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Monday, March 28, 2011

Week 12 - a new home, and goodbye to my fish!

After the excitement of the Internal Evaluation and some reflection and planning ahead, I've relocated my blog to the Salford post-graduate site. This is the link - New blog  where you may still be interested in keeping up with my slow but steady progress towards my PhD.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Week 9 - onwards and upwards!

So, the academic highlight of last week has to be the Internal Evaluation, which was positive and helpful, with some useful feedback. Not to be underestimated, though! And now it's gone and I can re-focus on my text analysis and keep an eye on the horizon for the endgame of completion, starting next Tuesday.

Although I've passed this major milestone, I feel there is still some way to go and it's not just a case of a couple of chapters on analysis and findings - though I'm not quite sure what else I need to do. I want to review all those thoughts, ideas and "notes to self" and include them if they still add value to the process. The word count is also very low.

In the real world, the weather is sunny but cold, and we've had a splendid walk "en famille" with friends, my parents and brother, above Holmfirth with extensive views. Sadly our dear dog has arthritis so his long walking days are over....

Friday, February 25, 2011

Week 8 - a waiting game...

So, I printed my five copies last Friday teatime and bound them this Monday, so that's that! The predicted sense of  relief hasn't happened; instead the feeling of impending doom is worse because I can't edit or amend the philosophical and methodological gaps and weaknesses.

I've also worked on a couple of the paid research case studies, sorted out my huge stack of papers again, returned 8 books to the library and considered my data analysis approaches by reading a few things and making some notes that can inform the relevant thesis chapter.

Next week I'll just carry on, and next Wednesday at 2pm, I need to stay calm, think carefully and answer the questions asked.

Meanwhile, in the real world, spring feels as if it's on its way and the dog is limping - poor old boy!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Week 7 - ready to go

After a week of steady work, making minor changes and amendments, the Internal Evaluation report is currently being printed, ready for binding and handing in on Monday. I've also been to London to look at a case study site for my paid research, which was useful, but took a day (at least) out of the diary.

My point for reflection this week comes from seeing the thesis taking shape, from a "bird's eye view" of the Evaluation document of 100 pages. It's 27,000 words, and though this sounds vast and potentially unmanageable, I can see its argument and focus quite clearly throughout the various sections, and a completed 70,000+ thesis isn't so scary any more.

Next week I need to start a structured analysis process on the interview transcripts, and make some progress with the paid research case studies, so next Friday I'll have something to report on these.

And meanwhile in the real world, we saw Mogadishu at the Royal Exchange and I had a quick (and it was only 20 minutes) trot to the 20th century European section of the glorious British Museum while I was in London and admired some Art Deco bits and pieces.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 6 - significant progress!

I'm delighted to report to the world at large that, after a week of sustained work, the formal assessment document is...nearly finished! I'm just working through the last details, checking that it's a piece of work I can be proud of, before handing it over to my long-suffering and very patient supervisor for his final read-through. The date for the assessment is March 2nd.

So, no time for much else this week, apart from this thought which may show that "reference like crazy" has become my middle name. A couple of weeks ago my friend E noted in her blog that qualifying non-PhD activity with "research" is helpful. As a mantra for effective time for reflection, this needs to be properly referenced, or at least credited. Pat Bazeley's excellent book "Qualitative analysis with NVivo" (Sage, 2010) includes a comment attributed to Lyn Richards on the benefits of a scholarly walk on the process of qualitative analysis (p129), but I guess walking, swimming and chocolate have the same effect on the general research process!

Bazeley also notes another useful concept that’s been helpful to me (p44, from Frost & Stablein, 1992). “Handling your own rat” sums up an approach to transcribing and this, I think, extends to initial data analysis. It’s no good prowling round in circles eyeing up your data, you have to get in there and rummage in its innards!

Meanwhile, in the real world, not a great deal as I haven't seen much of it this week! Though I took the picture (below) early last Sunday, when our local brook turned into a lake - by Monday it was back to normal.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Week 5 - the PhD as a sanctuary

Over the last few days I've been thankful for the PhD. It has given me a real sense of refuge from a couple of big and persistent non-academic problems that have emerged. I have little control over the eventual outcomes of these, and so being "in charge" of my PhD progress has restored a welcome sense of balance.

Progress on the PhD has been good, on the whole. Two specific points have emerged. First, that a crude word count, whilst showing quantity, doesn't necessarily relate to quality. Secondly, unplugging from the internet and its myriad distractions for a few hours a day has promoted a keen sense of engagement with the work - possibly approaching a state of scholarship! I need to define this properly, but it's a good grown-up feeling, and is starting to be reflected in my writing, I think.

My formal assessment date will be sometime towards the end of February, so although the immediate pressure to complete  the document has eased, I've committed to a final complete version to my supervisor by next Friday 11th February.

I've developed a minor case of "blog envy" and have fiddled with a couple of things to perk this up - hence the fishy thing at the top to promote serenity and suchlike, and you can click on their panel to feed them! I'll try something else next week.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I've seen 127 Hours and Black Swan, both very good but neither of them comfy popcorn films.

So, let's hope next week brings some good things (and a bit of sunshine) for us all!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week 4 - missing The Archers

I still don't have a date for the next formal assessment, but the lit. review synthesis is making good progress and creeping towards c. 6,000 words, 2,000 of which are absolute final version - yes, indeedy! - fully checked and referenced, and the next part not far behind.  I've been keeping late hours here, cycling home in the dark - and missing the Archers - in the interests of reflective research.

Early next week I'll need to slot the review into the assessment submission, and then maybe I'll take a couple of hours off, before I start looking at my data analysis.

I've been admiring my  good friend E's blog and am starting to realise that there is a useful parallel universe that I can sign up for. I also have another follower - hello Ivan - and have added links to both their blogs.

This has been a busy week with very little time for reflection, starting with a day out to see a retrofit project as part of my paid research work, which  prompted me to think that Out There, people do what they do, and all we do in academia - or at least in PhD land - is surround it with philosophy - but then that's the point of a PhD, I suppose!

Meanwhile, in the real world, I plan to take part in the RSPB Garden Birdwatch - a reason, not an excuse, to sit for a whole hour and do nothing!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week 3 - mixed reviews!

So, I did my 3 hours on Sunday, did a major tidy up and sorted all my papers. During the week I've re-read maybe 30 papers - about half of them - made brief notes on old-fashioned paper, put some to one side as they were clogging up the process and am currently circling round the new, short synthesis - about 300 words long at the moment. So even though the word count is low, I have cleared the decks and done some serious thinking around the research problem, reaching a state of clarity not previously attained. I still need to get all this down "on paper" and, without a date for the next formal evaluation, I don't have that crucial deadline.

My blog does, however, have 1 lovely follower now - hello, E! So I'm not a billy-no-mates any more and you can hold me to account for my pitiful word count. It will be interesting to see if this makes a difference to next week's reported word count.

 Meanwhile, in the real world, various bulbs are emerging in the garden and I'm off to the Lake District for the weekend for a walking birthday party - hoping for good winter weather!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Week 2 - not a good week

So this week I've been a bit rubbish and now I have to account for my lack of progress - that's the idea of this blog so there's nowhere to hide!

The wheels of academia are in motion for setting a date for my next formal evaluation, and I have one document with front pages, contents list, appendices and ready to go - apart from the literature review which is still in my head. Advice from a learned friend is that reducing text - in my case from a sprawling and incomplete 20,000 words to a tidy 3,000 - doesn't work and I should start again.

So, next week I will come in on Sunday morning for 3 hours and make a start - the pressue is ON!

Meanwhile, in the real world, I have seen The King's Speech and a kingfisher when I was out with the dog.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Week 1 – probably too early to see if this blog works for me!

As an exercise in being accountable to the wider world, this week I have set up this blog and all its various accounts and passwords, had a useful session with my supervisor during which we agreed to arrange a date for my next formal university assessment, and spent a day having (and recovering from) root canal work – ouch!

Next week I will lick my literature review into shape. I have had trouble generating academic quantities of words, and my earlier versions of literature reviews barely scraped 8,000 words. However, the recent trick of writing discrete chunks and then adding them together seems to have worked, so I now have 20,000 words describing a long and aimless wander around my three key points. I also have, in my head, a different review which is relevant, concise, justifies my research and resolves itself with three neat research questions. I need to stop tweaking the details of the 20,000 word review, turn it on its head and pummel it into the review that complements my research – let’s see how I get on!

I will also sort out fonts and formatting for my blog!
Meanwhile, in the real world, we have snowdrop leaves peeping up maybe 1cm in the garden in sunny south Manchester.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PhD progress - introduction

This heading implies I’m at the start and this is a comprehensive account of my progress towards the Holy Grail of PhD. Sadly it’s more of a kick up the bum for me to account for my PhD-related action in public on a weekly basis as I move towards writing up and then completion. My three year research council funding ran out at the end of September 2010 and, whilst I’m at my desk every weekday, progress is very slow and the act of stating goals and targets, and then assessing movement against them, will help – so my motives are entirely selfish, and if anyone cares to follow my journey over the next few months, then that’s a bonus.
This is my first attempt at a blog of any sort, so it’ll be basic – no links, pictures or bells and whistles, just a truthful account of what I hope to achieve in the next few days, and a weekly update. The act of writing it down should promote a level of self-examination that isn’t happening at the moment – but it mustn’t turn into another work-avoidance technique, so it’ll be a quick Friday lunchtime update, starting on 7th January 2011.
So, best wishes to anyone who's picked this up,