Author Profile Picture

Ruth Sharpe

Institute for Development Policy and Management

Part-time HRM lecturer

Read more about Ruth Sharpe

Tales from an HRM PhD – the starry beginnings


This is the first article in a four-part series from Ruth Sharpe, part-time lecturer and full-time PhD learner at the Institute for Development Policy and Management at Manchester University, on the trials and tribulations of undertaking a PhD in HRM.

Pondering this? Let me help and offer a practical HR human insight into the ‘conquering Everest’ equivalent from my own lifelong learning experience – the PhD. Here is the start of my warts-and-all thinking, with all of the thrills, threats and traumas that the PhD brings.

To get us up to speed then, a curtailed introduction to me. I was a slow starter academically but took to being that popular 90s thing that was the mature student like a veritable duck to water. I progressed from the Bachelor degree to the Masters and grabbed the MCIPD status along the way. With all the banners and glory of firsts and distinctions and University prizes. Yay me!

In all this wonder of academic achievement, my HR career gathered some momentum. I started my own HR business and moved relatively easily into full and part time HRM/CIPD lecturing doing some pretty impressive practical bits of research along the way.

Doing well – or so I thought. The PhD was the logical next step in all this right? Logical reasoning certainly in that I am up against the pack! The number of people undertaking full-time doctoral studies has ballooned by 22% to 16,900 between 1996/7 and 2004/5 and the global talent debate is ever clear with an increasing number of students coming from abroad.

In fact, the number of foreign students has grown faster than the number of UK applicants. So how could I stand out from the crowd? And importantly, how could I make my research a front runner? There’s no easy answer!

Let’s start with choosing the subject. You are HR? Easy right? No no no. Academia and the real world of HR exist in parallel universes.

You HRM folk out there are doing this now, today. I was faced with choosing something that will take me at least three years and that’s with a good wind behind me. So sorry, but your PhD is practically out of date before you even have that lightbulb moment in the middle of the night that often starts this ball rolling.

And how do you choose a topic that that you are going to live, breathe, dream of and – hmmmm -joyously become for that three years? Tricky and definitely not logical.

When you have triumphed over scaling that particular cliff face, your next physical assault is to navigate the glacial crevice of convincing your University of choice to go with your focus.

With lots of debate about the PhD being devalued due to the sheer number of applicants, why is your thrills and spills dynamic insight into HRM something they should give two hoots about?

Then, not to put too fine a point on it, how will you stump up or source the cash in the face of this global rush to excel? I make this last point rather glibly because the reality is this can be the stumbling block at this stage or, worse still, later.

But you climb, navigate, conquer and exceed in these challenges. Glorious, excited, thrilled and honoured to be starting, you are on your way to becoming the next big thing in HR academia.

Or so you think……

Author Profile Picture
Ruth Sharpe

Part-time HRM lecturer

Read more from Ruth Sharpe

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.