PhD study at Sheffield is a great preparation my future

Yijia Zuo
Dr Yijia Zuo
PhD student
PhD in Psychology and Education
Dr Yijia Zuo's PhD in Psychology and Education trained her to be an independent and critical researcher, and more confident and open-minded in her personal life.

I came to the University of Sheffield in 2011 to study a masters degree in psychology and education. The masters course is so well-designed and content-rich that stimulated my interests in studying psychology-related topics.

I started to think about doing a PhD degree at the middle of my postgraduate study. As soon as I identified my interests, I approached Professor Tom Billington to be my supervisor because the topics I was interested in are in the field of his expertise.

Therefore, it was a natural progression for me to pursue a PhD degree in the area that I am keen to explore.

At the beginning of my PhD study, I did not have specific expectations but only looking forward to the DTC course provided by the faculty of social science to train new PhDs.

The course offers a series of seminars such as foundation of social science, qualitative and quantitative methods for social science, and research ethics and integrity, which are very helpful for new students to start their own PhD journey.

Dr Yijia Zuo

PhD in Psychology and Education

In fact, the University not only met my previous expectations but also offered me something that I have not imagined but I am very grateful.

Firstly, I received high-quality tutorials regularly from Tom throughout the whole process of my PhD study. He always gave me adequate and effective advice and challenges for not only keeping me on track, but also encouraging me to follow my own research interests and play with different ideas, theories and arguments from various disciplines such as sociology, psychology and philosophy.

At the meantime, he also provided mental support for me to cope with my emotions especially when I was frustrated during my study. He created an optimistic environment in which I could work efficiently and have a sense of fun and enjoyment of my study.

Secondly, doing PhD at Sheffield gave me an opportunity to communicate with people who come from different backgrounds and study in different areas. For example, I went to several international conferences in which I had chances to communicate with and learn from other professionals who have different research interests and knowledge.

In addition, the School of Education holds writing groups regularly for students to communicate with lecturers and professors. PhD students also organise research students’ conferences in social science for students to share ideas about each other’s studies.

The Centre of Psychology and Education in the University of Sheffield that I am in holds academic activities for people from both academic and non-academic areas to work with each other. Communicating with different people opened my mind and helped to think wider and deeper about my own research.

Thirdly, University of Sheffield provides opportunities for PhD students to do part-time teaching jobs. I have taught Mandarin language as a language teacher in Confucius Institute and School of East Asian Studies, BA programme (Child Psychology) in School of Education, and supervised masters students’ dissertations. In doing so, the practical skills such as teaching and supervising students are well developed. In sum, PhD training not only met my needs but also provided more than what I expected.

​​​​​​There are so many highlights during my time studying in the School of Education. Firstly, I enjoyed the transformative process of my research which was full of uncertainty and unpredictability.

My research, which explored self-constructions/transformations in a transcultural context via looking at the second generation Chinese immigrant young people’s narratives regarding their life experiences in the UK, was driven by my research interests, research questions, theories, and data interpretations, all of which have been through a process of transformation.

Dr Yijia Zuo

The research questions guided me to adopt social constructionist approach and psychodynamic (mainly object relations theory) via which the data were interpreted. However, one more research question emerged from the research outcomes that guided me to integrate Chinese philosophy with the Western theories that I adopted, which means the theoretical framework has been changed after data interpretation.

In light of this, the thesis writing feels like a jigsaw puzzle game, in which all the theories, methodology and methods, and data interpretations need to be structured in a way that make sense to both the researcher and the readers. In addition, as an international student who conducted research in a transcultural context, I had to cope with linguistic and cultural issues.

For example, my interview transcripts are in three languages – English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, how to retain the meanings of participants’ narratives to the maximum possible extent and interpret them with consideration of different cultural values was the challenge I faced to.

PhD study was a difficult journey because it was hard to predict the next place you will go and what kinds of difficulties you will meet. However, uncertainty is exactly the charm of it because through PhD study you will explore your potential, improve your ability, and construct the better self.

I had a very enjoyable viva with very minor corrections. Having Dr Penny Fogg as my internal examiner and Professor Richard Smith as my external examiner, the viva feels more like a lovely talk about my thesis in-depth rather than an ‘examination’. 

The recognition and admiration I got from these two experts have hugely stimulated my confidence as being an independent researcher and a thesis writer. Their comments and suggestions about my thesis are hugely helpful for me to not only to make the thesis better but also plan my future career.

I always looked forward to the tutorials. My colleagues always said I look happier after my supervision. Tom is very knowledgeable, gentle, and caring. What I learnt from him will have a profound impact on the rest of my life.

PhD study at Sheffield is a great preparation not only for my future career but also for my future life. Professionally, the course successfully trained me to be an independent researcher who can not only think critically and work efficiently but also enjoy the research and study. The research and writing skills I have learnt from the course will help me to publish my work and develop my future academic career.

Personally, the knowledge I gained from my study helped me to be more confident in other aspects of my life. It opened my mind and encouraged me to give dynamic interpretations about life and human beings for which I am very appreciative. In sum, the journey of my PhD study allows me to understand that there always are challenges and opportunities behind uncertainty and unpredictable difficulties to enhance my capacity of self-development.

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