Saturday, 9 December 2017

The name is Reynolds... Dr Reynolds...

At approximately 1:04pm on the 14th of November 2017, I walked into my viva and was immediately, and unofficially, told that my thesis was not only at the required standard but was an 'exemplary' piece of work, and that the viva would be a conversation about it.  I could have cried right there.  I did not expect that.  I did not expect it at all.  Although I had a second mock viva with one of my friends with a doctorate the night before - who has read my thesis in its variant forms throughout the last 18 months and has always stated it was a strong piece of work - and it went extremely well, the fear and the unknown hit me again before the viva.

I'd just like to say, all the core people were absolutely wonderful.  The amount of phone calls and texts messages I received before the viva was absolutely heartwarming!  The amount of faith that people have in me is truly staggering.  And I'm so thankful for everyone who got in touch to offer me support!  I needed it.  The ups and downs of this PhD journey and the amount of times I have had to 'fight' my corner regarding key aspects of the thesis had worn me down and I think I was just exhausted by it all.  I had never considered not sitting an exam until that very day... seriously.  But those texts and phone calls got me through.  You have no idea how much I am grateful...

So, the morning of the viva I made my way to city campus at Northumbria University armed with my thesis and all the viva preparation I had done.  I got myself a cup of coffee and started to read through all the preparation, mentally calming myself down and repeating over and over "you know this", "you truly know this".  My principal supervisor then met me for the last half hour before I was due to go in.  She advised me I'd given it my all but she couldn't predict the outcome as she hadn't read the final draft of the thesis (she'd been on annual leave the month before I submitted).  She then fed me half a sandwich which I was much grateful for as I was finding it difficult to eat due to nerves!  And then I was on my way to the Graduate School...

I didn't have to wait long before the chair came to get me and in I went.  I have to say, it was just lovely to be in a room with my external examiners!  I'd met one of them previously before at a Future of Community Development event in Birmingham about 18 months previous to the viva, but I had not met the other.  Both come across as absolutely lovely people and, as this post introduced, they immediately made me feel at ease and conveyed very quickly their admiration for the thesis.  The opening question was about my professional background and how it had led to the thesis.  I think I spoke for about five minutes.  They seemed pleased with the response and we went on... two questions on the literature review, three on the methodology, three on the findings and conclusions... and then it was a discussion on how I was going to disseminate my material and my future as an academic / researcher.  What floored me was their unabashed praise for the methodology chapter.  They loved the methodology!  Just hearing those words cemented that everything that I had done for the last six years - including the amount of times I have had to fight my corner on the methodology - had not been in vain!  And then it was time for me to leave.  I was told to give them 30-45 minutes to write up the report including the minor amendments to be completed post-viva.  It was all so surreal.  One of the people at the Graduate School phoned my principal supervisor and we met on my way to the coffee shop.  I told her the verdict and she seemed as shocked as I was!  

We both went for coffee, with me trying to remember the questions in order.  I just remember it being very difficult to separate the questions as it was, really, like a conversation.  Then we went back and I got given this sheet of paper...


Yes, four corrections.  Add two pages on my contributions to knowledge as I undersold them; discuss the 'othering' of CD in the historical context; be more specific about the instability of the Local Transformation discourse, and put in a sentence in the methodology chapter reminding the reader that my voice is not present until the conclusion.  Oh, and three presentation issues.  Unbelievable.  I honestly could not believe it.  And then more praise.  I registered some of it: "an enjoyable read"; "extremely well-written"; "methodology chapter could get published itself as a standalone chapter"; "bright future ahead"... it was all surreal.  I did think my principal supervisor was going to faint when they said enjoyable read and extremely well written.  It's no secret that my supervision team have always found my thesis a 'hard' read and the vast majority of my re-drafts have been about making it an 'easier' read.  I think this proves that the job was done and done well!  Woo hoo!  The re-drafts were worth it after all lol!

And then off to the Students Union to celebrate!  My principal supervisor bought us a bottle of prosecco and we celebrated!  We also had a much needed de-brief.  The supervision relationship had really become toxic during the writing-up period and the venom had never really been milked - we all just pushed it to one side to get the thesis finished.  It's fair to say that all parties involved in the supervision team had issues with other parties in the team regarding how certain things were dealt with.  There remains a stalemate with some issues as each party believes that they are right.  But there was also a resolution, from my side at least, that it really doesn't matter anymore.  The fat lady has sung and she loved the thesis.  That's all that really matters.  Beyond this, the whole experience has taught me is about the importance of clear and open communication between supervisors where the PhD student is included in all these communications, and about understanding the boundaries between the supervisor's role and that of the PhD student.  These six years have taught me that the thesis truly belongs to the student and it is a delicate balance for the supervisor to know when to intervene and when not to.  And to understand that some of their suggestions are more relevant to their own work than that of the student's.  It's not an easy balance and I know I'll get it wrong sometimes when I'm a supervisor myself.  But, I think my own experiences have imprinted a very important life lesson that I will not forget quickly.  Thus, I'm actually looking forward to supervising a PhD.  I know it will not be easy.  But, I think I could do it and do it reflexively. Time will tell...

So, yes, I'm a doctor.  I'm still waiting on my letter to confirm the examiners' recommendation so I'm guessing I'll have three months from this date to submit my corrections.  I've already done all the presentation ones.  I predict I'll do three before Christmas and come back after the holidays (where I'm having the first Christmas sans PhD in six years!) and do the two pages on the contribution to knowledge.  Unbelievable.

I'm guessing there will be another couple of posts on this blog before I wrap it up for good.  But, yes, I made it.  I am another PhD candidate who went through absolutely purgatory but came out the other end of it with a PhD!  And to all those who want to adopt post-structuralism: your non-post-structuralist externals won't necessarily be bamboozled by the language!  Make sure you explain all key concepts in the thesis clearly.  But have faith in their academic abilities and their likelihood of having read post-structural work but not used it.  To have two distinguished Professors tell me they really enjoyed learning more about it and thanking me for writing it made it all the more worthwhile :)

Dr Reynolds.  And passed with 'very minor corrections'.  Who would have thought, eh? ...

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Viva in T minus 42 hours... and counting...


The viva has almost arrived.  Unbelievable.  The last two and a half months have just flown past.  One minute I was in Zapatista burrito bar in the centre of Newcastle eating lunch with the one of four copies of my thesis I was left with after handing the other three into the Graduate School.  The next I was marking second submissions of assignments.  Then it was Fresher's week and induction.  And then the beast of teaching, student support and admin has just taken over.  As you can imagine, I haven't had much time to reflect on the implications of handing in the thesis and what it meant for me.  I thought there would be a lot of tears.  There weren't.  Instead there was an ever-increasing realisation that it was not over yet - the fat lady, to use a wanton expression, had not yet sung.  I was still in purgatory with two final hurdles.  These being, of course, the mock and the actual viva.

Despite having very little time to do any preparation, I felt the mock viva went well.  My actual answers to the questions were not that groundbreaking.  But, what surprised me was my tone and how I composed myself.  I came across as confident, assertive and attentive.  Well, there ya go.  The mock viva questions were something else entirely.  As I have discussed on this blog, the beginning of this PhD journey was saturated with post-structuralism and me trying to navigate myself around that very tricky terrain - and to see where in this terrain I positioned myself - without having much experience with post-structuralism in my previous undergraduate and post-graduate degrees.  And neither did my supervisors which made it quite a strange journey and which made it necessary to obtain an external supervisor who was au fait with post-structuralism.  Well, this supervisor hasn't been directly involved with the thesis for about a year and a half now so I haven't had a lot of questions thrown at me about my theoretical framework or about the choice of my methodology over others.  So, to have that again in the mock was a surprise but a welcome one.  I might not have looked back at some of that material in depth if I hadn't come across it in the mock.  So, I wholeheartedly recommend the mock viva.  It takes you out of your 'finished product' mindset and makes you go back to the raw ingredients before you mixed them.  I strangely enjoyed it.  I was glad when it was over.  But, I found it very useful.  So useful, that I got a copy of all the questions we didn't have the time to go through and formulated responses to them.

That's what I've been doing.  I found the Top 40 most asked viva questions and formulated responses to that - the vast majority were cut and paste jobs from the thesis.  In total, it came to about a 11 500 word document.  Then I formulated responses to my mock questions - that document was just shy of 20 000 words.  So, that's over 30 000 words of preparation.  Not to mention re-reading old versions of chapters, essays and even this blog!  It has been exhausting.  All this and doing quite a demanding full-time job.  I am really ready for a break from this.  It really is time.  Oh no, just under two days to go...

My emotions have been all over the place.  I thought I had reached some kind of equilibrium post-submission.  Nope.  It's all started to kick in again after the mock.  Deep down, I know I am not going to fail... but it's so hard to predict.  I am hoping for pass with corrections.  I've already done the typos (took me between 1-2 hours to do them - all because I took out a section and then added it back in in the final stages... the signposting was off) but I suspect I'll have some additions / omissions to make also.  I just don't want re-writes.  I did soooooo many versions of all the chapters I submitted.  I experimented with structure and re-worked them to enhance the overall thesis.  What I submitted was honestly the best it could have been.  So, I will stand my ground on any re-writes.  Unless my examiners suggest something amazing that I have never thought of, I'm very reluctant to go there and will stand ground.  The structure has been worked and re-worked ad infinitum.  

So, tomorrow will just be re-reading the thesis and the Q&As.  One of my lovely friend's with a doctorate is going to do another mock viva with me tomorrow night.  And then the real thing the day after.  I have no idea how long the viva will take and how long it could take them to make a decision.  The whole thing could take anything between 3 and 6 hours in total.  Gah!  But, once it is done, it is done.  And I'm teaching the day after.  And marking.  And preparing lectures for the following week.  Life will just trundle on...

Wish me luck :)

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Thesis submitted. Waiting for viva voce. And a narrative of the horrors of that 'final' draft


On August 30th 2017 I printed out four copies of my 91,232 word thesis (minus all before introduction and all after conclusion), got them bound in a temporary format, and handed three of them into the Graduate School.  I signed my name to some things and was told that the copies would be sent out within the next week to the external examiners.  It looks likely my viva will be in mid-November 2017 although that has still to be fully confirmed.  I did it!  I actually got to this stage!  After all the doubts and re-writes, I finally held my nerve and said this version was good enough.   And it is.  And that's a lesson you have to learn.  As well as when to let it go because it's ready and not because you are fed up with it.  And, finally, to take full responsibility for that draft.  It's your project.  It's your baby.  And you have to be able to hand in a thesis that you can solidly defend in an oncoming vocal exam.  I think I've finally managed to achieve that :)

There are a lot of posts on the internet about the horrors of the last few months of a PhD.  I have to agree with the majority of what I read.  It was horrible.  You live, breathe, eat and shit thesis.  You start out the last few months with something resembling a balance in your life.  I started this twilight period still going to the gym about three times a week.  Still meeting friends for drinks.  And still cleaning the house.  Things slip.  It might be you actually go to the gym twice, or you cancel on a friend because you realise you're a little behind and want to get that section finished whilst you are in 'the zone', or you put off the cleaning for a few days.  And then the sleeping pattern starts to get interrupted.  You find it very very difficult (even though you've had years of practice at it) at getting to sleep because you are pretty much working on the thesis from 7am until 11pm every day.  Every so often you reward yourself with a break.  It might be the gym.  It might be a movie.  But then the tiredness starts to kick in.  And you're waking at 2am in the morning in a cold sweat.  You drink wine after you stop working at 11pm to 'knock you out'.  You stop going to the gym as the guilt becomes too much.  You stop eating like a normal person and find yourself eating supernoodles at 5am because you woke up at 3:30am and couldn't get back to sleep and have been working since 3:45am.  You remain in your pyjamas until 5pm when you realise you've completely ran out of most food groups.  You get changed and go round to the nearest shop that stocks pizzas, supernoodles, pot noodles and packet pastas (the ones where you add milk and water) and start all over again.  You go back to the shop at 8.30pm and buy a bottle of wine to 'reward' yourself for a good day writing.  Instead of switching off the laptop when you get back, you keep writing.  It's 01:15 and you've finished that bottle of wine but you still haven't switched the laptop off...

Like I said, it's a horrible, horrible period.  But, it was all completely necessary.  Blogs I read state that the author wished they had been more healthy and kept more of a routine.  I think that's wishful thinking.  At the end, everything else gets completely sidelined and you spend pretty much every waking moment on it (and probably are working out some stuff in your sleep too).  Because a thesis is never finished until it is handed in.  There are always ways to improve it.  We all have to decide when that cut-off point is.  And, for most of us, it is that final deadline.  And you work like nothing else until it approaches.

What I didn't expect were the mood swings.  They became pretty erratic in the last few weeks.  I swung very heavily - almost on a day-by-day basis - from thinking my thesis was the biggest pile of poo ever to actually being quite groundbreaking.  I think I had two days where I thought it was somewhere in the middle.  Most of the time I was either on one extreme or the other.  It tended to tip more towards pile of poo as the deadline came nearer.  A really important piece of advice is this - give your conclusion chapter to someone in your field who hasn't read your entire thesis and is coming at it with fresh eyes.  They will tell you to stop being so hard on yourself and to actually see the contributions you have made.  I couldn't see it towards the end.  They could.  And bollocked me in a good way.  Your supervisors will bollock you to be more critical of your claims.  I was bollocked by a colleague to be LESS critical and be more complementary.   I think the combo worked.  I ended up with a critical conclusion that was confident about what it achieved.  Honestly, get someone external to read your conclusion.  It helps you to go back and take out all your scathing comments that were made when the pendulum had swung too far in a particular direction.  It also helped with writing the abstract too.

So, I came out with a 91,232 word beast I am proud of (I've already found some typos but, honestly, I don't care) but at the price of being mentally and physically exhausted, and having a carb belly that really needs to be shifted lol!  You will spend the last few months chained to your laptop and occasionally taking respite by going to a coffee shop with a pad and paper to re-articulate where your thoughts are going.  It's relentless and all-consuming.  But, you do come out the other end.  Just don't beat yourself up for your carb addiction and for not going to the gym.  You don't need another stick to beat yourself up with.  The thesis is enough.  And put it in knowing that you gave it all you could but had to stop before your sanity was tipped too much.  I had that at least.  The mood swings were worrying.  And I couldn't have sustained that for much longer.  Know when to walk away from it.  I had to walk away from it for almost a week (I was able to sustain it as had visitors who MADE me stop working) because I was starting to scream at myself.  I stopped and walked away.  Do it.  And you do come back with a better mindset.  Annoyed that it's taking you a while to get back into it.  But a better mindset that has seen at least a modicum of perspective.

Now, I'm having a much needed rest.  My house looks like a bomb went off (papers, drafts and books everywhere) and a list of things I need to do.  But one of them is to rest.  And I'm off to do that right now...

Monday, 5 June 2017

Final supervision team meeting and feedback on latest draft

I'm really starting to understand when people say that each PhD journey is unique and that comparing PhDs - and PhD journeys - is the equivalent of comparing apples and oranges.  Yes, they are both fruits and are grown for similar reasons - but which one is liked more is completely dependent on personal taste.  The so-called trick is to find out which one your external examiners like more - and make your PhD appear more like that one; even if, in reality, it is more like the other.  Doing a PhD is a process that is not only fraught with tension but also contradiction.  What your external examiners will and will not like is completely subjective.  Yes, they may prefer apples.  But, in actual fact, that day your thesis arrives they just might fancy an orange.  Or, because they have been consuming apples for so long, they might each have a preference for a very different type of apple.  The short version: I honestly don't think you can write a PhD with your external examiners in mind.  Supervisors ask you to always keep your externals in mind when making your final changes.  With the exception of making sure you don't misquote or misrepresent the externals, I think playing that game is not as sure a bet as some people believe.  In all honesty, I think you are better writing the PhD YOU want to write.  You're the one who is going to have to defend it for 90+ minutes and be confident about why it is one way and not another.  But defending that viewpoint towards the end of your PhD journey is not an easy thing.  Everyone involved with the thesis each has their own idea about how that thesis should look.  And sometimes this overlaps.  And sometimes they are miles apart.

This leads to my final supervision team meeting.  The good news: I really don't have a lot of changes to make.  The biggest concern was the Methodology chapter which surprised me as I thought that was the chapter that wouldn't need much, if any, work at all during the summer until final submission.  I need to add some literature around case studies.  This has gradually become a tension throughout my PhD journey.  As my PhD is about England and, using Hansen's methodology, you can use more local material to demonstrate how national discourses are being developed, legitimated and enabled at a more local level, the local authority district chosen was just a snapshot to show how national discourses embed themselves at a local level, i.e. the local authority was not a case study - the study is about England.  However, my findings do actually show that one national discourse in particular appears to embed itself in the local authority but, in fact, it is a different discourse that is calling itself a similar name.  As a result, I need to present this local authority as a case study that could be an anomaly or not.  This is not necessarily compatible with Hansen's methodology and it is going to take quite a bit of work to get this to fit into my methodology chapter comfortably.  But I can see why it's needed.  But it means I'm likely to end up with a 22 000 word plus methodology chapter.   Yes, really.  I really want to stick a flag in it when it is completed ;)  That's a monument, not a chapter.

The rest of the changes are relatively minor.  The chapter I thought would need the most work - the Policy Context - actually was reviewed positively by my supervision team.  It does what it needs to do,  It needs finessing and I need a few extra sentences here and there to 'flesh out' some of the points I make.  And I'm considering adding another section that my supervision team hadn't thought about.  But, overall, it doesn't need a lot of work.  A week or so of tweaks should do it.  The last findings chapter needs some restructuring and some of my figures taken out.  But no additional material,  Just a bit more clarity in some places and refinement.  The first two findings chapters are fine - refine if possible and make more succinct.  But no restructuring or new material.  My research objective needs to become my research aim and vice versa.  And some reshuffling material in the introduction chapter.  And recommendations to write.  But... that's it.  Seriously.  That's it.

One final push then until submission at the end of August.  I've put everything else - work wise - on hold until this date and giving myself a clear run at getting this submission ready and something I will be proud to defend in the viva.  In all honesty, if I thought it would go through as it is now I would submit it.  But I would likely get these corrections anyway.  So, I'm going to plunder on with it.  After this, I will be done with this thesis.  I'm honestly at the end of the road with it.  But one last sprint to go.  I'm proud of it.  I'm proud of how it reads and I'm proud that I never gave up on my original ideas and pursued them to the end, even though it was very complicated and would involve an obscene amount of work.  It's nearly there.  Proof-read in early August.  I'm sending my supervision team my methodology and conclusion chapters for one last check in late June.  Unbelievable.  So close... yet so far at the same time.

Wish me luck :)  

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Getting closer to the finish line... last full draft under review

THE THESIS!!!
Another draft compiled and sent off to the supervision team.  Again, I have to salute peers all over the world who write a PhD and work full-time.  Since I last posted in January, I had hoped that I would have been able to carve out more time to actually work on my thesis.  That didn't happen for a variety of reasons.  However, I did do my best (marking weeks aside) to get 20 hours a week under my belt.  It was ridiculously tough.  But I think I did manage it.

Since January, I have re-drafted my findings chapters again.  The first two were just cutting and editing, and didn't take me very long.  The third, and final, findings chapter took a bit more effort.  I cut it down from 23 500 words to 13 600.  This level of a cut from my final findings chapter meant the inevitable - that I would have to go back through the thesis in its entirety and cut out all the material that was building up to those findings.  The good news is that there is at least two journal articles in the material I cut.  The bad news was going through the deliberations of cutting it out: But the thesis isn't as good without this... I'm not fully answering the research aim if I take this out... The examiners are going to ask where this material is and tell me to put it back in... etc etc etc.  I eventually took a leap of faith and believed that the thesis would survive without it.  It wasn't easy though.  But, the chapter reads much better and is much more manageable.  It also, now, answers my third research question on its own.  That's what you want in a thesis... clear signposts and structures that keep hitting home that you've answered your aim, objective and questions.  For all the flaws of the thesis, it does all that clearly.  Therefore, I have to concede that its FINALLY at doctorate level.  The writing itself illustrates this.  My writing style has dramatically improved over the course of the last 5 years.  An important baptism of fire for the purgatory that I will have to go through post-viva of submitting articles for peer review.  Yet another stage on the academic ladder.

I also redrafted all the other chapters.  The Methodology got another working (draft 14 in total) as did the Introduction.  Both of these were minor affairs.  The Policy Context was the biggie though.  This chapter has always been the most vague and frustrating.  And the majority of this has come through mixed supervision messages... At first it was a literature review... and then it shouldn't exist and just be touched lightly in the introduction... and then it should give a descriptive overview of the policy context that will be detailed in the analysis chapters... and then it wasn't analytical enough and had to give a broad overview of the forces that this policy context is situated in... etc etc etc.  I had about a month - with a full teaching and marking workload - to try and see where the gaps were and attempt to fill them out; in addition to taking out the material that no longer served the PhD any purpose.  This also involved reading as it had been about 9 months since I had touched this chapter.  It wasn't enough time but I did manage to cut and condense the sections I needed to and add the others.  But, I still don't think it fully hangs together.  The content is all there.  The structure needs a bit more work.  Not a drastic overhaul.  But a bit of tightening and some cutting as there is a bit of repetition.  I think this will be the work over the summer until final submission to the Graduate School at the end of August 2017.  That and the conclusion.

I haven't really had a chance to read the thesis in its entirety.  I've printed it all off - as the photo at the top of this post shows... that's me btw :) - and that's the plan over the next few weeks (I've a HEA application to submit and marking to do as well!) and this will help me nail the conclusion.  I have an older draft of a conclusion that I wrote in August 2016 but I'm going to re-write it.  I will use a tip given to me by a now-Dr... go through the thesis in its entirety and write a summary sentence for each paragraph.  Go back and read the summary sentences.  The repeated sentences are your conclusion.  It's also viva prep at the same time.  Sounds legit :)

Anyway, back to the HEA application.  But, it looks like this beast will finally go in this summer.  It's been a long, long, loooooong journey.  But it's coming to an end.  Finally!




Saturday, 28 January 2017

Dealing with feedback and putting together the (hopefully) final draft


Another year, another full-team supervision meeting.  I hadn't really spoken to my supervision team since the last time I posted here.  I was just concerned with re-drafting the findings chapters.  It took progressively longer to get the three chapters finished.  It took just over a month to write the first one; about a month and a half to write the second one; and then just over two months to write the third.  Of course, teaching workloads was a time factor here.  I started teaching mid-September so to try and do a full-time lecturer's post and still keep to 20-25 hours on the PhD was a challenge.  However, in all honesty, I did manage it.  That's a win in itself.  But, getting those chapters re-drafted from scratch was an absolute nightmare and my love for the PhD was the most tested during this time frame.  In fact, I really started to hate it by the time I got to re-drafting the third chapter.  I really was struggling with the point of it all.  It really became about fitting a square peg into a round hole.  And I don't like fitting square pegs into round holes - life's just too full of that as it is.  So, it became a battle.  But I did it.  I got the third chapter finished mid-December but some parts of it just weren't working as best as they could.  So, I held on to it and doctored it over the Christmas break.  I gave all three chapters to my supervision team in early January for review.

The good news is that the chapters, with some amendments, are actually doing what they need to be doing.  I'm still holding on to writing a methods thesis in some respects and the language I use at times reflects that.  But it's not just a straight empirical thesis.  So, it will be a balancing act writing / tweaking these drafts for the next full iteration of the thesis.  Shock horror, again, I just have too much material for one thesis.  So, I need to cut but not lose the richness of the data.  My supervision team gave some good pointers on how to do this.  I do over-use quotes - using three in full to show intertextuality when I could be using one and them giving phrases from the other two to show how they are connected.  I also repeat myself a little too much; especially in the third findings chapter.  So, it's about cutting all that out.  My supervision team have advised that I go back and re-do these chapters NOW rather than putting my energies elsewhere.  The good news is that in the gap between giving these chapters for review and the supervision I managed to get the final iteration of my methodology chapter completed.  I think that chapter is an absolute monument.  It's gone through three versions and around fourteen drafts in total.  But it nails the things I really struggled with at the start of this PhD journey.  And that's where I see the progress.  And in my writing style.  My second supervisor - who has always complained I am overly verbose and go round the houses a bit - thinks my writing style is now at doctorate standard.  It's all coming together.  It's been an absolute beast.  But it's all coming together.

The next iteration of the thesis is due for review in April this year.  I'm left with two big jobs: (i) get the findings chapters into more concise and less repetitive chapters; and (ii) re-draft the policy context to under 10 000 words.  Eeeeeeeeee.  That's not going to be easy.  But I can see what needs to go and this will be shelved for post-PhD work.  My second supervision keeps saying I have enough post-PhD material to sustain my career for years.  That's good news.  On top of that I have three research projects worth of material.  So, life post-PhD should be a good one.  I just need to get there...

Wish me luck...

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Pushing through barriers and doubts... and letting the thesis do what it needs to do...


It's been nearly four months since I last blogged.  I that time I have had three substantial supervision meetings, presented at a conference in the States, been to Lollapolooza, been to Spain and started a full-time lecturing job.  In between all this has been the thesis.  One of my supervision meetings did not go well at all, just after I wrote the previous post.  There were a number of reasons why this happened (stress being very much one of them) but the bottom line was that I was still receiving feedback from the team about including material that I had decided at my mid-point progression was not going to go in the thesis.  Whilst supervisors are trying to do their best for you, they also have their own ideas about how a thesis should be and look.  When you are told that your research aim, objectives and questions do not match up to what you have done but your supervisors are also telling you to include material that would make you travel even further away from your aims and objectives, you have to hold up a STOP sign and walk away for a bit.  Both the conference in the States and Lollapolooza allowed me to do that.  And then I made a really tough decision.  I've lived with the aftermath of it for the last three months.  The decision was to completely re-write my findings chapters.  I was losing a battle with my supervisors.  It didn't matter how much I bulked up the methodology chapter, they were struggling with the level of analysis I had undertaken and, crucially, how I had presented it.  It seemed clear as day to me.  But, my supervisors eventually agreed in unison that my external examiners may struggle as they have had and I could be asked to re-write all these chapters at the viva.  My supervisors didn't force this opinion.  They just said they were doing their job and showing where the weakness of the thesis lay.  You could not dispute the level, integrity and depth of the analysis I had undertaken.  The problem was that the findings were getting buried under the weight of the sheer complexity of the analysis.  They're words were "you need to tell the story - the story is getting lost in the post-structuralism and the methodology".  So, I went away and re-wrote my Introduction chapter - outlining with confidence my research aim, objectives and questions and what my original contribution to knowledge was.  The findings had to tell the story but also answer all this.  So, I decided to completely re-write the chapters - from scratch.

Yes, this meant going back to the files beyond files and beyond more files of the original analysis that I did between 2014 and 2015.  The positives of this was that it was much easier to see all the connections between the texts - it was like a light switch went on.  The bad news was that all the months of cutting and shaping I had done to get rid of words in the first two complete drafts of the five then four analysis chapters had been a waste of time.  I would have to go through this process once again as I initially had to include all the material that would allow the story to be told.  I could then shape.  But it means more drafts after drafts, after drafts.  **Sigh**  However, good news: I have completely drafted (I averaged about 5 re-drafts of these drafts each) two of three findings chapters.  They're lengthy - averaging 17750 each.  I completely restructured how the findings would look to tell the story: findings chapter 1 - national debate; findings chapter two - local debate; findings chapter three - implications for community development.  I gave the first findings chapter to the team to review.  Good news: very positive review.  Easier to read, tells the story and presents clearly what the key findings are.  Don't get me wrong, it is still a post-structuralist thesis.  The floating and empty signifiers are all still there, just like the nodal points and the binary pairs.  But the Introduction chapter (including the research aim, objectives and questions) marry up to the findings.  YEE HAA!!!!  The now obvious news is: I have some amendments to make in Methodology, Policy Context and Conclusion chapters to reflect these changes.  It's so true with a thesis - you change one part and it has a domino effect.  As a result, it will not be fully submitted for January 2017.  I am currently negotiating when it will be.  I've promised my supervision team that the three findings chapters will be in a final draft form by December.  My plan is to also make the necessary tweaks to the Methodology chapter so they marry up to the findings chapters.  I will send these four chapters to the team in final draft form my mid-December.  That leaves the Introduction, Policy Context and Conclusion chapters to re-do in a final draft.  Introduction is pretty much there.  Policy Context needs the section on welfare reform changed to public sector reform, and an additional section on the neoliberalisation of community.  The Conclusion needs to reflect the changes to all the chapters I have made.  I've agreed to get this final draft to the team by March 2017.

However, we will see how things go.  It could take less time, it could take more.  Formatting and proof-reading will take time.  But I really am getting there.  I've given this everything I could have.  And, I know making these changes now equals an outcome of an A or B at the viva.  The possible C is very unlikely to happen now.  And that's all I want.  There's no way I want major corrections.  Not after all the work I have done.  Best to do it all now, and take a little bit longer then spending another year in total on this beast... and having to do two vivas!!!!

Wish me luck :)