Dr Nousheen Zakaria

Dr Nousheen Zakaria

Why did you decide to study for a PhD?
My father always wanted me to study for a PhD as he did not get an opportunity to go to university himself. He gave me the aspiration and over time I became increasingly interested in doing a research degree and studying for the highest level academic qualification.

I started looking for opportunities to do a PhD soon after my masters graduation. I was very interested in the idea of research. I was fascinated by the idea of investigating and working on something that had not been explored before.

Coming from a conservative family background, where girls especially were not encouraged to study for a degree, this meant that I was doing something that no one in my family had done before. I wanted to push the boundaries, also set an example for others in my family. I hoped they would see me as a role model and think that they could do it too if they willed it.

How did you find it? How different is it to studying for a masters degree?
I did not actually know what to expect from the PhD process. I did know that it involved research but the process was entirely new and different from a taught degree programme as you work independently on your own topic rather than having a full time table of taught classes.

Doing a research degree not only transforms you as an independent thinker and researcher but also boosts your confidence to trust your instincts and judgements. You come out as an expert in that specific topic that you were exploring. 

What have you gained from doing a PhD?
Doing a PhD has been life-changing for me. It truly has transformed me as a person and I learned so much. My supervisors, Professor Chris Forde and Professor Andrew Robinson, were extremely kind, supportive and helpful throughout my studies. I definitely benefited from their experience, and their approach towards research, critical thinking and analysis. They encouraged me to think creatively and analytically. They provided me enough support and encouragement to take on more research projects, attend conferences and think outside the box. I also enjoyed the teaching opportunities I was given.

The training programmes offered to PhD students by the University of Leeds were excellent. They offered a lot of cross-networking opportunities with other research students from different departments, as well as guidance, mentoring and support.

I would always stress about ‘finishing’ my PhD. In one of the sessions run by the University, we read a poem called ‘Ithaka’ by CP Cavafy. Although in the poem reaching Ithaka is the primary goal, the poet emphasises the importance of the voyage to get there. This transformative journey should be enjoyed and not hurried as the experiences you have along the way can make you wiser and spiritually richer. It becomes more important than reaching the destination itself. My approach towards my degree changed after that, and I realised that my PhD journey has been like reaching Ithaka. I learned so much doing a PhD that it really shaped me to do the role I am doing currently. No other degree could have better prepared me than this one. 

What top tips or advice do you have for MBA graduates thinking of doing a PhD?
Doing a research degree is a challenging and life-changing experience. It is very different from a taught programme such as an MBA. But it challenges you in boundaries you could have not imagined, tests your patience and shapes your thinking, helps you be an independent thinker and researcher.

I choose a very different path from most of my fellow students after my PhD as I went into industry and not academia. However, working in the industry after doing a research degree has made me more confident, independent and added to my rigour. Undertaking my PhD gave me the self-belief to explore new dimensions and challenge boundaries. If you think you are ready for the challenge of this most rewarding and satisfying programme, then I would recommend you to go for it! 

What are your plans for the future?
I run my own business - The Code It Company in Karachi and Out Of Box Designs - a UK based company. I am currently planning on expanding our tech company base in the Middle-East. We mainly work from the European and American market, so this is a new challenge we are focusing on. Apart from this, I am working towards changing the way children are taught in schools in Pakistan - my plan is to help children and offer them opportunities so they can become critical thinkers and self-learners (just like the PhD process did for me). 

Find out more
Research degrees | University of Leeds
Home - OD&PL Researcher Development and Research Culture (leeds.ac.uk)