It’s OK to Get Lost for a While

By Aphrodite Vlahos

To earn the title of ‘Doctor’, it takes years of research. PhD students become experts in their fields, and the discoveries they make every day have an impact on all of our lives. But what does the path to a PhD look like? Is it strictly straight and narrow, or is there a little room to manoeuvre? Here, PhD candidate Aphrodite Vlahos gives us some insight into her journey from A to B.

After four years of dissertatin’, my time as a PhD student is nearing a close. Submission is on the horizon, and with it comes the excitement of new opportunities – a new job, a new routine, working with new collaborators and new experiences.

Reflecting back on my time, it wasn’t always a straight path. When I started my PhD, I had been trained as an experimental researcher, and I came in thinking that’s what I was going to do – experimental consumer research! One of the best parts of being in a diverse department like the department of Management and Marketing, is how helpful and encouraging everyone is at doing different kinds of research.

- Aphrodite Vlahos.

During the first year of my PhD, I was exposed to new ways of thinking and doing, through qualitative research coursework and Special Topics which are, in essence, mini-projects that allow you to branch out and do some research outside of your thesis. Over that fun year of reading and trying different approaches to marketing research, I had a go at survey-work, interviewing and discourse-analysis. It’s also how I became interested in plastic surgery, as we were encouraged to think outside the box and come up with some exciting research topics to study. I even had a paper published in my first year, studying the ethics of how plastic surgery clinics build relationships with clients by pointing out everything that could be fixed on their faces and bodies, which has now opened up a new research project for me.

These opportunities opened my eyes to the different kinds of research that you can do, and the different things that you can study. I will always be grateful to that first year of coursework for that reason. Sometimes you think you have an idea of what you would like to do, but something comes along and totally changes your perceptions of what you can achieve, and what you can be. All these experiences changed my path, and I’m so thankful that these subjects were part of our training!

Of course, none of this transition would be possible without the help and support of your cheerleaders – your supervisors. My supervisors Marcus Phipps, Robin Canniford and Julie Ozanne have listened, asked questions, and guided me to through my research project studying women’s decisions to undergo plastic surgery.

There have been some great experiences too during my time. This year I became a Teaching Fellow within the department, and have lectured in Consumer Behaviour at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. I’ve experienced life as an academic, balancing teaching and research, which has been very rewarding.

Travelling for conferences has also been a highlight. I had the opportunity to visit Cornell University in upstate New York, to attend a Transformative Consumer Research conference where I met some incredible people. I’ve collaborated on some exciting research projects that explore violence against women. Next week I will be travelling to Dallas to present my research at the annual Association for Consumer Research marketing conference.

I have also had the honour of being involved in the Faculty of Business and Economics PhD Student Society – a student run society that helps organise workshops and events, like the Thesis Bootcamp; as well as liaising with the faculty about things that matter to PhD students. This year, I have taken on the role of Department Research Committee (DRC) PhD representative within the Management and Marketing department. It’s been great having a voice, and representing my peers over the year, working with the department to make decisions over things like grant opportunities and conference travel for students.

The point of all of this is that even though it might seem like I have accomplished a lot in four years – and a prospective PhD student might read this and wonder where to start – the truth is that it’s OK to get lost for a while. Experiment, try out some new kinds of research, think of some topics that excite you, and get your hands dirty. Trust the process, talk to people, ask questions and see where you wind up. I did, and it’s turned out pretty good so far.