All 110 entries tagged Research Process
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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...
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!
January 15, 2013
Despite having planned to transcribe all my research interviews as I was going along, it didn’t quite work out that way. This was mainly due to the limited availability of participants and then the lack of them, which meant I re-located mid-way (very happily I must say) to my parent’s home for over two weeks so that I could conduct interviews one after the other. There’s nothing more I need or would want for motivation and energy than the fresh chappatis and curries my mother churns out every evening! Bless her :)
So moving on, having spent the last month trying to complete transcribing over 20 hours of spoken word (imagine - I have typed over 100,000 words – only if that could be included in my thesis!), and having finally completed it today, I feel alive again! Yes, it was such a bore. I’m not saying my research is not interesting, of course it is very very interesting, and I can't wait to start analysing the juicy data, but sitting for 7 to 8 hours per day, just typing away, is not only boring and tedious, but can be frustrating too especially when it feels like it's never going to end. But it will end - if you are in the transcription phase, just hang in there, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hence, to celebrate the end of the transcription phase (finally over!) and the start of the analysis stage (woohoo, can’t wait to get going!), despite the snow, I am taking my other half out to Pizza Express this evening (check out their 40% off offer – yeah I know that’s cheeky – but hey I am still technically a student).
November 20, 2012
The Agony Aunt of the Research Exchange is back! She’s had the whole summer off to reflect and regain her wisdom and now she’s ready for your questions.
Share with Aunt REx any concerns you might have about the research process, your personal progress, as well as your work/life balance. Aunt REx is an experienced researcher and long-time resident at Warwick and so what she doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing!
If you’re after a friendly (virtual) shoulder to cry on, Aunt REx is here for you. Just ask!
We hope you fine Aunt REx the fountain of wisdom that she is,
Kate, Blog Manager
Aunt Rex, Am I Good Enough?
Dear Aunty Rex,
I am coming close to the end of the first year of my PhD and now I am second-guessing if I am actually good enough to complete this journey. Everyone around me seems so confident about their research but not me, and I wonder if I would ever get there.
The breaking point for me was the recent rejection of a paper I submitted to a journal for publication. I really don't know how to handle this. Perhaps it is a sign I am not cut out for the academic world.
I am genuinely interested in the area of my research and want to pursue a PhD to broaden my knowledge. However, I am considering dropping out. Am I not better off getting that knowledge in practise? Do you think I would regret this decision in a few years?
Hello worried researcher,
It sounds like a classic case of the end of first year blues! We begin the PhD bright eyed and bushy tailed, read everything we can lay our hands on, whilst convincing ourselves that we know the direction our research will take. For most of us the end of the first year leaves us tied and insecure about our progress. It seems as though everyone around us is working harder and more effectively. The truth is most of us are in the same boat!
Completing a doctorate is a delicate balancing act - your time needs to be spread between researching, writing, teaching and conferences. When publishing is thrown into the mix, the cookie dough that holds us together falls apart. Some students are able to get at least one publication before they submit their thesis, but this can depend upon the discipline and an individual’s determination. These students are generally in their third year, and certainly not their first! Let’s learn to dribble before we learn to craw!
It sounds to me like you’re taking on too much too soon. You shouldn’t expect to publish something so early into your doctorate, and being able to put a paper together for review is an achievement in itself. You’re clearly an ambitious individual who is struggling to accept certain limitations. Speak to your supervisor, and I’m sure they would agree!
My feeling - you’re still committed to the research, but you’re lacking in confidence at the moment. I believe that you would regret dropping out of your programme at this early stage and it is unlikely that the skills a doctorate can teach you can be found any other way. I say stick to it, go back to your research and remind yourself why you started the (bloody) thing in the first place. And finally, here’s a valuable lesson we’re not all able to learn - try not to judge yourself against others, particularly when others might not be as honest with their struggles as you.
Chin up! Best wishes, Aunt REx
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 18, 2012
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.
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
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!
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...
September 05, 2012
It is a well-known fact that your finished PhD thesis often share little resemblance with your original PhD proposal. Despite this, however, I often seem to suffer a minor freak-out every time my research does not go quite to plan. I am currently digging for data at an archive in the south of England and I thought I would share with you all some of the things I have learned about the unpredictability of the research process.
1. It will take much longer than you thought...
I had a plan. Penned in to my diary there were three and a half weeks dedicated solely to digging through archival material. I had sent in all relevant request forms, filled in and signed various documents and booked visiting dates. Or so I thought. After four days spent at the archives in June I went back home expecting to return the following week. However, it turned out a communication error had occurred and the dates for my return visit were booked up by someone else. I was invited to return at their earliest convenience... So, TWO MONTHS later, here I am.
2. It will cost more money than you thought...
But it is not just the re-booking of visiting dates that has messed with my time-schedule. It seems I go through the material at a quicker rate than it is delivered to me (the material comes to me in big crates and have to be shipped back to the archive store when I am finished with them). Or, actually, I go through the material at the rate I had PLANNED, but the material is not delivered at the rate I was expecting.This biding of time that I seem to be doing waiting for archive material brings me to a different issue: MONEY. I live two and a half hours away from where the archives are located, so the expenses for my travels quickly piled up and now my budget has completely gone out the window. Although I was prepared to spend money on my little research outings, it is incredibly frustrating to do so when no actual research comes out of it.
3. It will be less organised than you thought...
Another thing I have noticeddoing archive research is that the archive itself is not very well organised... I have learned now that this is quite a common issue, and even heard of students offering to organise a whole archive in return for unrestricted archive access. I don’t know how many boxes I have had delivered only to find that it contains nothing of value to me. And the only thing the archive would have had to do for me to realise this was to mark these boxes with just ONE WORD indicating its content. I had imagined all these documents neatly filed and categorised, waiting for me to come and collect and analyse them. Instead I am sitting in an ocean of seemingly random bits of paper, trying to figure out what is what and what goes where.
4. It will be more overwhelming than you thought...
And so to another common issue with data collection: there’s. just. too. much. stuff. About a year ago I was seriously worried about not finding any data at all; that I would end up in a horrible situation with only a few tidbits of interesting stuff to analyse and subsequently fail miserably as a PhD student/researcher/academic. Now, a year later, I am instead worried about how MUCH data I have and how it just seem to keep growing. It is really difficult to know what is going to be invaluable information and what is not, so it is easy to just take a copy everything (I’m definitely guilty of doing this). The downside of that is, of course, that you end up with a shedload of material that you then have to go through with a sieve at a later date. But better safe than sorry, I guess.
5. It will be more frustrating than you thought...
Material gets lost. Apparently it is not uncommon that an archive have misplaced or lost various files (always the most exciting stuff!) that you are interested in looking at. A friend of mine visited an archive where the material she was looking at disappeared from one day to the next. One day she was happily going through it, the next it was lost! It’s a difficult thing to do, but sometimes you just have to accept that there may be gaps in your data that you will have no control over. Lost archival material is not commonly known to re-appear...
6. It will be more exhilarating than you thought...
When I do find some really interesting stuff forgotten somewhere in a dusty folder though... that is magic. My heart races and I get really excited. I sit there, in a quiet, dusty library, flicking through old documents with a giant smile on my face thinking: This is actually going to work! That’s a good feeling. I never thought I would get so excited about old, dusty pieces of paper.
I guess the lesson learned here, which I think is applicable to a lot of research, is that you can never plan exactly when everything is going to happen or how long it is going to take. Doing research is an organic process; it takes time, it changes and grows in different directions, and, yes, you may end up paying the price (literally and figuratively) for your thesis’ little de-tours. I guess the trick is to find a balance between being in control of the research process, but at the same time letting it evolve, learning to enjoy the unpredictable journey that is postgrad research.