Cash in the bank, eyes on the goal

October 31, 2003

Jane Suter is unusually focused for a doctoral student. She has a very clear idea of her direction of research -which may take only two years -and a distinction in her MSc means that she is well funded.

Twenty-six-year-old Suter, who is studying for a PhD in business at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, went to a comprehensive school in Suffolk before studying psychology at Liverpool University, where she got a 2:1.

She then "fell into" a job in London in insurance with CGU until the company merged with Norwich Union and Suter was offered redundancy or the chance to relocate.

She used her payoff to fund an MSc in human resources management and industrial relations at Umist. It seemed a natural progression from a degree that dealt with workers' attitudes and teamwork, she says.

Suter says her MSc was great preparation for research: "It was like a trial run for PhD study. It's really just extending my dissertation [on human resources in the National Health Service] for another two years, although I have funding for three. I have had statistical training, practice at interviewing and negotiating access, and I know the department."

Coming top in her MSc class, with a distinction in the taught part, made a PhD the natural next step. "It's not something I had thought of doing in the past, but because I performed well on the MSc it meant I got a better chance of getting funding. I had a good relationship with my supervisor, and it was an ideal opportunity for me. I thought it would be a huge personal achievement more than anything."

The Economic and Social Research Council pays Suter's course fees and maintenance, and she is also paid for leading seminars. She says: "I'm quite a well-off PhD student. I don't think I would have done it without the funding."

Suter's PhD in the employment studies group will look at management-driven initiatives to involve staff and to communicate with them. "Management likes to introduce initiatives to increase employee job satisfaction and commitment to management goals and to increase productivity. I'm hoping to work out a model to link all that and prove it statistically and qualitatively."

Suter hopes to gain access to employers in the private and the public sectors and to interview workers as well as managers. "A lot of research in the past has been done by asking managers what they think employees' attitudes are. I'm not satisfied with that."

With her experience, Suter could probably earn twice as much in the private sector as she could in academe, and she has reservations about pursuing an academic career: "The money is not there. You do it for personal reasons, for the love of the job."

She adds: "I'm in two minds about whether I want to go into academia. I'm not dismissing it, but I'm not sure that's the route I want to take."

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