UCL School of Management

Grace Gaywood | 16 November 2020

Entrepreneur turned PhD Student - Aardra Chandra Mouli shares her experience getting back into the field of academia

Aardra Chandra Mouli is a PhD student representative currently in her second year studying at UCL School of Management. Aardra is a part of our Strategy and Entrepreneurship group and her research interests are connected to gender and entrepreneurship, with her current focus being centred around factors influencing decision-making and motivation.

One of the key deciding factors for Aardra in choosing to study at UCL School of Management was the structure of the PhD programme. After completing her Master’s in 2013, Aardra started her career as an entrepreneur, founding India’s first-ever fully female owned environmental biotech company Aardra said: “the format of the programme meant that I had a year to “get back into the groove” of being a student, and also gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself back into research and study.”

Read more about Aardra’s experience studying with us and what she enjoys about being a part of the UCL Community. 

What are the most rewarding and challenging things about the PhD programme?

I had the opportunity to visit the school on Level 38 at One Canada Square before I joined the programme and the two things impressed me the most then, and still do now, were the feeling of a community and the stunning views from the office!

Personally, I find it challenging to organise my time as effectively as I would like. Research can involve a lot of solitary work; the lockdown periods have further added to this isolation as almost everyone has to work from home now. 

How have your experiences outside of the programme supported your learning and research?  

My curiosity about my research areas mostly stems from my entrepreneurial career as the founder of India’s first fully women-owned environmental biotech company. I am passionate about knowledge and skill cascading – outside of my PhD work I try to find the time to volunteer as an employability and entrepreneurship consultant. Additionally, I also work with life science students and graduates for upskilling, portfolio enhancement and entrepreneurship mentoring. I believe that my background and interests help me explore nuances in entrepreneurial decision-making and strategy generation.

Have you had any unexpected changes that have made you revise or develop your research?

Covid-19 definitely threw a spanner in the works of data collection and network-building!

What is your key takeaway from your time studying at UCL SoM so far?

That research and academia are demanding, but very, very interesting.

What are your three greatest achievements to date?

Establishing my start-up, the work I have done during my first year of the PhD programme, and learning how to ‘adult’.

How would you describe the community at the school?

I’d probably compare it to a lovely onion: there are layers of interactions with your colleagues, the supervisors and other staff members; and you can feel it in the air. My own experience of the School of Management community is one of great support, warmth and camaraderie.

How would you describe the teaching and research team?

As researchers, they are obviously some of the best and most accomplished in their field, and as teachers and supervisors, they are very intelligent, focused, demanding yet understanding.

What are your future career goals?

I’d like to complete the PhD programme, work on research that I find interesting and exciting, continue to keep a finger on the pulse of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, teaching, and consulting. Not all at the same time, though, that’d be a lot!

What does an average weekend in London look like for a PhD student?

Although I am not sure that I am representative of the PhD cohort, I am based in London and my weekends usually include some combination of catching up with family and friends, watching some comedy, going for long walks and indulging my creative or goofy sides. If there are any puppies accessible (not during lockdown, unfortunately), then stopping to give them a stroke and some scritches shall feature quite prominently.

what have been the benefits and challenges of moving to London?

I moved from my home country, India, to London for the programme. The benefits are that London is constantly interesting. I cannot emphasise this enough. There’s always something surprising, quirky, silly or awe-inspiring to see, and often within metres of each other. In the pre-Covid era, I was staying in Camden, and one of my favourite Sunday activities was to saunter through Camden Market and along the canals, absorbing the colours, sights, sounds, smells and impressions. As for challenges, I’d say that those would mostly revolve around the difference in work culture between India and the UK.

What advice would you give to a student considering studying a PhD at the school?

Remember that almost every single colleague is probably feeling as equally overwhelmed as we are. You are definitely not alone.

Last updated Thursday, 1 April 2021