Tanja Ohlson


DPhil Programme in Management Studies




Corporate Communications


Started in 2015

By Tanja Ohlson

From student to researcher

Recently, we, the first year DPhils in the management research track, had an interesting discussion on identity. Why and how do people think about themselves as part of a certain group? In my case: why do I see myself as a student? How will I change this identity and see myself as a researcher? What will be different?

During our first term, we all identified as students. We had courses to attend, homework and readings to do, and learned new things quickly. But we still thought like students: what can we get away with? Is it ok to read a fraction of the texts if we are crunched for time? How often can we party and still function? In a class of two and four students it surely is not ok to skip, as the professor will notice! It was still us “versus” professors.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a great first term! But between the work for our classes, settling in, and discovering how active we can be without getting sick, we actually did not work on our own research projects.

Now, things are different. I am starting to experience the transition from student to researcher to “true academic”. There are several elements as to why this is happening.

Real research

Firstly, we had to write coursework papers during the break in which we planned out research we want to do for our thesis, review literature for it, and reflect on our plans. I received data from a colleague that I am working with. That way I could do pilot analysis, and experience any difficulties of actual research and learn a lot! This coursework went beyond typical essays I have written in the past.

It is exciting looking at the data and trying to understand what is going on by analysing patterns, abstracting frameworks, theory, and meaning from everything. It can at times be frustrating, almost like detective’s work. But it’s exhilarating finding something unique and in the end I hope it gets me closer to my DPhil.

I am a potential tutor!

Secondly, at the beginning of this term we participated in a workshop preparing us for teaching and marking. We can only teach after completing the “Transfer of Status”, the first stage of our DPhil next autumn. Yet hearing about teaching, thinking about how to turn students into critical thinkers or deciding the quality of an essay opened my eyes to how tough the job can be. Teaching will be a huge part of everyday work as an academic. For the first time at Oxford, this side of my future felt real and tangible.

A shift in identity

Finally, the reason we are becoming researchers is through working with amazing professors who help us switch identities. During my interview for this programme, almost exactly one year ago, I asked if I would have opportunities to learn outside of my own research area. I was told that almost everything was possible as long as I worked hard and created the opportunities I wanted for myself. I am finding this to be true.

We DPhil students are still taking courses this term, struggling with a heavy load of readings and assignments. But in one of our courses we managed to create an opportunity for ourselves. Instead of regular classes, we suggested working with a real research project. We can already envision that our work will not just teach us research skills, it will have an impact. When one professor called us “my DPhil colleagues” during a meeting last week, our identity shifted. We are not simply students. We are well on our way to becoming researchers.

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