This October 2022 I set out on a journey of a lifetime to undertake my PhD at Durham University Business School, fourteen years after leaving higher education.
As the first semester comes to an end I thought I’d share my experiences for anyone who’s thinking of doing the same, wants to learn more about the process, or is interested in the research I’m doing.
I started the process of applying to do this probably about 8 months previously. There was a call out from Prof Pablo Munoz for research application in the field of networking ecosystems that someone in my network saw and sent to me (oh the irony!). I felt like it was calling to me, and took them up on the offer of an introduction to find out more about it, and that’s when the ball got set in motion.
The application process it’s self was pretty intense – I had no idea how to format an academic research proposal, never mind find and reference academic sources so it was a learning process in its self. Thankfully Pablo had agreed to be my academic sponsor (you need one to be able to apply) so was there to support me along the way.
Top the application off with an online interview and in August I got accepted ready to start just two months later.
I’m gonna be honest and admit I was very naive to the amount of work this was going to entail, especially from day dot. I knew it was going to be hard work, obviously, it’s a PhD ffs! But I hadn’t grasped how all-consuming it would be from the very beginning.
Even though I’m a part-time student it’s still a chunky work load. This semester I’ve been doing 3 modules:
Fundamentals of the Philosophy of the Social Sciences
This is really the foundation of all academic research as it’s where you have to decide how you see the world and thus dictates how you’ll conduct your research. There are 3 areas of philosophy that you need to understand and take a stance on in order to find your academic tribe –
- Ontology – what actually exists
- Epistemology – the study of knowledge
- Axiology – are you trying to explain, predict, or understand the world
Where you stand in accordance to these three areas of philosophy will also be the foundation of the theories you work with, methodologies you select, and the research techniques you use. Here’s one of my favourite models from this semester, the ‘research onion’…
Quantitative Methods for Doctoral Research
So this was a completely new ball game for me. I love logic and the idea of playing with data to find relationships with variables I think it really exciting! However it is also like learning an entirely new language.
There are so many new words and subsequent meanings to learn in order to run any kind of analysis – I know what I want to look for, but knowing that name of that specific type of analysis is going to take a lot of Google searches and YouTube tutorials, and I’m okay with that.
We did do some group research in this module that I loved, as it entailed creating an online survey (an art-form in it’s self which I now have a new found respect for!), then collecting data from actual real people! So there’s this website that we used called Prolific where anyone in the world can sign up, answer surveys put on there by researchers and students like me, and get paid for it – who knew?!
In our group we added in an additional variable to an already existing survey – we went with FoMO (fear of missing out), and with a budget from the University we had 500 responses within just a couple of hours. Once we had the data we were able to run different analysis tools through a software called SPSS and look for relationships between the variables.
We found some really interesting stuff in regards to people’s pet attachment and FoMO so watch this space for updates, as this module is running over into next semester.
Team Research Project
This is a longer module that actually requires us to work in small groups to come up with a research project and actually undertake it. This could be a survey, experiment, field observations, interviews, or a mixture of all of the above. When someone says you can research anything you like it’s practically impossible to come up with anything! So as a group, we chatted about the areas of interest we have within our own research, things we’d read about recently (I’ve quickly learnt that if you’re awake you should be reading at all times whilst doing a PhD), and came up with some interesting hypothesis.
I’m not going to spill too much on this one just yet, as we’ll be hopefully conducting the research in Jan 2023 having just got ethical approval – you must request and receive ethical approval from the university before undertaking any research, otherwise you basically can’t use the results – as well as possibly getting sued. Just like with any research it has to be grounded in theory and literature, so some of the things we’ve been exploring are self-efficacy, leadership identity, and ADHD. So watch this space for more on this one…
The semester came to a close with the entire cohort (there’s 10 of us) presenting our first academic posters to students and faculty. I’d never really heard of an academic poster before so after a lot of Googling and soaking up everything I could from the fabulous NiftyFox I took to Canva to give it a go.
After some initial feedback this is what poster version 2.0 look like and what my current research plan looks like!…
Although each module is very different, there are a lot of common threads that run through which is wonderful as it makes you feel like you’re progressing and really learning a lot. It really is like learning a new language, as well as a new culture and social etiquette.
Probably the biggest challenge this semester has been trying to find a balance between running a business, family, and studies. I’ve never really experienced ‘Mom guilt’ before (I know I’m a better parent when I work because it makes me happy and fulfilled!), but now I get ‘Business guilt’ where I feel like I’m neglecting NetKno for my studies – something I wasn’t expecting to feel.
I know that the research I want to do will hugely impact my work, and the two intertwine completely. It’s just going to take time, and patients, and a lot of hard work – I couldn’t be more excited!