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What it's like to be a doctoral student - interviews

Here we have collected interviews with some of our doctoral students at the University. You can reach the interviews by clicking on the names below.

An interview with Lukas Linnér, doctoral student within Health and Lifestyle specialising in Sport Psychology at Halmstad University.

What’s the subject of your research?

”My research revolves around my ongoing doctoral project entitled ‘The road to a degree and the podium – a digital service to support Swedish student-athletes dual careers’. In collaboration with the Swedish sports confederation, I am in the process of developing a digital support service to promote optimal career development for Swedish student-athletes whom combines elite sports with higher education. I am encouraged in this task having myself combined elite sport with studies, as a college golf player in the USA.”

What’s it like to be a doctoral student?

“It’s characterized by creativity and freedom. I organize my work independently and I thrive on the responsibility this implies. I have long-term and strategic goals which I then break down to carry out planning on a day-to-day basis."

“As a researcher, I like being part of a greater whole. Through my efforts I contribute to the development of knowledge and society with the focus on enabling Swedish athlete’s to reach their goals and to feel well along the way.”

Can you describe a typical day?

“In my position here as a doctoral student I have 80 per cent research and 20 per cent departmental duties, where for example teaching and administrative tasks are included. The greater part of my day I spend in front of the computer – I plan, read and write. I also spend some time teaching.”

What’s it like to teach?

“It’s really fun but can also be quite hard work. It’s fun to be in the classroom, but above all it’s fun to follow the students and their development. So much is going on from the first semester until the last year; they grow and start to think in new ways. There’s also an amount of administration linked to teaching and that’s not always as fun."

“At the same time, the planning of the teaching can take up a lot of time, especially before one’s familiar with it. To cope with all the work in the time available can be a challenge. It’s essential to be vigilant so that teaching doesn’t have a negative impact on your research – as a doctoral student, after all, one has a lot of “time”, that is, one’s calendar is not packed and one can appear as having a lot of time, but that’s not the case in reality."

“The teaching contributes to making one’s everyday life more dynamic. Sometimes I also feel like a local celebrity; indeed I’ve taught hundreds of students over the years I’ve worked here and many of them turn up now and again, in different contexts. They often come up and say hi. That is a great strength of Halmstad University – there’s proximity between teachers, researchers and students that we must take care off.”

Have you any tips for new doctoral students?

“I’ll give them the same advice as my supervisor once gave me. That is: think “good enough!” You can work on your teaching endlessly in order to achieve really good or “perfect” quality. But decide on a time frame and keep to it. Set clear goals and avoid trying to achieve perfection since whatever you do, you won’t achieve that and that’s perfectly fine. If there’s any teaching situation which you find difficult, be open about it and speak to your colleagues so you can get support and help."

“As a doctoral student you enter into a new world. You must understand the academic environment and the structures and relations that exist there. As for me, it has been important to learn from the tales and experiences of other doctoral students; those who have longer experience than I have so far. They help one to understand the wider picture in which we operate. It also means a lot to be in a context together with other doctoral students, to be able to speak openly and share challenges and experiences.”

An interview with Jennifer David, doctoral student within Information Technology at Halmstad University.

Jennifer David comes from India and is a doctoral student in Embedded and Intelligent Systems. She is working at Halmstad University together with many other researchers from different parts of the world. Jennifer David thinks that the cultural exchange both opens up the mind and is good for her personal development.

What is your research field?

– I work with strategic vehicle research and innovation, specialising in autonomous trucks i.e. trucks that drive themselves. The project is called Cargo-ANTs and is financed by the European Union. The idea is that automatically steered vehicles will be able to navigate themselves through cargo terminals; at the same time making the journey both quicker and safer. My research involves developing algorithms, which plan the routes of the autonomous vehicles making sure they avoid all the obstacles to reach their destinations.

What is it like to be a doctoral student?

– It is basically research work, and therefore it is often hectic. On some occasions it is stressful as you have a deadline to reach, but on other occasions it's much more fun. It also depends on how much you put into it yourself and how much guidance you receive. You need to work hard every day, and with proper guidance things become increasingly easier. It's just like any other job really, but a little bit more "geeky".

So what is a typical day like for you?

– Most mornings are busy with meetings and lectures; either teaching or being taught. In the afternoons, we might work with something to be ready for a deadline. It could be writing a scientific article, or to have everything ready for a new experiment. You must be extremely organised to be able to prioritise and focus on just one thing at a time.

What is it like to come to Sweden to do your PhD?

– Most Swedes speak English very well, so communication is not a problem. To be honest, people have been both very helpful and pleasant. At the university, I work at the laboratory for intelligent systems and there are many people who come from different parts of the world. I have several friends at the lab that help me with everything possible and we socialise, not only during working hours, but also in our spare time. It helps you to get to know different cultures; which opens up your mind to see the world in a broader perspective. It is also good for your own personal development.

What is it like to teach?

– I have not yet taught myself, but I have been a teaching assistant for a course on "cyber-physical systems" (CPS). In fact, the students helped me to understand the concepts better from different perspectives as teaching is a process in which both the teacher and student learn from each other.

Do you have any advice for new doctoral students?

– I would say it is more fun if you see yourself as a scientist, working on research, rather than as a student. It's better to be only dependent on your supervisor in your the first year and then try to become more and more independent. Of course you need help being a postgraduate student, but not with everything.

– During your time as a PhD student you will experience both ups and downs in your research. Therefore, after five years you have not only got your PhD degree, but you have also learned about life itself and how it works.

Text and photo: Mikael Evard

An interview with Michal Lysek, doctoral student within Innovation Sciences at Halmstad University.

Michal Lysek is an industrial doctoral student in Innovation Sciences. He feels that life as a doctoral student means both freedom and self-discipline when it comes to his own time.

What is your research field?

– My focus is on "innovation management". My research includes a case study of the industrial communication company: HMS Industrial Networks AB, focusing on three areas. HMS' past: What did the HMS do to become a world leader in industrial communication? Present: Why is HMS not as innovative today compared to what they were before? Future: What does HMS need to do to continue to be innovative in the future?

What is it like to be a doctoral student?

– It is great fun. It suits people who like to work a lot and also those who like to have a large say in the decisions concerning their work. Of course, I have some meetings and courses that I must attend, but apart from this, I can decide my own working hours.

– I do not teach at the University. My doctoral student position is designed that instead of teaching, I spend working on my projects at HMS.

What is it like being a doctoral student while at the same time being linked to a company?

– As an industrial doctoral student, you have to be prepared to work a lot and work hard. I have pretty long hours, even at weekends. However, I do have a fixed salary which is probably better than what many qualified professionals with a PhD degree normally have, so I do not waste time applying and looking for research grants or other forms of income. Before I started my doctoral education, I worked as a development engineer (programming) at HMS, and I have the same salary now as then.

– The best thing about being an industrial doctoral student is the freedom of being able to work how you want, and the knowledge that you get. In the end, it is the result and what I have achieved that counts. Within HMS we have the saying: "freedom with responsibility". Furthermore, innovation is also an incredibly exciting field of research.

So what is a typical day like for you?

– My working day is very much steered by what has to be done. If I need to collect empirical data, I work at HMS. If I need to collect new knowledge or analyse the data that I already have, I work at the university. Some days I am at the library. Other days I work from home as I have a large work desk full of documents and materials that I need to work my way through. I decide myself where to work. In the afternoon, for example, I might take a break to collect my daughter from the kindergarten, spend some time with the family, and then work later in the evening.

Do you have any advice for new doctoral students?

– You have a lot less time than you think, so do not waste it. You need to start collecting data and analysing as soon as possible. The most important thing is to find a direction of your research; however, this can be very difficult. As a doctoral student, you can choose one of two paths. Either you start by reading as many scientific publications as possible to form a solid theoretical base. However, be careful as you can get stuck reading other peoples' articles for 2 / 3 years before you find your own direction. The second way is to start by collecting empirical data, analyse it; thus, letting the results show you the way. That was what I did, which I think worked for me. It helped me in both focusing and finding my direction.

- A good idea is to study at least one good course in classical methodology to find a way to conduct your research that suits you. In my case it was "grounded theory" that helped me get on with my work. It is the method that inspired me, and the method I use in connection with all the research I do.

Text and photo: Mikael Evard

An interview with Hassan Mashad Nemati, doctoral student within Information Technology at Halmstad University.

What is it like to come from another country and become an Industrial doctoral student at Halmstad University? Hassan Mashad Nemati comes from Iran and is a doctoral student in Embedded and Intelligent Systems.

What is your research field?

– My research project is in collaboration with the company Halmstads Energi och Miljö AB (Halmstads Energy and Environment) known as HEM. The aim of the project is to reduce the number of power cuts in the supply of electricity. We investigate and implement data mining techniques to detect errors, prevent power failures, and optimise up-keeping and maintenance.

– On average, there is a power failure about 20 minutes per customer per year in HEM's network. The company's primary goal is to reduce this to 10 minutes or less per customer.

What is it like to be a doctoral student?

– Sometimes it is stressful, especially when there is a deadline or when you start a new experiment. But as a doctoral student, you get the best of both worlds because you are both a researcher and a student. You are responsible for your project, but at the same time, you have a supervisor who will both help and guide you. You are required to teach, but you also have the freedom to study your own courses. You also have the opportunity to participate in conferences all around the world and to meet fellow researchers.

– So for the most part, I really like being a doctoral student and having the opportunity to create something that is interesting and useful.

So what is a typical day like for you?

– I do not think there is any such thing as a typical day for a doctoral student. Every day there is something that has high priority and needs to be done right there and then. It can be e.g. working with new experiments, writing a scientific article, meeting with your supervisors or preparing information or PowerPoint presentations for lectures.

What is it like to come to Sweden to do your PhD?

– In the beginning it may be difficult to adapt your lifestyle to the new environment. However, I do think it is easier to study or work in Sweden than in many other European countries. Everything in Sweden is very well organised and everything is based on fixed rules. Therefore, you can easily adapt. Almost everyone speaks English, so you do not really need to learn Swedish for doing simple things such as shopping, travelling or communicating.

What is it like being a docotral student while at the same time being linked to a company?

– I currently work at the company one day a week, but this will probably increase in the future. At HEM I have an office and access to their systems. It's really good that I can regularly meet and speak with the company's own experts. For the rest of the week, I'm at the university. Working with a company involves a lot of responsibility because you are faced with real practical problems and my research leads to solutions in real situations. The task is of course challenging, but above all, motivating and fun.

What is it like to teach?

– I really enjoy teaching; in fact, my mother was a teacher too. To teach is a skill that I think will be very useful for me in the future. Basically, you need to explain different subjects in a way that is easy for the students to understand. It is a good skill to have as it will help you when making your own presentations at conferences as well as writing articles.

Do you have any advice for new doctoral students?

– Try to get yourself some hobbies, and enjoy the days off you have at the weekends. Meet new friends and go out with them and have fun together. I also think that it is a good idea to exercise regularly when you are a doctoral student because most of the time you are sitting and working in front of a computer.

Text och photo: Mikael Evard

Updated 2018-03-16