Gordon Jack is a Ph.D. student in the department of Business and Management at Heriot-Watt University, with his current research interests focussing on management in highly autonomous environments.  Gordon’s work analyses whether or not people can in fact be managed in setting of quasi low-authority, including the judicial, medical and academic systems.  Gordon received an MSc in Strategic Project Management from Heriot-Watt University in 2013 having gained a BSc (Hons) in Building Surveying from the same institution.  His teaching commitments have included undergraduate Business Management and Business Entrepreneurship at 1st and 3rd year level respectively, with publications including ‘Who’d be a Dean’ from the Association of Business Schools.

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But PhDs are only for smart people, and there’s no way I am smart enough for one is one of many reticent statements that any new research student will undoubtedly consider when embarking on this new journey.  I swore blind after my first degree that I would never return to academia, as I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the teaching nor the subject I studied, let alone the work experience that I am glad I did to rectify my decision not to pursue that particular career.  A failed stint in retail management, culminating in the apprehension of shoplifters, saw a return to university for postgraduate education, after which I was subsequently offered an extremely appealing research position with two very well respected management scholars.  I couldn’t possibly refuse.  If you are in the midst of deciding whether or not to take the plunge and do a PhD, there are a few considerations you may wish to ponder before doing so, a few of which I have outlined concisely below.

 

It can be a 9-5 if you want it to be

Some research students attend campus every weekday, from 9 or 10 in the morning and stay to 5 or 6.  If you are able to adhere to this structured approach, great!  However, if not, a PhD may still be an option for you.  The flexibility and autonomy that go with the post can be extremely accommodating to some people’s schedule and other commitments, and depending on your supervisors, you can be given free reign.  So long as you are getting the work done, there is little for them to get grumpy about.

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Management of others

You are treated like a member of staff even though you are a student, which is a great feeling.  However, I bet as a student you didn’t think you’d be managing anyone – incorrect.  Supervisors need managed, and the better they are, the more they need managed.  Academics are busy people and at risk of repetition, the better they are, the more precious their time will be.  Research supervision will form a minute part of their workload and they will usually support you unconditionally, however, you as the mentee need to tell them what you want and need, and sometimes remind them several hundred times before you get it.

 

Expectations

Being truthful, I didn’t know what to expect.  I was under the impression before I started that I wanted some kind of routine and structure, which is far from what you get in a university environment.  In the midst of my MSc, I applied for secondary school teacher training and allegedly wasn’t qualified enough.  Now, however, I have taught the breadth of undergraduate levels and subjects, together with marking examination and coursework scripts, setting examination questions and sitting on various boards of progression for the courses I have been part of.  I would not have been in such a fortunate position today had I not taken the plunge into PhD life, and if you have the slightest inclination you might enjoy it and be good at it, give it all you’ve got.

 

Picture by Robert Couse-Baker under CC license.