INTERVIEW: Doing a PhD Thesis

Albertina Palma is a retired Professor in Portugal, with a PhD in education politics and administration. Her PhD thesis is called “The restructure of higher education in Portugal within the framework of the Bologna Process (1999-2010): the mediators, the forums, and the edition of a referential for higher education”.


ACPN: Your thesis is about the implementation of the Bologna Process in Portugal. Why did you choose this topic?

AP: Because as an institutional leader I was involved in the implementation of the new framework for the higher education system in Portugal, following the Bologna Process, from the beginning.

ACPN: When you enrolled in the doctoral programme, what was the time frame to complete it?

AP: I think it was 7 years but there were some possible delays according to certain circumstances such as, for example, part time situations, as in my case.

ACPN: Did you take longer or lesser time? If so, why?

AP: As I said I took longer because I was doing it in part time for some time.

ACPN: How was the PhD funded? Did you have a grant? How was the budget planned, considering all the expenses beyond fees?

AP: I did not have any grant. This was good because I just had to be accountable to myself and no time pressures.

ACPN: Did you have to make any kind of adjustments in terms of budget, in terms of expenses and revenues, during the completion of the PhD?

AP: Not really.

ACPN: What expenses were you counting on? Which were unexpected?

AP: Fees, mostly. The fees had a raise before I finished.

ACPN: What risks did you predict (for example, not enough data, not completing the PhD for some reason…)? How did you plan to overcome them?

AP: I predicted difficulties with interviews. Therefore, I decided to conduct only documental research.

ACPN: What were your milestones?

AP: Milestones were negotiated with my advisor along the path.

ACPN: Did your life unexpectedly change during the process? How did you adapt?

AP: I retired from official duties at a certain point of the path. That was beneficial because I could work in full time for the last 4 years.

ACPN: What were the main difficulties you found? How did you overcome them?

AP: Difficulties were mostly related to data sources, but it was also unexpectedly difficult to mobilize the theoretical framework in the data analysis. It took extra time to overcome those difficulties. Apart from time, I needed additional discussion with my supervisor.

ACPN: What surprised you the most (good and/or bad)?

AP: Some findings were surprising, but they made a lot of sense after all. This was very pleasant and rewarding.

ACPN: Comparing with your initial plan, how do you evaluate the process of undertaking a PhD? What went right and what went wrong?

AP: To be honest, I didn’t have such a clear plan. Something important was to find a good supervisor, I mean a supervisor who was interested in the topic and could give me sound and friendly feedback. Furthermore, the main idea was to finish it at any cost. Giving up, like most of my friends did, never crossed my mind, it never was an option even when difficulties and fatigue set in. As in other situations in my life, this was probably my most important asset and the one that worked best.

ACPN: Was it worth it? Any tips for people who are currently or thinking about undertaking a PhD?

AP: Surely. Supervisors are important. Find one who genuinely is interested in your research! And never, ever give up!


Check other interviews in the series.


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