Monday, 25 October 2010


Writing the final bit I think. I think I'm writing the final bit.

And that's how it goes, writing and rewriting it a different way, with a bit more detail, and a few more connections. Connect the literature review to the methodology, connect the methodology to the case studies. The last couple of weeks have been exhausting and exciting as I make the connections.

But the polishing remains. To do:
  • write the conclusion better (after my supervisors see and give me feedback)
  • sort out the jigsaw that is the methodology chapter
  • write the introduction.

When I finish

When I finish, I'll get out to the new big wild field and have to market myself for work. Here's advice on marketing yourself from a new OUBS blogger, Terry.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Double the work or double the fun

Today's PhD comic is just where I'm at, after my supervisor commented two weeks ago that progress seemed to be slow. So:
  • I'm thick, or
  • I'm wading through research sludge, or
  • I'm doing the wrong things, or
  • I'm not doing enough things.
I am doing enough PhD work. Like fellow PhD blogger, Minh, here, I think and talk about my PhD so I'm well not happy to progress slowly. I want to submit this year.

So what do I do? Double the hours? Do double the wrong things?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Shell shocked

I always come out of supervisions feeling slightly shell shocked and unable to do anything for 24 hours. It is slight consolation that supervisor had the same feelings when she was doing her PhD.
However, my Facebook friends console me.

Informatics Friend: Once you recover, do you find the content was useful and usable?

Me: I do something different as a consequence, so the content is used. But these discussions are so mind challenging that it takes time to use the content.

IF: Being stimulated is good :-)

Psychologist Friend: Know what you mean.

Me: In summer I wrote 5 case studies, and sups said don't structure the thesis with these 5 chapters, rewrite them as four chapters, analysing across cases by addressing four developing ideas. I gave them those 4 chapters last week, but they don't like it done cross-case like that and they want a different structure - more like the first effort.

IF: Which I hope you've got saved somewhere.

Successful OUBS Phd Friend: That is so annoying. Don't they realise you haven't got endless time to indulge their whims!

Me: And the final comment was, "you don't seem to be making much progress". So I don't think I'll be able to submit before Christmas

IF: Which do you think is the better structure? Would there be any value in just outlining it and trying to get some quick reactions rather than going through the pain of writing several chapters to have them 'not liked' again?

I know all this is ahead of me, but I guess there is something in this around who actually owns your thesis and the structure of it - and whether you are happy with changing/conflicting advice.

Good luck!

Me: Outlining is what we discussed, now I have to implement it. I can see where they're coming from, but until I'd written it this way, they, none of us could have seen that it wasn't going to work. Now, it's clear that it doesn't read well that way, so I have to write it another way, and just slightly different from what I did in summer. The slight difference also means that it will integrate more with the methodology, and lead to the conclusion. I see them every four or five weeks, which gives me 3-4 weeks to get stuff to them, then they're very good at reading and commenting. Their changing/conflicting advice is because they're moving on in their understanding of my research as I write it - and I do write and give them stuff, which is why I'm upset by the comment about my progress as if I weren't working.

IF: If they could have said something like - it must feel as if you are not making much progress, but actually it is because of all the work you have done that the way ahead is becoming clearer...

I guess they were wanting to encourage and empathise but it came out all wrong - lessons in this for all of us who try to mentor, tutor or teach!

Are you able to edit your previous work rather than having a major re-write - and are there other chapters you can work on in parallel to draw out that integration?

Me: Oh yes, IF- that's the way it could have been said. It's a major edit rather than a major rewrite because I've written it all before, and filed discards in a discard folder. What will take time is editing the drawings that I use to show the thread through the thesis. So it's like
  • in spring I had skeins of wool and didn't know what I was going to knit,
  • by summer I'd started on a pullover,
  • but in autumn, now I realise it should be a cardigan, and the sleeves are too short, so I have the right colours and know what who has to fit, but need to unpick, redesign and knit more.
PF: Yes, you need to look at the positives and try not to worry about the negative. You have made progress - you've started knitting and now you have a better idea of the final garment

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Master of Research degree

New research students start this week, the PhD students and the MRes students. I was asked to speak to the year's cohort of seven MRes students to give them a retrospective assessment of the MRes experience and its worth to the PhD.
  1. It's worth it. After one year, you have a degree, whether or not you go on to a PhD in the OU, elsewhere or never again if you realise research is not for you. If you go on to a PhD, you start at a run, which means you can take six months to hone other interesting skills in other areas.
  2. MRes students may feel like second class citizens; they are not. You have to join in and remind people that you exist and want to learn.
  3. Take each step at a time and enjoy the process rather than worry about the big thesis at the end of the year. I told them three stories from my MRes year. The first was about writing essays and what an awfully low mark I got on my first assignment, and how I learned better. The second story was of my supervisor's encouragement in June. The third story was about the Friday before the thesis was due in, when I'd already printed three copies, and received a letter one of my participants withdrawing permission for me to use anything she'd said. Aagh! The first question the director and my supervisor asked when I ran for help was: "Did you get ethics approval?" Yes - the MRes doctoral training workshops had trained us on ethics. The point is that a research process is about planning, and constantly adapting to cope with problems.
Several academics who run the MRes course presented and I listened to it all, including what would be covered in their advanced qualitative module, which I couldn't do because my faculty requires the MRes students to do a business module. What was interesting is that the advanced qualitative module includes details of interviewing, analysing transcribing and analysing interview data and the use of qualitative analysis software - all stuff that I have needed and used, teaching myself by reading or getting on other workshops. Had I realised its value, I might have asked to join as an unofficial participant on the advanced qualitative research module in my first year PhD. Some people did that to gain the advanced quantitative skills, and now I'd advise a first year OUBS PhD student who intended to research qualitatively to negotiate access to that module.

There are only five OUBS MRes students and only two of them were at this morning's general session. Tomorrow we OUBS students meet the new OUBS PhD students, and on Thursday we meet the OUBS MRes students. The two I met were surprised to realise they have a desk waiting for them, with a cupboard, a pedestal, a phone and a brand new PC. We get well supported here so I hope they all turn up to use the support.