My PhD Journey - Sharon Colilles


In this featured post, Sharon Colilles recalls her thoughts and experiences from when she first embarked on her journey, through looking back at challenges and many revisions, until her recent completion late last year.

When Maggie (CREC) asked me if I would be willing to share some insights about my PhD journey, I recall a deep sigh of relief that I had finally reached the finish line! It took six years to complete my research which utilises the ‘voice’ of the child to explore what the key influences are on three mixed ethnic children’s ability to relate to and connect with constructs about their ethnic identity in an early- years setting. It investigates play based pedagogical approaches and the complexities that exist for the early years practitioner in ensuring an inclusive curriculum for diverse learners whilst at the same time meeting the learning and development requirements in the Early Years Foundation Stage. 

From the outset of the doctoral journey, I was advised to ‘read widely’ around my chosen topic. Not really understanding what that meant I read everything (not a good plan). I was also told to ‘write’. I wrote but did not really understand what I was writing about other than elaborating on and critiquing what had gone before. Then it all changed.
It wasn’t until I moved my study to CREC and the careful guiding support of Professor Chris Pascal and Professor Tony Bertram ‘kicked in’ that I started to unravel what working towards a PhD was all about. Supervision for me was about being prepared, being well read as well as being deeply reflective about what I hoped to achieve. It was about learning how to undertake a PhD, apply the rigour expected of a doctoral student, as well developing my contribution to philosophy. Developing my research design and a research matrix was probably one of the most challenging tasks I had to do in those early stages, because it meant really having to pin down the supporting theoretical framework and methodological paradigms that would focus my study. Journaling became key to decision making processes, especially when I was in the field because it was these reflections that helped to refine what I would include and indeed exclude from the final write up of my thesis.


Researching (for me) is about being clear about what ideas support, negate and will ultimately defend your balanced theorisations. Accept that writing up and being asked to constantly revise your chapters is a process that shows rigour in the PhD journey. You will be critiqued by your supervisors and expected to defend your decisions. As Chris says doing a PhD is tough, so be prepared to dig deep and recognise there will inevitably be weaknesses in your ideas. Also be prepared to put on hold the things you like to do in your spare time because I describe a PhD as carrying around a weight of responsibility to do justice to your chosen topic. There never seemed to be a moment that I wasn’t thinking about my PhD and doing it justice. For me it was about giving voice to young children’s perspectives about their ethnic and raced identity.
Although completing a PhD was a contractual requirement as an academic, I believe professionals should undertake one because it will contribute towards your own ethical and intellectual growth in research. Shenton (2004) contends that the ability of the researcher to relate his/her findings to existing bodies of knowledge is a key criterion for evaluating workings in qualitative studies. The rigour of research gives you confidence in the important contributions you will make to knowledge that add to existing epistemologies. You also become very clear about your positionality in terms of your professional approach towards early childhood learning and development. When considering my own positionality, I am more confident about my identity as a black researcher and my ability to address highly sensitive contexts surrounding ‘race’ and ethnicity’. More importantly I can engage dialogue in safe spaces with my contemporaries by embracing Formosinho and Pascal (2016) explanation about one of Freire’s (1970) contribution towards the development of participatory pedagogies. I particularly liked their argument about the concept of democracy: “democracy develops in a context of respect for human rights…and of identity development for children and professionals which is also and educative process of self-identity development of themselves and others as learners” (2016:30). I also like their thoughts where education is viewed as a political act because it develops critical consciousness. A PhD helped me to raise consciousness about focusing children’s rights to name their perceptions about ethnic identity in their learning processes.
I feel very proud of my achievement now that I have completed. Looking forward I have been successful in acquiring a role a project assistant on Birth to Five Matters, as well as becoming an Associate Trainer for Early Education. I feel reassured about my future as a consultant, researcher and academic. What better validation does one need than achieving a PhD?
Although I do pinch myself when I reflect on what I have achieved, I also note that through the process on the viva ‘they’ really don’t give a PhD away do they!
•Formosinho, J., and Pascal, C ed. (2016) Assessment and evaluation for transformation in early childhood. Oxon: Routledge, p.30.
•Shenton, A. (2004) Strategies for ensuring trustworthiness in qualitative research projects. Education for Information IOS Press, Vol 22, pp.63-75.


Sharon Colilles is an experienced early years advisor, academic and researcher. Living in a world rich in cultural diversity fuels Sharon's passion to support awareness and understanding about how play based pedagogy influences young children's formation of an individual ethnic identity.

Sharon has recently completed her PhD "Exploring how play based pedagogies support mixed ethnic identity formation".

You can contact Sharon on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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