Doctoral research as a trajectory of successful and failed experimental initiatives: Five crucial lessons for new sustainability transition scholars interested in the developing world

Guest Post by Suyash Jolly – PostDoc at KTH, Sweden.

As sustainability transition scholars we are quite familiar with terms such as ‘first’ and ‘second’ order learning and sustainability experiments. We have used these terms multiple times while writing our articles and often hear them several times during STRN conferences. We have become attached to these terms and they are also integral parts of our lives. I think that these terms are also very useful for understanding our own personal learning trajectories than just sustainable niches. A new PhD researcher in the field of transition studies is also like a promising experiment that needs to be nurtured and protected so that he/she develops into a promising scholar (i.e. niche) by setting visions for his/her PhD research in terms of expected research output and contribution to the literature, networking and engaging in learning by doing. A crucial aspect here is learning from failures. Prominent scholars such as Johan Schot and Frank Geels stress upon the importance of learning from experimental initiatives and changing fundamental values and assumptions while learning from ongoing failures. It seems interesting to look at doctoral research as a trajectory of successful and failed experimental initiatives with multiple opportunities for learning for the purpose of carving out a niche for ourselves as promising scholars.
The current series of blog posts is a good opportunity for me to share my experiences to new doctoral researchers and to also offer some lessons based on mistakes I made during my doctoral research. After writing few academic articles in the field of transition studies and even finishing a doctoral dissertation, I still feel I have just started learning about intricacies of research in the field of transition studies and ready to learn new things by making new mistakes. When I recollect multiple instances during my doctoral research journey, I find that there were more difficult moments, tensions, frustrations and my lack of ability to cope with difficult situations at times than pleasant moments such as acceptance of articles for conferences and publication in journals.

I learned many lessons about finishing a doctoral dissertation, thanks to my supervisor Rob Raven and my master’s supervisor Henny Romijn, who also taught me many interesting lessons early on for research in developing countries. My supervisors and I were well aware of my several weaknesses as a doctoral student in certain areas such as getting lost in new literature, lack of focus and difficulties in terms of articulating my ideas while writing articles. I have managed to learn a lot about the functioning of the academic world and improve on many aspects but I still think that I need to improve a lot. I am not writing this blog post by considering myself as an expert who can offer advice to new researchers but as an ex doctoral researcher who also faced struggles and partially overcame them. All of us have different learning trajectories and it is difficult to articulate a generic list of conditions for successful PhD. Here, I try to offer five crucial lessons I learned during my doctoral research. This guest post is particularly suitable for new researchers interested in studying in sustainability transitions in the global south or the developing world.

In each of the next five episodes of the series, I will elaborate on each of the five crucial lessons (1) Being pragmatic about choice of research questions and research problem; (2) Framing the research clearly and clarifying theoretical contribution; (3) Patience is key during field research; (4) Capturing low hanging fruits early on; (5) Developing a unique scholarly identity from the beginning of the research. I hope these five lessons are useful for you.

In the next post, I will discuss the first crucial lesson. Stay tuned!

Suyash Jolly obtained his PhD from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology and currently works as a Postdoctoral researcher in Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH. His doctoral research focused on collective institutional entrepreneurship for fostering sustainable energy transitions in India. His research examined the institutional strategies of collective actors in shaping development of wind and PV solar energy in India through the lens of collective institutional entrepreneurship. Currently he is working on development of smart grids in India.  His research work can be accessed at:;



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