Dr Alice Owen - Sustainability Research Institute

Alice Owen

Main supervisor: Dr Gordon Mitchell

Why did you decide to study for a PhD, and why Leeds?

I’d been working for two decades in the broad field of environmental management and sustainability. My first degree was in engineering and my second was an MSc, and I felt like I needed to go back to the basics of the area I was studying in, developer a deeper understanding of the concepts I was working with. I wanted more confidence that I was drawing on a wide body of knowledge, rather than what I’d picked up along the way. And the luxury of being able to focus on one thing, which is a sharp contrast with most of working life, was irresistible!

Experience of PhD study in the School of Geography and skills learnt

I was very lucky in my supervisors and research group who really engaged with what I wanted to achieve. We worked as peers from the beginning with them accepting my professional experience and helping me link areas of theory and practice. They also provided great reserves of good humour, particularly in the stage of developing fieldwork which sounds so easy in theory but can take persistence, and some luck, in practice. I would recommend making sure you work with a supervisor you like and respect, their role is crucial! I found academics across Leeds, and in other universities, very welcoming, more than I expected them to be, and I approached a lot of people directly for one to one discussion and help which was always rewarding.

I was also fortunate in that I brought well-used skills of project management and organisation with me. I think that one of the biggest challenges in doing a PhD isn’t the intellectual endeavour (although that’s not easy) but using your initiative to structure and deliver on your enquiry. Motivating yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, using supervision sessions to unlock problems and move forward, and, when it comes to writing, being able to create a structure for your ideas are all really helpful skills. I loved the freedom that came with being so self-directed.

As a mature research student, with some work responsibilities and lots of family responsibilities, I wasn’t able to participate fully in the PhD community during my time in geography, and I know that I didn’t make full use of the facilities to engage with other researchers; I missed out on some aspects of wider learning and collegiality because of that, but it was my choice and the university certainly provided more than I used!

Current employment situation and longer term career aspirations

To my surprise, I find that I’m now an academic! I’ve moved schools but stayed in the faculty and I’m a lecturer in the Sustainable Research Institute and Programme Leader for one of the MSc Sustainability programmes. While my work experience is what makes me the right programme leader for this MSc, I wouldn’t be able to be a member of the Institute without a PhD so the doctorate is already opening doors for me. I have some further research, leading on from my PhD, in development and it’s great to be able to continue to investigate some of the interesting things that my PhD opened up.

View Alice's staff profile.