Tag Archives: thesis writing

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!

im-not-there-yet-but-i-am-closer-than-i-was-yesterday

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 🙂

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)

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