All 145 entries tagged PhD Blog
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May 15, 2013
"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.
March 15, 2013
Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for Warwick Business School. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).
In my previous two blog posts I underlined the urgency of turning one’s attention inwards in order to understand who they are and what they wish to pursue, while also identifying their strengths, needs and drives and building a robust skillset. Now it's time for action!
In this blog post, I will focus on action towards academic routes. We know for a fact that academic jobs at the moment are as effortless to find as a Hobbit under your bed! No surprise there! Yet, it’s easy bemoan the competition and toss the responsibility there. The question is, what do YOU do about it? What can YOU control in the process? And, trust me, there is a lot!
The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making
What you have done or are currently working on is not enough. What are your future research plans? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Don’t take this light-heartedly. The PhD experience has been uncertain enough! The traineeship is over! You’re a professional now and if you’re serious about your career, you’ll have to be a strategist. The more conscious you are of your research plan, the more clearly and coherently you can articulate it, the more convincing you will be about your reliability as future expert in your field.
Be specific about the journals you wish to disseminate your research in; the publishers you wish to target; the conferences you wish to speak at.
It’s all about the money and you know it. Any successful funding bids so far? Which funding bodies are you planning to approach? Have you thought of research projects that can attract funding? Time to start planning!
- Media/Press Engagement
- Policy input/Workshops for practitioners
- Input to Industry
Now, except rather vague guidelines, there is no specific way of measuring the actual impact of one’s research. This is the farcical irony of the whole affair. Still, the more impactful your research is, the more likely it is to attact interest (and get you that promotion!) Consider how your work can have a tangible influence, implement an institutional change, or alter the way people think or act in a demonstrable way.
Can you create collaboration links with institutions within and outside your country of work? Where are you pointing your antennas towards? The key here is proactive networking!
What’s your teaching experience? What elements does it entail? Have you got the potential to design and deliver an original/innovative module that pertains the tradition of the institution you wish to apply for? How do you render your teaching more engaging and experiential for students? In a climate where students pay yearly salaries for their education, the bar of expectations has been raised dramatically and rightly so! (Note to all: students are rarely interested in an academic’s research outputs!) Moreover, have you pursued formal teaching qualifications? Many institutions are asking for professional qualifications now.
Bet you haven’t thought of that one, right? How do you plan to use technology to enhance your research prospects? Do you blog? Podcast? Prezi? Think 5 years ahead... If, at the moment, we are shopping online, socialising online, researching online, even dating online, what does this mean for academia? More cites and quotations will most probably entail more technological involvement! Be proactive, things are bound to transmogrify!
It’s a dirty little secret that connections are key in the current job market and beyond! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how you utilise such connections for your progression. So get involved!
Every young professional could benefit from a good mentor, someone who can share the secrets of the trade, whether this involves navigating publication landscapes, exploring funding opportunities, or sharing their leadership experience. A mentor can be an enormous source of support (and at times more benefits), so don't underestimate their usefulness.
10. Finally, can you talk the talk?! If you want to be part of the academic elite (and by this I mean obtaining a permanent academic job) you will have to learn, and convincingly regurgitate, the contested and, more often than not, sensationalist academic jargon that will consolidate your credibility amongst your peers and superiors. So come on, repeat after me:
Yes, sophistry and self-image are increasingly going hand-in-hand in the current academic entry climate and beyond!
November 08, 2012
October 29, 2012
October 15, 2012
You 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.
September 21, 2012
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 04, 2012
This past week I've been busy conducting interviews and transcribing them, so I thought I'd share my experience and ask you to share yours! :)
I use a digital recorder to record interviews as well as an app on the iPhone called iTalk which was recommended by some fellow PhD students. The iTalk app brings out the best quality of recording for me and it is very convenient as it is linked to my Dropbox and can therefore upload the file on to Dropbox with one click of a button (however doesn't work with very large files). There is a Lite version of the app which you can try for free, and the full version is around £1.50. This is working fine for me and the recording quality is excellent especially in comparison to the digital voice recorder I have (I do record the interviews on both just in case). However, I will probably need a much more sophisticated digital recorder when I decide to record a focus group.
Which device/app do you use to record interviews?
I am using Express Scribe Pro
(FREE!) to re-play my recordings and it is working fantastically for me. You can set the audio speed to a lower speed (mine is set at 59%) and set to 'play the audio with pauses', which automatically pauses the audio every couple of seconds and it means you can transcribe the audio without ever having to click pause (and without the need for a foot pedall). Transcription for a one hour recording takes professional transcribers at least 6 hours to transcribe. Rebecca Houge (who I met through Twitter) mentioned on her blog that she uses Dragon Dictate alongside Express Scribe Pro to transcribe interviews, which cuts the transcription time by half (3 hours of transcription for 1 hour of recording), to quote her:
Second, I use Dragon Dictate(I'm on a Mac, it is Dragon Naturally Speakingon PC) to transcribe the text. If you are buying it, I highly recommend the physical shipment, as you get a good quality headset that is designed to work well with Dragon.
The trick to this is not to input the audio into Dragon, which gets mixed reviews for effectiveness, but rather to re-speak the transcribed text. I listen to the audio file in my headphones, then repeat exactly what is said into the microphone at a pace that is optimal for Dragon Dictate. The pace is slightly slower than normal talking, but not much. The more important part is to pace your words, speak clearly, and speak your punctuation. Dragon then types it out. I proofread as I go along, and correct any errors.
Seems like a great idea in theory. However, Dragon software is not available at the University (yet) and it isn't a cheap software to buy.
So how do transcribe your interviews/focus groups etc? Have you ever outsourced the transcription work?
August 17, 2012
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...
August 16, 2012
I've been inspired to write this post after Temilola wrote a post below asking about tips to stay focused when everyone else is enjoying their holidays in the sun. My tips are in the comments on that post, but this lead me to wondering how holidays/annual leave for PhD students work? I am currently on what I call annual leave :)
In my first year, I would book holidays around two months in advance, and notify my supervisor. As far as I know she didn't keep count of the amount of days (she trusts me :)), and has always encouraged me to take holidays. I did ask her regarding the number of days we can take off in a year and I think she said (as far as I can recall) around 4 weeks (20 days) plus statuary holidays. This was roughly the same as what my husband can take off from work, so it was easy to keep count as most of our holidays were on the same day.
Before the start of this year though, with my husband in a new job where he had to book all of his annual leave days at the beginning of the year, we both booked our annual leave days a year in advance, and I sent my annual leave (holiday) dates to my supervisors, who approved them. In many ways this is working better for us (even though it limits spontaneity), because it means as we know when we have off in advance, we have something to look forward to and of course can book and plan holidays (overseas or in the UK) months in advance instead of struggling trying to find a decent lastminute.com deal at the last minute ;)
I also think it may be better to refer to the days off as annual leave and not holiday, because even if you feel like you don't need a holiday, or don't deserve a holiday you will still then take your alloacted annual leave days off (like I am currently doing) and I'm sure the break would do you some good (a chance to blog in my case ;-))
Is there an official limit to the number of days PhD students can take off? If there is no official limit to holidays, how do you take holidays? Does your supervisor keep a count of the number of days you take off? Has your supervisor ever told you you can't take a holiday, and if so why? Has your supervisor ever forced you to take a holiday? Do you have to notify your department/supervisor when you take days off?
July 24, 2012
It's been almost three years now, and I just want to say: I still love my PhD. In fact, I might even love it more than I did at the beginning. It's a bit like when I had my children - when they were first born, I loved them of course, but I didn't know what, or who, they might become. As they've grown and developed, and I've looked on in complete wonderment, I've realised that I really do love them more as they get older, because they're just so interesting to me, and I never know what they're going to do next.
It's been much the same with the PhD: I came in (as an ESRC/Case student) to a ready made research proposal, and I loved it as soon as I met it. But it's been a wondrous process of development and growth, and just like with my children, I've felt a bit like it's taken on a life of its own, and I just give it a bit of a shove in a particular direction from time to time.
When I read back over my blog posts, I can see how much it's evident that I have loved this PhD life. Of course there have been frustrations, but actually these have mostly been grounded in times when I've not been able to focus as much as I would like on the work - times when my children's lives have been frantically busy, times when I've had to focus on other kinds of work (well, thank you, marking!), and recently, times where I've just not been up to it. Even in the posts where I've been railing against the restrictions I've felt have been imposed, there's always been the sense of a challenge to be faced, and a bit of excitement about how I might circumnavigate the things I don't want to engage with. A bit like dealing with toddlers, actually...
I know I've said this before, but I'm a great believer in counting my blessings: I have loved these three years. I'm shocked to discover it's nearly over, just like I can't quite believe my eldest daughter will be able to go and see 15-certificate films in a couple of months' time. But just as I look at her and think, 'Yes, she seems okay so far...', I plan to take the same approach in these last few months with the thesis: Yes, it seems okay at the moment. And yes, I love it more than ever as it takes its proper shape and lurches towards the time when it will go out into the world as a fully-fledged THING. I'll probably cry, but as my children would say, that's no surprise at all.