All 71 entries tagged Bernie

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July 01, 2013

Methodology chapter excitement – Bernie Divall

this way to methodological happinessAlthough it's been a very difficult year, at the end of which I still appear to have some words to write, there is definitely something to be said for having had a little space away from the thesis. Coming back to it over the past couple of months, I can see the overall structure far more clearly than I could a year ago. Having said that, it's taken me a while to become properly re-acquainted with the work I've done over the past couple of years, and as for the literature review that I did three years ago - well, suffice to say, I'm marvelling at the fact that I even wrote those complex sentences!

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been constructing a final version of my methodology chapter. I say 'final version', because I've previously written two or three very different incarnations of things approximating a methodology chapter. These included copious notes on the methods (observation and interviews), a VERY dry chapter on the research design (Zzzzzzzz), and my personal favourite, a reflective version of the methodology - a sort of 'journey so far' approach. That last one was lovely to write, but my business school supervisor REALLY DIDN'T LIKE IT and gave me a very stern talking to when I sent it to him - experimental, reflective writing is not his thing!

So how's it going this time around? Well, firstly, I was pleasantly surprised, not to say hugely relieved, to discover that I had the chapter already constructed in some way, when I put together all those versions I just mentioned. What I didn't appear to have, however, was a proper framework to glue it all together. You know, the bit where I explain how being a social constructionist led me to a qualitative methodology, and how this links with the theoretical framework, the research questions and the data collection methods.

I got myself a lovely new notebook a while ago, and now it's full of random writings and intricate drawings, all of which are my way of unscrambling the mess in my head - and guess what! It turns out that the whole thing makes sense! You see, I've realised that the chapter I was dreading the most is turning out to be the one that makes me feel the thesis is nearly done. Because if I can tie together all these epistemological and methodological issues, then I must really know what I'm talking about!

What is it that I love about the methodology chapter? It's the combination of big, philosophical thinking (social constuctionism, narrative research, the voice in ethnography...) alongside the tiny, nitty gritty issues (why that leadership develpment programme? How many hours spent observing? How many interviews?..) It ties together what came before (literature review, theoretical framework) and what will come next (data chapters, discussion). And for me, with my messy head, that's a massive lead towards completion.

So onwards today and tomorrow in the chaos of writing, then two days in a research sandpit, and then a supervision meeting on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed that my business school supervisor likes the particular writing style I'll be employing this time around...


May 15, 2013

In the middle of the journey of life…

dark woods"In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death; but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there". So begins Dante's Inferno, and so begins the tale of where I have been for the past seven months, since I last wrote a blog entry.

My story left off at a difficult point in my PhD life: I had begun a postdoctoral fellowship without finishing the doctoral thesis. I was hugely disappointed by this, as I had always considered that three years would be ample time in which to complete a PhD. But I had reckoned without the vagaries of my ongoing cardiac symptoms, which had made me take some time off in the late Spring of last year. In October, I wrote that I was stressed. I could almost laugh now, given what has happened since...

A couple of weeks after my last blog, my dad suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. He had surgery, but never recovered and was in a coma for twenty days. Twenty days of driving to Sheffield. Twenty days of sitting, watching, waiting for signs I knew would never come. At the end of twenty days, he died. I was with him, which was a strange and beautiful thing - just him and me in a room, and the most peaceful thing he had ever done.

On December 1st, I returned to the fellowship research. My brain was full to exploding, but I felt my manager had given me too much time off in November to take any time to think about what had happened. In December of course, everyone in the world was ill. Except me. My children had the flu, my husband had the flu, then my children had the vomiting bug. Then it was Christmas, which of course was difficult.

Then in January, I was ill. My turn at last! But I had a report to write for my boss, and I carried on. The relief I felt when that report was done was immense. I remember saying to a friend of mine that I could now take a few days to sit and think about my dad and begin the grieving process. As if it would ever be possible to grieve neatly, in a compartment marked 'time to think'.

The very next day, I discovered a mass low in my abdomen. I thought it would be nothing, although my midwife hands were slightly surprised at the size of it - my GP and I laughed at the idea that it felt like a 20-week pregnancy. But the scan I had that same day agreed: a mass of some kind, 10cm big. 10cm? How had I not noticed that earlier?! There followed urgent appointments in gynaecology oncology (the NHS moves fast when it feels the need...), an MRI scan, and lots of serious faces, my friends (midwives) included.

So I had a hysterectomy at the end of February, and because of the uncertainty of the tumour's malignancy or non-malignancy, I also had my ovaries removed. Instant menopause! Then a long time sitting still - the longest I've ever spent sitting still, by some considerable margin. And now, a damaged ligament and more sitting still.

Meanwhile, my fellowship contract ended, and I now find myself technically unemployed, although still registered as a student - that was an easy extension to get permission for, thankfully! I'll be extending again next month, which will take me through to September. And then, I say determinedly, the thesis will be submitted.

So a dreadful time. The worst time of my life. But as ever, there are bright moments to be found: my husband, beside me and caring for me; my children, who seem to be enjoying the whole sitting down thing; and my friends, who have brought me such joy over the years, and who have shouldered such a lot of my burden over the past few months.

What a strange post this is. It's taken me a very long time to write. I hope to begin blogging normally again from now, as I return to the process of writing up the thesis. Because for all of these seven months, the PhD has been sitting in a tiny corner of my over-crowded mind, and now, finally, it's getting some attention. sun through trees


October 29, 2012

A holiday? Not likely! – Bernie

The last time I wrote, I was feeling more than a little bit stressed. The list of things I had to do seemed endless and daunting, and to be honest, I really was struggling a bit.
So last week, I went away with family and friends to Northumberland. When we booked this adventure, I remember thinking it would be a super time, because I would have submitted my thesis, and would be embarking on a new phase. Well, the embarking on a new phase was close, but of course the thesis has not been submitted. My husband has always more or less tolerated my approach to work, which is that I always have some with me. I suppose this has been largely because I didn't really see the thesis as work - it was a beautiful thing that had to be nurtured and fed regularly, in order for it to grow and blossom.
Of course, I've felt huge amounts of guilt for this approach, but like one of my supervisors said recently, for me the PhD has been an immersive process. During the PhD life, I worked around my guilt and the non-verbal signals from my husband, by always getting up super early on holiday and doing some work before anyone else was even awake. That way, I could spend good amounts of time with them during the day, and relax in the evening. A win-win, really.
Suddenly, it's all gone a bit pear shaped, and I even had the rebellious thought that actually, I might have earned a holiday from all the words filling my brain. Because while I was in Nothumberland it dawned on me that I never really take any time off. And now that I'm in what I consider the harsher side of academia, it suddenly seemed that I should. But what do you know, I can't do that now, because I've been tasked with writing a report based on data collected for the study I'm currently acting as research fellow for. And of course, having completed many of the tasks that were stressing my head before the holiday, I come back to a thousand more things to worry about and get on with. hamster wheel
I'm starting to feel a tiny bit like a hamster in a wheel, and I'm not sure I like the sensation. I spent the whole of this weekend working, because in Northumberland I wasn't able to get enough done. Tomorrow I'm giving a lecture on leadership, based on slides I prepared a year ago - better have a little look at those tonight... Also coming up is the RCM conference, at which I'm presenting both a paper and a poster - better make the poster this week... Then there's teaching, which involves sending soothing emails to worried students, and reading a lot about subjects quite new to me.
In the meantime, I'm in the process of weighing up my options: I have a potential job offer which would take me firmly back into the NHS. Do I want to do that? Probably, but it's a huge step. And I don't really feel like I have the time or the space to consider it properly.
So anyway, that's quite enough whinging from me. I do seem to be doing that a lot, lately. I'm looking back on my time as a PhD student with immense fondness. I can see how lucky I was to have that space to think and write - not that I didn't appreciate it at the time, but it really is a striking contrast with the job I'm currently doing.
Oh, and the thesis? I haven't been able to touch it since September 30th. That's four weeks. And I might be suffering something of a tough withdrawal. Now, I just have to figure out how to fit in some time to get my fix... hamster cartoon


October 15, 2012

Life is a scream!

the screamYou know this picture, right? Well, that's the inside of my head at the moment. Last week, I wrote a blog for our sister site at the PG Hub, in which I spoke at length about time management. Even as I was writing, I was laughing away to myself at the absolute genius of its timing, because just at the moment I feel like I'm juggling about 15 grenades, and dropping any one of them would be fairly fatal!

Oh, listen to me, I sound so self-important. But you know what it's like - you commit to things, and then you just have to do them, even if you'd rather run down the street in the opposite direction with your fingers in your ears, singing 'I-can't-hear-you!!!' at the top of your voice.

This is a fairly rare occurrence, but today I've managed to give myself an actual headache just by thinking about all the things I've got to get done within the next month. And none of those things include writing a doctoral thesis, which is more than a little worrying.

I MISS MY PHD LIFE!!!!! Suddenly, I have the postdoctoral fellowship to get on with - and I've come in at the point where reports have to be written, so I'm having to do background reading, data analysis, and writing up all at the same time! I also have a job interview on Wednesday - for a job I'm not even sure I want, and which will add further complications if I'm successful. Then on Thursday, I've somehow got burdened with presenting to a roomful of ward managers on the subject of an all-graduate nursing profession. I have literally no idea how that happened, and it's been quite time consuming putting something together, as nursing really isn't my area!

Meanwhile, two of the children have birthdays withing four days of each other, so there has been present buying, cake making, party organising, the biggest sleepover in the universe...

Oh yes - and the 50 new students I'll be teaching. Of course, they all have queries and questions, and I think I may possibly have made myself a bit too accessible... My new phrase, which will be unleashed before long if they carry on like this: "Talk to the handbook!!!"

So can you tell, I'm feeling a little stressed. My poor thesis is sitting, waiting, aching for a tiny bit of attention. Luckily for me, it's not throwing a tantrum yet. But I feel it's only a matter of time before one of us does.

I'm off to Northumberland on Friday, for a week with my family and some lovely friends. I remember when we planned it, some months ago and before the health woes took over, I remarked that the thesis would by this point have been submitted and I would be a free woman... Oh, the dreams. Instead, I've got to endure the baleful glances from my husband and children as once again, a holiday week becomes a week of trying to find a bit of guilt-free time to catch up on the stuff that's hiding away at the back of my brain.


October 02, 2012

A magical metamorphosis?

Over the weekend, there was apparently a small miracle occurring: I was changing from PhD student to research fellow. Naturally, as ever, I gave insufficient thought to this process, and just spent the weekend trying really, really hard not to think about the thesis, which is ever-present and taking up considerable space in my brain. I found pink wine and the company of friends hugely helpful, and came to Warwick yesterday determined to enjoy my new identity for as long as it lasts.

How long it will last is highly debatable, but that's a different story and not one to be told today. So yesterday, I met with my new boss (not new at all - my first academic supervisor for the PhD) and the research fellow whose position I'm covering while she has a baby. The field of research I'm looking at is quite different (elderly care), but it's still NHS, and there are actually a lot of parallels with midwifery (risk and governance), so it's not so strange as it might have been.

Yesterday, I discovered there was an induction session for new WBS employees - I hadn't actually been invited, but I gatecrashed it anyway. On arriving at the WBS building, I discovered that my student ID card no longer let me in. But I don't have an employee ID card yet. I had a proper head-scratching moment, and then went to ask the lovely people in IT support what I should do. I turns out, I don't appear on any systems just now, so I'm in a sort of non-identitied place.

I'm not sure I like this: according to the Graduate School, I'm still a PhD student because I'm writing up. And the WBS doctoral office obviously agree, given that they haven't turfed me out of my office. But according to WBS, I'm now an employee. I have a new ID number and everything! Only they haven't quite managed to get all the necessary paperwork sorted in time for the October 1st start.

It's a strange place, this land of in-between-ness, but quite a familar one. After all, I've just spend three years being in between midwifery and academia, so I expect that's why I feel quite chilled about the whole thing.

So the lovely IT people have made my student card work again, and I'm just off now to pick up my staff card. Who shall I be today? I think I'll stick with student for now. I feel more comfortable there. And besides, I'm not brave enough to actually go into the staff lounge in the WBS building. It's full of grown ups.


September 21, 2012

Time for a Meltdown

Well, it's Friday evening, and I'm sitting in my office having a bit of a moment. You know, one of those moments when your brain feels like it might actually BURST! It's silly really, but it's just hit home that I only have 10 days of my PhD life left, and then I have to go and be an actual grown up again. Not a grown up like when I was a midwife, but a grown up researcher. Off I go, into another new room, which is lit up by those stupid energy saving lightbulbs that take about 10 minutes to get going. I've walked in, switched the light on, and now I have to stand around waiting to see what's actually in there as the lights get brighter. At least, I hope that's what will happen, now that I have a letter confirming the post, and I've filled in a billion forms, and met with the research fellow I'm taking over from.

So I'm going to be a research fellow for six months. That sounds like a proper job, doesn't it? I have a contract and everything. But essentially, I feel as clueless as ever - I'm going to be covering maternity leave, so I really am just a stand-in. An understudy. A temp. And although the research is in the NHS, it concerns elderly care, so something quite different from my usual line of work. But I have to be really good at the job, and I have to still try and finish my thesis at the same time. Not to mention commitments to conference presentations and some lovely teaching.

And at the end of six months, who knows what will happen? Apparently there are things in the pipeline for me, but I'm left with a sense of just not knowing which door I'll be opening next. Or whether the next room will have good old-fashioned lightbulbs that work straight away, which would be nice.

I'm allowing myself a moment of utter fear (hello, my old friend), in the hope that when I wake up tomorrow morning I'll have worried all the worry out of my system and I can take everything in my stride. And then I can write like a demon for the next week, and feel slightly less disappointed that my thesis will have to take a bit of a back seat for the few weeks after that as I settle into the fellowship role. Maybe the break will do me good, as I still feel like I'm fermenting the eureka moment I had last week. I hope so. And I also hope my family is prepared for me to be working all week and writing all weekend for the next however long until the thesis is finished.

I think the next few months are going to be quite different from the past three years. And I may need some hand holding. Just thought I'd put that out there...


September 18, 2012

Eureka moments

Last week I had a full on, head spinning, dazzling moment of inspiration. It was such a good thought that I had to stop the car and write it down. And I've been letting the idea ferment ever since, pulling it out for consideration, polishing it a bit, showing it off to my friends, boring my family, impressing one of my supervisors...

But in the customary way of my world, it's been really difficult to just hold onto the idea. There are so many other things vying for my attention - rucksack repairs ahead of my eldest's expedition this weekend, small boy (not so small, actually - he's overtaken me!) and his homework and haircut, youngest and her cello playing... just the usual, but as distracting as ever.

The beginning of term is always like this - a bit manic, as we all settle back into a routine, and somehow I always seem to have deadlines at the same point. I think I'm doing pretty well not to get momentously stressed, given that I'm starting a research fellowship in 13 days, but I have that familiar feeling of everything happening at once, and wondering when I might be able to take a breather.

Because we all need a breather, sometimes. I realised the other day that I just never take a day off from the thesis. Even if it's only a bit of writing, or some reading, or reviewing something I've already done, or just sitting and having a fret about deadlines, it never leaves my head. Ever.

So to make myself feel better, I've just had a couple of days off. I've caught up with friends, been to see my lovely new cardiologist, helped with the children's homework, cooked a huge dinner, and generally tried to get my head round the idea that this PhD life ends in the EXTREMELY near future. chasing butterflies

Meanwhile, that inspirational thought is whizzing round and round, as I try to work out exactly what impact it will have on the thesis. Tomorrow, I'm back into it. And trying not to panic about looming deadlines and the end of life as I have known it for the past three years. As I always say, it will all be fine. But for the next few days, I have an image of myself chasing round the office with a butterfly net, trying to pin that thought down...


September 10, 2012

The Day my Words grew Wings

I have very mixed feelings about conferences. I've never arrived at a conference in the company of anyone I know, so I've generally gone into the customary pre-conference coffee session having to make rapid connections, which is something I tend to be a bit uncomfortable with. However, on the other side of the coin is the joy of meeting new people and making interesting friendships, which I suppose is one of my favourite things about conferences!

I've just been at a conference in Nottingham, on the very campus where I was a student at the beginning of my PhD. I knew quite a lot of the people organising the conference - I worked with several of them during my midwife years, and obviously during the course of the PhD have met various members of the midwifery academic department at Nottingham. So this was quite a departure - although I walked into the conference on my own, I knew there would be familiar faces.

Even more significantly, some of the midwives who undertook the leadership course I've included in my research were sitting in the conference hall when I presented my paper. This was simultaneously nerve-wracking and satisfying - after all, if the findings ring true to the participants, then I must be doing something right! words grow wings

As it turned out, the paper seemed to resonate with a lot of the audience, and I received a lot of positive feedback and comments around, 'Oh, you could totally apply that to my experiences...' I drove home in a state of utter happiness, although a little worried that I might have to re-structure my data chapters more around liminal space, as it seemed such an interesting concept to the audience - but that's a worry for another day!

The main thing was how I felt in the act of sending words out into the world - the title of this post, being about growing wings, was exactly how it seemed to me. I've spent three years building up to this - a time when I can encapsulate the research into a 20-minute presentation that makes sense to the audience it's aimed at. It really did feel like the words just flowed out into the room and landed in the place they were meant to be. A fanciful description maybe, but one that sums up how I felt as I was speaking.

So, re-structuring aside, I've found this a hugely enjoyable and powerful conference experience. Next stop, the Royal College of Midwives conference in November, where similar words will go out to a slightly different audience. I'm hoping the bird will fly again...


August 24, 2012

Moving on – by Bernie

So this week, I have mostly been in solitary confinement. My family went away for a whole six days, and I stayed in my house to write many words. Well, I did venture out to a cafe every day, because otherwise I would start talking to the cat. And the cat prefers to sit on my work rather than have helpful discussions about it.

Apart from spending the week writing, I have done two other things of note: first, I had to put in a formal application for the post-doctoral fellowship I'm taking up. This involved writing an updated CV, and made me realise how much I actually have done in the past three years. Second, I had to write a short biography for the RCM conference, at which I'll be speaking in November.

These might seem like insignificant things, but they both required me to think about a particular point: I'm really and truly moving on. The biography had to say that I'm a research fellow, even though I'm actually not - not yet, anyway. And the fellowship application said that I'm writing up the thesis and it will be done within the next few months.

When I write these things down, it strikes me that I'm sitting in my own bit of liminal space, and in the very near future I'll be crossing the threshold and moving on to the next thing. What seems a little confusing, though, is this sense that I'm starting the next thing (the fellowship) before I've finished the thesis. I never expected that to happen - I've always been a fan of slamming the door behind me when I move on to the next room. I thought it would be the same this time, but the boring health problems I've been having have impinged on that idea to a considerable degree. Suddenly, it's taken me far longer than usual to get things done, and I've had to abandon whole weeks of work at a time in order to SIT VERY STILL and feel a bit rubbish.

My supervisor wants me to take advantage of the fourth year extension, and initially I was adamant that I would not do that, and would be finished by Christmas. But seeing as he's offered me this rather fabulous research fellow opportunity, I really want to do my best with that, and I worry that frantically writing up will compromise the amount of energy I can spend on his project.

So it looks like I'll be spending some time with one foot on either side of the threshold.

crossing the threshold

On the plus side, it gives my poor brain a little longer to spend on shaping the thesis into the beautiful thing I'm so determined it should be. But equally, I feel like I've failed in some way: I was so sure that I would get it done in three years, and yet this PhD is leaking well into a fourth.

Oh well, I guess I should just view this as a happy thing - at least I have a job to start, and so I don't have to do the money-mortgage-fret that I was expecting. And I'm sure it will all turn out fine in the end.

I've been writing this as my family have arrived home - chaos and noise have returned, and I've been interrupted about ten times by various children... back to normal, then!


August 17, 2012

I am a Write Up Bore – by Bernie

Well, hello, it's been a while, hasn't it? It seems like a tiny moment since I last wrote, but in fact it's been more than three weeks. That's a lot of thought-fermenting time, usually, but at the moment I've turned into a Write Up Bore.

My poor family is having to endure my apparently random comments whenever I emerge from my study. Things like, 'Anonymity is so tricky in the tiny world of midwifery leadership', or 'One of my interviewees said something really odd about identity', or 'Grrrrrrrr... I can't make these themes fit together'. Usually they just nod, smile, and beat a hasty retreat, which is probably a safe thing to do, but it does make me feel a bit lost within my own head. Actually, my eldest daughter has developed a beautifully polite 'And how was your day?', which I'm quite impressed by. And I'm equally impressed by my new-found ability to answer in one sentence: 'Oh, you know, writing words...'

I think that's the problem for me, with writing up during the summer break (break - ha! Not this year...) I haven't been around fellow PhD students for a few weeks, and I haven't been to my lovely, peaceful, neat WBS office. My friends away from the thesis are great, but I don't want to talk them to death about the work. And if any of my midwife friends actually asks me how it's going, I have to actively stop myself from spilling the entire contents of my brain across the table!

It's sort of going okay, actually, except no actual sentences have formed yet - my strange way of working requires me to have a million pages of handwritten notes before that happens. However, I do have a data chapter deadline (three data chapters by the end of next week), so I'm hoping some magic will happen over the next few days.

My head space is going to be crammed by then, because Peter and the children are going away to London tomorrow, and they're not coming back until next Friday. Imagine how full of words I'll be without them to distract me! If I think I'm boring now, I'm going to be the dullest person EVER by the end of next week. Ah well, at least there will be many words to make the supervisors happy... I am dull today


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