An in-depth study of entrepreneurs and PhD students' practical processes and self identities: Are they really two different species?

  • Dale Heywood

Student thesis: Phd


This research explores two polarised occupations; entrepreneurs and PhD research students. It exposes similarities and differences between them which specifically defuse the species premise that all entrepreneurs are different and often portrayed as superior to the rest of society and that they, entrepreneurs, are diametrically opposed to PhD research students in the objectives of their work and ultimate intentions for that work. An explorative, interpretive approach is taken which helps illuminate how people understand, interpret and employ their self identity to qualify the practices of both entrepreneurship and PhDship. This methodology enabled exploration of perceptions of self and role in a small sample of people of different age, gender, class, ethnicity and economic standing of two externally polarised occupational groups. This approach permits a compare and contrast of both similarity and differences between these two roles. Qualitative interviews were conducted with six entrepreneurs and six current PhD students from two North West of England research-led universities in a multitude of disciplines and industrial sectors. Numerous existing studies have compared entrepreneurs to managers, to leaders and more recently to business students. Other studies have aimed to ascertain why some people become an entrepreneur as oppose to a salaried employee. To date, no previous research that I am aware of considers doctoral researchers in the same way, that is, as individuals making a contribution to society that is of social, economic and intellectual benefit by furthering knowledge and innovation.The findings from this research show that there are overwhelming similarities between these two occupations in both their practical processes and their sense of self. In fact, there are more differences within the two occupations than between them. It is suggested that identification of individual purpose may prove a valuable determinate of whether people select either of these occupations for socioeconomic reasons or for socioemotional ones. The contribution this research and its findings make is in the recognition of the different purposes individuals express as their primary reason for engaging in either PhD research work or venture formation. This recognition helps expand our understanding beyond the existing opportunity-necessity or push-pull hypothesis to demonstrate a more sophisticated intention based form of inquiry. Individuals in both occupations are subsequently sub categorised as conformists, alterpreneurs, changemakers or vocationalists. Conformists aim to meet perceived social expectations of them; Alterpreneurs are those who buy-a-job; Changemakers intend to improve or fix a self identified problem; Vocationalists intend to develop their skill and expertise in their chosen field.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Hassard (Supervisor) & Paula Hyde (Supervisor)


  • PhD students; entrepreneurs; entrepreneurship; PhDship;
  • social identity; occupations; changemakers; alterpreneurs; conformists ; vocationalists

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