During my initial year as an undergraduate student, I never considered pursuing a PhD, let alone envisioning the possibility of winning both the Judges’ Choice Prize and the People’s Choice Prize at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Doctoral College Launch Research Poster Competition. The poster, entitled “Can Virtual Reality Cyber Psychological Interventions Serve as a Possible Therapy for Improving General Health?” marked an unexpected turning point in my academic journey.

Intrigued? Keep reading as I unfold the unexpected journey from my undergraduate years to the exhilarating experience of winning two prizes.


I started my undergraduate journey with a BSc (Hons) Business Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University and just like anyone else I was facing the usual challenges of student life, and it got even trickier with the pandemic going on. But my motivation to pursue a PhD originated from my exploration of how emerging technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) can be applied in business contexts during my undergraduate studies. It left me feeling there was so much more I wanted to explore about these emerging technologies, especially Virtual Reality, but I just didn’t have enough time.

What got me hooked was thinking how can we use VR to improve overall well-being? You might be curious why I chose well-being. Well, from my own experiences, I have learned that we can’t control what health issues might hit us randomly one day, be it minor or not. But what we can control is how we choose to respond and overcome these issues to live life to its fullness.

With technology advancing every day, I thought it would be a fantastic idea to research how we can use VR to assist individuals to enhance their overall well-being in a fun and engaging way. So, pursuing a PhD is my way of diving into this cool field and figuring out ways to make life a bit better for everyone.


Fast forward to 2023/2024, that is when things took an exciting turn. I embarked on my PhD research journey under the supervision of the great Professor Timothy Jung and Dr Mandy tom Dieck in the Operations, Technology, Events and Hospitality Management (OTEHM) Department, the very department where I earned my undergraduate degree. They encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring for the Doctoral College Launch Research Poster Competition.

Initially, I hesitated. I was knee-deep in preparing for the annual review, and the idea of participating in the poster competition added a layer of confusion. However, after giving it some thought, I recognised its potential, I understood that the competition provided a fantastic platform for me to not only introduce myself but also showcase my research and connect with fellow doctoral students and academics from different faculties within the university. As a first-year doctoral student, this experience would not only be valuable in the present but also prove to be an invaluable asset in future conferences and collaborative endeavours.

On the day of the Doctoral College Launch Research Poster Competition, I was genuinely amazed to witness the diverse range of posters presented by fellow doctoral students, each showcasing some fantastic research topics happening across the faculties. Now, just between us, I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed, thinking I might not stand a chance to win any prizes. However, as the day unfolded, engaging with numerous PhD scholars, academic researchers and staff turned into a truly enriching experience. The lively exchange of ideas, discussing varied research topics and sharing suggestions not only created a vibrant atmosphere but also fostered a sense of camaraderie among us. The Doctoral College Launch event was well-structured, featuring presentations and insights from guest speakers, adding to the overall excitement of the day.

As the conference neared its conclusion, the announcement of the Judges’ Choice Prize and People’s Choice Prize winners heightened the anticipation in the room. Even at this point, I believed winning anything was beyond my reach but, my experiences throughout the day were satisfying enough for me.

Then came the moment of revelation. The presenter declared that one person had won both prizes. I eagerly awaited the name and to my sheer delight, they announced mine! I was momentarily frozen, surrounded by the applause of the audience. After gathering my thoughts, I embraced the joy of being declared the winner, savouring the moment with the support of those around me.

Congratulations poured in, everyone wanted a picture with me, and most importantly, my supervisors and department were beaming with pride. What more could I have asked for? Winning the prizes was a delightful surprise and realising that both the judges and my peers appreciated my research poster and that my work connected with them, was a special kind of victory.


The beauty of the Doctoral College Launch Research Poster Competition lies in the unity among participants. We stand together, supporting one another. The recognition of winning the Judges’ Choice Prize and People’s Choice Prize serves as a tremendous source of motivation, especially as a first-year doctoral student, pushing me further in my academic journey. This unexpected victory serves as a poignant reminder of the potency that collaboration and support hold within the academic community, transforming the journey from an individual endeavour into a collective celebration of achievements. So, a hearty congratulations to everyone who participated!

Reflecting on my academic journey, I have grown not only as a student but also as a researcher and an individual. The university experience can be truly fantastic, depending on how one seizes the opportunities presented and, most importantly, the supportive people surrounding them – individuals who uplift with both words and actions.

So, there you have it – a journey from an BSc to PhD student, clinching both Judges’ and People’s Choice prizes. Life is indeed full of surprises! Here’s to embracing the unexpected, chasing those dreams, and perhaps picking up a few shiny prizes along the way! Cheers to the incredible organising team and the journey ahead!


These prizes are dedicated to the OTEHM Department and the business technology course without whom I wouldn’t have achieved this milestone. Furthermore, I am profoundly grateful to my twin sister, who stands as an unsung hero in my journey. Her constant encouragement and support is instrumental in navigating through this research endeavour. With her by my side, I have learned the importance of resilience and strength, and I am indebted to her for consistently bringing out the best in me and others.

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1 comment on “From BSc to PhD: A Story of Winning Judges’ and People’s Choice Prizes in the Doctoral College Launch Research Poster Competition at Manchester Metropolitan University

  • 14th February 2024 at 5:10 pm
    Caroline Biddle

    Inspiring to read your journey Maria and how you threw your ‘hat into the ring’ prepared to walk away with nothing and leaving, quite literally, with it all.

    What a positive way to start your PhD journey. A job well done!


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