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Life as a Doctoral Student

To give a picture of our doctoral education, we have conducted a number of interviews with current and former doctoral students. You can read the interviews to get an insight into their experiences of doctoral studies with us.

A Socially Engaged Swot

Name: Doris Lydahl
Age: 34
Born: Västerås
Education: PhD student 2012–2017 at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Sociology and Work Science. 
Employment: Currently running a project on welfare technology through shared employment between the Gothenburg Region and the University of Gothenburg. 

What are you working on right now (2021)?
I’m running a three-year project (2020–2023) on the values of welfare technology, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond’s Flexit programme. The programme aims to strengthen links between the university and external organisations. I’m employed by the Gothenburg Region’s local authorities, and will then return to complete the project at the University of Gothenburg.

Based on ethnographic, exploratory and practice-based case studies, I investigate how elderly care staff are affected by welfare technology when it is introduced at their workplaces.

Can you describe your research? 
My research involves the intersection between policy and practice. I study what happens when policy is rolled out and put into practice in healthcare, psychiatry and care for the elderly.

I study what happens when policy is rolled out and put into practice in healthcare, psychiatry and care for the elderly.

More specifically, I’m interested in what tends to be taken for granted: everyday life and day-to-day, routine work. Drawing on insights from sociology and science and technology studies, I see these as sites where politics, science and technology come together, and where their normativities, values and orders are enacted, adapted and worked with. 

What makes your research stand out?
My current project sheds light on caring for the elderly. Working as an assistant nurse in care for the elderly is Sweden’s most common job. By focusing on day-to-day and routine work, I describe situations that many people can relate to.

By focusing on day-to-day and routine work, I describe situations that many people can relate to.

Since I often work ethnographically, my articles include field notes that give colour and life to my more theoretical arguments. 

How did you become interested in research? 
It was actually only by chance that I started doing research. No one in my family has studied higher education before. I didn’t even know you could do doctoral studies when I started university. It was only during my Master’s programme that the idea of applying for doctoral studies took root.

No one in my family has studied higher education before. I didn’t even know you could do doctoral studies when I started university. 

I’ve always been socially and politically engaged in various ways, while also being a real swot, so doctoral studies felt like a good way to continue studying while also fighting to make the world a little better. 

What was the best part of being a doctoral student? 
The fact that I learned so much and got to know so many people through doctoral courses, conferences and workshops. Although my doctoral studies weren’t always a bed of roses, it’s great to have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a subject for five years. 

Did you learn anything important from your doctoral studies? 
As a doctoral student, it’s important to trust the system. You’ve been accepted. You’re in the right place. And you will finish, even if it feels impossible at times. 

Was there anything that you found difficult?
Sometimes I doubted that I would ever complete my thesis, and at times I felt very alone in the whole process of writing it. As a researcher ‘on the other side I therefore try to help create environments and contexts to make doctoral students feel less alone and more like an important part of a wider context. 

What was your relationship with other doctoral students like?
My fellow doctoral students and my other colleagues were extremely important, both scientifically and socially. I probably wouldn’t have made it through my studies if it wasn’t for all the lunches, where I got to have a laugh and let go of all my worries about performance and thesis writing.

I shared my study space with Öncel Naldemirci, and I wrote my first scientific article with him. It was through our collaboration that I learnt the scientific craft.

What are your plans for the future? 
I’ll continue my project on the values of welfare technology. In the spring, the Nordic Journal for Science and Technology Studies is issuing a special issue on Care in STS, which I guest edited together with my colleague Lisa Lindén.  

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about applying for third-cycle education? 
Contact the doctoral students at the department where you intend to apply! They can give you inside information about what it’s like and tips for thinking about subjects, supervisors and third-cycle courses. 

Anything else you want to say? 
Most of the time, research is great fun. It’s a privilege to delve deeper into a topic or an issue that you’re interested in, and there are few things that make me as happy as conducting interviews and observations. My experience is that it’s possible to have an influence and make a difference.

My experience is that it’s possible to have an influence and make a difference.

For example, through my thesis project, in which I studied the implementation of person-centred care, I’ve been invited to give lectures and workshops at both practitioner and management levels. This has enabled me to have an impact on how a person-centred approach is used in the region I studied. 

Doris Lydahl

Menstrual Activist with an Academic Career

Name: Josefin Persdotter
Age: 35
Born: Mölndal
Education: Bachelor’s degree in sociology, Master’s degree in European studies
Employment: Doctoral student (now PhD) at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Sociology and Work Science.

What are you working on right now (2021)?
In a couple of months I’ll have completed the first draft of my entire thesis, so I’m currently busy writing.

Can you describe your research? 
My research is about the concept of menstrual dirt. It’s based on the fact that menstruation is largely defined as a hygiene issue, a matter of dirt and cleanliness. I focus on dirt in connection with a couple of everyday menstrual technologies and ask the question: What is defined as dirt?

What is defined as dirt?

What happens when menstruation becomes – and is made – dirty? Which actors are involved in the creation of dirt? How are menstruators affected by dirtiness? For example, what does worrying about smelling bad involve? And how much time and effort do menstruators put into cleaning bloody toilets?

What makes your research stand out?
Critical menstruation research has been defined as a discipline in recent years, and has created a foundation for continued work on this overlooked subject. Although a great deal has happened in the last decade, including within society as a whole, there is still a lot to be done.

In sociology, menstruation has been shamefully unexplored, but the trend has definitely turned. Dirt and dirtiness occupy a similar position in academia. Focusing on menstrual dirtiness also stands out in relation to critical menstruation studies. In the past, researchers have distanced themselves from the so-called hygienisation of menstruation, whereas I argue that we should approach it and turn it inside out.

In the past, researchers have distanced themselves from the so-called hygienisation of menstruation, whereas I argue that we should approach it and turn it inside out.

How did you become interested in research?
I had been a menstrual activist for several years when I decided to make a real commitment after having worked in international administration assistance. I found it hard to be a small cog in a big machine. So I handed in my notice and started carving out a menstrual career.


I found it hard to be a small cog in a big machine.vSo I handed in my notice and started carving out a menstrual career.

I wrote an essay about menstruation, gave lectures on menstruation and staged menstrual art exhibitions. It took a long time before I actually thought it was achievable, that I could be a researcher! For a long time, turning a sociology into a career was an extremely abstract idea. I grew up among musicians and engineers, and had very little idea about how careers in sociology worked. I probably thought I wasn’t ‘one of them’.

What’s the best thing about being a doctoral student? 
The best thing for me is working in such a concrete way to advance the knowledge situation in a field that I’m so passionate about. It’s a real privilege.

The best thing for me is working in such a concrete way to advance the knowledge situation in a field that I’m so passionate about. It’s a real privilege.

I’m also very autonomous. I’m free to set the agenda for my work, and I really like that.

Did you learn anything important from your doctoral studies?
A huge amount! But if I had to pick just one thing, it’s probably the value of not putting too much faith in my ability to remember. If, like me, you do your doctoral studies in the midst of giving birth and having young children, there will be lots of breaks in your work. That’s when little diary notes about what I’ve done and what I intended to do next are essential. Without them, it’s easy to end up duplicating work.

Is there anything you’ve found difficult?
One of the hardest things about being a doctoral student is managing your own high expectations of yourself. It’s so hard to get a doctoral position that you start with the feeling “Now I have to prove I’m as good as they think I am”, which quickly results in imposter syndrome and the like. And then the actual writing often turns out to be quite painful. Then it’s good having a family, as it forces a bit of self-distance every now and then.

What is your relationship with other doctoral students like?
Some of my closest colleagues are in the doctoral group. These days we often meet via Zoom for lunches, happy hour or joint writing exercises. There’s a certain amount of ‘group therapy’ as we try to sort out problems that crop up. I’m currently the chair of our doctoral student collective, which has given me an even stronger relationship with the group, which is great.

What are your plans for the future? 
First of all, I’ll be defending my thesis. And after that, my ambition is to do more research! My empirical material has generated a wealth of ideas that I won’t include in my thesis, but which I’m very keen to develop. Most of all, I’m looking forward to sharing the results, because I really believe they can make life better for menstruators.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to sharing the results, because I really believe they can make life better for menstruators.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about applying for third-cycle education? 
Write a really good Master’s thesis – that’s essential for the application itself. And if you’re accepted, make sure you have good tools for planning your working hours and ensuring that you can take breaks. I think it’s very important with a job like this, which – in theory – you could spend every hour of the day doing.

Anything else you want to say? 
It’s common for new doctoral students to think they have all the time in the world just to write the actual thesis, but there’s a lot more to third-cycle education, like going on courses and teaching. It’s important to bear that in mind, both before and during your doctoral studies. The outcome isn’t just a thesis, it’s also becoming ‘a doctor’. If you complete it, that is.

Josefin Persdotter

Teacher Becomes an Expert in Native Language Teaching

Name: Nuhi Bajqinca
Age: 62
Born: Pristina, Kosovo. Came to Sweden as an upper secondary school English teacher in the early 1990s.
Education: Doctoral student 2010–2018 at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Sociology and Work Science. 
Employment: Senior lecturer in social sciences with a didactic focus at the University of Borås. 

What are you working on right now (2021)?
I’m a senior lecturer in didactics at the University of Borås’s Department of Preschool and Teacher Education.

Can you describe your thesis? 
My research mainly concerns native language education policy for multilingual students based on school policy documents. My thesis examines the Swedish school system from a historical perspective, from the 1950s onwards. 

What makes your research stand out?
My thesis offers new insights into Swedish native language education and social changes between 1957 and 2017. The scope and reach have shed light on the political ambitions of the Swedish nation state on this issue, and on how – and to some extent, why – they have changed over time.

The scope and reach have shed light on the political ambitions of the Swedish nation state on this issue, and on how – and to some extent, why – they have changed over time.

The study has also highlighted the consequences of national policy discourses on native language education and bilingual students’ opportunities for native language education. 

How did you become interested in research? 
Although I was a qualified upper secondary school teacher of English when I came to Sweden, I studied full-time at the University of Gothenburg to get my teaching qualification in Sweden. I had worked as a qualified English and social studies teacher for many years before I was accepted as a doctoral student. So my interest was sparked after my teacher training, when I was studying educational science at second-cycle level with a focus on diversity and multilingualism.

I had worked as a qualified English and social studies teacher for many years before I was accepted as a doctoral student.

It was within the context of my employment as a high school teacher in Borås that I received part-time funding from the City of Borås to study multilingualism. And it felt quite logical and motivating to continue my research within the same area. During my doctoral studies, I’ve worked as a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg and as a high school teacher at Erikslund School in Borås.

Researching native language education felt like a highly topical and relevant area for me, because my thesis was written during a time of intense societal change and an increase in migration, when the number of non-native Swedish speakers at Swedish schools increased significantly. 

What was the best thing about being a doctoral student? 
Doctoral studies are intense. It’s not an easy period, but highlights included participating in various seminars and international conferences, and getting to know many talented researchers during my doctoral studies, while also unconsciously embarking on the research process as a future researcher. 

Did you learn anything important from your doctoral studies? 
As a doctoral student, there are many personal experiences and lessons to learn. Lots of these are linked to the writing process. Third-cycle education is intense and there can be many reasons for writing a thesis, but completing these studies requires determination.

Was there anything that you found difficult?
Being employed in two different positions at the same time for many years as a doctoral student wasn’t easy. But also having reflective thoughts about how to continue the writing process in my thesis. You always have these thoughts, wherever you are in the process.

What was your relationship with other doctoral students like?
Although I wasn’t a full-time doctoral student at the department and wasn’t there every day, I enjoyed excellent cooperation and support from my fellow doctoral students and other colleagues, both formally and informally at the department, in my workspace and elsewhere, for example at seminars, conferences and so on, both in Sweden and abroad.

What are your plans for the future? 
I’ll probably continue to write in my field, possibly some kind of book describing my time as a teacher in Sweden, too.  

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about applying for third-cycle education? 
Having the opportunity to research a school subject systematically with a specific focus that you’re interested in at third-cycle level is highly stimulating for a professional teacher. 

Third-cycle education is a process with several different stages. But it’s important to get started with the writing process and supervision early on, during the initial phase.

Nuhi Bajqinca

Combining Research with Strategic Development Work in Healthcare 

Name: Mimmi Kheddache Jendeby
Age: 43
Born: Gothenburg
Education: Master’s degree in Industrial and Financial Economy at the Gothenburg School of Business, Economics, and Law, as well as a bachelor's degree in Psychology of Organization and Work at The Department of Psychology
Employment: I devote about 50 % of my time to my doctoral studies at The Department of Sociology and Work Science and work 50 % as a strategist at the Region Västra Götaland.

What are you working on right now (2022)?
At the moment I'm attending a course called "Management Trends in Public Administration" and writing parts for a review about employee silence and employee voice.

Can you describe your research?
Very briefly one could say that I'm focusing on two concepts: "employee silence" and "employee voice". Employee silence refers to a behavior where employees avoid or restrain from providing information about organizational conditions to the people that are perceived as capable of changing or bettering the situation. Employee voice is a behavior that focuses on constructive questioning with the purpose of improvement, instead of just negative critique.

What makes your research stand out?
In the last ten years, a lot of research has focused on these two concepts. But there are still many gaps to be filled, not least because it's a relatively new research area. The existing research is also a bit all over, and not always so theoretically well grounded. Healthcare services are set to undergo major changes in the coming years to be able to handle challenges related to demographics, economics, and resources. That makes it important to understand how healthcare organizations can promote employee voice and reduce employee silence, to create thriving work environments and provide the services they are designed to.

How did you become interested in research? 
I had been thinking about it for a long time, but finally I decided when I came in contact with a colleague who had begun a doctoral education a bit later in life. It got me thinking it wasn't too late for me either.

I had been thinking about it for a long time, but finally I decided when I came in contact with a colleague who had begun a doctoral education a bit later in life. It got me thinking it wasn't too late for me either.

What was the best part of being a doctoral student? 
To be a part of a continuous learning process and to meet others who also really enjoy learning.

Did you learn anything important from your doctoral studies? 
I'm still in the beginning of my process, so I think most lessons are to come. For now I'm trying to focus on having fun and to not stress too much over the parts I haven't gotten a hang of yet.

For now I'm trying to focus on having fun and to not stress too much over the parts I haven't gotten a hang of yet.

Was there anything that you found difficult?
To manage my time as a part time doctoral student.

What was your relationship with other doctoral students like?
Since I am doing this part time, I haven't really been able to meet the others at the department as much as I would want. I hope to change that going forward.

What are your plans for the future? 
I hope to start gathering data for my research soon.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about applying for third-cycle education?
Follow your heart, and talk to someone who has experience from being a doctoral student themselves.

Anything else you want to say? 
To allow time for things to mature is something I'm struggling with. That is also a tip to other restless souls.

 

Coming soon...

Mimmi Kheddache Jendeby
Photo: Lisa Barryd