07 September 2020

Vanessa Rodrigues has just completed her PhD in service design at the Department of Computer and Information Science at Linköping University. Five years of research has come to an end.

Why did you decide to do a PhD?

If someone had told me six years ago that I would do a PhD, I would probably have laughed it off. I didn't think of myself as being interested in academia, perhaps because I come from a practice-oriented background.
I had worked in the hospitality industry in India for several years when I decided to do a master's in international business in Maastricht. It was then that I had my first brush with service design. At the end of my master's I got curious about questions like, “If I want to give my customers a better experience, how do I do that?” 


Please explain what your research is about.

Part of my research is theoretical, but the more practical part is about understanding what makes services work when changes are happening.
For example, in the last two decades, the way we travel has changed because of technology. The advent of smartphones transformed how we interact with travel services.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is another such example: it has also transformed how a lot of services, including healthcare, are being managed. My research focusses on how service providers are working to face changes like these and to highlight the role service design can play in strengthening these adaptive and transformative capacities.

What is most important when you pick a university for your PhD?

The most important thing when you are doing a PhD is finding a topic that you are excited and curious about. You also need to have an open mind when you look for answers to your questions.
When you pick a university, it's essential to find a research group that is strong in the area you're studying. That way, your colleagues will be able to help you on your research journey.
I was fortunate because my professor, Stefan Holmlid, has pushed the theoretical foundations for research on service design, and my colleague Johan Block has pioneered research on service prototyping, which was my initial research area. I'm very proud to be part of this research group.
The quality of education is, of course, also important. You want to choose a university with a good reputation.

What do you do as a PhD?

You do research, teach, go to conferences, you read a lot and write. At the beginning of your PhD, you take classes. I also hosted workshops and did fieldwork in Eskilstuna and Milan.
It's a mix of a lot of things, not only research.

What has been the most fun part of doing a PhD?

For me, it's been meeting people. I've met so many people and learned so many new things.
When I started, I worried about a lot of things. I didn't speak Swedish, and I did not know how to do research properly, but people around me were welcoming and helped me. If I had a problem, I could go to the office of any colleague at any time.
My colleagues and I exchange ideas and discuss without the fear of being judged. I love that. People here always try to lift you.
It's been the same with people I met during my fieldwork, like the nurses working in primary care. They were so welcoming. What has also been rewarding is to see when they've realised that the research we're doing can be useful and beneficial to them.

What is the most challenging thing about being a PhD-student?

It can sometimes feel lonely. There are always people around who can help you, but you have to take responsibility for your work.
The loneliness doesn't last for long, though. And it's good to remember that you are not alone; every PhD student feels that way at some point or the other.


What qualities do you need to do a PhD?

Curiosity, passion, and excitement for your area of research. For my research area empathy is also essential. By this I mean that you need to be able to understand how other people are feeling and not just go forward with your agenda.

Do you work a lot as a PhD? How much does a PhD student earn?

My days were well spaced out, so I started at around 8 am and finished around 5-6 pm. I sometimes went to a work-out class during lunch break and adjusted by staying longer.
I could work a day from home if it was more convenient. What was important for my supervisor was that I got the work done and delivered what I was supposed to.
In the runup to the defence of my dissertation, I did have long days; there was so much to do. But that was not an everyday thing.

The salary increases as your work progresses. You get a raise after having finished 30 per cent of your PhD and after 60 per cent. At the Department of Computer and Information Science, I earned, after having completed 60 per cent of my PhD, 33 400 Swedish kronor a month. [June 2020]

If you are a student and are thinking about doing a PhD, how do you go about it?

The easiest way is to contact a research group in the area you're interested in and tell them you are interested in doing a PhD.
Or you look for vacancies. I know Linköping University has a webpage with open positions.

You just completed your PhD. What are your plans now?

In a few months, I will start a new job working with service design here in Östergötland county. I will also work at Linköping University because I want to continue to do research.
As I said, it was curiosity that got me interested in doing a PhD. I came from a practice-oriented background, and when I decided to do a PhD, I wasn't interested in research per se, as much as I wanted to find answers to my questions. But now I'm drawn to research, and I'm trying to figure out how to balance the two.

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