August 14, 2009

Mid–doctorate doldrums? Or permanent head damage?

September 2009 will be the 18th month of my doctoral research study—where I am going to enter the so-called mid-doctorate doldrums.

For the past few days, as I need to define and redefine all the key concepts and issues associated with my research question, I relearn epistemology, which is aka theory of knowledge (TOK). To avoid being bombarded by tones of philosophical jargons, I chose the text book written for IB Diploma students as the key reading text. The author, Lagemaat used the following analogy to explain how we could examine whether our beliefs are reasonable or not:

“…our position is like that of a sailor who has to rebuild his ship while still at sea. If he dismantles the ship completely and tries to rebuild it from scratch, he will drown. His only option is to rebuild it piece by piece.”

In the analogy, Lagemaat used ship to represent the existing beliefs we hold and rebuilding is equivalent to reconstructing our beliefs. To me this analogy is also suitable for social scientists who has to refine their research design or even redesign the whole research while being in the mid-doctorate journey. If they discount the work done completely and try to restart it from scratch, they will fail to finish on time. Their only option is to refine it phase by phase.

To date, I have recorded 10 major and minor changes made upon my research design. Coping with the changes is really challenging if not exhausting, and such changes must be done to justify the research progress and the work done. Many days and nights of effort were put into this task, but the most crucial element is the occurrence of the “blink” moment (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The power of thinking without thinking). It doesn’t matter how much time I spent on thinking or writing, it is the quality of output that matters. When the “blink” moment occurs, I need to capture the golden chance and have my ideas recorded—through voice recorder, mobile phone, sms, parking tickets, tissue papers, etc. I have quite a lot of text messages which I sent to myself; I recorded a lot of my voice using think aloud methods; I have a lot of Post-it notes on my desk; I carry my voice recorder along most of the time; I will stop doing whatever I am doing to capture those moments. Even when I am driving, I will stop the car and jot down some notes. I know and people around me know that I am passionate about doing research. Is this the symptom of mid-doctorate doldrums? Or is it the sign of permanent head damage (PhD)? I am not sure, and please don’t tell me the answer unless you heard that I have completed my PhD. Thank you in advance.

Indeed, doing PhD is tiring especially when it becomes the core mission of life. A lot people advice me not to get myself burnt-out, of course I won’t. Else I won’t have time writing this blog, and I do realise the danger of being burnt-out. My current strategy is to finish it asap—before the process burns me out. Thanks to my undergrad lecturers and ex-bosses in Malaysia, they have me well-trained. To them, this is really nothing.

Anyway, I do reward myself once awhile. I include activities like travelling with friends, travelling alone, watching movies, listening to music, etc into my daily living. My next reward is to visit my family and friends in Malaysia in September. After that, I will start to learn French and Ancient Philosophy in autumn term.


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