Dr Irina Surdu’s journey from being a student at WBS to returning as an Associate Professor

24 April 2020

Please introduce yourself.

I am an Associate Professor of International Business Strategy at Warwick Business School. I have completed my Masters and PhD degrees at WBS and have always admired the manner in which the University treated students and managed to recruit excellent students as well as members of staff from all over the world. Following the completion of my PhD, I decided to take a position at the University of Reading in order to expand my network - something that, of course, is of value upon my return as an Associate Professor. WBS’ performance in terms of researching and teaching definitely influenced my decision to apply for a post at WBS.

Why did you pursue a Masters degree and a PhD at WBS, and motivated you to continue your studies?

I decide to pursue an MSc degree at WBS because of the wonderful feedback I had from students who were already WBS students at the time. The learning environment was described as a professional one, with the teaching team being excellent lecturers as well as active researchers. This is very important as it fosters an environment where staff are actively researching phenomena of interest taking place in the business world and sharing that with students in real-time.

One of my lecturers was someone whose teaching I really admired, and he later became my PhD supervisor. I enjoyed his lectures very much and he was very approachable in terms of discussing a potential PhD collaboration at the time. 

What was the best thing about studying at WBS?

WBS provided both a nurturing and very professional work/study environment with a diverse mix of students of staff. The community at WBS is friendly but professional. As a student, I received help when required but I was also expected to behave as a professional whilst valuing the importance of individual study and research. As a lecturer at WBS, I can see the same mentality has been preserved when recruiting new students into the business school.

What inspired you most throughout your research studies?

Throughout my research studies, I was inspired by my supervisor who played a large part in my experience as a researcher during the forming PhD years. Aside from engagement with research, I had the opportunity to collaborate in the teaching of modules, including the work we were doing together at the time. This opened up a new audience to present my work beyond academic colleagues. 

What did you enjoy the most from your PhD programme?

I found the methods modules most interesting because this is something crucial for all PhD students. It is often a scary part for those who have not done research prior to the PhD (which is most of us) but it becomes less so over time. WBS has excellent facilities for students to collaborate and share ideas, which we used to do a lot, with more informed colleagues holding informal seminars about how to do research at a high standard.

Tell us about your experience of finding and working with a supervisor during your research studies.

My supervisor was one of my lecturers during my MSc course. I was interested in his material and requested a few meetings in order to understand whether the PhD was the right career path for my skills and ambitions. I spent months drafting my PhD proposal with my potential supervisor going through the different drafts and helping me refine it. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have a good relationship with your PhD supervisor. This is why it is crucial to contact them before applying for a particular PhD to ensure that they are able to supervise and that their interests are aligned with those of the applicant. A compatibility in terms of research interests is very important.

What are the pros and cons of studying a PhD?

Financially, it may mean that a student with an MSc from WBS, instead of obtaining a well-paid graduate job at a large multinational, chooses to receive a PhD scholarship (generally, the equivalent of minimum wage) for the subsequent 4 years of their career. For those who are passionate about conducting original research and challenging themselves, the opportunities post-PhD are many, both in academia and outside of it.

The PhD takes a lot of time which means that, socially, it can be a bit of a sacrifice. However, the work is highly flexible and after the first year of the PhD (when the taught elements finish), you are able to organise your time to be able to visit family, travel and so on.

How did you remain motivated throughout your research studies?

To remain motivated throughout my research studies I alternated between different tasks to make the experience dynamic. The challenge with a 4-year project is that you have very few deadlines and such long-term deadlines can be overwhelming. This means that setting out small and diverse tasks can help to manage this experience. For instance, I would collect data, after which I allocated time to writing, attending conferences or teaching. This allowed for diversity in the work conducted but also, the fulfilment of short-term goals.

How are you finding your new role at WBS so far?

Thus far, I am enjoying my time at WBS. I came back to a familiar environment with old and new colleagues and remain enthusiastic about both WBS and the University of Warwick as a whole. WBS has a very balanced approach to the manner in which it treats staff and students which I appreciate.

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