Manchester Research Student-made

The PhD Journey

The PhD (and PGR) journey is unique for everyone. The nature of pursuing a postgraduate degree often means we are unaware of how fellow students go through the same journey, which can lead us to wondering whether we are ‘on the right path’. Spoiler: there is no one set way of completing this journey.

As you might have come to realise, having read my other pieces, I write based on my experiences. That being said, I thought it would be great to share the journey of other UoM PhD students. To give an idea of the both the similarities and differences in each person’s journey, I asked all the respondents the same set of questions.

P.S. if you are a PGR student reading this and would like to share your journey, please feel free to contact me via the UoM student news team. So, without further ado, let’s get into this.

12Pengcheng Quan
Aerospace engineering (submission pending)

Q: Why did you choose your course?
A: I was motivated by the Chinese national space exploration strategy when I chose my undergrad major, and I ended up going deeper into this field.

Q: Why did you choose UoM to study?
A: UoM was actually not my only option, however it was the only university willing to fund me.

Q: What 3-5 words best describe your PhD journey?
o Hopeful
o Successful
o Wild-goose-chase

Q: What’s the easiest part about doing a PhD?
A: Is there an easy part to doing PhD? Maybe communicating with the experts in your field, sometimes a single conversation across your viva table is worth a month’s time of reading books and doing experiments.

Q: What’s the hardest part about doing a PhD?
A: Publishing a high-quality paper!!!

Q: What three lessons will you take away from your PhD experience?
A: Just one – don’t start new research until I have read all the related papers!

Q: What do you want to do post PhD?
A: Go back to China to be a lecturer, do more experiments and publish more papers. I feel like after 4 years of research, I finally know how to design some really useful experiments and I don’t want to stop when I’ve just started.

Q: What would you do differently, if you could redo your PhD journey?
A: Review literature more thoroughly, be more focused on one single project.

Q: If you could have a redo, would you choose to do a PhD again?
A: I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is that I don’t regret my decision of doing a PhD at UoM.

Sophie Haslett
Atmospheric science (final year)

Q: Why did you choose your course?
A: I did a master’s degree in climate change and was keen to do research in that area. There were a lot of projects available, but this was the only one with the opportunity to collect measurements from a science plane flying at 100 ft over West Africa. It didn’t take a lot of persuasion!

Q: Why did you choose UoM to study?
A: The first thing that interested me was the project, but it was also a big factor to know that the department had a name for producing high-quality research in my area.

Q: What 3-5 words best describe your PhD journey?
o Haphazard
o Exciting
o Dull
o Fascinating
o Fun

Q: What’s the easiest part about doing a PhD?
A: I don’t know that ‘easy’ is the right term, but it’s nice to have such a big chunk of time that you can devote to learning about one thing, without having a whole horde of deadlines or assessments breaking it up (which has been the case in other studentships and jobs I’ve had). It gives you the space to get into it and really think it through.

Q: What’s the hardest part about doing a PhD?
A: Self-motivation, and at times a feeling of isolation. A lot of my work has been collaborative, but there have also been long stretches of time when it’s just me and the data. It’s very much a personal project, so keeping going on days when you’re less keen isn’t always easy.

Q: What three lessons will you take away from your PhD experience?
1. It’s really easy to feel like you don’t know or understand anything, in academia. It turns out everyone feels this way – and it’s often the ones who act like they know it all who actually understand the topic the least.
2. If you keep up with friends, keep doing things you enjoy and just generally don’t let work take over your life, you’ll do a better job of it and also have more fun.
3. You get out of a PhD, and of life (presumably), as much as you put into it. I don’t mean in terms of hours in front of a computer screen; I mean in terms of taking the opportunities that it makes available to you, such as going to conferences, meeting people, doing outreach, learning new skills, etc.

Q: What do you want to do post PhD?
A: I have a postdoc research position lined up at Stockholm University, where I’ll be measuring air composition in Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. I’m looking forward to staying in research for the next couple of years.

Q: What would you do differently, if you could redo your PhD journey?
A: I would probably have asked for help earlier when I wasn’t sure about things and figured out earlier who the right people to ask were.

Q: If you could have a redo, would you choose to do a PhD again?
A: I’m not sure I would want to repeat the experience, necessarily. Assuming I’ve forgotten everything about this round and had to advise my past self, though, I would definitely say it’s worth doing.

13Papiya Dattaray
School of Electrical and Electronic engineering (4th year)

Q: Why did you choose your course?
A: I have a bachelor’s degree in Electrical engineering and a master’s degree in Power system engineering. Through my master’s, and after working with GE in R&D, I developed a special interest in Power system dynamics, hence the choice.

Q: Why did you choose UoM to study?
A: While studying for my master’s degree and then working in India, I was fascinated with the idea of pursuing higher studies abroad. Then, after a six-month research stint in Dresden, Germany, I was looking for a PhD opportunity in an English-speaking country. I mostly enquired with authors of research papers in my area of interest and, from the replies I received, the project offered at Manchester was the most attractive.

Q: What 3-5 words best describe your PhD journey?
o Difficult
o Challenging
o Gruelling
o Self-discovery
o Unique

Q: What’s the easiest part about doing a PhD?
A: Getting lost.

Q: What’s the hardest part about doing a PhD?
A: Self-motivation, time management and self-regulation.

Q: What three lessons will you take away from your PhD experience?
1. Your work is your responsibility.
2. Research requires inspiration but is equally dependent on discipline and diligence.
3. Take ownership of deadlines, don’t wait for them.

Q: What do you want to do post PhD?
A: Work on applied research that is relevant to industry.

Q: What would you do differently, if you could redo your PhD journey?
A: A thousand things, including:
o Focus more on the literature survey early on, identify gaps and dead ends sooner.
o Have a better plan with internal deadlines ahead of actual deadlines.
o Treat it more like a 9-5 job, work effectively every day rather than procrastinating waiting for inspiration.
o Start writing sooner.

Q: If you could have a redo, would you choose to do a PhD again?
A: Yes, definitely; having your research published is greatly rewarding.

Kenisuomo Luwei
Mechanical Engineering (2nd year)

Q: Why did you choose your course?
A: I chose this course because of my interest in the subject area which also enhances my career as an academic.

Q: Why did you choose UoM to study?
o Some of the reasons I chose UoM was that it has a great reputation in academic and research activities both internationally and in the UK. International report rated UoM as one of the UK’s top research institutions.
o Experts in my subject area are readily available at UoM and are supportive in research supervisory roles.
o There are also great facilities available which enhances my research.

Q: What 3-5 words best describe your PhD journey?
o Inspiring
o Depressing
o Enthusiastic
o Tiring
o Fun

Q: What’s the easiest part about doing a PhD?
A: I find the research part of doing a PhD the easiest.

Q: What’s the hardest part about doing a PhD?
A: The hardest part of doing a PhD is getting to the point where you are sure your work is of high academic output.

Q: What three lessons will you take away from your PhD experience?
1. Creativity and innovation keep your project in shape and yields novelty.
2. Hope strengthens, especially during times when you feel depressed and/or frustrated.
3. Persistence will get you through to the end.

Q: What do you want to do post PhD?
A: I intend to carry on with a career in the academia.

Q: What would you do differently, if you could redo your PhD journey?
A: Have a strategic plan where my experiences will be well balanced overall.

Q: If you could have a redo, would you choose to do a PhD again?
A: No.