My final, and most personal post (3 years late)

13 Oct

Well this is a long time coming isn’t it? It has been on my mind for some time, but I haven’t been sure whether I should post it. I decided today that I would, mainly for three reasons:

  1. I have never shied away from posting the difficult parts of my PhD – particularly my post ‘When things don’t go to plan’ and finding myself in ‘The Valley of Shit’. I remember contemplating whether to post that, asking thoughts on twitter. Many of you said yes, but some felt maybe I shouldn’t. I’m glad I did.
  2. I loved blogging right through my PhD (the good, the bad and the ugly) and I loved reading all the comments everyone made, offering advice, help and support.
  3. I hate unfinished things.


So here goes my final, and most personal post (over three years since I graduated)

I remember as I was getting closer to completing my PhD (although there were times I thought this would be my life forever), I imagined my final blog to be filled with pictures of champagne flowing glasses, lots of laughing and giggling and some amazing photos of my graduation. I imagined my words filled with excitement, anticipating what lay ahead for me as Dr Emma Burnett.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

My previous blog post was about my Viva on 1st May 2015. My minor corrections were straightforward, and I was able to complete these within the week. They were signed off internally and I was awarded my PhD within a couple weeks. The celebrations I imagined didn’t come because just days after my viva, my husband of 10 years left me, completely out of the blue. You may have noticed in my last blog post that Alana (my daughter) came to meet me after my viva, not my husband – he never turned up. That was painful. Just days later he was gone and my life as I knew it was no longer.

What is important I think for this blog is to briefly tell you how this relates to my PhD. Now I’m not for a minute going to say that me doing my PhD was the reason for Chris leaving. However, it absolutely contributed to it, and that is the point I want to make here. There were issues going on which deeply affected Chris and had done for several months before he left. I’m not going to go into these reasons because that isn’t what is important here.  I was so focused on my PhD that I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming at all and I had no idea of the issues Chris was going through, none. Crazy really, when people told me afterwards they knew something wasn’t right. I didn’t. I was his wife and I am devastated by that. It took me a long time to admit, but I had become blinded to what was in front of me. I relied on Chris for pretty much everything in relation to the house, the dogs and the teenage children. He was also running his own busy and demanding business. My main focus was going to work and studying. I regret that more than anything.

My graduation day was painful. I didn’t want to go. I cried most of the morning and through most of the ceremony. It wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. I have just one or two photographs from that day. I was thankful for my parents, and my son Jack for being with me. Alana was away travelling. Chris came too. He arrived on his own and stayed just for the ceremony. He said despite what had happened, he was proud of me and wanted to be there. I think that made things worse. Very few people knew what had happened and I don’t think I did a very good job at pretending to be happy. To be honest, I don’t really remember much of that day anymore.

The days, weeks and months that followed were hard and I struggled with many things. I often blamed my PhD for the way my life had turned out, and wishing I had never done it. I even said I would give it back if I could go back to the way things were. I really meant it. However, I had an amazing family and some really wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me hugely.

Wait… don’t get the hankies out. My final post is a happy one. Chris and I are together, and we have been since 2016. It took us a long time to get to where we are now, and if I’m honest, there were many times I didn’t think we were going to make it. However, our relationship is now at its very best and we are happy, silly and having lots of fun.

We reflected a lot on many things since then, including how my PhD affected our relationship. I want to leave you with this:

A PhD is tough for the person doing it – of course it is. But it is just as tough (if not more) for the people/person close to you. They sacrifice a lot and pick up so many pieces which often go unnoticed and unappreciated. They also have to listen to all things PhD pretty much all-the-time (how utterly boring for them). In the end, I got what I had been working towards for all those years, but what about Chris? What did he want? Where did that leave him? I didn’t know the answer to these questions because I never asked and they were never discussed.

I would have never, ever made it through my PhD without Chris (and Alana and Jack) and for that I will be eternally grateful. Knowing what I know now, amongst other things, I wish with all my heart I had made more time for my family while doing it.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by since I have been writing this blog, and to everyone who have taken the time to post comments. For those who are still in PhD world (or any other world), be kind to yourself and especially those close to you. All the very best of luck xxx

The End

My PhD Viva Story

17 May

My alarm was set for 6am on Monday 1st May 2015, my Viva day, but I was wide awake by 5am. The sun was shining so I took my dogs for a long walk while I contemplated the day ahead.

My Viva team were meeting at 10am and I was to be ready to start at 11am so I had plenty time to get ready and have breakfast (even if all I could manage was a couple of bites of a piece of toast). Alana, my teenage daughter drove me to the University because I knew whichever way the day went, alcohol would be needed afterwards. I arrived about 8:30am, which in hindsight, was silly. I was having coffee with one of my supervisors at 10am, but until then I swear the clock was going backwards. Coffee with my supervisor was nice and she kept me relaxed.

The chair of my Viva came to get me at 11am. I know some supervisors sit in on the Viva, but we decided this would only add to the pressure. I took a copy of my thesis in with me which had post it notes at various points in each chapter. As it happened, I only opened it a couple of times when my examiners alluded to something I had written.

We did have a meeting room booked but the coffee machine was broken so it was held in the Dean’s office, which was nice. I actually felt ok at this point, and it was lovely seeing my internal and external examiners. This was the first time I had seen my external examiners face-to-face and they both met me with a friendly smile and a firm handshake. I do like a firm handshake. However, when I sat down, nerves hit me hard and I could actually feel my whole body shaking. I also remember looking at the jug of water on the table thinking I would spill that everywhere if I tried to pour myself a glass because my hands were shaking so much.  This was obviously quite clear to everyone as they told me to take deep breaths and try to relax. They congratulated me for completing my study and told me they had very much enjoyed reading my thesis. Well at least that’s what I think they said, so I’m just going to go with that.

The chair went over how the Viva would proceed while I tried to breath. Just before everything started, I remember thinking back to the conversation I had with my supervisor.  He said that this was not going to be an interrogation and that I should look upon it as an opportunity to discuss and showcase my research with people who had spent a lot of time reading it. I tried, but nope…. I was still petrified.

I knew the first question was likely to be a gentle one, which it was. I was asked how my research came about. I’m pretty sure I waffled on a bit and I remember saying to myself in my head ‘for goodness sake Emma, shut up, they asked you a straightforward question. They don’t want your life story’.

While preparing for my Viva, as I wrote in a previous blog, I tried to predict as much as I could what my examiners would want to talk about. However, I also noted that unexpected or unanticipated questions would arise. This was true.  What I would add to that is that sometimes it’s not about questions being unexpected, rather it’s the way they are asked. On one particular occasion, the way in which a question was asked floored me a little (when it was only about how I had analysed a specific data set). Because of this, I didn’t respond as articulately as I wish I had done.  This I know is going to bother me for a while.

Quite a bit of time was spent on my literature reviews and underpinning theoretical frameworks. I had four literature reviews, which took a long time so I expected to be asked about them. Another topic that took up a big chunk of time was my methodological approach and philosophical underpinning. At one time, one of my examiners said he didn’t agree with me which stopped me in my tracks a little. However, I was confident with the decisions I had made (and didn’t make) and I’m pretty sure I was able to explain why. I hadn’t anticipated that my examiners would say something like that, but the conversation wasn’t threatening or destructive in the slightest. Rather I was given time to think about it and encouraged to expand further. I am very thankful for that. The final main conversation was around my discussion chapter and implications, which I absolutely expected. For most this was fine, but also very challenging in parts.

I remember looking at the clock and realising that an hour and a half had passed and the chair saying something about rounding off. I think at that point, my shoulders dropped at least a couple of inches… although not for long. Something needed re-addressing so we returned back to my discussion chapter. Although at the time, I wanted to run away, I’m really glad we spent a little more time on it as it made doing my corrections more straightforward. The viva ended with a question about the best and worst bits then about something I had written in my personal reflection I wrote at the end of my thesis. I had said that after having conducted this study, I would have done things differently in my days as an infection prevention and control practitioner. What was this? Quite simply, I would have listened more…..

I was eventually asked to leave the room while they deliberate (I’ve never been so pleased to be told to leave somewhere before). At that point, I honestly didn’t even know if my legs would get me up and out safely. However, they did, but as soon as I left the room and shut it behind me I burst into tears. I just became so overwhelmed and couldn’t control it. By now, a few people were outside so I went to my supervisor’s room for a coffee and to get some tissues. The chair came and gave me reassurance that I had defended my work very well and that she would come and get me later. Once I had calmed down, I can honestly say that I had absolutely no idea as to how it went and what the outcome would be. None whatsoever. I was about to find out much quicker than I expected. After about 20 minutes I was called back in. This really unnerved me as I immediately thought after such a short period of time, it was bad news. As soon as I walked through the door, before anyone said a word, I burst into tears again – they weren’t even silent tears. I feel so embarrassed even writing this. I remember looking at everyone just staring at this crazy person crying her eyes out. Then eventually came three words tucked up in a sentence that I have dreamt about for so long: Congratulations. Minor. Corrections. Guess what? Yep, more tears…..

After a period of calming down and emptying the tissue box, I listened to their feedback that I defended my work very well and what corrections they wanted me to do. I completely agreed with them on each point and knew that they were not going to be too painful to do. There were no firm handshakes to end my Viva, rather it was lovely hugs all round 🙂

The hours that followed were all a bit of a blur. Telephone calls to my family and my other supervisor who was working away at that time. I felt so proud to be able to give him the new11148733_917168038306444_3859148286060180894_ns. Jo then took me to the pub and bought me a much needed large glass of red wine. Then Alana picked me up and took me straight to another pub (selfie to the right), where we stayed for quite some time, followed by a meal out with the rest of my family. That night was the first time I had slept all night for a long time.

What I have done below is summarised the key things that dominated my Viva discussions

  • Know the theory that informed your research. But also be able to talk about potential theory you could have used but didn’t and justify why you didn’t. Although my topic was about Clostridium difficile, the overarching concept was risk perceptions. I alluded to three main risk perception theories in my thesis, but my examiners picked up on a number of other relevant theories. I was confident with the theories I ‘used’ (and didn’t use) and if I could do it again, knowing what I know now, those three would still be the most relevant ones for this study.
  • Be clear about your philosophical underpinning (ontological and epistemology stance) and defend your methodological choice. Also ensure that you can demonstrate how your philosophical perspective is threaded right through your study. I used weak social constructionism and had to explain how this informed my data analysis process and subsequent interpretation of my findings. With regards to your methodological approach, be prepared to not only justify the approach you used, but consider other approaches (in some depth) that could have been used. I used Interpretive Description and I also spoke about other dominant methodologies. However, one of my examiners asked me if I had considered another approach which I hadn’t included. I said yes, I had considered it, and spoke a little bit about why I didn’t use it, but was honest and said it just confused me. He did smile at this point, so I took that as reassurance that it was ok to say I didn’t get it.
  • Be specific about your implications for practice, policy and education and directions for further research. Mine were a little too broad and they wanted me to be much more specific.

So, overall, my Viva certainly wasn’t easy. It was challenging, exhausting and overwhelming. However, I feel privileged that my work was read by three very highly respected and influential researchers and that they gave me an amazing opportunity to talk about something that has basically been a huge focus of my life for the past five and a bit years.

Prior to my Viva, many people encouraged me to relax and enjoy it, including my supervisors. Was I relaxed? I have to be honest and say I wasn’t able to fully relax. However, given the situation and all the emotions I was feeling, I’m not sure if being totally relaxed was actually possible. Did I enjoy it? Again, if I am totally honest, I probably wouldn’t use the term enjoy. I was stimulated and keen to respond to questions, to elaborate and to clarify.

If I could go back and do my Viva again, would I change anything? Just to clarify, as much as I feel a massive sense of achievement, I wouldn’t want to do it again. I honestly don’t think I would change anything though. I wouldn’t change my examiners – I feel truly honoured to have had them. My chair was incredibly supportive. I think I prepared as much as I possibly could. I probably would have liked not to have cried, but there was just no controlling that.

I really enjoyed reading other people’s Viva stories while I was preparing for mine, so I hope that this post helps anyone who thinking about and preparing for their Viva.


I can’t believe it’s Viva eve!

30 Apr

Tomorrow is my PhD Viva-Voce.  It’s like I’ve been a bridesmaid so many times, but tomorrow it’s my turn to be the bride.1

I’ve dreamt about this for so long and often imagined what it would feel like. So how do I feel? I’m scared.  I’m scared I may forget to say something crucial. I’m scared I may say something stupid (because I know that will most definitely happen). I’m scared I will waffle terribly and not answer questions the way in which I should. I’m scared I may get emotional. I’m scared my examiners won’t like me or my research. I’m scared I don’t perform as well as I know I can.  Yet despite this, I’m excited. I’m excited I now have this opportunity to talk with three extremely successful and highly respected people in the field about my work. I feel honoured they have read my thesis (although much less honoured that they will have also read my awful typos and grammatical errors). I feel excited about being able to speak about the choices I made (and didn’t make) and the challenges I faced along the way. Lastly, I am excited to show how proud I am of this work, the opportunities that have arisen as a result and most importantly, how I feel it can have a real impact on clinical practice and patient care.

Today I took an annual leave day so my plan is:

  • Walk along the beach with my three dogs
  • Do a little more viva prep around methodological choices and discussion and application issues, then briefly read through my thesis one more time
  • Make some final notes in my thesis (which I am taking to my viva)
  • Go to the dentist for a scale and polish (very bad timing I know, but I’ve cancelled the last two appointments and I don’t like it when my dentist gets cross with me)
  • Lunch out with teenage daughter
  • Sort viva outfit
  • Insanity session at the gym
  • Bath, candles, relaxation and early night

So that’s pretty much my day. Thank you for all your support. I shall see you on the other side…


Preparing for my Viva-Voce Examination

10 Apr

Three weeks today, my Viva-Voce examination will take place. It will have been three months after I submitted my thesis. Back then, it seemed ages away but as I need two external examiners and an internal examiner it was a little more challenging getting everyone together.


However, speaking in the now, I’m glad I’ve had that time. Immediately after submitting I went overseas to work then when I returned, I went to the French Alps for a snowboarding trip with family and friends and to visit my teenage daughter Alana, who is doing a season out there. It was so good to have a complete break and not have to think about anything PhD (well as much as I possibly could).

Having that clean break meant I was beginning Viva prep a little fresher, and I believe a little more critical. The downside was that no matter how much proof reading I did prior to submission, my typos and grammatical errors stood out – not just like a regular sore thumb, but a great big, fat, ugly one. It was painful and it took me a little time to get over the frustration and embarrassment of this. Thank you to everyone who offered moral support on that front, it was reassuring to hear this is common and easily fixed.

So the purpose of this blog is to share my viva prep strategies.

First, I read my thesis page by page (first time since submission). The typos and grammatical errors were noted and have already been corrected. I then wrote a half page summary of each chapter, followed by a short description of its strengths.  As I did that, I knew I also had to be as critical as I could and force myself to look for the limitations, or aspects where I could have done things differently or better. That was easier to do for some chapters more than others. For example, I could have done some things differently with regards to methodology or elements of my methods, although in some parts I’m not convinced it would have enhanced my study/findings any. That’s ok though, as long as I’m able to articulate that.

Through speaking with my supervisors, colleagues, fellow PhD students, individuals from Twitter and basically anyone who was willing to talk to me, I formulated a very lengthy list of potential questions for each chapter. Then I dashed off to the shops to purchase what I hope to be my final PhD-related pukka pad. I’ve accumulated 14 pukka pads over the course of my PhD, each of which has it’s own special purpose and I’m very fond of them. This however, was an extra special pukka pad in that it had a number of different coloured sections which aligned with the number of chapters I have and it also a lovely little plastic insert at the beginning of each section. So… I typed up each set of questions for each chapter and inserted it into the relevant plastic section in my pukka pad. Very sad I know, but shush, it felt nice…

So basically what I am in the process of doing now is going through each question, speaking my potential response out loud, then writing it in the relevant section of my pukka pad. At the moment I’m at my methods chapter and once I’ve gone through the remaining chapters, I shall move on to address some wider issues such as:2

  •  My contribution to knowledge
  • What my thesis is about (elevator pitch)
  • How the research came about
  • What I have learned from undertaking this study
  • What the strengths and weakness/limitations of the study are and what I would do differently
  • Wider application of my findings – empirically and theoretically
  • What now?

There are of course loads more potential questions/discussions to be had which I will also prepare for as much as I possibly can, but I absolutely understand that unexpected or unanticipated questions will arise. I hope that the preparation I am currently doing will help me address them.

Through discussions with my supervisors, we decided not to have a mock Viva per se. Rather we had a Viva- prep afternoon where we talked about how I would prepare, potential questions/discussion that may arise, how to best address questions and how to stay calm and confident. This was really helpful and I came away feeling very positive.

I have a pre-Viva presentation to give in my University in a weeks’ time. It was arranged as close to my viva as possible but not too close so I would still have time to reflect on questions and responses before my Viva. I plan to encourage the audience to be as challenging as they possibly can with questions (which I may live to regret).

Finally, I have been loaned an interactive interviewer Viva CD from a colleague where you are asked questions (by real people), then you record your responses via a webcam and take it from there. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s worth a try.


Finally, and some would argue, an extremely important aspect – I am getting my hair and nails done and will go Viva dress shopping. If this isn’t an event that warrants it, I don’t know what is!

So that’s about it I think. I’ll not lie, I’m very nervous. Some days I feel positive and confident, other days less so. Some nights I sleep well, other nights less so. This, I suspect is par for the course, but I am determined to do as well as I possibly can and I really hope I can enjoy the experience too. I welcome any comments, feedback and experiences 🙂

Here are some other Viva-related blogs I’ve found very helpful:

How I survived my PhD Viva

The Viva experience

How to not just survive, but to enjoy your PhD Viva

No custard pies!


Thesis submission day: Wed 28th January 2015, 13:56hrs

11 Feb

This is what I expected to feel like…








Followed by a little bit of this…







But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

The day started with early morning yoga practice at the gym, then a mad dash home to walk the dogs, feed them and get ready for what I realised was going to be a hectic day. I imagined submission day only to be about all things PhD thesis submission, but because I work full time, my diary was also filled with meetings, teaching prep and student issues. This meant submission was scheduled around my diary.

I had delivered my thesis to the printers the previous day with clear instructions (or so I thought) and was told that 4 bound copies (for 2 external examiners, 1 internal examiner and viva chair) would be ready by noon the following day. This was good as I had about a 45 minute window in-between work stuff around that time. Trying to focus on my morning work was challenging, but everything still felt ‘normal’. It’s weird because I didn’t expect everything to feel normal. To counteract this, every now and again, I would squeal and say ‘submission day, submission day, and submission day’ out loud. Sadly my roomy wasn’t there to share this activity.

Noon arrived and off I skipped to the printers, ensuring I told everyone I met in the building on my way out. After a 20 minute wait (started to think that was a sign), I was handed 4 bound copies which I stroked and smelt (I know this is normal by the way!). Flicking through my thesis with a big grin, my appendices wiped it clean off my face. My landscape pages were bound the wrong way which meant the page numbers were in the wrong place. I had specifically discussed this with the printers but they forgot. They were however apologetic and after asking if that would matter (wtf???), they agreed to re-bound within 2 hours. Needless to say, I didn’t skip back to the office and as luck would have it, I met everyone going in who I had met going out.

Two hours later and lots of thoughts about this being another sign, I returned to the office with 4 bound copies (and my arms hanging off). I should have taken a wheelie case. Although my next meeting was due to start in 30 minutes, I spent the next 20 taking selfies of me and my bound thesis (and before you start, I know this is normal too!). Then off to submission. It was a busy office with lots of students about and after saying to the person behind the desk, probably louder than I should have what I was there for, no-one batted an eyelid. Again, not really what I expected. Not to worry, a little inner squeal kept me going. Ten minutes later, I handed over the paperwork and said goodbye to my thesis. This time I did skip back to my office – but met no-one.

I just had time to grab my paperwork for the meeting I was now quite a bit late for and after apologising, explaining why (smugly) and gladly accepting congratulations, everything just carried on as normal. Again, not what I expected.

Home time, things were normal…. hmmmmm…. I took to twitter – much more excitement there from everyone. This was more like it! Later on in the evening, wine was poured – much better! Although I could only have a couple as I had to get up for work the next day.  Two days after that, I flew to Kuwait to work for a week (and also had a birthday while away). It was such a hectic week over there that I didn’t really have time for things to sink in either.  I‘ve been home for a few days now and after going straight back to work, it still feels quite surreal. Every now and again I have to remind myself that it’s submitted (then I squeal).

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely over the moon about submitting and at times, I still have to pinch myself. I can’t actually believe that after all this time, it’s in. I don’t really know what I expected on submission day, but it wasn’t that.

Was it just me? Did anyone else’s submission day feel weird? Was it how you expected? I would love to hear your experience (or just to be reassured that I’m normal)

My PhD discussion chapter: How that went

19 Nov

In my previous post around July time (really?! that long ago?!), I spoke about how I planned to tackle my discussion chapter and said I would come back to let you know how it went. So here I am.

Basically, everything I said I planned to do, I pretty much did. I also added an extra (highly significant) bullet point to those working headings (thank you @MarkHayter): ‘What is my contribution to knowledge?’

On the whole, this strategy worked well for me and as if by magic (ahem!), draft one of my discussion chapter was created. That said, it certainly wasn’t a breeze by any stretch of the imagination. Some parts were easier and more enjoyable than others. The two bullet points I found most challenging to get down on paper were:

• ‘What was congruent with the literature?’
• ‘What was surprising?’

This was not because I didn’t know the answer to them – I actually did, thanks to the flip chart paper strategy. Rather, it was more around how much to discuss and how I could ‘hang it’. For example, there was a lot of wider risk perception literature I could potentially draw upon in relation to my findings, but struggled with knowing how much to put in. I also questioned whether I should just write everything in one big section or if there should be headings and/or subheadings, and if so what they should be?

After spending so much time (and a few disturbed sleeps) grappling with this and not making much headway, I just wrote. By the time I had finished, it was just one big section (over 35 pages long). Not surprisingly, it was a real struggle to read and make sense of. So from that, I tried thematically organising it and allocated the themes to some rather random subheadings. Although this was slightly better (only because the subheadings seemed to give the reader a little breather in between sections), I was left with a very large section talking about everything I possibly could, which didn’t seem as connected to my findings as I knew they should be. At that point, because I had spent so much time on it, it got to the stage where I couldn’t see the wood from the trees, so I left it as it was, popped it in my draft thesis and sent it off to my supervisors.xx

Then something lovely happened…I gave myself a 2 week (guilt free) PhD break. Oh my, it was just wonderful! I spent time with my family, chilled out a bit and increased my time at the gym. As a result, I’m now hooked on those ridiculously crazy mad INSANITY classes!

So this week, I had supervision to get feedback from my draft thesis. One of my supervisors always begins by asking me what I think of the work I’ve submitted to them. Although I’ve always found that question challenging, more often than not, we generally tend to agree on my evaluation (although I’m usually more critical than he is, which is nice). We agreed on most parts of the thesis (thankfully nothing major) and I was delighted to hear that both supervisors enjoyed reading it.

My evaluation of my discussion chapter was:

  • I didn’t think it flowed as well as it could
  • I didn’t feel it connected to my findings in the way that it should
  • There was so much in there that at times I felt it read like an extension of my literature review

Both my supervisors agreed entirely and also added:

  • My main arguments seemed at bit lost at times
  • My recommendations were too broad
  • My limitations section was too self-critical and not situated in the best place (It was near the end which seemed a little negative to finish with)

None of this was a surprise therefore I happily embraced this feedback (given in the nicest possible way).  It’s actually taken me just over 5 years not to take criticism personally! The three of us then engaged in an in-depth discussion and debate as we shared thoughts, ideas and concepts. By the time we had finished, I knew exactly what I needed to do to address these issues.

I’m actually now looking forward to revisiting my discussion chapter and of course making minor revisions to the rest of my thesis so it can be submitted. I swear this surprisingly upbeat attitude has been helped by having that 2 week break from it by the way.

Reflecting on the discussion I had with my supervisors and the advice offered, for me, there are four main factors which have given me the direction I need to move forward:

  1. Less is more! In the largest section of my discussion (findings in relation to the wider literature), I had way too much stuffed it and I talked about things that didn’t really link with what I found. Yes, a lot of it was interesting (well maybe just some of it), but not really relevant.
  2. Use subheading which will align with findings: I spent so much time thinking of subheadings for this literature-related section so I could ‘hang’ it on to something, that I ended up choosing some pretty random (and strangely odd) ones. A conceptual framework had inductively emerged from my findings so why deviate from that? I did because for some reason I felt I had to. This was actually the ideal structure for me to hang my main discussion part onto.
  3. Condense and signpost: I had a sizable section called ‘summary of findings’, then later in the chapter after I had critically examined the literature, I had another sizable section called ‘answering my research questions’. The summary of my findings and answering my research questions were effectively the same (just written using different words). Just zzzzzzz!
  4. Make implications for policy and practice clear and specific: I had too many, very broad implications which kind of left you with ……and?

So, in a nutshell I feel pretty good about doing this last push – but I’m not going to rush it. As I am doing this PhD part time and it’s an incredibly busy time in my full time job, I’m allowing myself 6 weeks for a final edit (this includes a final critical read for spelling and grammar, courtesy of a very kind (and pernickety) colleague. This PhD has been a massive part of my life for over 5 years, so I don’t want to rush submission until I am absolutely sure I have done all that I can (for the sake of a few weeks). Most of all, I want so badly to pass!


Thanks for dropping in again. Perhaps if you have similar issues, my experience may help (or not!). How are things going with your discussion chapter? Does anything here resonate with you or are you facing different challenges? I would very much like to hear of other people’s experiences 🙂

How I’m tackling my PhD discussion chapter

11 Jul

Seriously…..I can’t actually believe that I’m now writing my discussion chapter! I mean, how on earth did that happen?! It’s funny, over the past 5 years (I’m doing this part-time remember), my hubby often asked me (which by the way, got really annoying after year 2 let alone year 5!) “Do you see any kind of light at the end of the tunnel Em?” “Nope” I ALWAYS replied, “Not even a teeny weeny speckle of the stuff.” Honestly, I thought I’d be doing this PhD forever.

….and yet, here I am, writing my bloody discussion chapter!

I was inspired to write this blog post after a tweet today from @maggiedavies . The sense of trepidation was evident and I totally got it.   It’s THE chapter isn’t it? It’s the chapter that pulls everything together. It’s the chapter that tells the reader what it all means. It’s the chapter that demonstrates your thesis contributes to knowledge.

So basically, you have to…


…and if you don’t do that, then quite simply, I guess you don’t have a PhD thesis.  That’s just not funny

However, after another very productive and hugely supportive supervision session, I feel much more relaxed. My principle supervisor has this amazing ability to just make complete sense without putting the fear of god into me.  He is pretty remarkable. The advice he gave me in previous supervision sessions and my recent one is exactly the advice I have been/I am following. I will share this with you as it may help you too:

When editing literature review chapter and writing finding chapter(s), open a word document (name it your discussion chapter) and start putting words in it. At this stage, thoughts/concepts/questions will naturally come to you that you know will need to be explained/interpreted/talked about/verified in your discussion chapter. Write them down any way you wish – bullet points, single words, short sentences or paragraphs. Don’t worry about writing academically or if it makes any sense – they will serve as vital ‘cues’ when the time comes. I followed this advice while editing my literature review and writing/editing my findings chapters and I have just counted almost 11,000 words written on that word document (well I didn’t actually count them, my PC did). It’s very messy and in no particular order – some are bullet points, some are sentences, some are reminders with links to literature and some are “notes to self”. I can however, without a doubt, say that if I was facing a blank document now, ready to write my discussion chapter, I think I would have run for the hills.

So here’s what I plan to do now: I’m going to print it out, cut it up and arrange it on a flip chart paper. How am I going to arrange it? I’ve more superb advice from my supervisor.  I’m going to write working subheadings (which won’t necessarily feature in my thesis), but they will help me structure it and ensure that I include what I need to include. Here are those working headings:

  • What I did
  • How and why I did it
  • What I found (answered the research questions)
  • What was congruent with the literature?
  • What was surprising?
  • What are the implications for practice?
  • What are the implications for research?
  • What are the limitations to the study?
  • A final personal reflection (and a request for long term therapy sessions)

So I’m going to write the headings on a flip chart, cut up my rough notes etc. and arrange them under the headings. Then I plan to make further written notes on the flip chart paper about what I still need to write about. Once I have done that, I will write my chapter in the hope that when done, I will live in hope that …..



So basically, that is how I’m going to tackle my discussion chapter. There are also a number of excellent blog posts that I have come across that have been really helpful. Here they are:

How do I start my discussion chapter? by @thesiswhisperer

The discussion chapter – it’s about taking flight by @ThomsonPat

Explaining and justifying the use of theory via a sentence skeleton by @ThomsonPat

The zombie thesis by @thesiswhisperer

Are you currently writing your discussion chapter? How’s it going?

Have you been there and done it? Please do share your thoughts and experiences

If you’re not there yet, have you given your discussion chapter much thought? How are you feeling about it?

Thanks for dropping by, I shall let you know how it goes 🙂

Dealing with unexpected interruptions to your PhD

10 Jun

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray” (Robert Burns)

 This quote, for me (and I suspect for many) fits beautifully with doing a PhD. Basically it means that no matter how well or how carefully you plan something, things may and often do deviate from this plan. Some of my previous blog posts will substantiate this.

In my blog post on 8th April I spoke about preparing for my study leave and the strategies I planned to adopt to help my productivity, in particular increasing my physical exercise routine. For a little while, this worked well.

However, shortly after my last blog post on the 2nd May (saying how well my plan was going), I was asked to go to Kuwait with a colleague to do infection prevention and control teaching. Time was tight as we had less than 3 weeks to develop, plan and produce a 5 day face-to-face programme for practitioners working in infection prevention and control. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it was an amazing opportunity for everyone involved. On the other however, I was so focused on writing my thesis and following my carefully laid out plans that I didn’t want anything to change this. Nevertheless, when working in academia, being flexible and responding to unexpected developments and situations is par for the course, so my study leave and thesis writing was put on hold so that I could focus on the Kuwait project.


Despite the stress and tension of doing this in such a short space of time, the Kuwait experience was incredible and the programme was a success. Kuwait is a lovely place to visit (although there wasn’t much time for sight-seeing) and the people we met and got to know were friendly, hospitable and really inspirational – they were very much committed to infection prevention and control, patient safety and improvement.

So fast forward post-Kuwait. Yesterday was my first day back to my PhD and it feels like ages ago I last worked on it. When I put it on the back burner to work on the Kuwait project, I was half way through revisiting my findings chapter. Trying to get my thinking back to 4 weeks ago really is quite unsettling and I have to admit that I am feeling anxious.   As a result, a number of doubts and worries (old and new) about my PhD and my thesis have reared their ugly heads (questioning its value and its worthiness, questioning my depth of analysis, if I’ve answered my RQs, if my writing is of PhD standard – pretty much questioning everything).  I went to a Yoga practice class yesterday, and I’ve been out for my morning run today which has helped a little, but the anxieties remain.

I think I am just disappointed with myself because I thought I would come back to it full of great ideas and be able to easily pick up where I left off, but I haven’t.   I also thought that at this stage, I should really be done with the negative thoughts and self-doubts.  I guess I need to take my time to allow things to come back to me slowly rather than forcing it to happen too quickly. Perhaps in time, I might still find that this break will turn out to be positive and productivity can be restored soon.

I would love to hear about anyone’s experiences with having unplanned interruptions in their PhD, especially during the near end stages.  Were they good or not-so-good experiences? How did you cope with it?

Thanks for dropping by.  This blog post by the way, is me procrastinating, but as it’s now written and posted, I guess it’s time to open that findings chapter and see if I can do better than yesterday.


So far, so good: Increased physical activity = productive thesis writing

2 May

I promised a little update to let you know how things were going.  So my previous post was about joining the gym as a thesis writing strategy. It’s been almost two weeks now, and I can honestly say it’s been great. I go for my usual morning run as soon as I wake, then I have alternated between taking a yoga practice class (Mondays & Thursdays) and just being in the gym (every other day). I have one exercise free day. My meyoga practice is around lunchtime and I like to go to the gym around 3pm. Dave the dog gets little walks often and I also go to my photography course on a Monday evening. So my progress to date:


Thesis writing going very well (2 chapters revisited, edited & sent to supervisors)

Focused and concentration levels good

Feel energised

Mood happy

Shoulder pain improved (but is still there)

Becoming more toned and feel less sluggish (as I often do after a whole day in front of the PC)

So all-in-all, increasing physical exercise has been very positive, with nothing negative to report. Even the time this takes cancels out the time spent away from writing due to all the above. This weekend is my weekend off, so am heading off  in the motorhome. PhD-free and my exercise will be long dog walks (9 miles planned on Saturday & 12 miles on Sunday)

My strategy for ‘writing up’ my PhD thesis

18 Apr

So I’m at what I consider to be the final leg of my PhD – the ‘writing up’ stage. I don’t really like this term because it implies that I haven’t been writing. I’ve been writing since I started and I have every chapter in draft. However, draft is the word – some of these chapters haven’t been touched in months, years even.

As a full time Lecturer, I am extremely fortunate to be given 12 weeks protected study time to ‘write up’ (thank you University of Dundee!). In other words, to revisit all my chapters,  revise,  then produce a first full draft by the end of the 12 weeks. I still have some work commitments in terms of my post graduate students, but this was my decision.

I’m excited but also apprehensive. While I’ve had blocks of study time throughout my PhD, I haven’t had this much in one go.  Having a big chunk with a very specific goal at the end makes me nervous – mainly in relation to the concentration I‘m going to need every day. I must also add that due to the time I spend in front of my PC I have developed what I think is coined ‘Mouse Shoulder’. My right shoulder now burns constantly and I worry about the impact of even more time at my PC.

So, I have come up with a plan to help me cope with all this. Basically I’ve decided to increase my physical exercise, therefore I’ve joined the gym.

Exercise is an integral part of my life anyway – I run most mornings and I practice Ashtanga Yoga (albeit not very well). I also get out and about with Dave – my dog (and my camera). However, for the next 12 weeks, class2I don’t think this is going to cut it, so I’ve just joined David Lloyd’s gym. I’ve had a gym membership years ago (only for using gym equipment), but decided to stop when I realised I was there more than the staff (damn those endorphins!). I had a taster Christmas special membership with David Lloyd and I loved the range of classes (apart from the spin class – that was just nasty!) and the times they were on. Plus, it’s only a 5 minute drive from home. I’m hoping this will also encourage my teenage daughter to actually use her membership too!

Anyway, with the goal of staying healthy and producing a first full PhD thesis draft, here is my plan for the next 12 weeks:


I am generally a healthy eater anyway, but alongside this I shall ensure my diet remains reasonably healthy and I’ll keep hydrated. Those who know me, know I love my red wine and a glass or two of bubbly – although I only tend to indulge at weekends. I plan to keep doing this! I do know of people who have abstained completely while writing up – this I couldn’t/wouldn’t even contemplate doing!

So that is my plan…. It sounds a little rigid, but I do need structure. Obviously, I’m flexible when I take my exercise classes and will work around that and I plan to fit in the occasional swim and sauna. I also might (probably will) have a little lie in at the weekends!  However, all-in-all, I’m hoping this will keep concentration and motivation levels up, prevent procrastination, distraction, cabin fever and worsening ‘mouse shoulder’.

So…. bring on the next 12 weeks I say! I shall let you know how this is going after a week or so (if you are interested that is). I’m really keen in hearing about the type of strategies you have tried (or trying) and if they’ve worked (or not!). Oh, also – if anyone knows about mouse shoulder, I’d be eternally grateful for any advice on how to make it better, or at least to make it stop it burning #ouch

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