For our “Going abroad” series, Hugo Guyader interviewed Yupal Shukla, who moved from India to Italy. This is the first part of the interview with him.

Yupal Sanatkumar Shukla hails from India where he has pursued his studies and has obtained his first PhD. Before enrolling in his second PhD program at the University of Bologna in Italy, he worked as an academic in management in India. Yupal has travelled to different parts of the world to attend service conferences, and he took a course at Hanken School of Economics in Finland. Let’s ask him a few questions about his international experience.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I was born and brought up in a small town called Unjha in Gujarat state of India. I have done my undergraduate studies in Arts from Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University and did my MBA in Agribusiness from Ganpat University, India. 

Then, you directly started to work at the university?

After finishing my MBA, I worked as a marketing executive in an agriculture-based organization. Even though, I started my job career with a private firm, I had a clear vision to pursue a career in academia. My passion for teaching paved the way through and in 2009, I got my first academic position as an Assistant Professor in the faculty of Business Administration at Ganpat University, India. You can say that I was fortunate in finding this position as during those days in India, it was not mandatory to have a Ph.D. degree for getting into an Assistant Professor’s position. 

Why did you decide to obtain a PhD anyway?

As I started working, I was told that to have a good academic career, I should get enrolled in a Ph.D. program. So, I got enrolled for Ph.D. program at Ganpat University in 2011 and finished it in 2015. While I was pursuing my Ph.D. studies, I also got enrolled for my second MBA studies in the marketing specialization from Indira Gandhi National Open University, India. The combination of MBA with marketing specialization and Ph.D. degree helped me to get the opportunity to teach MBA students from 2015 onwards at Ganpat University, which I continued till the end of 2018.

And then you started a second PhD degree at the University of Bologna in Italy. Why did you leave Ganpat University and India? 

In 2013 I came to know about the 4th International Research Symposium in Service Management (IRSSM 4) in India. I remember missing out the deadline for abstract submission. However, Prof. Jay Kandampully (Founder and Co-Chair of the Symposium) was kind enough to give me a chance to submit abstract. It was a pleasant surprise to receive the invitation to attend the symposium and also to submit the full paper. After attending this symposium, I got to know what “impactful research” means. The inspirational speech by Prof. Kandampully shook me and brought a burning desire to pursue quality research. I was constantly guided by him and he was the one who motivated me to spend at least a year outside of India for learning research in a structured way. 

The plan was to spend a year or two into a good research-based institute outside of India, immediate after finishing my PhD in 2015. This led me to apply for post-doctoral positions in different parts of world. I was advised that getting post-doctoral position is not so easy provided I did not have a PhD from an international university. This sadly came true as all my applications got rejected. As I can comprehend now, the primary reason for these rejections was the fact that I used to apply without understanding the requirements well and without even caring about whether my current qualifications match with the advertised requirements or not.

In 2016, I was advised to reach out to Prof. Kandampully to get his opinion about doing a second PhD. I do not have words to express my deepest gratitude towards Prof. Kandampully for his guidance through hours of discussion about my quest for learning how to do research. After also consulting with my wife and with my parents, I made the firm call to look for a PhD program outside of India.

[you can watch Jay presenting what is IRSSM all about]

Where did you want to go? 

Honestly, I started my quest for second PhD, with the aspiration of doing it from the Ohio State University, USA. Prof. Kandampully helped me understand about the kind eligibility criteria for my application at Ohio State University and accordingly I started working towards it. The biggest hurdle was getting good score in GRE, and I decided to give it a try in 2016-2017. I got enrolled for GRE coaching classes in the evening for which I had to commute every day for about two hours. I used to come back home around 23:00 pm after finishing my GRE coaching. Unfortunately, I hardly got time to practice well. Ultimately, I could not score well in GRE and could not make it to enroll at Ohio State University.

Prof. Kandampully kept on motivating me even after my poor GRE score, by saying that it is not the end of the road and I should not give up with such failure. I could bounce back soon from the setback as I got to know about a call for PhD position at Deakin University, Australia. The application was bit different. I was required to identify a supervisor first. Prof. Kandampully helped me to connect with Dr. Nichola Robertson and she agreed to support my PhD application. I got shortlisted for the interview, but that did not help me, as only the top 6 students were offered scholarships and unfortunately, I was seventh in the list. I was told that being third author in my Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 2015 paper (which was part of my first PhD dissertation) made me fall short of reaching the finish line.

One more time, Prof. Kandampully again stood by me and advised me not to lose hope, and he suggested I keep trying.

In the end, you managed to get a PhD position at the University of Bologna in Italy!

In April 2018, I saw PhD opportunity in management at the University of Bologna (Unibo), Italy in one of AKADEUS’ career opportunities notifications. I found doing a PhD at Unibo as the relatively best choice, because it had everything. Unibo ranked high in global rankings, it is known as the world’s oldest university, it has a reputation for its research-intensive culture, there was a full scholarship available for four years and the PhD program had additional funding for going abroad, and it is located in the “academic city of Europe”. I got my application docket ready with applying all the things I learned this far. I believe this proposal I wrote was the better all my previous attempts. I sent it in April 2018. I got called for interview in July 2018. Later in the same month, I was announced that I scored a top rank in the merit list of 200 plus applicants from all around world. After a struggle of two years, I finally got accepted to a PhD program!

What would you recommend to someone applying for a PhD in Italy?

PhD positions in most of the universities in Italy are fully funded with scholarships and seem to be competitive. My advice would be to work on developing a strong research proposal and to try to have at least one or two publications in good research journals (Scopus indexed/ABS ranked). Two Ps (proposal and publication) would certainly improve one’s chance of being shortlisted for a PhD scholarship in Italy. I would also advise to look at the faculty profiles and their research interest so that better match can be found.

Yupal Sanatkumar Shukla
Adjunct Professor and Doctoral Student, Department of Management, University of Bologna, Italy