Category: PhD

We can do it!


Just a quick note.  I disappeared into the university library at lunchtime, for what I thought would be a pretty desultory couple of hours working on my PhD.  I had the weekend (and Monday) pretty well washed out with a bad migraine attack, and the few words that I did manage to put finger to keyboard and write a few hundred words.

But, as I tapped away, and double-checked the words that I had typed (and deleted the word verisimilitude from a sentence – one that I thought I would never use in my life, and as it happens, I haven’t), I made a momentous decision.

we can do it 2

Yep, for once I’m feeling positive about the PhD experience.  I think some of this could come from the fact that I know a good friend is very close to submitting – seeing a ‘pacesetter’ cross the line ahead of me seems to have helped.

Word count wise?  Those that are counting I’ve got about 11,000 to go, and I’ve done about 11,000 words since I restarted at the start of November.  I’ve got tricky bits to do, and of course my supervisor may have a very different view of the words that I have written, but I think I’ve turned into the Olympic stadium, and can see the finish line, I’ve done the 26 miles, just the final 385 yards!


If all had gone to plan….

Then I would have been submitting my PhD tomorrow, had my viva, and be enjoying a well-deserved break by Easter time.  As we know, I had to take four months out to get myself sorted health-wise.

The last month has been very up-and-down, the high points being really productive over Christmas, the low points being a crippling writer’s block which stopped me putting finger to keyboard for nearly a fortnight.  I worked through why this might have happened with my supervisor, and with his agreement got feedback on some old, and new writing from another, independent supervisor who provided reassurance, as well as some suggestions for how it could be improved.

I also had a pretty major panic when I realised that Dropbox, the service that keeps all my machines synchronised, had stopped running on my laptop, so I had been working on two different versions of my thesis on two different machines.  The Microsoft Word functionality to spot the differences was less than useless, certainly when comparing a 164 page document.  In reality, once I had scraped myself off the ceiling, the changed were minimal.

I have about 12,500 words, and the hardest part of the thesis to write. There is a cunning plan to help me do this, and in theory with my 500 words/day average I should have plenty of time, but I know all too well that a migraine can lay me out for a weekend.

It’s also been good to hear that some people in my cohort are indeed close to submission, at least of their draft thesis, spot on the scheduled four years.  It’s a good job that they are good friends, otherwise I may have a spot of jealousy about this.  What I am struggling with is the balance with work, PhD, family and some sort of social life.  People are treading on eggshells around me, and I can see them holding their breath when they ask ‘How’s the PhD?’

Too many times in the last month I’ve considered quitting, but I’m determined now to see this through and submit something at the end of May.  I don’t think the journey will be over then, but submission has to be a major milestone doesn’t it?

I’ve spent too much time really staring at this (admittedly very nice) iMac screen, it’ll be nice to go back to some of my hobbies including creative writing, reading my backlog of fiction and maybe getting one of these ‘lives’ that I’ve heard so much about.

Well, this isn’t getting the word count up, so had better crack on.

Unexpected delays

The last weekend should have been a really productive one, and the last totally focused upon PhD before the big fat man with the long white beard pays us a visit.

In fact, Santa came early for me.  As mentioned before, I’ve been made redundant from the Open University due to falling numbers, and I was determined that I would spend my redundancy payment on a new desktop for my home… I actually wanted to also buy myself a Chromebook, but that’s been thwarted by the withdrawal of the product that I wanted to treat myself to.

So, I’m typing this on a 27″ iMac, with enough disc storage to store most of my local library on, with a processor that makes me go ‘wow’ each time it starts up.  I know some regular readers of my blog are dismissive of Apple products, but for me they just work, leaving me to focus on what I need to do, namely work.

Anyhow, I’m getting distracted.

Back to last week, and a GP appointment that told me what I already knew, that my high BP and high cholesterol readings needed medication.  I therefore started taking the tablets at the recommended dose, not from the GP, but a dispensing nurse.

Then, the fun started… firstly the insomnia, then the headaches.  It took me a week to realise that it wasn’t my new toy that was causing me the headaches, but in fact the statins.  A quick Google confirmed this, I can’t confirm this with my GP as I’m still awaiting a call back from them.

This effectively wiped out the weekend, I did some Uni work on Saturday before I succumbed, but Sunday was a write-off, mostly spent in bed with a cool-pack attached to my head.

I’m trying to get back on the horse, but I feel I’m being bucked off (that’s not a typo) each time I feel I’m making progress.  Christmas will be a delicate balance of keeping in touch with family and friends, but also having to do work on my PhD.  One thing that I won’t have to worry about juggling though is PhD and Uni work, as I’ve got a full fortnight off.

I’ve had some good chats with other students in my cohort recently, some are doing ‘better’ than me, others not so far advanced.  But we’re each running our own marathons, divergence was going to happen.

In case I don’t post again before the big day, can I wish everyone a great Christmas, and super and productive start to 2014.

Steady as she goes

Another weekend dedicated to PhD work, with only a few minor, and welcome distractions en route.  I’ve given up trying to set myself unrealistic targets, 500 words each session will get me there, and I may even manage to get Christmas Day off!

Of course, any writing is non-linear, and the word count goes down as well as up,  when you re-read a section that made perfect sense to you, but upon re-reading, days, weeks or months later, it’s complete garbage.  So the old cut/paste into the ‘dumping ground’ Word file continues, and you rewrite, and rewrite.

I recently looked at the first piece of PhD work I submitted, way back in April 2010.  I can see that my writing has improved since then, but it’s also lost an element of my own voice.  The suppression of this in favour of more academic writing is something that has been mentioned by others on this journey.  I also know of some colleagues who have a style that has been maintained from the outset, they hit the ground running.  I doff my cap to you.

I’m still struggling with work/life/PhD balance.  It’s probably something that I’ll never get right.  I’ll have a go next weekend though, as I head to Lancaster for a PhD catch up, along with some socialising and last-minute(ish) Christmas shopping.

And I can’t really grumble about last weekend, when I had the chance to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of a TV programme that is very dear to me.

Matt Smith and I

So, enough diversions, and back to work.  There’s always more to write, more to analyse, more to read.


I’m easily distracted, and the development of multi-tasking operating systems hasn’t helped.  I think my most productive writing was on an Amstrad PC 1512 with a dodgy copy of Wordstar installed.  Ctrl-K O.

Where was I?

I’ve been given a task by my supervisor following our reunion on Skype on Wednesday.  Not major, not rewrite the whole thesis (yet), but wanted me to write a separate paper explaining a tricky area that he wasn’t absolutely convinced I understood.  No problem.  I went back to my original books and articles and started looking again at ontogeny and structural couplings and demonstrating that it is indeed part of complexity theory (still with me?).

I see reference I’d missed and not followed up.  It’s by Stewart and Cohen, my favourite double act of authors who have written some ‘Science of Discworld’ books with Terry Pratchett.  £8.99 as a Kindle e-book, but worth a punt if it gets me past this writer’s block of understanding complexity theory.  I am about to hit the buy button when I have a great idea.

Why don’t I dedicate my old Kindle to my academic reading, leaving my new(ish) paperwhite Kindle for ‘fun’ reading?  Ah, but my old Kindle has lots of books on there, and it would be a pain to delete each one individually, why not simply go for a factory reset and re-regsiter, clean slate and all that.

That was about 10 hours ago.  I’ve not spent all my time faffing with the Kindle, but enough for me to feel that I have been ‘distracted’ by what should have been a five minute job.  800 words, and about 10 per cent through the book (reading it on my iPad and new Kindle), plus some other papers found to support my idea… but still a dead Kindle.

Distractions come from many sources, some generated from within, some are welcome, some are not (see today).  The key is recognising them and doing something about them.  Tomorrow I’m going to compensate for today’s distractions by writing up a section that should be word-heavy, but thinking-light (relatively).  I need this at the moment.

But for now I’m going to step AFK, and enjoy a well-deserved cuppa.  And maybe just one look again at this doorstop that my old Kindle has become.

Midnight Oil

I’m not naturally a nightowl.  Most evenings when I’m out and about I start to yawn conspicuously at 10pm, and I know the Radio 2 presenters and programmes in the 10pm-11pm slot by heart (and if I’ve had a particularly tough day, 9:30).

Of course, whether I actually fall asleep, and then remain asleep is a moot point.

Today was the first day of teaching since early July.  Whilst always a shock to the system, it went down well and I’ve been productive since I got back.  A new book on e-portfolios arrived during my intercalation, and I was able to quickly evaluate many of the papers, and write some useful post-it comments on those that may yet end up in my (too big) literature review.

But for some reason the tiredness that had caused me to slump, alongside the fear that I was having another migraine attack subsided around 11:00, and I’ve spent a very useful couple of hours working through my PhD, chopping, changing and making notes as to things I want to change.

These sorts of sessions, with relatively little self-inflicted pressure are, I guess, what ‘doing a PhD’ should be all about – the ability to take time to reflect on words written in some instances a year ago, and place them in the bigger picture of the other 49,999 words that will make up the thesis, and in some cases you have to kill your darlings.

I’m about half-way through reviewing my work.  I hope to get that review completed by the weekend, and then review each of the changes (yes, reviewing the reviews, this is what a PhD does to you, makes you doubt every word that you commit to spinning disk), and either accept/reject the revision before sending to my supervisor my ‘work so far’ before I officially restart early November.


Hello thesis my old friend…

…I’ve come to talk to you again.

I’m just over two months into my four month intercalation, or break from PhD.  During that time I’ve taken a proper break, and have found it surprisingly easy not to think about it, most of the time.

Well, almost a proper break.  I had some interviews scheduled at the start of July, which needed transcribing, which I did before my summer holiday.

But all good things come to an end, and I need to get my PhD mojo back on. Rather than jumping in on the first of November at 90mph, I’ve decided on a slow but sure approach, starting this weekend.  I’m dusting off the PhD folder, and opening my thesis with the freshest pair of eyes possible.  I’m sure, reading through the work so far there will be some of my own writing that will make me cringe.  I’ll note what I revise with ‘track changes’, and then reflect on the changes.  I want to send all of my work in progress to my supervisor mid-October, ready for the start of November.

I also need to get reading again.  Not ‘fun’ reading (which I’ve done a lot of), but academic reading which is a whole different ball game.  This reading will mostly be to do with my Methodology chapter, which has had more false starts than an Olympic swimming event.

Meanwhile, a few things have happened whilst I’ve been away from the blog.  My summer vacation was fun, a selection (of hundreds) of photos below.

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I was also due to restart my tutoring with the Open University.  I’ve had a long relationship with the OU, I studied for my first degree between 1994 and 2000, and from 2000 onwards I have tutored a total of five different technology courses (modules) with them.  I took a leave of absence this year as I wanted to concentrate on my PhD (which worked well, at least until July!).  However, student number have dropped significantly on the module that I teach, so a nineteen-year relationship comes to an end this month. There may be a silver lining to the cloud, but I’ll explain more on that once it’s all confirmed.

I’m very nervous about starting again, even though I’m giving myself the longest of warm-up times possible.  When the starting pistol fires I’ve got seven months to get my PhD put to bed, a big task.  But with the right support, I’m sure I can.