Saturday, 22 January 2011

Fourth year visa problems

My fellow fourth year Canadian colleague is having visa problems. Knowing this PhD is funded for three years, he trustingly and naively requested a visa for three years, and it is now up for renewal, but of course, like most PhDs, the research is not completed in three years, which is why you are registered as a full-time student for four years. Regular readers may remember my Chinese colleague had visa problems here.

So CC spent the hundreds of pounds needed to apply for a renewal. Unfortunately he had misleading or contradictory advice so his application was turned down because he hadn't included bank statements, and was told there is no appeal! How can that be? CC went to the university research school for advice and he is now reapplying, but it's taking him days of effort when he should be writing his thesis, and it's making him very grumpy. I can hear him at the next work bay, '*!' 'whiskey' *%$!'.

Unfortunately, another final year student has similar problems. She should have completed around 2007, but in her fourth year had problems with her flat, and with a baby on the way went back to China. Last October she came back to complete her thesis, and went home for Christmas. Now she can't get back because of visa problems.

It can't be doing the university any good, and it's certainly costing the research school in time, and perhaps money. It looks like a university needs legal experts to lead its non-EU students through the visa application process.

It's a shame because the university has so many students from abroad. I share coffee time with a New Zealander, a Canadian, a Pakistani, as well as EU residents from Germany, Holland and Ireland, and that experience of different cultures is refreshing, an experience I benefit from too.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Monolithic versus heterogeneous engagement

Monolithic versus heterogeneous engagement
It took me several attempts just to pronounce the words when I read my supervisor's comment. He points out that according to my data this is what the consultants seem to be doing. Monolithic engagement would be if you thought that all the key parties of an organisation behaved the same. A consultant varies his engaged behaviour depending on which parties he is working with, and that is heterogeneous engagement.

I don't think the words are quite opposites, but it's enough to give the idea that too much engagement with one part of the client system at the expense of another can be counterproductive because it can look like colluding, not being independent. And other parts of the client system may appreciate a degree of impartiality or detachment.

It's almost self-evident, and Czerniawska has written that one of the reasons for hiring a consultant is for the independent perspective, but that is not quite the same as being neutral with the various different key parties of the client organisation. That's rather interesting, isn't it?

NAO (2006) Central Government's Use of Consultants: Market Analysis, HC 128 HMSO, London. Accessed from
Czerniawska, F. and Smith, P. (2010) Buying Professional Services : How to Get Value for Money from Consultants and Other Professional Services Providers, Profile Books Ltd. in association with The Economist, London.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


I've got 'O' level plasticine. We talk about dumbing down education now, but my education included 'O' level sculpture. I call it plasticine because rather than sculpting, for which we had few materials other than plaster of Paris, we used clay, which is only a grown-up version of plasticine. With clay, you can cut out a few bits here, and squeeze in a few bits there. I loved the feel of the clay on my fingers. That work required craftsmanship.

Editing a draft thesis requires crafting too. I am moving bits here, and putting something else there. Cutting and pasting. Adding sentences or paragraphs to improve my argument, and to address my supervisor's detailed comments. Maybe eventually, one day I shall look back with as much pleasure on the experience as I do on my plasticine days.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

New pastures

Yesterday evening, after work, a few of the post-grads met for a hasty reunion before we move on to pastures new. We were two from my year, two from the year ahead of me (second year when I started), and two from the year before, i.e., those who were my third years when I started. Two PGs from the year below me also came along, so it was a very good, collegiate atmosphere.

My two 'third year' colleagues, are now doctors. One has two jobs, a research job with the Open University and a teaching job somewhere else. The other, my Chinese friend, regular readers who remember the trouble had to get her visa renewed, will be as pleased as me to know, has a job in supply chain management at a well-known company in Swindon.

Both my 'second year' colleagues have landed pleasing jobs as senior lecturers in universities close enough to commute to, so can keep their families in the same schools and jobs. One is through her viva with minor corrections, and the other is still hanging in there on a part time basis.

Of my 'junior' PGs, I like the attitude of one who tells me he is going to go for a job in his discipline in the country of his choice, or possibly as a lecturer in that country. Here is a man who knows his mind and ambitiously chooses his options.

The grass of these new pastures looks green; it's time for me to head that way too.

Friday, 7 January 2011


Croquet is a game of strategy, in theory simple - you just get your croquet balls through all the hoops in sequence. In practice, it's vicious. Your opponent can use his balls to roquet yours away from the hoops, in totally the wrong direction. So you might be sitting there, complacently leaning on your mallet, just in front of a hoop that you're ready to go through on your next turn, and your opponent is already through it with at least one of his balls and should be ignoring you.
It's his turn.
He doesn't ignore you.
He uses his balls to hit yours, the one you were about to put through the hoop and he sends your ball in totally the wrong direction, forward of the hoop, far away, and it's going to take you ages to get back, and now since he's hit one of your balls, he's allowed another turn. So he can move forward and you're left way behind.

I feel like my supervisor has just roqueted me. He's read and commented in detail on my cross-case analysis chapter, which is great, and I'm really pleased, but he's seriously questioning my conceptual framework, which means I have to do a lot of rethinking, then set out my arguments to address the issues he's identified, and it's going to take me ages.
Am I done yet?
No, so write well, (which is better than "No, and the requirements have changed" so throw it all out and start all over (See
And it isn't really croquet, because supervisor's not playing PhD anyhow. He's already through all his hoops.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


I take a critical realist approach. Critical philosophy might be different. The "critical" of the critical realist is an answer to criticism of the totally positivist approach of a realist. Now I understand that my supervisor was telling me my approach is not philosophically critical. She's right, and I can still be a critical realist, can't I?

Critical realism is "a way of resolving or dissolving" issues around positivism and extreme constructivist positions {Mingers, 2004: 374}. "It's a response", says Mingers, "to the difficulty of maintaining a realist position in the face of criticisms" (page 380)

I understand that critical realism has strata: the real, the empirical and the actual, and I've tried to adapt Mingers diagram, above, to show how I think my research fits into these strata.

Yet Mingers addresses five criticisms of critical realism, and the fifth area is "the nature and extent of critical realism's claim to be 'critical'", which means "in the political sense of bringing about change in society" and that brings me back to my supervisor's argument that my work is not critical in that sense, the sense of challenging the status quo.

So oh dear! I'm arguing against myself. I have too little knowledge, enough to start arguing, but not enough to argue myself out of the spot my supervisor has put me in. Bother!

Mingers, J. and Willcocks, L. P. (Eds.) (2004) Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, John Wiley.