Essex Business School

Introduction to research degrees

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Professor Martyna Sliwa poses inside the Essex Business School building.

"Get in touch with our staff and have a conversation with them. Find out from them what they think of your idea."

Essex Business School's Postgraduate Research Director, Professor Martyna Sliwa, introduces research degrees at the school and provides advice for prospective PhD students on writing their research proposal.

My name is Martyna Sliwa and I am a Professor of Management and the Director of Postgraduate Research at Essex Business School.

Director of Postgraduate Research at Essex Business School

I oversee and lead on the provision of our graduate research programmes offered by the Business School. The Business School consists of five subject groups and within each of the subject groups we have PhD students, either on PhD programmes or on integrated PhD programmes, which start with a Masters programme and then allow students to progress seamlessly onto the PhD.

Each of our PhD students has got a very unique programme of study so, in a sense, they each have a unique subject that they specialise in. I ensure that we create an environment for our doctoral students in which they can flourish as researchers and can be prepared for their future careers and so they can do their research work independently.  

As a dual intensive university, we prioritise both teaching and research, therefore, all of our academic staff are active researchers in their own field. I think perhaps my story of how I got to where I am is relevant to the way we do postgraduate research here at Essex. My first undergraduate degree was in Economics with International Relations. Then I went on to do another bachelors program in Management and followed on from that with a Masters in International Management and finally I did a PhD in Management.

I gradually moved from economics and international relations, disciplines which are more macro-level and quantitative, to disciplines which are much more organisational with a focus on individuals. This is what I'm most interested in, and so my own research is now micro-level and more on the qualitative data side.

What makes research at Essex Business School unique?

I think that we are very well positioned, especially for PhD students. We have a lovely combination of the mainstream subjects and we have a solid grounding in key areas of management and management-related disciplines, such as accounting and finance. We have strength in qualitative-based approaches, such as organisational ethnography, as well as in highly quantitative econometric approaches. So we cover the entire spectrum, if you like, of what business schools can deliver.

We have some really strong and world-class researchers and academics who work for us. At the same time, I think that the fact that we are part of a Social Sciences Faculty gives us a very strong connection to the other departments at the University of Essex and demonstrates our institutional emphasis on interdisciplinary exploration. This allows us to be really open to innovative and original research.

Doing things differently is a very Essex message and I do believe that we represent this in the Business School.

If somebody comes to us to do a PhD, and we are able to supervise, then we will help you do your research rather than telling you that you need to do it in a particular way. We have the openness to supervise both within a subject group, but also across different subject groups or across departments.

For example, we have a student who is currently doing a PhD and one supervisor is based in the Accounting Group and another supervisor is in the Department of Government. That is the kind of unique thing we can offer.

I think this is a really great combination for PhD students, people who come up with ideas about what it is they would like to do. They have this kind of intellectual curiosity and independence about them and we are able to say that we have experienced researchers and we will do the things that we have the knowledge and expertise to facilitate, but at the same time we are able to take it a step further. We can level up if you have a topic that is a little bit quirky or off the beaten track, we are very welcoming towards that.

I don't think that every business school is capable of doing it and cherishes these opportunities to the same extent as we do.

But also, if you have a completely mainstream topic, we are perfectly capable and competent to supervise.

Our PhD community

At the moment, we have about 100 active PhD students across all of our five areas of study. We have a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities within our PhD community.

I would like to praise and comment on how our PhD students are very supportive of each other and I believe that they are a mutually supportive PhD community amongst themselves. They become friends and socialise with each other and a lot of that is down to the size of PhD programme that we offer. It’s possible for people to get to know each other and not get lost and yet there are enough people to make up a thriving and active community.

Our PhD students all have different histories. Some are very fresh from their undergraduate or postgraduate taught studies and some have families and have already had careers before. We have a very diverse community in terms of work and how people mix that with their lives.

While many of our students come from all over the world, some of them are actually local success stories from Essex and some have even studied here previously. Our PhD community is a perfect example of Essex's local and global approach to teaching, research and community.

We offer really good supervision and a high-quality approach to building constructive supervisory relationships because, of course, for PhD students that is the most important relationship and the first port of call is always the supervisor.

We always have teams of two people supervising a PhD student and I hope that students find that what we offer is a well-structured programme with clear expectations. I think I can say that with a degree of confidence.

A PhD is still a degree. It's not a completely abstract and mysterious project that people undertake only if they are exceptional. I think that what we are able to offer to people who do a PhD with us is a really good transition from the Masters programme or even from a Bachelor’s degree to what it means to become an independent researcher and help them prepare for something different every year.

While I am the overall Director of Postgraduate Research at Essex Business School, we also have PhD Directors within each of the five subject groups that make up Essex Business School so we get to know the community very well indeed.

Students are attached to their subject groups and have supervisors who work individually with each PhD student.

Demystifying PhDs

I am really keen on demystifying PhDs. I'm very mindful of the fact that there are a lot of cultural variations here in England and a PhD is not always seen as an obvious option for people, I think it is seen as a ‘nice to have’ option. But it’s not just about being a research academic. It’s about many different careers where the sort of skills that people gain through a PhD can be really useful. I'd like to encourage our current Masters and Undergraduate students because it’s a good option and can open up different corners of the job market.

I think sometimes people are put off because of the specific way you have to apply for a PhD programme and that they have to submit a proposal. As part of demystifying PhDs I’d advise people who are thinking of doing a PhD to get in touch with a staff member who they think is doing research in an area that they might be interested in and then talk to them.

This means that when they submit a proposal through the admissions system, this doesn't have to be the first time they’ve had contact with someone here at the Business School.

Please, get in touch with our staff and have a conversation with them. Find out from them what they think of your idea. We want to know that you’d like to do a PhD but also that you’re capable of doing a PhD and to remove the barriers of the unknown.

For example, how to write a PhD proposal. Many people don’t know at all but if you speak to us then we can help you to understand what a PhD proposal involves so that what they put in their application is well developed and they are less likely to get rejected.

Development of the proposal can be a collaborative process between the PhD candidate and the supervisor.

I am very much interested in organisations and individuals within organisations and also organisations which operate internationally. I am interested in phenomena affecting organisations which are connected to internationalisation and globalisation.

I am especially interested in diversity in organisations and those aspects of diversity which are particularly connected to internationalisation and globalisation, such as linguistic diversity, but then I am also very passionate about how different aspects of diversity intersect in organisations, such as cultural, ethnicity and nationality, different linguistic backgrounds, but also gender, different class backgrounds, different generations. I am interested in how they interact, but also what are the outcomes this diversity has for both individual careers, the experience of individuals in the workplace, but also what outcomes it has for organisations in terms of organisational hierarchies and power relations in organisations.

My research is very typical of Essex as it is very interdisciplinary. I draw on work from the broader social sciences and humanities at the same time, it's certainly still informed by my background in seeing the macro-economic elements but also more informed by micro and the qualitative findings.

My research

I am very much interested in organisations and individuals within organisations and also organisations which operate internationally. I am interested in phenomena affecting organisations which are connected to internationalisation and globalisation.

I am especially interested in diversity in organisations and those aspects of diversity which are particularly connected to internationalisation and globalisation, such as linguistic diversity, but then I am also very passionate about how different aspects of diversity intersect in organisations, such as cultural, ethnicity and nationality, different linguistic backgrounds, but also gender, different class backgrounds, different generations. I am interested in how they interact, but also what are the outcomes this diversity has for both individual careers, the experience of individuals in the workplace, but also what outcomes it has for organisations in terms of organisational hierarchies and power relations in organisations.

My research is very typical of Essex as it is very interdisciplinary. I draw on work from the broader social sciences and humanities at the same time, it's certainly still informed by my background in seeing the macro-economic elements but also more informed by micro and the qualitative findings.