Lessons from a research student

04 Jun 2021 | 4 MINS

We spoke with Terence Chia about his journey as a PhD candidate at the UWA Business School. From exploring inclusive leadership to making the perfect sourdough cob, Terence tells us all about the highs and lows of embarking on a PhD.

How did you start your research journey?

“Even though I’ve always been interested in research, I used to shy away from the prospect of undertaking a PhD because it feels so daunting. However, as a psychologist interested in the study of human behaviour in the workplace, my passion in applying academic rigour to improve organisations for the benefit of organisations and employees motivated me to keep up with the latest research.

After graduating, I secured full-time employment but also continued to work part time as a research assistant with my master’s degree research supervisor, Professor Cristina Gibson. As my employment was in the field of organisational development, my research assistant work complemented my full-time role. This synergy meant I was able to lean on my work experience to enrich my research role and vice versa. This arrangement continued for five years, and when my full-time job evolved to focus on diversity and inclusion in work teams, so did the research work. Together with Professor Gibson, we crafted a research proposal for my application into the PhD program and, when I was accepted, I transitioned to a full-time student and never looked back.”

What are you researching?

“I am investigating how inclusive leaders can create a team climate that encourages team members to positively engage with differences that exist within the team, and to use these differences as an advantage to achieve team goals. Outcomes of my research can deepen the understanding of how these positive diversity team climates are created, which can be beneficial to both employees and organisations.”

What’s a common misconception when it comes to being a PhD candidate?

“A research journey can make you feel isolated but you are not alone. This journey is a marathon and not a sprint so resilience and grit is very important. Along the way, not only do you learn more about the research topic, it provides an avenue for you to evaluate, reflect and grow as a person.”

What advice would you have for those considering a higher degree by research?

“One important drive is the passion you have for the research you’re embarking on. It has to be big enough to be challenging but focused enough to not spread yourself too thin.

“Learning when to conclude a piece of work and submit it for review is another important step. Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity and your supervisor can share their experience and provide advice on when will be a good time to wrap up at certain points of your research for peer review.”

“Self-care, stress management and social networks are extremely important in this long and rewarding journey. Reach out and you will be surprised to find that support can be an email, a phone call or even just a short walk away.”

What’s a key lesson you’ve learnt?

“It’s important to balance your research work with other areas of your life. I exercise regularly by meeting up with friends to run and practise yoga. If I’m not working or exercising, I’ll be in the kitchen trying out new recipes. My latest challenge is to bake the perfect sourdough cob. Similar to the process of writing multiple drafts of a manuscript, I have been experimenting with different recipes, fermentation durations, tools and techniques to achieve that perfect sourdough cob!”

"This is a selfie I took at the Golden Gate Bridge in California, San Francisco in 2019, when I went on my first trip to the US to present at the annual Academy of Management conference - the flagship conference for my area of research. A picture can paint a thousand words and this literally shows that a research journey can take you places!" 

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