Q&A with PhD Student Stirling Sharpe
Meet Stirling Sharpe, a third-year PhD student at the University of Canberra. After completing his Bachelor of Sports Management in 2014, Stirling was determined to delve deeper into his chosen field, and thus decided to undertake postgraduate study.
Some of his research to date includes looking into fan behaviour at sporting contests and the difference in media coverage between male and female sport.
With many undergraduate students contemplating postgraduate study, we sat down with Stirling to talk about his own PhD experience and what those students can expect.
Q: What is the process you have to follow to begin studying for a PhD?
A: Typically you do a one-year Honour’s program, which involves a research program, or a Master’s degree, which gives you the extra knowledge that you don’t get from the undergraduate degree. Then you simply apply and based on your marks, your research proposal and industry involvement, you may be offered a place as a PhD candidate.
Q: How different is studying for a PhD in comparison to undergraduate study?
A: The biggest difference is that it’s largely led by yourself. As an undergrad you get assessment tasks and tutorial work and so on, but for a PhD you might read a journal article and analyse it and that gives you a new idea to go and read about. Your supervisors give you some thoughts and feedback but it’s largely up to you to go out there and direct the research. You essentially end up becoming an expert in a small area.
Q: Just how difficult is it studying for a PhD? What sort of commitment does it require?
A: Realistically, you should treat it like a full-time job. It requires a lot of reading, a lot of writing and it also involves a lot of considerations as to the best way to go about your research and how to analyse results and then come to practical and theoretical conclusions at the end.
Q: You also lecture at the university, is that something you have to do as part of your PhD? Or is it something you do on the side?
A: It’s not a necessity by any means but I think it’s good to build up a CV while you’re doing a PhD, so that once you’re finished you not only have a qualification and a research background, but also a teaching background, so you can go off and get a job in academia if that’s what you want to do. PhD students also typically make some money from teaching, whether it be lecturing, tutoring or marking and that’s an added incentive.
Q: Outside of lecturing and other forms of teaching, what else might a PhD entail?
A: You can do some other research work if you’re given the opportunity. For example, for myself, my supervisors have been willing to bring me in on projects in the past, where I might do some data collection or data analysis for them. Again, it’s not compulsory but it’s a good way to build a research CV.
Q: How long does it generally take to complete a PhD?
A: A PhD is meant to take you roughly three years and then another year for marking, revisions and final thesis production, so about four years. But I’ve decided to do mine part-time, so it’s going to take about eight years depending on how quickly I can get it all done.
Q: Finally, what’s one piece of advice you can give to students who are planning on doing a PhD in the future?
A: Make sure you like reading…particularly academic reading. There’s no point doing a PhD if you don’t like reading. The research can be fun but a PhD is very much about learning how to research rather than the research itself. So my advice would be make sure you know how to read and also like doing it.