A PhD experience that opens up a world of possibilities

Part of a harbour in the Oslo Fjord with small and medium sized boats and sail boats on the water.

When Mariya Khoronzhevych decided to undertake her PhD studies at Oslo Metropolitan University, she had little idea it would afford her rich extracurricular experiences like sailing in New Zealand and learning how to oil paint.

Hailing from Ukraine, she had been living in Norway for 13 years, working most recently as a caseworker at the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) before joining OsloMet's Department of Social Work.

A combination of funding and travel opportunities plus the lifestyle afforded to advanced degree candidates reinforced her decision to select Norway's most urban university for this critical stage in her career.

Choosing OsloMet

For Mariya, the initial draw was the practical approach of the programme with full academic support.

"I applied to OsloMet first of all because it has a practical approach compared to other universities that have a more theoretical approach to studies," she explains.

"At the same time, it was important that I could develop my topic in a proper academic environment and get the proper supervision."

She was pleased to discover that many of the other PhD candidates in her programme were around the same age and came in with field experience instead of matriculating immediately after their master's studies.

Their collective expertise as practitioners has made for more fun and engaging coursework and research as a cohort.

As Khoronzhevych nears the completion of her PhD, her only regret is missing out on the opportunity to gain classroom teaching experience.

She planned to do so in her final months, but the timing of the COVID-19 crisis interfered with her chance to teach as part of the programme. However, other opportunities both in Norway and abroad more than made up for this disappointment.

Portrait of Mariya

The lifestyle of a PhD candidate

The high standard of living and warm yet cosmopolitan atmosphere in Oslo is attractive for business professionals and academics alike.

Fun and funky neighbourhoods are located a short walk or bike ride from the fjord, and there are abundant leisure pursuits all around the city.

"In Norway, doing your PhD is not like studying, but a job. So, you are not really a student, but a research fellow. You get paid a pretty good salary compared to other countries or compared to what you would receive in scholarship money at universities in other countries. So, you kind of live your ordinary life," Khoronzhevych notes.

Mariya in front of an artificial tree with leaves lit by LED lights.

Exploring Oslo's park art. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

That ordinary life involves living in her own apartment in one of downtown Oslo's picturesque neighbourhoods, where she enjoys going for walks, going to the gym, and meeting up with international friends for coffee and dinners.

An artistic hobby she has taken up while working on her PhD is learning how to paint. It was something she always had on her bucket list but never had the chance to try. Now she is experimenting with landscape oil painting.

"It is totally new for me. When I was a kid, I wanted to paint. But my mom thought that after school days, I needed more physical activity. I was swimming and dancing when I really wanted to paint. So now I am almost 40, and I started a painting course. I am really enjoying it," she says.

Funding and travel opportunities

Khoronzhevych was able to secure three years of joint funding as a public sector PhD through an arrangement with NAV and the Research Council of Norway because her project at OsloMet is relevant to the social work field in Norway.

She also extended her work well beyond Scandinavia.

"We have the opportunity to go abroad for exchange, and we can choose any country we want. I wanted to go to New Zealand, so I found a university there that had research very relevant to mine, which was person-centred research. I contacted them, and they were interested in hosting me," she recalls.

"I really enjoyed being a part of the team there, which helped me to learn a lot about their work. And I felt so welcomed, both as part of the research team and at after-work activities."

Six story high apartment building in yellow at the bottom, red in the middle and purple at the top.

New and cool neighbourhoods in Oslo. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

While the working day in New Zealand was longer than in Norway, Khoronzhevych took full advantage of her free time by going on road trips, relaxing with colleagues at the beach, and joining the local sailing club as a crew member who even helped her boat win several races.

The experience abroad was one of the major highlights of her PhD experience.

Now she has only a few months before the submission of her dissertation. The full scope of her programme did not go entirely according to plan, mostly due to the COVID-19 crisis. Still, she made the most of what was available and even crossed a few childhood dreams off her bucket list in the process.

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