Me? A subject expert?

Beyond the thesis submission for a PhD, research can be full of little wins and developments that send you on your way to becoming a subject expert. Hear from blogger Ellie King about the fears and joys of these things happening.

When doing my PhD, I’ve heard the term ‘you’ll become the subject expert’ thrown around a little bit. Erm sorry, hold up? Me? An expert? You must be joking right?!

But I guess if you’re making an ‘original contribution to knowledge’ (the other well-known PhD phrase) then yeah, that makes you a subject expert right? It’s both exciting and scary at the same time, but I can sense it starting to happen to me. And I guess I’m a teeny bit proud?

It’s weird how my supervisions have gone from being me listening like an enthusiastic puppy to all the wisdom of my supervisors as they guide me through what on earth I’m meant to be doing, to me leading meetings and guiding my supervisors through the direction of my project.

It’s weird being first author on papers.

It’s weird getting emails from sector colleagues opening with ‘so and so recommended that you’d be a good person to chat to about this thing.’ Going to conferences and people wanting to network with you, rather than you sheepishly chasing round the academic gods. People in your sector knowing you exist.

It’s weird being offered freelance work based on my research. (This one really threw me, because reading the brief I thought ‘oh wow, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing here’, but fake it till you make it!)

It’s weird getting asked to review a paper on similar research for an academic journal, trying to give constructive criticism and useful advice because it was only very recently that I went through the journal publishing process myself and I don’t want to be harsh on the person at the other end.

All these things have been happening to me in the last few months and it’s made me think about how far I’ve come in my research journey. It feels like I’ve finally stood up on the surfboard and I’m riding the wave of academia, mainly in control as well. I’m proud of myself and proud of the relative success I’m having. I always think that the product of the PhD isn’t just the written thesis, but who you are as a person, and taking note of this rise to some form of expert status sums up the real benefit of doing the research.

Be as confident in yourself as you are in your research. It’s not a separate entity, but very much part of you. Take pride in the personal results of your work as much as you do in the academic results. And if you feel like this ‘being the expert’ think doesn’t apply to you – it absolutely does. You’re not an imposter, people aren’t going to ‘find you out’. You are the key holder of the contribution to knowledge that you’re making. This doesn’t mean don’t share your research, because that’s not what the academic community is about. It means use it as a driving force to feel confident and worthy and to have something to say. Ride the wave. It’s not weird.

Have you had any subject expert moments you’re proud of? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Ellie

Ellie King is a Second Year PhD student in Warwick Manufacturing Group. She has been at Warwick since 2014 in the History department, and has recently moved faculties to research applying user experience to the museum sector. Ellie is partnered with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here, or follow her on Twitter @ellietheking

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