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.


The end of the beginning

Following a weekend off the PhD, it was time to get back to polishing the draft.  My supervisor has agreed a time that I should send my draft to him, and we’ve also set some other deadlines.

Today I went through the 177(!) references that I have, and for those that I have a copy of the papers, I’ve moved them to their own folder, naming them something meaningful,  The next thing is to source the ones that I’ve not got (in reality I’m sure I’ve got a copy, but I’ve ‘filed’ them under something else or their text is not searchable for some reason).

I guess the big news of the week is that I’ve secured an external examiner.  I had a ‘wish list’ of what I wanted from the one person who will be completely independent at my viva.  A knowledge of the context in which the study took place, and someone who might empathise with what I was trying to do were top of the list.  My supervisor offered some advice, and was then pro-active making contact with our agreed first choice.

We are now looking for a suitable internal examiner.  My thesis straggles both education and business, and we’ve discussed having someone from the Business School from Lancaster as an internal examiner.  We’re still discussing options, but I’m still really comforted that we have a good external examiner all set to read my thesis, once complete.

Someone else who is close to submitting their PhD is Mark Carrigan, and in this post he writes about a difference sort of procrastination.  He also has the cutest GIF ever created to make his point which you have to view.  I hope he doesn’t mind if I add it here.

Let’s make one thing clear, there’s only one reason I want to keep hold of my green ball, and that’s fear that someone is going to take my green ball and puncture it, be that a supervisor or one of my examiners at my viva.  Some of my cohort who are also close to completion are struggling with the final revisions needed, and I’m sure that I will too when I get there.

To quote Churchill

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.



First Draft completed


After a week which has left me very frustrated (for the first time ever at work, a little bit sweary), I really didn’t think that I would get much PhD work done.  I had five sections I needed to complete, plus a lot of little tidying.  But some lunchtimes in the library, and a couple of long evening sessions, plus a period of being mercifully headache free have meant that I’ve managed to complete a first draft. 

The feeling right at the end was of relief, but also tinged with sadness and a bit of worry.  I’m not daft enough to think that this is it, and everyone has told me that this isn’t the end, but it has to be the beginning of the end. 

I’ve now got a couple of weeks to polish it, I’ve got a mass of proof reading corrections to make already, and there’s a couple of known inconsistencies in my style that I’ve got to address.  I’ll then send off to my supervisor, and then head up to see what happens next.  I will have lots of work to do, but I’m ready for that and arrangements have been made to ensure that I can give the rework the attention it deserves.

But for the time being I can celebrate in a typically British way, with a cup of tea.  Tonight I’m out with friends, and I may just have a glass or two of wine to celebrate.

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.

Downhill slope

I love the Winter Olympics, the diversity of sports and the broad spread of talents on display in each sport.  Even though I’ve never put foot to ski, I can really relate to this sport.

Bear with me on this one…. you have to overcome obstacles, you’re expected to perform as you go, and there’s always the chance that you can crash out at any time.  Oh yes, and my knees sometimes feel as bad as those that are doing this as a career.

But there’s also a more subtle metaphor (or allegory) hiding here… as you approach the end of the run, you tend to speed up.  When talking about student progress over a three year course, we often talk about ‘exit velocity’, noting that for many students their marks improve towards the end of the course.  Of course, they could just be getting better at interpreting what we as examiners, or assessors are looking for, but it could also be that they are getting better at what they are doing!

Today, with a good headwind I’ve managed to write 1500 good PhD words.  This doesn’t mean they’ll all make it into the final version of my thesis, but they are coherent, make sense, and though maybe lacking in style, do act as a good enough indicator of what I am trying to say.  In the four years I’ve been working studying on my PhD, I’ve never written this many words in one day.

The end is so close.  I have a few large sub-sections to write, some inconsistencies, and I suspect a lot of repetition to identify and either cull or clarify, but I am also only 7,500 words off my word count.  A few more sessions like this, and I could be there.

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.