Case study

Following
my passion

Finding your passion for a subject is not always a straightforward journey. Bowen Shang’s route to studying for a PhD in Marketing began with a first degree in Chemistry.  

Creating the spark

Passion can strike anywhere. An internship during Bowen’s undergraduate degree created the spark for her. She was studying Chemistry because of her interest in environmental protection but it was her work as an intern that turned her life around.

She explains: “I was asked to promote a service to clients while evaluating the performance of their business. I realised that I was enjoying the work but lacked professional knowledge.”

This inspired her to take a Business module in her final year and that confirmed to her it was the path she wanted to take. Her message is simple: try new things, explore them, to help you find your passion.

Bowen Shang in Sadler Gate in Derby
Bowen Shang in Sadler Gate in the Cathedral Quarter, Derby

From student to master … to student 

After completing her degree, Bowen, who comes from China, then took our Marketing Management MSc. Her plan was to strengthen her competitiveness in the job market – but, still, she wanted to go deeper. 

And, having studied her masters at Derby, she knew that she wanted to stay here for her PhD: “I like the community here – it’s very different to where I studied as an undergraduate. I have met a lot of good friends here. 

“And the academics are very helpful and supportive. Charles Hancock was my supervisor for my masters dissertation and is now my supervisor at PhD. He initiated my passion for my subject and has helped shape my way of thinking.” 

Research with a purpose

Bowen’s current PhD research is exploring how customers perceive UK high street department store brands. She is using the insight she gains to come up with ways for the brands to boost their performance.

She explains: "The pandemic has affected my progress but the research is still ongoing. A typical day at this stage is to recruit participants for my research by approaching them and giving them a brief introduction to what I'm doing. It's challenging, but I'm passionate about what I'm doing and that keeps me going. And, more importantly, my supervisors are always there to support me."

Bowen keeps a research diary, where she logs her reading and constructs mind maps to help her channel her thought processes. She also notes down decisions and reflection points that need to be justified in her dissertation. As her project develops, she expects to be spending a lot of time in her final year analysing data and writing her dissertation.

Bowen Shang interviewing a shopper
Bowen interviewing a shopper

Our research community 

Bowen finds there are plenty of opportunities for her to develop networks with other research students. “We hotdesk in two offices so there’s the chance to share a room if you want to,” she explains. “English classes focus on developing our academic writing and are a great way for us to learn from each other.”

Workshops and other events are organised to support students – these include topics such as how to research, copyright and preparing for a viva voce (the final oral examination). “There are also social events,” says Bowen. “These are important as a lot of research students don’t work on campus.”

Her advice to anyone thinking about doing a PhD is: “You have to love research and the topic you choose. You need to find your passion and you need to be ready to embrace change and challenge throughout your PhD journey.

“Some people do a PhD because they think it will bring them more money or a better future, but you have to be ready to spend more than three years exploring one subject in depth and from an original perspective.

"There have been times when I found the PhD overwhelming, but I am glad I made it to where I am now. It is a huge challenge but also very rewarding."

a researcher doing chemical tests in the lab

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