Student profile
Jo Smith

Jo Smith

"Not only am I getting to study a subject I find fascinating but I am also enhancing my ability to think critically and analytically, which has helped me in my job, and also when looking at the world around me."

Entry year


"I studied a BA in Human Sciences at Oxford University and then spent a decade or so qualifying and working as a solicitor, before returning to study for an MSc Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Research at the University of Surrey.

The Sociology Department has been stuck with me ever since and I am now in year two of a three-year PhD. Not only am I getting to study a subject I find fascinating but I am also enhancing my ability to think critically and analytically, which has helped me in my job, and also when looking at the world around me.

I decided to study my MSc here because this is a good university, well located, and with a strong Sociology Department. During that Masters year I got to know staff and PhD students and found the Department to be a positive and supportive environment in which to study. Throughout that year it became even more apparent to me that the quality of research and teaching at Surrey was excellent and I wanted to be a part of that.

Someone told me early on that a PhD is a test of stamina - it’s a marathon not a sprint - and that’s definitely true. It’s hard work, but I love what I’m doing. Even when things have been difficult and stressful, my supervisors have been incredible.

We also have a good community of PhD students in the Sociology Department and there is always someone you can speak to about your work, your worries, or to say how well your work is going. This community is supported by the staff in the Department who have helped us to organise a departmental symposium. We also have regular PhD research seminars in which we talk about the practicalities of doing PhD work, and present our work.

I have had the chance to lead seminar sessions for undergraduates on three courses, and to act as a teaching assistant for another two courses. Teaching has been a very valuable experience, has developed my confidence, and has helped bring new ideas and perspectives to my research. I would very much recommend becoming involved in teaching and also undertaking the Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (which the Department of Higher Education offer to PhD students and staff at the University of Surrey).

Both supervisors have been absolutely the right people to support me during my PhD. They have trusted me to get on with my research as I see fit, but have also guided me when they can see I need direction or when I ask for help. This suits me (as a mature student who has returned to study after a decade of working almost entirely for myself) and has allowed me to develop the skills necessary to work independently in research when I finish the PhD.

I’ve attended and presented at the Doctoral College Conference this year. I’m also very grateful to the Technology-Enhanced Learning team at Surrey who have provided me with the technological tools to undertake my research using online research methods.

After going to a number of conferences this year and meeting so many interesting people, I have far too many ideas for further research and collaborations and I can’t wait to have the time to get going on these. Based on some of these networks that I have developed, I’m also hoping to do guest lectures on some undergraduate courses at different universities about my research.

Within the University of Surrey I have been involved with running a Sociology Department symposium and I have also presented talks for the Technology Enhanced Learning team and for the Ethics team. I am in the process of helping set up a qualitative online methods group, and am also part of a newly established sexualities and gender research group. I have undertaken some work for a project my supervisors are working on, and will also be (hopefully) collaborating on a book chapter with one of them next year.

The people who I have met at Surrey have made this PhD process much more positive and much less stressful. Whilst a lot of these people are within my Department, I have also developed friendships and support networks more widely throughout the university, through the Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching, the Doctoral College Conference and involvement with other cross-faculty research groups.

I’m hoping to stay in academia, both as a researcher and teaching. And I’d love to stay at Surrey if the opportunity arises. If not, then maybe a post-doc position in another country as I would like the chance to travel more and to live in other places."


Read more student profiles and explore our programmes in criminology and sociology, including our PhD in Sociology.