PhD candidate Maastricht University; lecturer & researcher Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
Read Sultan's story
After finishing my bachelor's (general economics & business economics), I became an economic teacher. Although I was only 20 years old, I decided to study for my Master's in General Economics and Pedagogy, besides my job as an economics teacher at a secondary school. After finishing my Master's, I decided to challenge myself and started at the Amsterdam University for Applied Sciences as a teacher trainer in Economics, besides my job as an economics teacher at a secondary school. I liked working on two different educational levels and did the combination for six years. After five years, I decided to rechallenge myself again and wrote an application for a Ph.D. study by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) grant and started with my Ph.D.
The hardest part of my decision to do both Masters at the same time was, of course, time. I worked part-time as an economics teacher in preparatory vocational education and studied mainly in the evenings. I think I lost many of my social contacts during that period. On the other hand, the most challenging part after my Master's was my Ph.D. application. I worked full-time at two locations and different educational levels (secondary and higher education) and decided to work for one day as a researcher at the Centre for Applied Research on Economics & Management. I felt insecure in the area of research and wanted to work on my research skills. In addition, I also used the time to write my Ph.D. application for NWO. After a year, I submitted my project to NWO and received my grant.
I am blessed with the people around me who inspire and motivate me in this whole process. These have been my teachers and colleagues, but also my family. I have a sister whose steps I could follow. My sister is also a teacher, teaches mathematics, and is also a Ph.D. student with a grant from NWO. However, at the end of the day, it's all about hard work, working long hours and wanting to go for it. I have a big heart for education, especially for entrepreneurship education, and want to give something back to education by doing research.
As a teacher trainer, you are often engaged in research. You supervise your students' research and often read studies to integrate into your lessons and projects. In addition, students often appreciate teachers who do research. It usually gives an extra dimension. I am well aware that I have a role model position, and I hope that my students will also do research during their careers. In addition, doing research ensures that I am well informed about the literature and research methodologies. My research also fits very well with my job. I work as a teacher trainer for economics, and I train teachers who will later be able to teach entrepreneurship besides economics in secondary education. So I'm definitely in a win-win situation.
My advice is to challenge yourself and dare to go out of your comfort zone. The feedback I often received during my process was often related to time. So I recommend creating time for yourself to bubble up on your ideas and create depth in what you are doing. But also time to network with people around you and learn from each other. And last but not as least, do something that inspires and motivates you.
I finished my masters in 2004, after working in various finance positions in a multinational corporation for six years. During my masters I experienced that I was on a career path that didn’t fit ‘who I am’. I was more interested in people and facilitating personal and organizational development. So I really needed a big change. I looked into opportunities in management consulting and higher education and found a great teaching job at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. Beyond my teaching, I developed as a self-employed coach and obtained a license as psychosocial therapist.
I’m 46 now and one advantage of ‘doing a PhD at an older age’ is that you bring a lot of personal and professional experience. I’ve had many opportunities to develop as a lecturer, internal team coach, chairman of our works council, manager of a team of lecturers and currently as a researcher. This, including my financial background, and coaching and consulting experience within my own small company, offered great resources for my PhD. In my dissertation I articulate a social constructionist approach of coaching for developing management consultants.
Currently I’m in my fourth year and I hope to have finished the first draft of my dissertation within a few months. However, it hasn’t been an easy ride… Obtaining an internal scholarship at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences was pretty challenging. My proposal was rejected twice, which was really frustrating. Furthermore, I had created my own research project and hadn’t been doing academic research for more than a decade. I struggled to convince a committee, consisting of multiple lectors, that my plans were worth investing in. Also, having two really different professors as supervisors sometimes felt like not being able to do things right.
I consider myself very lucky to have three great advisors. Although both my supervisors hold different views to doing research, they are committed to my project. I experience that they believe in me and they contribute to making the project work. My daily advisor and co-promotor likes the project that I’m doing very much and offers great suggestions and feedback. Beyond that, she is very approachable and fun to work with. From all three advisors I experience room to do my project and make my own contribution to science. At the same time they challenge me and prevent me from making big mistakes. I also experience great facilitation from Hogeschool Utrecht. Our educational management is very supportive, making sure that I can take the time I need.
After so many years of teaching, I was looking forward to an intellectual challenge again. This turned out really well. Although I did experience things not being easy, I grew into it and it has contributed to my scientific education. For me it has been generative to strike a balance between staying committed to my core ambitions and intentions on the one hand, and being willing to learn and be flexible on ‘how to get there’ on the other. When things got difficult, this helped me to persist.
It has been a great learning opportunity to be ‘the student’ again and actively look at the good intentions behind feedback that you sometimes ‘just don’t want to hear’. I recently joined a team that is developing the UAS Professional Doctorate program in Learning and Professionalizing. I’m looking forward to combining both management and research in my next career step.
I’d like to pass on a great and practical piece of advice which I received from a colleague who finished her PhD a few years ago. “When you need to make important decisions regarding your research, write down your arguments. This will save you time when writing your thesis”. I really took up on this. Every time I decided A or B, I wrote it down as input for my dissertation. Now that I’ve started writing my first draft, this really pays off, because I don’t have to go through the same details again. The well-argued decisions (including references) only need little adjustments before being included in my dissertation.
Another thing is to make sure that you have a project that really has your interest, because your commitment and determination will be tested. Pay attention to project management and most important: find advisors that support your ambitions and assure good collaboration. Enjoy the ride!
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