In Conversation with Business Data PhD Researcher Rui Zheng

by | Jun 12, 2024 | AMBS, Postgraduate, Postgraduate research | 0 comments

Rui Zheng is a 4th year PhD researcher in the Alliance Manchester Business School. Her research project is titled: Interpretable data-driven modelling and inference for quantifying the effect of social influence in decision making.

When did you first know you wanted to study at PhD level? Did it follow on from your Master’s?

Both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were here (The University of Manchester) within the Department of Mathematics. I began to consider continuing into doctoral study as I realised that I have a strong desire to understand the origins of certain knowledge.

During my studies as I organised learning materials, I often reviewed many related articles and felt that this knowledge was interconnected and logical, which made me curious about the underlying logic. Although my current research direction is not entirely aligned with my previous studies, the skills I have accumulated, including coding abilities, are important preparations for my current research.

Did you consider any other institutions for your PhD?

I also considered The University of Warwick and The University of Edinburgh. What ultimately led me to decide on The University of Manchester is my familiarity with it. I’ve already experienced its learning and research environment, and rather than spending more time adapting to a new city and university, I prefer to continue my studies in a setting where I feel more comfortable (both academically and personally).

Can you provide an overview of your project and research?

My research topic is ‘Interpretable data-driven modelling and inference for quantifying the effect of social influence in decision-making.’ It’s primarily based on social network analysis and decision science, aiming to understand and analyse how social factors influence decision-making processes and its outcomes within the structure of social networks through modelling.

How do you communicate your research with the wider public? 

Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) holds a doctoral conference every year, encouraging doctoral students to present their research. Additionally, the university hosts a doctoral showcase annually that students can participate in. Furthermore, both the department and supervisors encourage us to attend academic workshops and conferences in our research field, actively promoting our work and expanding our social networks.

In your opinion, what distinguishes your research from other academic disciplines in the Faculty?

AMBS comprises of many smaller divisions. In reality, each division has its own unique focus. Some focus on quantitative research, others on qualitative. Some require field trips while others may only need simulations. As a result, our school brings together doctoral students from diverse backgrounds. This blend of perspectives and social interactions often provides us with a lot of inspiration.

For prospective PhD students, what qualities and skills do you believe are essential for success? 

Being able to synthesise and comprehend complex content, solve problems, consider the big picture while managing details, apply advanced research methods, make consistent decisions regarding abstract information, and exercise sound judgment are key skills.

My tip is to develop good research habits early on, such as cultivating a habit of continuous writing and being systematic. This helps avoid situations later on where time is insufficient and feelings of guilt about not studying enough.

How do you balance your time with research with social and non-university commitments?

I have a clear understanding of the tasks to be completed at this stage since I am already on my final year. My main focus currently is to complete my thesis. I break down what needs to be accomplished each day and follow my plan accordingly. Additionally, I maintain my regular daily activities such as exercising and staying active.

What are the main challenges you have faced during your PhD so far?

My main challenge probably stemmed from the earlier stages, particularly in 2020 during the pandemic. Initially, I may not have had a clear understanding of my entire PhD project, so I was in a phase of gradual exploration. During that time, I encountered many obstacles and felt lost and unmotivated. My supervisor suggested having more frequent meetings to help me better organise my thoughts. I found this very helpful, as it gave me more motivation to explore diligently. This way, I gradually found research methods and approaches that suited me.

What have you learned about yourself by undertaking a PhD? 

I’ve discovered that I’m someone who is motivated by goals. I need to set myself small goals to gradually get moving. My potential has been realised by having my first article accepted which was a very joyous occasion for me. Hopefully, the skills and abilities I’ve acquired can be applied through my studies to further my expertise in my field. Furthermore, I aim to independently conduct relevant research work.

What would be your top tips to a prospective PhD student coming into their research project?

Develop a daily routine that includes dedicated time for research, writing, coursework (if applicable), and other academic activities. Having a structured schedule can help you stay focused and productive.

Network with your peers, faculty members, and other researchers in your field. Collaboration and mentorship are key aspects of the PhD journey, so start building these relationships early on.


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