How my PhD enabled an entrepreneurial mind-set: Max’s experience

We close our series of PhD Horizons blog posts with an excellent contribution from Max Chan, an entrepreneur and founder of an innovative violin tuition business. Max shares his experience of PhD study and how it helped prepare him for a career outside of academia.

Over to Max…

Hello there!

My name is Max and I currently work as the PhD ambassador at Edinburgh Innovations (EI), the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service, to map out and align curricular and extracurricular enterprise education and training opportunities for PhD students, together with my colleagues at EI and the University of Edinburgh Business School (UEBS). At the same time, I am a Tier-1 Start-up Visa sponsee currently working to develop my entrepreneurial project, ‘Violinnovate’; an online platform that aims to improve the practice quality of violin students.

It may be surprising to many that my academic background is in Economics since it is not directly related to any of my current positions: in fact, I completed my PhD back in 2021 with a focus on individual decision-making and game theory. I started giving private violin lessons as a ‘side-hustle’ during my PhD years, partly because I have always had a passion for playing the violin and spreading the joy of music. This has turned into a project that I wanted to take to the next level upon completion of my PhD.

Reflecting on my PhD study

Although I have chosen a third path outside academia and industry in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my PhD years and found the experience meaningful and nourishing. Here’s why:

  • First and foremost, I have developed my ability to conduct research effectively to pick up new and useful knowledge on any topic of interest. This is empowering because being a good entrepreneur means being a good learner, as one needs to often step into any unfamiliar fields that running a start-up involves.
  • Secondly, to think critically and independently and not accept things as they are. Any PhD researchers go through the process of discovering literature and evidence that they may either accept, challenge, or build upon. Similarly, an entrepreneur contributes to society by thinking outside the box and coming up with ways to challenge and improve what we already have.
  • Finally, my PhD studies have further developed my interest in human behaviours and individual choice-making, which are fundamentally relevant to my job as a PhD ambassador on encouraging more students to be involved in entrepreneurship, as well as my start-up to align students’ incentives with their practice goals.

In retrospect, my PhD years have prepared me for a career outside of academia and Economics. Towards the end of my PhD research, it was clear to me that a career in academia was not something that I wanted to pursue at this stage of my life. It took some careful deliberation before I decided that I should give something else a try while I could; it was scary at first to leave research behind after having been in school my entire life. But, so far, I believe I have made the right choice as I am really enjoying this new chapter.

Parting advice…

In Economics, the term ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ refers to humans’ tendency to follow through on an endeavour if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it. For some PhD students, it will be especially tempting to continue down the path of academia only because we all have spent so much time and effort on our studies. However, from my experience, it is because of this reason that PhD students should take time to constantly re-evaluate what they want to do and be reminded that, as we dig deeper and narrower on each of our specialised topics of knowledge, the doors to different career possibilities remain wide open. Our knowledge and experience as researchers will always find a way to propel us forward in our respective careers at the end.

Good luck!

Thanks Max.

As we come to the end of PhD Horizons, we want to remind you that our support doesn’t stop here. The Careers Service is here for you in person and online.   

If you’ve missed any of the inspiring PhD Horizons blogs we have published throughout June, you can view these by using the PhD Horizons tag. You can also browse our PhD Horizons website for related resources. 

(Image credit: RODNAE Productions on Pexels)


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