Archive | June, 2012

When things don’t go to plan

20 Jun

I enjoy reading other people’s blogs and learn so much from them. I like reading people’s progress and their successes and I use this to help me progress. I also like to talk about the positives and share my experiences, as I have done in this blog. However, when things go wrong or don’t go to plan this affects most things in my life. As hard as it is, talking about the negatives and the challenges is also important, but there are few blogs which do that.

At the moment I feel like I have an impossible task ahead of me. This is hard for me to take as I consider myself a glass half full kind of person. I wrote in my research journal last night with the intention of publically blogging about it, but something stopped me. Despite being in a good place with my PhD for quite some time, unexpectedly, I now feel vulnerable and lost. Perhaps the embarrassment of admitting this stopped me publishing it. Or perhaps it was because my supervisors know I blog and could read it. I’m not sure. I asked the question on twitter last night whether or not we should publically blog our struggles as they happen. Some thought yes, others thought perhaps, and others thought perhaps not. I will.

A quick recap: I’m in my 3rd year of a part time PhD: Understanding risk perceptions and responses of the public, healthcare professionals and media professionals towards Clostridium difficile. My data is collected (media coverage analysis, public and healthcare professional’s focus groups and media professionals interviews) and analysis started. My principle supervisor moved away this time last year therefore I changed supervisors.

My problem is with my methodological approach. With my previous supervisor, my methodological approach was a broad qualitative interpretive approach underpinned by weak social constructionism. I never had to defend it or consider any other approach – this was what it was from day one. This I see is where my problem stems from. However, this isn’t the place for going into detail about it. My problem is that my current supervisors feel this is not a robust enough approach for my PhD. My written work is not strong enough to demonstrate that this is the right approach and my argument is not clear. If it is not clear, then it’s impossible to go ahead and analyse my data.  I found myself in exactly this position last year(explained in my earlier post dated 2nd Sept) but believed I had defended it enough to continue.

It is important that I say here that I do understand where my supervisors are coming from.  I agree that these issues need to be addressed or the rest of my PhD and ultimately my viva will be an uphill struggle.  My supervisors are supportive and I trust them. I know I can’t do this without them.

So as of Monday, I have been advised to stop data analysis and go back to methodological reading for a few weeks. No writing, just reading and reflecting. On doing this, I need to put my data at the back of my mind and reflect only on my aims and research questions while I consider other approaches.

This is where I feel lost.  How can I ‘unlearn’ what I have lived with for the past 2½ years?  How can I go back and change my methodological approach having progressed so far? A methodological approach is supposed to inform your research design and so on.  If I do change it, how can I say it has informed my research when it was chosen retrospectively? Finally, having lived with so much data for so long, how can I try to ‘forget’ about it while I consider other approaches?

I’m not necessarily looking to you for answers to these questions, as I know I need to work this out for myself. So for now, I will go back to reading and take the time to think about my supervisor’s advice and reflect, in the hope that my next blog will be a positive one. I would love to hear from anyone with similar experiences (student or supervisor) or from anyone who wants to say anything at all!

Sick? Don’t be a martyr!

8 Jun

With the exception of having surgery for a broken wrist following a snowboarding accident a couple years ago, I had not taken a sick day off work in over 8 years. Of course I’ve felt ill from time to time, but fighting through it has always been my philosophy. This is not clever or admirable.

I’ve had whooping cough for 3 weeks now. During my infectious stage I was on study leave, so I was able to stay at home. When my study leave was over I was, and am still in, the 2nd stage (the worst stage). Frequent and uncontrollable coughing bouts are very painful and leave me unable to breathe which is extremely frightening. Yet I still went back to work – very silly! My office roommate and colleagues along the corridor spent their days listening to my violent coughing. I suspect thinking how stupid I was being in work and feeling irritated at having to listen to it.

On Tuesday, I was really unwell, but I had PhD supervision so I ‘had’ to go in. I had a particularly bad coughing bout just before my supervision and as I walked in my supervisors (quite rightly) said they were not comfortable continuing and that I should go home. Despite believing that I was progressing well with my PhD and was now in the midst of my analysis, I saw red pen on my draft methodology chapter. A previous issue that I felt had been resolved had obviously not.

So after a lot of pleading to continue, they began to explain that this methodological issue was still an issue. Immediately, it was game over. I wasn’t physically or mentally well enough to deal with it rationally and I didn’t. I am grateful at that point my supervisors took my notes off me and refused to continue. I was sent home and told to take complete rest from work and PhD and not to come back until I was fit.

Having no choice, I went to my GP, who gave me a stern talking about the debilitating effects of whooping cough and as an Infection Preventionist, I should have known better! I took myself home, armed with strong analgesia and went to bed. For 3 days now, I have stayed on the couch, watched (terrible) daytime TV (have drawn the line at Jeremy Kyle!), slept a lot, tweeted, caught up with what’s going on in the world and even played some online bingo!

My coughing is still bad and I feel quite spaced out a lot of the time due to my analgesia, but taking this time to rest will mean that my recovery will be quicker and I will be both mentally and physically able to do my job well and to face my PhD challenges that awaits me.

So what have I learned from this? When I am sick, I am sick. Nothing more, nothing less. No-one will think less of me for having a week off sick, the world and the University I work for will still continue to function without me and my colleagues will be grateful they don’t have to listen to my coughing.

We live in a culture whereby we continually push ourselves both physically and mentally – working full time, studying, having a family and if we are lucky, having a life too. Subsequently, this will at times be detrimental to our health and well-being. We need to listen to our bodies and take a rest when we need it! There’s no shame in it. Quite the opposite in fact!

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