Why is a PhD Researcher like an Entrepreneur?

Our Data Impact Fellows are at an early part of their research career. We wondered how that feels for them. Aishah Selamat has her own interesting take.

When anyone in my extended family, a friend or a general acquaintance learns that I am currently embarking on a PhD journey; the customary reaction I receive is a bewildered reply of

Oh Wow

This is followed by a few questions on the topic, length of time, the commitment level required for the PhD programme, how do I stay motivated and much more.

Based on the reactions I’ve had to date, the general view of someone researching for a PhD would be that the individual intends to delve into the academic career path. Also, that a three-year research track is a rather long period to undertake research. Frankly, I had the same misconception before I enrolled in a PhD programme myself.

As I am in the third year of my PhD, I can confidently affirm that my research journey has been a very fulfilling and enriching experience to date – surpassing my initial expectations.

Being a PhD researcher is not your ordinary 9 to 5 day job or just being ‘academically’ attuned and equipped. It is far beyond that.

If I could sum it up, being a PhD researcher is just like being an entrepreneur – or, in other words, a ‘PhD-trepreneur’.

Just like an entrepreneur, a PhD-trepreneur’s key motivating factor is not only driven by achieving an academic certificate, but also how his or her research can create societal change through their original research.  Being able to stay true to one’s idea for a period of three years (or more) is not an easy thing.

Just like a start-up entrepreneur, a PhD-trepreneur needs to be equipped with several key skills to get to get the finishing line of his or her research:


Self-starter and Disciplined

Unlike an undergraduate or postgraduate programme, a PhD programme does not come with a set academic timetable to abide by. Apart from several key milestones set by the University that needs to be achieved, the individual will need to arrange his or her own timeline and deliverables. As such, having good discipline is a must to ensure that deliverables are met on time.



Apart from putting together a final thesis, some other key deliverables required by a PhD researcher include:

  • data collection,
  • journal paper, and conference paper publication,
  • internal and external engagement,
  • sorting out additional funding.

Additionally, in some cases like mine, where my PhD research is based in industry, I also need to juggle the work and expectations of the company I am seconded to.



Being creative and thinking outside of the box is crucial for a PhD-trepreneur to produce unique and original research contribution.

Devising a new methodology is a creative process.

Encountering an unexpected ‘road block’ in the research journey is a common experience. As such, thinking outside the box comes in handy to devise an alternative solution to get around the problem.


Passion and Determination

Just like an entrepreneur staying passionate and determined is an important trait to have. This involves putting long hours of work in to achieve an intended outcome.

When sometimes unfavourable outcomes like a rejected publication reply come our way, we will not be deterred by it but instead work on how to improve our publication for the next submission.



Sorting out additional funding and accolades is one way for a PhD researcher to stand out in their field.

For me, securing the UK Data Service Data Impact Fellowship award has definitely helped me to open more doors in advancing my research. Being and staying competitive is good for constant self-improvement.


People and Presentation Skills

A successful PhD-trepreneur needs to be able to communicate their research work in simplest terms.

As such, mastering good people skills is a must in both internal and external engagement. I remember my first research conference with the multi-disciplinary group was indeed exciting!

The above is not an exhaustive list, but covers most of the key skills


In conclusion, having almost finished my PhD programme, I am definitely a different person from where I was when I started 27 months ago.

Apart from being academically evolved, I have personally developed my thinking, mental and emotional toughness. And apart from improving the mentioned list of skills, I think my greatest takeaway is learning the art of writing.

Learning how to convey one’s idea in the simplest terms and leaving a great impact is definitely something a PhD-trepeneur needs to be able do!


About the author

Aishah Selamat is one of our UK Data Service Data Impact Fellows.

Aishah is a second year PhD student with the Faculty of Science and Technology at Bournemouth University. Her PhD research is co-funded by Bournemouth University and County Coaches (UK) LLP (a company of Travelmanagement4u.com). Aishah’s research aims to develop an Intelligent Transportation Analytical Model for SMEs.


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