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The most ground-breaking and innovative research may be the result of some seemingly useless occupation of a playful mind. Having said that, it is not impossible for industry or government to give guidance and express their needs, when it comes to directions of research, and achieve an increasing number of innovations with practical use in industry or daily life.

Times are changing, and the governments in Hong Kong and China are changing their policies to encourage universities to present practical research that benefits the economy, according to Lingnan University’s PhD student Kang Yu-yang, whose research focuses on how new government policies drive research for practical solutions.

“I am writing a paper on how the Shenzhen and Hong Kong governments try to encourage their universities to cooperate with industry and conduct more research that is applicable to real life situations and has a social influence,” she says.

Learning the ropes

Kang sums up that to do a PhD, one needs to have a solid knowledge of one’s field, be professionally trained and well-equipped with research methods and ethical terms. They should also have a professional network and a clear career plan.

Although Kang, who is in her second year now, joined Lingnan with an MSc in China and Globalisation from King’s College, London, UK, she was not well prepared for doing research and publishing in journals, and learned a lot from the feedback she regularly received from her supervisors.

“It is kind of a general guidance and constant feedback,” Kang explains. “Every time I write something, my supervisor will read it through and give me comments. Then I keep working on the revision until we both feel satisfied about it.”

She also emphasises that to do a PhD, students have to build their own professional network locally and internationally, for which conferences and workshops are excellent venues. Last year she met many leading scholars from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, UK, and US. In addition, she received an invitation to be a visiting scholar at Bath, where one of the scholars offered to supervise her.

Finally, it is useful to have a career plan and have several papers published even before finishing the PhD, she says.

Campus life

As Lingnan is a liberal arts college, students’ interests are quite closely related. “When you talk to them, you easily get inspired,” Kang says. As the campus is small, it is also easy to make friends and get support if she needs help. Kang also appreciates the great conferences and workshops hosted by the university. “I can just stay here at Lingnan and get a top conference,” she says.

She finds Hong Kong has a lot of advantages in terms of scholarships, research resources and teaching. The biggest problem she is facing is her own self, she admits.

“The biggest obstacle is not an external one, it is myself,” she says half-joking. “Sometime I get lazy. Doing a PhD is not easy at all. Many people get too stressed or depressed because of the pressure of graduation and publishing. I have to find a balance between work and life.”

But she looks forward to returning to her future students the help and attention she is receiving from her supervisors. What she learned is that students have to be grateful for all the help they receive but they are their own boss, they have to do the job and plan their future themselves. They can’t rely on the supervisor for everything.