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.

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?’






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.



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.

Related articles

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.