'My supervisor is great - but I can't get up in the morning'

March 19, 2004

Six months in and some of our postgrads are finding the going tough. As experts gather for today's conference on 'Postgraduate Education', The Times Higher catches up with the students it is tracking over three years to see how they're coping

Motivation is the biggest stumbling block in Jane Suter's progress towards her doctorate in employment studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. "I don't really have anyone to answer to except my supervisor. It makes it difficult to get up in the morning. Working from home can be very difficult. There are always other things you can get on with. But I'm trying to get myself into a routine."

Suter's sense of isolation from the employment studies group she is working with at Umist cannot be helped by her move to York, where her partner has just started a job as manager of a Pizza Express restaurant. But the immediate hurdle seems to be the quantity of material she has to plough through to prepare her thesis on the effectiveness of management initiatives to involve staff and communicate with them.

"I have journal articles coming out of my ears," says Suter, 26, who had believed she could finish her PhD in two years but now thinks it will take the more usual three. "I'm constantly pushing back deadlines," she says.

The main challenge of Suter's next six months of research will be arranging access to companies to interview managers and workers. "It is the most daunting thing for me at the moment. I could get lucky or some companies might not be so receptive."

Suter hopes to run pilot tests with small groups of employees to refine the questionnaires that form a central part of her research. "Pilot testing is a good idea as it makes the research more reliable. I didn't do it on my MSc as I only had three months for my thesis." She aims to create a model that companies can use to improve management-employee relations and performance.

She has no complaints about the quality of her supervision - she built a good working relationship with her supervisor, Mick Marchington, during her MSc. And having taught undergraduates at Umist - for which she is paid - she is revising her view of a career in academia. "It has opened my eyes to taking academia more seriously as an option. I like the autonomy and the fact that I can work from home." Her reluctance to get up in the morning is obviously a temporary blip.

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