I did my undergraduate degree at Kent and one day I was talking to an academic about the gig economy – companies like Deliveroo and Uber. The gig economy is a new phenomenon and I really wanted to find out more. Eventually, with the School’s help, I was granted postgraduate funding from the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) that allowed me to do a Master’s followed by a PhD. To have the School’s backing was a big help – they really believed in me.
Master’s students want more from their studies. They have high expectations and that works well because the academics can go into depth. They get to teach their specialised topics and they really enjoy that. Some of my Master’s lectures were the best I’ve ever heard.
The University has really invested in the library and my own School’s postgraduate study room is, I think, one of the best on campus. It feels like a proper community. The Graduate School offers a lot of workshops – I recently did one on speedreading and that was amazing. I’m reading six times as fast as I did.
The MA sets you up for a career involving research. For those who are working, it’s a way to improve their research skills. For others, like me, it’s good preparation for a PhD. Everything you learn is related to running a research project. The skills you gain are tangible and we did practical projects for every module. For instance, when I was studying quantitative research, I wrote a report on whether money makes people happy, based on data from a census across Europe. For qualitative research, I learnt interviewing skills – for instance, how to avoid the many pitfalls, like asking leading questions.
Now you’re on a PhD programme, how have things changed?
I have two supervisors and they’re as excited about my project as I am. Because the gig economy is topical and new, there’s not much research out there, so they’re looking for me to tell them information. The onus is on me to become the expert and that’s quite daunting but also exciting.
The title of my thesis is: ‘From a job for life to a gig economy: rethinking work, time and economic life’. I’m interested in the nature of gig work and how it’s novel, including how the gig economy affects areas such as legislature and employment status.
The gig economy is run by algorithms. This means that the ‘manager’ is a robot and doesn’t really care about the people involved. For example, drivers at Uber have an ‘appraisal’ every time they do a job – and if their customer ratings are low, they could be ‘sacked’. The legislature is still trying to catch up.
At the moment, I’m interested in taking an ESRC internship in parliament – it’s a great way to get your work recognised in that sphere. After my PhD, I’m either thinking of post-doc research in academia or research in the public sector.
Be prepared to leave your assumptions at the door. Some of the material will challenge everything you thought you knew. Also, be prepared to develop your own arguments and listen to the opposing point of view – people will disagree and you need this input to refine your own perspective.