Tag Archives: progress

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


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….



Turning negatives into positives

1 Aug

So… my last blog outlined a not-very-nice PhD methodology-related situation I was unexpectedly faced with recently. As you know, this caused me quite a bit of distress, confusion and uncertainty.

Since then, taking the advice of my supervisors, I have done nothing but read, scribble notes and stepping back to reflect. My reading has been focused on the main qualitative methodologies and philosophical frameworks. While initially, this was rather painful to do at this stage of my PhD, it has been invaluable. It has forced me to revisit a number of difficult issues and consider a range of possibilities in order to address them. It has also made me take a step back and really consider the overall aims and objectives of my research. I still have some more reading and reflecting to do before I meet with my supervisors’ mid-August, which will be the first time since my last blog post.

Today, I had my TMC (thesis monitoring committee) meeting. This was my first TMC since my Transfer of Ordinance in February. Given my recent problems, I was very anxious about this meeting. I had no idea how I was going to explain what had happened and was concerned about what their response would be. I needn’t have been. Prior to the meeting, I considered all the ‘negatives’ of my situation, decided to turn each and every one into positives.  Surprisingly, it was not difficult to do! This would have been an impossible task to do two months ago! My TMC all listened, asked questions, offered advice and were extremely supportive. I came out of what could have been a difficult meeting, feeling good.

Although my issues are not resolved as yet, I firmly believe they can be. This I know will not be done overnight and there will still be many challenges ahead. That’s fine. I also know that what is happening at the moment will ultimately make me a stronger researcher; my PhD will be much more robust (I will not produce a mediocre thesis – I will produce a damn good one!) and I will be able to defend my work well in my viva.

So that’s just a quick update of progress – and although I couldn’t see it a couple of months ago, I definitely see this situation as progress. I am looking forward to continuing with what I am doing now then meeting with my supervisors later this month. When that day comes, I will be much more confident in talking about the issues that arose during my last supervision and importantly, I know I will be able to engage in a constructive critical discussion as to how I can move forward.

Just before I go, I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone on #phdchat and beyond, for the support, encouragement and advice that you have given me via this blog, twitter and email.  Thank you for helping me turn my negatives into positives…





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