Rafael's experience of studying for his PhD at WBS

11 May 2021

PhD student, Rafael Alejandro Vaquera Salazar shares his experience of studying for his PhD at WBS and describes his motivations for conducting research on the effects of global energy transition.

I am a third-year PhD student from Tamaulipas in the northeast of Mexico, studying the MPhil/PhD Business & Management programme at Warwick Business School. I came to Warwick thanks to a scholarship and an agreement between the University and Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT). My PhD research is based on the effects of the global energy transition on National Oil Companies´ corporate strategy, and the implications for the producer economies they are based on. In particular, I analyse the case of Pemex and Mexico from an institutionalist perspective.

Before joining the PhD programme at WBS, I was working at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, in Victoria. I was working within the Entrepreneurship Department, as well as working as a lecturer at the School of Commerce and Management in Victoria. I worked there for several years after graduating from my MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management course at the University of Sheffield in 2014. Before this I studied Business Administration for my bachelor’s degree and graduated in 2011, I then worked in a couple of companies before moving to the UK to study for my Masters.

Tapping into WBS’ Global Energy specialism

I chose to study at WBS because I was aware of the specialised team who focus on Global Energy, which is led by Professors Michael Bradshaw and David Elmes. Their profile fit perfectly in what I wanted to conduct research on, which was global oil and gas and the energy transition. Also, WBS was (and still is) highly ranked in terms of research and excellence of education. I think everyone in WBS should feel proud of this, as their efforts reflect on this distinction. The PhD programme also has a rather reasonable duration (four years), which I think is important because you do a ‘foundation’ year, learn the basics of international-competitive research, and then you have three years to conduct your full research project.

The motivation behind my PhD

I was motivated to do a PhD as I enjoyed my experience of teaching in Mexico. Even though I enjoyed working in private companies and feeling the rush of coordinating activities and dealing with sometimes not-so-good suppliers, I realise that I loved teaching. I enjoyed doing research to help others learn while explaining social phenomena, along with helping others to understand organisations and their functioning.

When applying for my PhD at WBS I found the process to be straight-forward. Firstly I contacted my potential supervisor, we had a video call and talked through things and he suggested that I apply to the PhD programme. I applied online, using the common documents that any university would ask (including a research proposal). However, and this was a deal-breaking factor, WBS does not require GMAT or GRE scores for its PhD in Business and Management. I believe this is very important, as obtaining these scores is not always easy for people that come from developing countries. It felt like WBS understood that even though these scores are important, they should not be a requirement to apply for the PhD programme.

A structured programme with regular support

I would say the two best things about my PhD programme so far has been the support from the Doctoral Programme Team. They really pay attention to students’ needs and support us throughout the duration of our studies. Secondly, the structure of the programme has been a key highlight for me as my programme includes one year of teaching and three years of conducting research which enables me to interact with my colleagues and senior academic staff on a daily basis. I have been inspired throughout my research studies by the impact that research can have from the value it presents to organisations to improving peoples’ lives.

Finding my supervisors

With regards to finding and working with a supervisor during your research studies, this is a critical component of your research journey. I feel I have been very lucky as both the professors I work with are extremely helpful and supportive, and I would have not been able to go through the COVID-19 lockdowns without their support. Teamwork is cordial, we always have good opportunities for discussion and debate, and overall it has been a great experience to have them on board. I think a good relationship with your supervisor(s) and colleagues is created when interaction and communication is carried out in a respectful, candid, and team-work oriented way. We, as doctoral students, should always seek to maintain good relations, as in the future collaborative work can lead us to produce world-class research.

Choosing a PhD as a life decision

I believe doing a PhD is a life decision. You will invest four years of your life, four years without working for a private company perhaps, to study and produce high-impact research. Financially, PhD are costly and in most cases is not possible to do them without financial aid, such as scholarships or student loans. Socially, it can be isolating as not many colleagues will have the theoretical approach or be aware of the kind of work that you are doing. However, that does not mean we do not socialise! Gatherings are always great, and going out with colleagues helps you to find a good balance between your research studies and your social life as you meet new people every single week in a similar way to university life. I remain motivated throughout my studies as I believe research is the only way to solve organisations and states’ problems and challenges. The world is in a critical moment, especially due to climate change. But also, I remain motivated because I have a great team on my side; my supervisors, my group colleagues, my programme colleagues, and my family.

After I finish my PhD I would like to join a university, to keep working on my topics and produce world-class research. It could be in Mexico or elsewhere, but I certainly want to follow an academic career along with working on projects with corporate organisations as this is what I most enjoy and what I expect to do for a good deal of time in the future.

Discover more about our MRes/PhD Business & Management programme at Warwick Business School.