Tag Archives: PhD survival

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:

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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

‘I’m a PhD student…..Get me out of here!’

22 Nov

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So way back in June this year, I blogged about a really difficult situation I was faced with – for the second time during my PhD. I stopped data analysis and returned back to my methodological approach.  All explained in this post.

Although 2 months later, I was able to see some positives from the situation, as I posted here, seeing the positives beyond that post has been pretty damn tough. I still have not returned to my data. Rather, I have continued to read, reflect and write over and over again. I became fixated on trying to ‘find’ a qualitative methodology that I could ‘fit’ my study into – one that would please me, my supervisors and ultimately my external examiners. This continued for 6 painful months (although it feels longer). The outcome was (for many lovely reasons) that this study will be a multiple case study.

Ta da – problem solved!

So prior to my supervision last week, I created a philosophical, theoretical and methodological table so that I could identify key concepts and justify their uses for my study and demonstrate how they linked (thank you @planetchampion for that advice). Guess what – while talking it through with my supervisors, I quite clearly managed to explain that multiple case study actually did not and would not work!

After in-depth discussion, and going right back to the beginning, vocalising what exactly my study is about and what my aims and research questions are, it became clear. I was never going to be able to ‘fit’ my study into a neatly packaged qualitative approach at this stage and it was always going to be like trying to squeeze a ‘square plug into a round hole’. Oh, it could be done, but I would need to reconsider just about everything – almost starting over again. Believe me, after almost 3 years, this really wasn’t a route I was keen to go down.

So, the outcome of the discussion was that my methodological approach will stay along the same lines as it was initially because that is the way it was designed! However, while I have been painstakingly considering just about every other qualitative approach over the past few months, I recently came across Interpretive Description. This was first developed by Thorne in 1997 as a response to complex research needs within nursing and other applied health disciplines which are not readily answered by traditional qualitative methodologies (I have tweeted some informative papers about ID recently). This approach aligns with my initial approach, the structure and aims of my study, is consistent with my philosophical and theoretical stance and is considered rigorous and credible. It has also been used by many other qualitative researchers and PhD students. Of course there are limitations and they will of course be acknowledged, but limitations are congruent in all approaches

The positive side of this past year is that I can now very clearly justify why other approaches are not suitable for this study, defend the approach I am using and provide a rationale for every single step (forwards and backwards) I took to get to this stage!

So my title of this blog post reflects how I feel at the moment (not in terms of quitting, but finally getting out of the murky methodological jungle). The past few months have been the closest I have been to quitting. I feel I have been in this miserable, murky, methodological jungle for ages, with no map or compass to help me out (not that I’m any good at reading maps by the way!). This place, I suspect is probably not a million miles away from The Valley of Shit  (@thesiswhisperer)

Anyway, thanks to the support of my family, colleagues and everyone on #phdchat (there are some pretty special people on there!), I kept going.

For now, I think I have found a workable map and compass and am heading the right way to get myself out of this murky methodological jungle. I’m not quite there yet and only time will tell, but for the first time in a long time, I feel I know the direction I’m heading in….

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