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Starting a PhD coming from a non-UK university

Acceptance to the University of Sheffield and accommodation were sorted, luggage and flight tickets were ready. Finally, the day had arrived; I was about to start my postgraduate studies in the UK. However, I had absolutely no idea about the academic experience I was about to embark upon. Having studied my undergrad and master’s degree in Mexico, I thought it should be fairly similar to the academic world I was used to.

Initially, I knew I had compulsory modules to attend and that I had been assigned two supervisors. My first assumption was that I would attend lectures every day and have meetings with my supervisors at least once a week. Little did I know about how it all actually worked! Soon I found out that students here are given a great amount of time for self-study, and they are responsible for their own academic and personal development. That was a big change coming from Mexico, where we have long hours of lectures and workshops. In fact, I didn’t even know the difference between a lecture and a workshop; in my home country we just call them classes.

Fortunately, the University of Sheffield has plenty of opportunities for students to help them become familiar with the UK academic system. I spent my first PhD year complementing my compulsory modules with seminars and training from the Doctoral Development Programme-DDP ( I found a wide range of support on their website - from language skills, research study skills, career management and university counselling service (amongst others). I booked myself onto all the sessions I could in order to understand more and also to change the study habits that were shaped by the Mexican educational system.

Before long, I acknowledged how the academic and research world functioned around here. It certainly became a lot easier to navigate the challenges of being a PhD student. Along with all the support from my supervisors, I felt more confident developing my academic profile. A huge change has been the realisation that YOU (as student) are responsible for your own development, no one else. Opportunities are out there for you, it is just a matter of making the most of them.

Mariana Estrada-Robles, PhD student (Management School)

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