Several weeks ago, I passed my Viva Voice and got my PhD, but I am still experiencing a real emotional high. It is very exciting and unusual to be referred to as ‘Dr.’, and it means a lot to me because it took so much to get to this point in my life. In this reflective statement, I will reflect on my PhD journey using one of the best reflective models proposed by Professor Graham Gibbs in his 1988 book ‘Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods’ (Gibbs, 1988). I will go through all six stages of the model, namely description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusions, and actions, to reflect on my learning experience and share it with those considering whether to become a PhD student.
Figure 1: Gibb’s Reflective Cycle
Source: Husebo et al. (2015, p.370)
Looking back, I can say that the decision to become a PhD student did not come in one second but was rather the outcome of a lengthy cognitive process. Nearing the end of my undergraduate degree, I was writing a research essay on a marketing topic that I found interesting and engaging. Specifically, I was interested in the impact that social media influencers produced on brand recognition and consumer purchase intentions. However, it was challenging for me to find the direction the essay should take. Then, I found several articles on social media influencers’ personal qualities and skills, and that was it! The take on the selected topic was so engaging and interesting that it took me only several hours to complete the essay. It was at this moment I knew I had to dig deeper in this direction. Still, I hesitated over whether to enrol on a doctorate. I had a full-time job, and my son was only six months at the time, so it seemed very impractical to attempt to squeeze a doctoral study into my life.
It took me some time and a couple of metaphorical kicks from my professor before I finally decided to embark on a PhD journey. Luckily, by that time, I already had an idea of what kind of research I would like to undertake. As I previously noted, I was lucky enough to have a research area I cared about, so it was relatively easy for me to pick a topic for my PhD project. At the same time, I had to devote a considerable amount of time to studying the existing literature in a search of the knowledge gaps and uncharted research terrain to make my project stand out. I got considerable support and motivation from my professor, who helped me with topic selection and research design. With their support, I developed so many skills that allowed me to complete my PhD project, including critical thinking, problem-solving, and time management.
Having decided on the PhD topic, it was time for me to develop a research plan. It took about six months to sort all the things out before I was ready to work on the project full time. Back then, I had to devise a comprehensive research methodology that would allow me to achieve the research aim and objectives. However, the aim and objectives had to be designed in the first place. That is why my PhD journey began with extensive literature search and reading. I read through hundreds upon hundreds of research articles published in reputable marketing, management, psychology, and business journals to get a good grasp of the selected research topic and the associated research problem. I also read a range of books on social media marketing to get a better understanding of how social media influencers operate and what principles they follow in their activities (Heinze et al., 2016; Tuten & Solomon, 2017).
One of the major challenges I faced during this phase was access to relevant literature. Although I had access to my university library and several academic databases, it was difficult to find the articles that examined the selected topic in detail. On the one hand, I was prepared for this challenge, because my PhD topic was relatively complex and ground-breaking, which partly explains why there was a lack of relevant literature. On the other hand, I was still able to find several suitable theoretical models that I thought would help me in framing my study and devising a model relevant to my research topic. Carrying out the literature review was a very challenging task, due to its complexity and extensiveness. Sometimes I felt exhausted reading through endless articles and finding little relevant information and data in them. Still, this process was crucial in gaining an understanding of how to make the process of reviewing academic literature as effective as possible.
After some time of reading all the articles I could find, I realised that the result of such an approach to literature review was suboptimal, as I spent a lot of time reading, but the value added to my thesis was minimal. At some point, I started to read abstracts and executive summaries instead of reading full articles. I also narrowed down the field of study to make the process more efficient and filter out unnecessary and irrelevant articles. The completion of this phase has significantly contributed not only to my knowledge and understanding of the selected thesis topic but also propelled the development of my critical thinking and critical writing skills. I have learnt to quickly differentiate between the literature sources that add value to my study and those that are irrelevant. I have also learnt how to structure and organise the process of literature searching and reviewing effectively and efficiently. Finally, my ability to spot and build my argument upon the key debates in the field, as well as identify the weaknesses of particular articles and books, has also been improved. If I were assigned this task once more, I would use all the knowledge and experience I gained to make the process of literature review faster and less exhausting.
Once the literature review phase was complete, the knowledge gaps were identified, and the thesis aim and objectives were formulated, I commenced the development of a research methodology. Although I had an idea of how I would like to carry out my study, my professor’s advice was eye-opening, as they provided helpful guidance, explaining what would work and what would not in my particular case. I was very happy and grateful for their help, because it saved me a lot of time and effort and I was able to focus on what was feasible. With this knowledge in mind, I managed to devise a comprehensive research methodology specifically tailored to the aim and objectives of my PhD project. However, I also realised that I could not use all the data collection instruments and analysis methods I would like to, because I had limited resources. Moreover, it was impossible to draw a large sample representative of the whole population of social media users, which also affected the reliability and validity of my methodology and, consequently, research findings. If I were to conduct another PhD study, I would make my methodology more positivist and scientific-like, so I could generalise from my findings rather than making them applicable only to a narrow context.
The analysis phase was even more challenging, because I had to transcribe and make sense of all the data I collected. Since it was a really large amount, I spent four weeks organising the data, while its analysis and interpretation took another eight weeks. The completion of this phase has allowed me to further develop my computer and software skills, as I had to extensively use such analytical instruments as Microsoft Excel, SPSS, and NVivo. However, before analysing data, I had to read several books to make sure I can handle these pieces of software and have a strong foundation for using those (Babbie et al., 2015; George & Mallery, 2016; Creswell & Creswell, 2017). My critical thinking skills have also been further developed, because I had to uncover and synthesise multiple links and connections found in the data set that had previously been unclear. In my opinion, gathering more data from a larger number of respondents could have allowed for establishing more links between variables and making my PhD study more comprehensive and detailed.
Once all the aforementioned phases were completed, I had to package my PhD thesis by preparing its final draft. Proofreading a document that contains 150+ pages was not an easy task, especially when several iterations of the final draft were produced. Doing this work myself was a valuable experience, because I was able to make sure every bit of information and content is located where it should be, as well as making sure the manuscript is properly organised. However, given my other commitments and responsibilities, I could have spent more time with my family instead of investing hours upon hours in proofreading. Overall, despite all the challenges and difficulties, I am really happy I made this journey and had the most exciting experience of my whole academic career.
Babbie, E., Wagner, W., & Zaino, J. (2015). Adventures in Social Research: Data Analysis Using IBM® SPSS® Statistics. SAGE.
Creswell, J., & Creswell, D. (2017). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. SAGE.
George, D., & Mallery, P. (2016). IBM SPSS Statistics 23 Step by Step: A Simple Guide and Reference. Routledge.
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods. FEU.
Heinze, A., Fletcher, G., Rashid, T., & Cruz, A. (2016). Digital and Social Media Marketing: A Results-Driven Approach. Routledge.
Husebo, S., O’Regan, S., & Nestel, D. (2015). Reflective practice and its role in simulation. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 11(8), 368-375. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecns.2015.04.005
Tuten, T., & Solomon, M. (2017). Social Media Marketing. SAGE.