PhD Student Blog: My Journey to studying for a PhD

By Tanya Schrader, PhD Student in Psychology (Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research).

As a first-year undergraduate, one of our assignments was to write a reflective essay with SMART goals. My first thought was “Argh!”. My second thought was “Why, why, why?”. I’m happy to report that it turned out well and I’ve come to appreciate reflection both in my academic and personal life. Reflective practices have not only benefitted my academic work but also reminds me to acknowledge my achievements, big and small, that have aided me in my endeavours. Reflecting on my achievements has proved a valuable method to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the experiences of undertaking a degree.


The last time I wrote on this blog was at the end of my BPS Research Assistantship in 2017. I had my final year ahead of me and had made the decision to continue to post-graduate study. I had no idea how I was going to overcome the logistical and financial challenges, but I was determined to find a way (Did I mention that my husband is also doing a degree at Staffs?). I reflected over the many challenges I’d overcome to get into university, and the achievements I’d made up to that point. This gave me the determination I needed to stay positive and focussed.

First and foremost, I knew I needed to put everything I had into my final year. I set out my academic goals (and yes, they were SMART), put my head down and went full steam ahead. It was intense, and I could not have done it without the support of my peers and the best academic staff in the world. My project supervisor, Dr Dan Jolley, showed unwavering faith in my abilities even when I was very much in doubt. My project, which investigated the relationship between rape myth acceptance and feminist conspiracy theories, produced a significant result and I knew that this research needed to be extended. I presented my findings at the Staffordshire University Psychology Student Conference, followed by the British Psychological Society’s Midlands conference. I received valuable feedback on both counts, which informed the direction of my postgraduate study.

I put forward a PhD proposal and it was accepted. Together with my supervisors, Dr Daniel Jolley and Dr Sarah Krähenbühl, I am currently in the early stages of my program of researching the darker outcomes of conspiracy theory beliefs. We are investigating the unjust treatment of people who belong to groups that are perceived to be involved in conspiracies. In particular, if this relates to increased online and offline aggression, the justification of violent acts, and if such group membership affects people’s experiences within the criminal justice system.

Again, I find myself at a point where I need to reflect upon my journey thus far to reassure myself that I have what it takes.

As 2018 gave way to 2019, while I was planning the upcoming year and feeling slightly anxious about the challenges ahead, I received news that I was to be published!  The study that was conducted as part of my BPS Assistantship project, culminated in a paper which I co-authored with Dr Daniel Jolley, Prof Karen Douglas and Dr Ana Leite.  The paper, titled Belief in conspiracy theories and intentions to engage in everyday crime, has just been accepted for publication by the British Journal of Social Psychology. What a splendid way to begin the new year. So now, whenever the inevitable doubts creep in, I have this achievement to remind myself that I have what it takes to be a PhD student.

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

For more information about the Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit the below pages: