During Kara's portrait session last week, we got to speak to her in a bit more detail about her life and goals. She's doing some really interesting Phd work, and so I thought it'd might be nice to share that with my readers.
Tell us about yourself...
I’m currently a PhD student at the University of Manchester, studying organisational psychology. I’m originally from Hong Kong but have moved all over the world; for example, I spent a combined ten years living in the US, including completing my undergraduate degree, and have also lived in Malaysia, China, Singapore and Hong Kong. Currently, I live in Manchester with my boyfriend, who’s a journalist. All that’s missing is a dog.
What made you choose to do a PhD?
Jokingly, probably because I don’t want to leave the safety of academia. But, more seriously, I think I’ve always been drawn to more abstract ideas and having a space where the exploration of these ideas is actively encouraged. I like being able to work closely with researchers who are so connected with the rest of the academic world – even though I’m in Manchester most of the time, you feel constantly in touch with fellow researchers from the US, Europe and Asia who are interested in similar things.
What do you plan to do after you complete your PhD?
Hopefully, I’ll become a lecturer at a university. Realistically, I’d have to do a post-doc before becoming a lecturer, but that’s the end goal.
Tell us about your research project. Why this project?
My thesis looks at the role of the bystander, or witnesses, in workplace bullying. What stops people from speaking up or intervening when they see others being harassed or treated poorly? I am trying to understand this using various theories of morality and ethical decision making.
What would you like the impact of this project to be?
Most PhDs try to solve a research gap, an area that lacks enough solid information. I want contribute to my field’s theoretical foundations so others can build from what I have discovered. The theories I am using have not been applied to socially unethical behaviours, such as bullying, and I want to be one of the first to do so.
Do you teach?
Yes. Right now, I teach first year undergraduates at the business school. I teach an organisation studies module as well as an introductory course to work psychology. I like teaching, though it can make you cynical fast. I believe the best way to learn is by teaching: being able to communicate concepts in a way a newcomer can understand is a challenge and really forces you to re-evaluate what you know and if you really know it.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a Phd student?
On a personal level, being able to pace yourself. Other than teaching and the occasional lecture for ourselves, most of our time is “free.” We can go a week without working and no one would be able to tell. Being able to work without immediate deadlines has been really difficult, especially for someone as lazy as me!
Also, as a PhD student, you always feel a sense of doom and gloom as you hear your superiors talk about how academia is becoming more commercialised and hostile towards its own people. You feel as though you’re going to step into an unwelcoming world as soon as you graduate.
Talk us through a typical day in the life of a Phd student?
I wake up when my boyfriend has to get up for work, at 7:30, but I don’t really get out of bed until much later. I have breakfast and take the bus to campus. I have an office space in a larger open plan area, so that’s where I tend to spend most of my days. Everyone in the office is a PhD student and we’re all pretty close friends – this is where I get most of my socialising done! I usually work on my publications or thesis for a few hours. A few days of the week, I teach undergraduate seminars, so I spend some time preparing slides or grading their assessments. At around 4PM, I try going to the gym for an hour. On Wednesdays, I volunteer at a food bank in Fallowfield.
What’s your favourite thing about teaching?
I like being able to make connections with students. I’m not noticeably older than most undergraduates, so I believe it puts me on the same level with them, which can have its positives and negatives.
How long have you lived in Manchester for?
Almost three years.
What’s the biggest cultural difference / shock you have had so far?
I don’t think I’ve had that much of a culture shock. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved around so much and nothing really shocks me so much anymore. The level of alcohol consumption and partying culture, especially among university students in the UK, has been quite surprising. Also, small things like ending texts or messages with an “x” were surprising at first!
What’s the most stereotypical question you get asked often?
“Why is your English so good?”
Because I’m not white, people tend to assume I’ll have a heavy Chinese accent.
What do you love the most about living in Manchester?
I love how much culture there is in such a small city. The Northern Quarter is always bustling with new art, new ideas and really homegrown funkiness, from zines to DIY/indie gigs. Chinatown has some great, authentic restaurants if you know where to go. Curry Mile has an amazing selection of Asian and Middle Eastern food. For a small city, there’s a lot going on.
Do you miss Hong Kong? How often do you go back and visit? Is there anything you miss about your food, and your culture?
I haven’t lived in Hong Kong since I was a baby, but I visit every year at least once. I can’t explain it, but I miss the “rush” and “vibe” a gigantic city like Hong Kong gives off. There’s so first world chaos. It’s great to just walk down the busy roads and see all the shops and street food stalls. You can buy almost anything there, from cheap designer knockoffs to high end Japanese fashion. I miss the convenience of the city’s public transportation – from what I hear, the Oyster Card in London was inspired by the Octopus Card in Hong Kong!
I miss the food, of course. Cantonese food is the best in the world (no bias)! Hong Kong was one of Britain’s most important colonies and there are so many remnants of British culture, as well as the cultures of old colonies like India. You’ll be able to find any food from any culture.
What are your plans for the future?
As I said, I want to be a lecturer, and eventually professor, at a university. I also have dreams of starting an animal shelter in Hong Kong, or creating a charity to help underprivileged senior citizens in Hong Kong.
What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had in Manchester so far?
I can’t think of just one! The most memorable moment off the top of my mind didn’t even happen in Manchester proper. My boyfriend, when we were still properly dating, took me to Lyme Park and we spent the whole day walking around the estate and its grounds. It was very romantic and scenic.