Category: PhD

Hang in there…

A phrase that my fellow PhD study buddy uses a lot when we sign off from our latest Skype chat.

Whilst I’ve been working on amendments I’ve seen others in my cohort have their viva, make corrections and make their final submission.  It’s great to see progression, and frustrating that I’ve not made quicker progress.

As soon as the deadline for the graduation in December passed, the imminent pressure was off.  It’s not as if I’ve been sitting at home twitting my thumbs since September, I thought that 2013 was my toughest year, it’s been a walk in the park compared to this Summer.

I have managed to get away for a Winter break to Gran Canaria though, which I really, really needed.


And I’m really close to getting my amendments sorted, the plan is to resubmit at the end of November, then if there are any major issues I still have Christmas to sort out again.  So overall it will have taken me five years to do my PhD, when I was absolutely, positively determined that it would take no more than four years.

But, life throws stones, and occasional boulders at you.  I’m not beating myself up too much about this.  I’m delighted to say that I will get to present my findings at the PedRIO conference, not at Rio as the name might lead you to expect, but in Plymouth which is (almost) as nice.

The Thesis Whisperer has been a constant companion through my study, and whilst I don’t always agree with what is posted, this timely post yesterday about what to do as you come to the end rings bells with me.

OK, enough displacement activity.  These final points won’t get sorted by themselves, so time to close down the browser and open Word up for the umpteenth time.




The finish line

Four and a half years ago I started on my PhD journey.  It will end on Wednesday as I attend my PhD viva (or defence), and demonstrate that I have sufficient knowledge to gain my Doctorate.

The last few months have been tough, not just with my PhD.  I’ve had to deal with physical ailments from the seemingly trivial (toothache and an extraction that required sedation) to big scares and a regular bombardment of migraines that have regularly send me to bed with an ice pack and a dark room.  I’ve supported friends and family through their bad news, as they have supported me.  I’ve experienced massive changes in my work environment.

But when it comes down to it, on Wednesday it’s me, my thesis and two examiners are all that matter.

I’ve received a good luck card from my parents, though the PhD experience (and the viva) is one that they can hardly comprehend.  I’ve seen first-hand how emotional people can get when they hear the news that they have passed, I can only hope that I have reason to be that emotional, for all the right reasons on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on social media, after the one-man fan club that is supporting (and driving) me, and my parents, Twitter and Facebook will be the first to know, one way or the other.

The calm after the storm

Wow, what a week.

Commercial proofreading is expensive, the cheapest quote was £1100 for a 50k thesis and that wasn’t in a timescale that I could consider.

Luckily I had two willing (mostly) volunteers.  One of them worked through it page by page, chapter by chapter and made comments, suggestions and corrections on pretty well every page.  I made these corrections, reprinted and then passed to my second proofreader.  We had allocated three days to do this work, I would make corrections on the fly.

In fact, and even with a couple of breaks to take in the sun on a glorious weekend, we completed this a lot quicker than we thought.  By late Saturday afternoon I was therefore sitting on a complete, double-proof read, fully referenced and formatted thesis as a pdf file.

In the end I slept on it (not literally, though it’s thick enough to act as a pillow), and submitted to the administrator early Sunday morning.  Would another read through have benefitted?  Possibly, but I was also aware that I had to ‘let it go’ at some point.

Again, above and beyond the call of duty she contacted me immediately about how to get it printed remotely, which I did.  Examiners are arranged, and just need to confirm a date now.  I have a fellow Cohort member who has a viva scheduled for early July, and it would be incredible if we could have our defences on the same day.

Lots of people have asked me what I intend to do now that I’ve submitted.  In reality it’s still there, I will re-read, check the key papers, create mind maps for each chapter based on the headings and subheadings.  But there will be a gap.  I’m looking forward to socialising again, spending more time with friends and family.  I do have a diploma in creative writing, which I may well go back to.

And how do I feel?  Relieved, anxious still, a little like having a tooth removed, I’m becoming aware of a gap.  Last night I spent a whole evening watching crap telly (though this was after a full days teaching too, when in reality I probably wouldn’t have had an evening working on PhD anyhow).

I’ll keep you updated on progress, and key dates.

Let it go…..

I’m coming to the end of the PhD writing journey.  I have a submission date in mind, and it will have been double-proofread by that time. I’ve got the say-so from my supervisor to submit.  Though my weekend was once again dogged by migraines, I spent a good few hours responding to proof-readers comments.

Indeed, in his last email when I was after final, final confirmation that I could submit, he told me to ‘Let it Go’ –

And just as I get myself in this frame of mind, Piled Higher and Deeper publish this comic.

I’ll post a message here once it’s submitted, then the waiting starts… I’ll not ignore my thesis in the time betweens submission and viva, but I imagine like a son or daughter who have left the nest, I’ll be thinking about it in a different way, the PhD ‘baby’ will have grown up.

We heard some great news from another in the cohort, the first to defend and (subject I believe to minor changes) has passed with flying colours.  Others are arranging viva dates… I should be third or fourth, not bad considering the four month intercalation I needed to take.

Amongst all this comes a salutary lesson for those of us who trust the cloud with everything.  The qualitative analysis software that I used for my coding and analysis, Dedoose, suffered a catastrophic failure, losing everyone’s data.  The restore has been long, painful and as I type incomplete.  I am lucky, my analysis was completed a while back and whilst I’ve been in to get data from time to time, I’d not added anything new for a while.  Dedoose doesn’t let you make local backups, only extracts in Excel format of some of the data.  Yes, we’ve all lost data in the past (I lost a chapter of my MA dissertation due to naively thinking a pen drive would be more secure than my hard disk, way back in 2006), but part of Dedoose’s appeal was the promise of regular backups.  They’ve implemented steps going forward, but this doesn’t help the many researchers who have lost significant data.

Fingers crossed then the next posting here will be a single word, ‘submitted’.



I’m continuing to work on revisions to my thesis.  I’ve just received feedback on the second draft, and there’s still a way to go I can tell.

More than anything thought over the last couple of weeks I’ve bee aware of the sacrifices that are made when you tackle something this big.  There were three specific events that I would have really liked to have gone to in this last week – one of them a family event and the others what looked like fun social things that I would have really liked to go to.

It’s not just you who is doing a PhD, which is why a thesis always has an acknowledgements section.  Mine runs to a full page, I have a lot of people to thank, and in one instance a family member is mentioned who is no longer with us.

As I type this I’m up in Edinburgh for a few days at an academic conference.  I’ve met two others of my cohort who are also close to submitting, but also those that have gone through the process and are now Doctors.  Along with all the warnings of being prepared for disappointment if the viva doesn’t give you an outright pass (very few do), and how to work on revisions, there’s also talk of the feeling of relief when it’s all completed.

Friends have already started planning for weekends away, and as soon after submission I’m planning a holiday away somewhere, ideally without the Internet and possibly without a phone signal would be even better.

I think it will be a while however before I can objectively state if the sacrifices have been worth it, but I’m on the PhD train now, and being so close to the station it would be crazy to press the emergency stop cord now.


The use of commas

In Dantés Divine Comedy he talked about the nine circles of hell.

I’ve added a tenth circle, inappropriate use of commas and the need to review them in a 50k thesis.

Boy do I like my comma.  I appear to liberally spread them throughout my writing without any respect for their actual placement in the sentence.

One particular habit, that I’ve demonstrated in this sentence, is by splitting a sentence into smaller parts, when it really, really isn’t necessary.  There’s only one comma needed in that preceding sentence but that doesn’t stop me splashing them around like confetti at a wedding.

Why is this causing me so much angst at the moment?  I’ve completed my second read through of my draft thesis and am about to send it to my supervisor for the metaphorical red-pen.  In reality it will be littered with comments.  I want my supervisor to concentrate on the words that I’m saying, not my next abomination to the English language.

“Eats, Shoots and Leaves” has nothing on me I tell you.

Apart from beating myself up on the English I use, this is the first time for a good while that I’ve read the document through from start to finish within the space of a few days.  Yes there are some areas that need polish, but overall it has come together quite well.  There are some ‘good’ words, and I’ve countered some criticism that’s been levelled at it as I’ve gone along.

Tomorrow I give it a final read through and send off to my supervisor.  I’m not nervous, I’ve gone beyond that and I’m in a new area of terror, but it has to be done.

Meanwhile, my usually well-behaved Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 has decided to throw a hissy fit worthy of a product from Microsoft (ah, that would be the problem then) and decided that every place I use a cross reference back to Chapter One to restart the page numbers.  No, correct that – to lose all the page numbers from that point onward.  I have found the solution, and it’s not elegant, but has to be done.

Stay on target, stay on target…

The ‘exit velocity’ that I mentioned in my previous post has continued apace.  I’ve got five sub-sections littered through my thesis, each of about 500 words each, and then my first draft will be completed.  To find these gaps I’ve had to reread an awful lot of it, and you know, some of it actually makes sense to me.

I’ve got a strategy with my supervisor about what happens next, which involved me heading up to Lancaster to receive feedback on draft before making the final changes.  I’m also looking around for an external examiner, whilst this is ultimately the job of my supervisor, it’s worth me nudging in the right direction.

This weekend has been a mixture of early-morning PhD, socialising, planet watching, and headaches. The headache has been almost ever-present, and I’ve done most of my other activities through a fug of my right temple throbbing away.  This afternoon I gave up, took two of my most powerful painkillers, and retired to bed for a few hours, waking well enough to iron ten shirts and make this post.

This article appeared in my Twitter timeline, and whilst it is focused upon full-time doctoral students, and I’m not going to blame all of my symptoms on my studies, it does make interesting and worrying reading.  I’m not naive enough to think that once my PhD is filed in the library at Lancaster University I’ll lose four stone, sleep eight hours a night and be singing this all the time –

But my family, friends and I are enjoying exploring options post-PhD.  I’ve been studying pretty well constantly for over twenty years, taking ‘A’ levels with the National Extension College, my degrees with the OU (one for work, one for fun), my MA in Education through BCU, and now PhD.  It’ll be nice not to have a deadline hanging over me.

Three small ‘and finally’ notes to this post.  For complex reasons my parents had to house-sit for me last week, and ‘had’ to head to my home-office to find a pen.  They were horrified to find some empty plates and mugs littering my desk, and were shocked to find that I eat and drink up here.  They have no idea, if I’m focused I eat, sleep drink and only wander downstairs to the kitchen to forage.  Maybe a mega-tidy will be due post-PhD, though I do think an element of chaos is needed in any office.

Secondly, I’m pleased to say that my University has agreed to fund me going to the Networked Learning Conference, and I’m looking forward to catching up with some of my PhD buddies (and other cohorts).

Finally, a good friend of mine pointed me towards an application that darkens your screen to an appropriate level for working at night, based on local sunset and sunrise.  I’ve installed it on my main machine, setting it for ‘Tungsten’ level and really like the effect.  I can’t promise it makes me sleep better, but I can see a lot of logic behind it.  Just remember to turn it off if you’re watching movies or Skype chatting, as otherwise everyone looks like an oompa loompa.