Studying for my PhD at WBS

01 June 2021

From immersing himself into the vibrant research community to working alongside a diverse group of fellow researchers and academics, PhD student Skyler Xie shares his experience of studying at WBS.

I’m currently a first-year student studying for a PhD in Business and Management at Warwick Business School. My research focuses on behavioural strategy and microfoundations, which combines strategic management with a behavioural mindset to study how organisations interact with frontline employees and their relationships with external stakeholders.

Vibrant research community

I chose to study for my PhD at WBS because I frequently come across very interesting research articles and reports published by WBS academics. As one of the largest business schools in the UK, WBS has a vibrant research community across different disciplines, such as Finance, Behavioural Science, Marketing, Operations and five other subject groups. As a junior research student, I think it is always helpful to engage with colleagues from different backgrounds and talk with them about our research interests. I also chose WBS because it provides a structured pathway in the PhD programme. The methodology courses offer a comprehensive overview for both qualitative and quantitative students, followed by advanced sessions in each stream.

Additionally, we are given many options for elective modules, depending on our background and research interests. Apart from the business school, the University also has great resources for PhD students from the first day we start. The Doctoral College at Warwick, for example, focuses exclusively on research students and provides consistent support for PhD’s professional skills, wellbeing, network events and scholarship opportunities. I also received great support for my research skills from Warwick Q-step centre, they provide various high-quality quantitative research workshops and masterclasses each term.

Cultivating curiosity

My inspiration throughout my research studies firstly stems from the curiosity for new phenomena, ideas and knowledge. All of these are acquired through my daily reading, thinking, attending seminars and many other activities. It is important to realise that an interesting research project develops from a real-life context, by exploring the phenomena with knowledge from different subjects. In this aspect, WBS has an excellent environment for cultivating curiosity, as all of our ideas are well respected and can always receive genuine feedback.

Secondly, my inspiration comes from the comprehensive research training during the first year of my PhD which enabled me to develop competence in tackling my research questions. Apart from developing an interesting research question, I learned how to identify an appropriate method to cope with potential difficulties throughout the research process.

The last one is about peer learning. I am very lucky to have many great colleagues at WBS during my first-year study. With a cohort made up of nearly 30 talents from different countries representing diverse academic and professional backgrounds, it provides a great environment for me to learn from other colleagues. We discussed our projects and shared different opinions based on our own specialisms. Even though most of our activities are online, we build up our connections through coursework, group project and research seminars. Such active peer learning and idea exchange with colleagues at WBS are extremely valuable for my study and research.

Gaining valuable first-hand experience

I really enjoy the dynamic and vibrant doctoral community at WBS. There are many research seminars organised by different subject groups each week, all of our PhD students are welcomed to attend the presentations hosted not only by our own group but also from other disciplines. Several subject groups also provide various PhD development sessions, which are dedicated to our soft skill development, such as research presentation, publication process and interview preparation. All of these sessions are led by senior academics, providing valuable first-hand insights for our career.

The doctoral programme also has a professional team to support each PhD student, from the day when we make the application. The programme team helps with our modules, training, supervisions and the most importantly, our research progress. I’m also impressed with the weekly PhD newsletter delivered by the programme team, which includes all essential information for our study (e.g., conferences, workshops, seminars, scholarships and many other events).

Integrating behaviour economics and strategic management through my research

My research integrates behavioural economics and cognitive psychology into strategy theory and practice, which provides explanations of firms’ strategic choices and their impact at different levels of analysis. The project that I’m currently working on focuses on the implementation of digital strategies in an industrial trading sector. By taking econometric design with large scale datasets, as well as behavioural experiments, my project aims to address how micro-founded factors impact firm strategy implementation and how the interaction between organizations and individuals leads to collective outcomes and performance.

I’m extremely excited to work on this project as it builds upon two fascinating areas - ‘behaviour’ and ‘strategy’, based on realistic assumptions about human cognition, decision making, social interactions and the organisational system. It is very interesting to apply these lenses to understand why firms adopt different strategies and how frontline employees, such as sales professionals, interact with organizations and their customers throughout the process. For instance, digital transformation is shifting the business landscape of many companies. The impact of digitalisation is not only on the business model design but also on individuals: their motivations, emotions, personalities and collective beliefs. Working on this project also allows me to apply multiple methods from quantitative modelling and experimental design to address my research questions.

Working alongside experts to assist my academic development

I am very lucky to have two great professors as my supervisors from the start of the programme, both of them are experts in the field of behavioural science and strategic sales management. They have been very supportive for not only my research project but also my academic development. When I came up with new ideas about my research, they have always been ready to read and provide insightful feedback from my research design to methodologies. Although I can’t interact with them face-to-face on campus during the lockdown, they are never ‘offline’ when I ask any questions or seek advice about my study and work. At WBS, I can feel that my supervisors and other academics are genuinely helping me and making efforts to take our PhD students to achieve success.

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