All 147 entries tagged PhD Blog
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July 28, 2013
Well I've finished my first academic year at Warwick though I'll start the second year still as a first year! So I guess it's naturally a time for reflection but also looking forward to what the next year will bring.
Thinking about my first day at Warwick, it was nearly as nerve-racking as my first day as an undergraduate student 25 years ago - not knowing anyone, the campus or what the study would entail; only this time I also had to work out how I was going to achieve any kind of balance between full-time work and part-time study.
I can't say that I've managed to get the balance right between work and study and with the nature of my work, I can't see that changing any time soon. So instead of being able to have a regular consistent focus on study, it's more an intermittent approach with concentrated bursts of activity. I know that will need to change as the years roll on. I had started off with a day/week during the working week devoted to study but that was quickly eroded as my companies took on more work as an economic necessity. I'm already a Co-Director of a consultancy business and I took on another Director role with a new consultantcy business last year - not the best timing in relation to study, but definitely good timing in relation to my professional work.
I'm lucky that I chose a subject that I already know well and am genuinely passionate about, I suspect that I may have given up by now had I been tackling a completely new subject area. It's a natural progression from my Masters dissertation and that has been brilliant grounding for my PhD work.
I am relieved to discover that I'm not that far behind the full-time PhD students in my year. I've done a tranche of writing for which my tutor has given me positive feedback and I've now got the chapter structure in place too. I feel very well supported within the department, not just by my tutor but all the tutors and administration staff, right the way through to the Head of Department. They have been incredibly accommodating in relation to my rather haphazard availability and always make me feel welcome and are genuinely pleased that I have been able to attend additional sessions. I also have a great family and set of friends who rally round and keep up my enthusiasm for my PhD, and my brother/business partner has never faltered in his ongoing support.
Though I've had to delay going on my study trip to the US due to an ever-increasing workload, I am looking forward to spending next term preparing and researching the virtual archives before my trip to the physical archives in January 2014.
I was hoping to spend some of the summer months working on my PhD. That now looks unlikely with an impending festival in the autumn for which I work on the marketing and communications, lots of projects building to their conclusions in September, and a work trip to Australia to give a keynote address at a cultural conference in Queensland on the subject of cultural tourism, plus the opportunity to meet with the Commonwealth Games 2018 cultural programme team (I worked on the North West Cultural Programme for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002). All good experience if I ever get the chance to speak at film related conferences although it's a very different style of presentation. If I'm not too tired I'll try to dedicate some of my flying time to PhD reading rather than just catching up on my paid for work.
I realise that I may start next term feeling a bit rusty and will need to immerse myself in the world of study and film terminology and language again after an enforced break. I'm already earmarking Christmas and New Year as PhD time...
July 01, 2013
Although 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 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...