reading etc.

Even more importantly, writing a blog can enhance your creative writing skills and writing motivation. Of course, writing you PhD assignments is completely different from blogging. However, more writing create the ease in starting to write. It is always difficult to start writing your project, as you usually don’t have the words to start with. Practicing in blogging can give you some ideas and ease that difficult start and maybe even, fear of the word ‘Introduction’.

In any case, writing a blog is beneficial so start writing something ASAP! Why wouldn’t you publish your blog in a for of a book after three or four years of PhD-ing and share your precious experiences with others?!

♯3 Find a Job

Having any kind of job before PhD might be normal if you are already employed and want to pursue a PhD as a part of your employment. Or, maybe you just graduated from your master’s degree and you are usually working during the summer. However, finding ‘some’ job, mostly part-time, can be beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, it can provide an additional income what is always an advantage. Then, you might transform your hobby into work what is very pleasurable and healthy in directing your thoughts and time in something other than PhD. Also, ‘just in case’ some emergency happens (you don’t get PhD funds at the end), having a job can help you decide what you should actually do in your life.

Although some universities don’t allow you to work while studying towards PhD (Oxbridge, for example), working while studying can help you a lot to manage your time more wisely. Also, it can direct your thoughts toward something more than only PhD topic, annoying supervisor who doesn’t help you and questions you cannot answer. In fact, you can be a ‘supervisor’ for other students – undergraduates- and offer your knowledge in certain subject. Giving lessons in musical instrument, academic writing or maths for high school graduates can always be cool, as it brings extra income.

♯4 Travel

I don’t want to say that while doing your PhD you will stop living your life and doing stuff you usually enjoy doing. But, there will be some constrains and deadlines you will need to follow, which sometimes won’t allow you to travel and spend time in different places. Use the time before your PhD to treat yourself and just travel a bit around.

Also, don’t forget to look for professional conferences and grants so you can actually go around and present your papers in conferences. Of course, it doesn’t happen straight at the beginning of your course, but you should always be prepared to look for new opportunities and widen your horizons.


♯5 Get Inspired

Equip yourself with positive influences and inspirations before starting your PhD, as it will help you stay motivated when things won’t look as bright as now. Search for people who inspire you and go and talk with them. Find out about their motivation, struggles and successes. Also, talk with people whom you very much appreciate as leader in the field you want to study. They can give you many interesting advice on your mental health during the PhD course and prospect afterwards. Also, try to implement some of the advice and lessons other people learned through their lives while you will be pursuing your so-much-desired career as a PhD student.

♯6 Examine your goals

If you are just about to start your course, the question ‘Why you want to do a PhD course?’ might seem inappropriate. If you don’t want to do it, you wouldn’t even apply for it, get admission and read this right now. However, you should figure out your proper reasons for getting a PhD. What would you do after? Of course, three years time from now might seem like eternity and you probably don’t have a clue where you see yourself in three to four years time. But, having any kind of idea can help you to focus on your study and to take all the best opportunities out if it. For example, if you think that a PhD can help you in your business, than you can approach all the readings, activities and your papers through the lenses of a businessman, trying to see connections between theory and your business. Also, doing business while studying can be an excellent way of getting experience without so much ‘real life’ responsibilities, as it is not expected that you will have all the skills and expertise as a professional. There are many more things you can do to improve your business with a PhD course, and you should probably consider networking a lot. During your course you will meet many interesting people and you never know who will be your link to other connections and possible partners.

On the other hand, if you see yourself in academia, you should seriously connect with like-minded students and professionals, building your network of people interested in similar research. You will always need to publish papers so why not to actually meet the editor of prestigious journals, introduce yourself to them and show your interest? Not even mentioning what are the benefits of professional network if you want to get a job as a professor afterwards. Prepare yourself and work towards your goals! This time before PhD is ideal to put some of your expectations on paper and get to know yourself little better.

♯7 Just Hang Out and Chillax…

At the end of a day, we are all very social creatures who like spending time with each other. Being focused in something so complex as your PhD will keep you very busy and sometimes ‘on distance’ with people you care the most about. I’m not saying that you will stop spending time with your loved ones, and just PhD-ing will bring you many new colleagues, maybe even friends, whom you will be surrounded in the library and other places. However, take your time now for your loved ones, friends and family and just be there for them and with them. They will appreciate it later when you become very busy, and you will know that you can always have their support. A degree is worth nothing, remember, if we have respect from everyone, except the ones we care for.

In the beginning, there was an “Introduction”

Hi! I’m Marija and soon I’m starting my PhD at the University of Cambridge. Maybe you have heard about that little school in the middle of UK. However, it could be good to prepare myself a bit before starting the journey, so I have decided to start this blog and do a diary of my experiences. Who knows, maybe I will have some advice or suggestions that might even help you in your PhD-ing (as i call it)?!


I’m not so new in all that Cambridge thing, as I have also done my masters there  (with a distinction, yippee). However, in that time I was ‘young and naive’  (a year ago), so now, as a more mature, newly married women, I should consider taking a ‘more serious’ approach towards my education. Hmm….yes..well, let’s see how will that work.

Or, maybe I’m just trying to comfort myself and escape many of mistakes that PhD students do. That’s why I’m currently reading similar blogs by student who are near the end of their PhD-ing, giving advice to us, freshly enthusiastic, what not to do and what to in this journey. Somehow I think that all the decisions I could make or advice I could give to myself and to you, could only disappear once we get ourselves into a realm of proper PhD-ing. I guess, it’s like falling in love. You read all about it before, remember the advice, make a ‘wish list’ or whatever else, but then forget all about it when you see him/her. Well…who knows. Maybe I’ll just collect my blogging memoirs and publish a book in three years time. I can visualise the title: “How did I survive?”, or ” Lessons I learnt”, or something more trendy, like ” 7 reasons why…..”, “An Ultimate Guide to….”, or “PhD for Dummies”. Who would read it anyway? It will be nice just to write. And write. And write. For no reasons.

Anyhow, you are more than welcome to share your ideas and advice for a prospect PhD student. Especially you, who are somewhere at the end of your journey, and maybe even finished – your wisdom will be very much appreciated.