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October 22, 2017

Moving Forwards: the Beginning of the Academic Year!

It’s incredible to think that the fourth year of the Ph.D. has started! The previous year was simultaneously scary, exciting, awe inspiring and successful. A successful conference, a published research paper and the successful upgrade from MPhil to Ph.D. were some of the highlights of the highly interesting and inspiring year of the Ph.D.

But that was the previous year! This is a new year (academically speaking) and the new year comes with a new, energised focus and the determination, more than ever before, to continue to write as a comprehensive, detailed, immaculate, complete thesis as I can possibly write within eighty thousand words. The key chapters that I have been working on recently have been, as mentioned in previous blog posts, the literature review chapters (three different literature review chapters serving different but related purposes) and the methodology chapter. My approach to these chapters and the thesis in general has continuously changed in style, structure and content outlines. This has been a result of continuous improvements to my understanding of the different styles, approaches, purposes and construction of different literature reviews; changing nature and style of my methodology and methods of choice, and of developing my academic language and finding my academic “voice.” Further, changes to the thesis have come about as a result of becoming more conscious of my identity as a researcher, as a social scientist, as a philosopher, as a researcher, and of my positioning within this vast and diverse world of academia and educational research.

Becoming conscious of and developing your own identity is an important aspect and product of Ph.D. engagement, and has been the subject of many published journal papers.

It can take a whole Ph.D. program and beyond to really understand who you are as a researcher and where you position yourself in the academic world. I understand my own identity as a researcher more than I have ever been able to understand before, but I know that there is always room for improvement. I can always learn new skills, develop new knowledge, explore new areas and try out new methods and methodologies. There is always much to learn and develop, and there is no doubt that identity awareness and development shall always be a progressive, developmental journey. I have no doubts, therefore, that as the year progresses I will gain further understanding of my position as a researcher and where I position myself in this academic world.

It’s really important that at the beginning of a Ph.D., you don’t hold the belief that you know what it is that you know with absolute certainty. Your research interests might change (I’ve found a new fondness for the Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Language that I did not possess a few years ago), your ideas might change, your methodology and methods might change, your research context might change, and you will change as a researcher. As you really wrap yourself into your research and as you continue to travel along that path of inquiry and questioning of everything, you will gain new knowledge, skills and wisdom to acknowledge the need for changes, and to cope and adapt to these changes. This is not a bad thing, because organic, progressive, natural changes to your Ph.D. as a result of your experiences and increased wisdom (don’t forget to document extensively these changes) will evidence your developing skills and your adaptable and flexible identity as a researcher. Allow any changes to your Ph.D. research be organic and natural and never forced: let those changes be guided by your intuition, by your experience, by your observations, and by your thinking and cognitive connectivity with your research context and reality itself. By fully documenting these changes, you assist yourself in understanding why these changes have occurred in the first place, and what led your research to these changes. The Ph.D. is not just a process of understanding your research phenomena of interest and contribute new knowledge thereof, but also a process of developing your understanding of who you are as a researcher.

I can imagine that every aspect of my Ph.D. shall experience a sense of growth during the year. Identity will more than likely be a part of that growth.

It’s going to be an exciting yet challenging Ph.D. year! This is really the key year that I build the Ph.D. thesis, continue to push forwards with theoretical development, position myself further within this vast universe of academia, and think about the way in which my theoretical contributions can impact philosophical and practical aspects of the research context.

I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m determined, I’m inspired, I’m driven, I’m motivated, I’m scared, I doubt, I think, I write, I read, I……am…….me……

‘till next time!

January 05, 2016

Setting Aims And Objectives

It’s traditional for people to set themselves New Year Resolutions in the rather limited hoping that they’ll be able to stick to it but usually break it within a short time of making them! I don’t go for that sort of thing but instead I go for setting aims and objectives of the year, which contributes towards achieving the overall vision that I have for where I want to be with what I do.

Having just started getting back to my work I have been thinking about the aims of the year and the objectives that shall contribute towards achieving those aims, and the tasks that need to be carried out in order for those objectives to contribute to those aims, and the resources that are needed to assist with the completion of each task. Setting aims and objectives is important because aims and objectives provide directions and enable you to attain a realistic and measurable positioning in your research and put in place some sort of focus for the year, or whatever time frame you choose to define. It is an activity that I recommend every Ph.D. candidate involve themselves with so that they can give themselves not only a focus but a means of ordering the objectives, activities and tasks that they need to carry out during that particular time frame, and therefore to reduce confusion and misdirection.

Setting an aim means that you set yourself a fairly abstract, none specific goal to achieve during that particular time frame. For example, an aim that I have set for my research this year is “Pass the Upgrade Process.” Fairly abstract and doesn’t contain any ideas of any resources or activities that are required: it is simply an aim to achieve; it gives a direction. Setting an objective, or a series of objectives, entails a more specific description of what task needs to be completed in order to achieve a particular aim. I write aims using fairly abstract language; I write objectives using specific and clear adjective and noun relationships. For example, an objective to achieve the aim “Pass the Upgrade Process” is “Write the Upgrade Paper by September,” which tells me that there is a report that needs to be written by a certain time: it gives an adjective – noun relationship within the context of time.

These objectives can be listed as long term, medium term and short term although simply using these titles is quite ambiguous so it is always best to give some sort of a time structure to these objectives. For example, a shorter term objective to the objective “Complete the Upgrade Paper by September” is “define research practicalities” giving much more of a specific task to achieve in the shorter term and I have placed it in the time frame of between now and Easter.

From then on, you can begin to list the tasks that are going to be carried out to achieve each objective and the resources that are going to be required to complete each task, if you want to go that far. It might be an idea to detail as much as you can, when you can, and use this as evidence for project management.

So, setting aims, objectives, tasks and resources is an extremely useful skill and process to carry out whilst going through your Ph.D. as this can offer you a direction, a focus, and helps you to not steer off course and become confused because it is really easy to steer off course whilst doing your Ph.D. research. This is because there are so many, limitless, avenues of research and debate but obviously to cover all of this in a thesis even of eighty thousand words would not be sufficient.

I would love to delve into the debates and perspectives of Grounded Theory and what many authors have said about it and debate with what they have said, but I simply do not have the room to cover absolutely everything and there would be a danger that I would be so focussed on arguing and debating Grounded Theory perspectives that I would lose track completely of where I should be actually going at a particular time. Setting these aims, objectives, tasks and resources set the grounding for suitable and appropriate direction, but that doesn’t mean that the Ph.D. becomes extremely structured or rigid. You must be able to follow a path but be flexible enough to join that path to different paths if you discover something relevant.

So to summarise, setting aims and objectives enables your progress to become:

  • Feasible

  • Workable

  • Realistic

  • Maintainable

  • Flexible where appropriate

  • Sustainable

  • Well defined

  • Clear

  • More clarified

  • Assessable

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