Tag Archives: PhD

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

11 Feb

This is what I expected to feel like…

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Followed by a little bit of this…

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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)

Changing PhD Supervisors: Help or Hindrance?

8 Apr

I used to think the latter.

In an ideal world, one is assigned to two or three supervisor’s right at the beginning of one’s PhD, who would see you through to the very end. Most of us know however, that doing a PhD never really goes perfectly to plan. I know now this is just another part of the fun (!)

I have changed my main supervisor 3 times now – through no fault of my own I hasten to add. Well at least as far as I know. I ‘lost’ my supervisors simply due to them leaving for pastures new. Although I had the option of continuing and being supervised from a distant, I decided (after thinking long and hard) that this wasn’t something that I felt would be good for me. Thankfully, maintaining a certain level of stability, one co-supervisor has stayed with me from the beginning. I have to appreciate also, that having 3 different principle supervisors has also been a tough for her too – but hats off to her, she is still with me!xxx

Admittedly, this has been far from easy as I have noted previously in a previous blog post. Indeed, I am not ashamed to admit that I have shed many tears over it. I admit that for totally selfish reasons, I felt abandoned and often felt I was being forced to take a path that wasn’t on my agenda.

My first supervisor change was extremely difficult as my new supervisors challenged me in a way I hadn’t been challenged before. I was unable to defend many things. This then led me down a backwards path for quite a long time. In time however, I realised that I needed to be led down this path in order to be able to move forward.

My second supervisor change was daunting, as I expected to be led onto this backwards path again. This however, was not the case. Sure I have been challenged, but this time it was welcome. I was now sure of what I had done, why I had done it, how I had done it and how it has contributed, therefore the challenging questions were welcome. Yes, of course, the reins have been pulled a little while I re-think some things and go back and forth to revisit work, but I can see how much stronger this is making my work. Although…. My literature reviews are a pain in the ass – they have always been a pain in the ass. I thought in time, my literature reviews and I would develop a mutual understanding, but it looks doubtful….

Anyway, I digress…..   Now that the dust has settled, I look back upon my supervision changes and challenges and have come up with this:

  • Supervision is subjective – accept that. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat… That said, also respect each supervisor in their own right. More about styles of supervision here
  • Set ground rules together: What was expected from previous supervisors may be different to what your new supervisor expects.  Similarly, establish what your supervisor will do for you in terms of reviewing work, supervision sessions etc. It may not be the same as your previous supervisor
  • Don’t say “well my last supervisor said……”
  • Embrace differences of opinion (no matter how hard this is). If your supervisor doesn’t like or agree with what you say or have been doing, then defend it. If you can’t defend it, then revisiting is probably what you need to do
  • Keep a research journal. Your PhD is an iterative process. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t even remember what I did said yesterday. You need to know what you did, when you did it, the reasons why you did it and what the outcome was throughout the whole process. This is your research journal
  • Don’t be frightened of going back and revisiting/redoing work. It’s tough, really tough – but it’s an important part of the process. By the time you come to your viva, you will be able to justify what you tried, what didn’t work, what you did about it etc.
  • If you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to say so!
  • Remember all your supervisors in your thesis acknowledgements – they all helped you get where you did

So, I’m not going to lie, changing supervisors has been difficult, really difficult at times. However, on reflection, I feel very fortunate. I know I have had an amazing opportunity working with different very well respected professionals, all with different expertise and all with very different approaches to supervision. I know I can articulate my argument and be very clear about different approaches and processes, not just thzzze ones I took, but of all the others I was challenged about. I feel confident when being asked g questions – in fact I welcome them (most of the time!). This I know will (I hope!) stand me in good stead come viva time. So to answer my initial question  – (only) from my experience, this has been a help rather than a hindrance.

More about changing PhD supervisors by @eljeejavier

If all the above fails and you really cannot continue with your supervision team, you may find this post @thesiswhisper  helpful: How to tell your supervisor you want a divorce

I would love to hear from you so please do leave comments. Have you changed PhD supervisors? How was it for you? Did you have similar or different experiences from mine? Are you going through a challenging time with changing supervisors? Is this just an initial transitional challenge or perhaps it goes deeper than that?

It would also be great to hear from supervisors – although I have blogged from a student’s perspective, I have absolutely no doubt that from a supervisor’s perspective, gaining a student who has had previous supervisors must be very challenging!

‘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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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!

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