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My last post ‘ No future for you, no future for me, no future for someone with a PhD? seemed to strike a chord with quite a few people as I received my greatest number of hits on a single post thus far. I think the inner sadness must have really come through in my writing style because my family had a little intervention meeting to check up on my mental health and other people have written me encouraging messages! However, although this was coming from a particular level of emotion, we can all feel happy, sad, optimistic and pessimistic all at the same time and this pessimism is not my constant persona. Rather I am quite an optimistic sort. Therefore I will write in the near future about strategies for looking for jobs outside academia as well as ways in which we can build our CVs to appeal to other sorts of employers – utilising some advice I have received from people in this hour of need, so thanks kind people!

My optimism has also come back because yesterday I had my annual review with my supervisors. I was quite surprised that many fellow students and their supervisors seem to be taking it as a bit of a tick box exercise, whereas me and my supervisors are ‘good girls’ as well like to think of ourselves and we like to obey all the proper rules and regulations and guidelines. So my reflective statement was properly reflective and very useful for me and my team so they could see inside my mind. Also, I reckon if I suggested it, we could have had a group hug because we are all enjoying being together in our meetings and learning from each other.

However, thoughts about group hugs aside, we were also in a very firm military mood and we planned out my timetable for completion. They are very keen for me to finish on time and will not even let me think about going over. Although I kind of want to go over just a tiny bit so I can carry on getting cheap travel with my railcard…. but I better not think like that or I will get told off.

So in the words of one supervisor, the next few months are a military operation as I am a little pushed for time given my current stage. The only long break I am allowed is two weeks off at Christmas and when I submit something for feedback I am not allowed to relax whilst they take a week to read it and we meet up. Nope, I have to get right on with the next task. It’s going to be back to back chapter after chapter.

I am however ordered to have scheduled leisure and mini-treats, for example, if I complete a really good piece of work one morning, I am allowed to have the afternoon off for example, and I do have two very short trips planned. Most extra-academic related things are off though. I am not allowed to attend long conferences, present at conferences unless its a presentation I have done before and I have only done one so this won’t happen, but basically I have no time to plan or practice new ones, and finally writing papers is definitely off the cards for now.

This is a bit of a relief actually because as my last post suggests, I have been so concerned about the future and being ’employable’, REFable’  and able to compete with others who are perhaps more driven and career minded and quicker at doing their work, that  that I’ve been neglecting the present. However now it is confirmed that for now that all these extra things that make you REFable and have ‘impact’ or what not,  is not even a possibility right now and that news feels great!

We will however create a publication plan at the end of my project, so publications are still going to be written and I will probably aim to present at the SRHE in 2016 or BSA in 2017 after I submit (yay!). Also, since I will be unemployed, I will have ample time for these activities 😉

So this is it. The proper pressure and relentless work starts now! I am looking forward to it actually. I respond well to drill masters, orders, punishments and little rewards. With no pressure to think too far ahead and about other things I can focus on my lovely exciting research project instead and cross the ‘career panic’ bridge later.

So here is my timetable if you are interested:

 

Variety is not the spice of life...

Variety is not the spice of life…

(c) Annika Coughlin 2015

I have been struggling with my literature review but did not really know it. Well, I knew because it has been going very slowly, but I thought that was because I am just a slow worker. However, upon reflection I am not a slow worker. When I worked in the menswear department in a department store I was super fast I could scan, fold and do the credit card transaction in super speed time, so much so customers would comment and crowds would form. When I worked in the library, I could shelve and tidy the heavy marketing books in a flash, all perfectly in order and upright, and some of those textbooks books were very heavy.

So when I met with one of my supervisors last week she said that the reason I am having difficulties in creating an outline for my literature review and actually writing it with purpose is because I do not know what my aims are. Instead I have been writing 2000 words here and there on seemingly random sections that do not seem to have a particular purpose apart from be standalone essays of sorts I suppose. In my head they kind of make sense, but my supervisors do not see it and I have not communicated well.

She helped me think about how to create aim which will eventually will become one aim and some objectives (remember there is a difference – see this blog for discussion on this issue: https://patthomson.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/aims-and-objectives-whats-the-difference/ ) and of course they will also become research questions.

  • What you need to do is just write down an aim that comes to mind – what is it you want to do?
  • Then ask Why? Who cares? Why is it important/interesting? This takes the aim to a more theoretical level.
  • What hypothesis do you have? This is not just a quants thing – think about what you suspect to be the case, what your initial thoughts are, perhaps based on common sense assumptions.
  • Next ask What are the implications of this and also what are the limitations.

Another thing she said is that when writing your literature review, think of a framework to guide you. So for example, I think that C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination where he talks about the importance of the interaction between history, biography and individual is going to be my frame. This is framing my whole thesis as it helps me to justify why I am using mixed methods and studying people’s educational trajectories using longitudinal data. I will be shifting from historical to social to individual perspectives. From policy to then how individuals enact policy for example. I will be looking at the context of people’s decision making of attending university at different time periods. Then this all links to my aims and the way I compose my research questions.

Now that I have a little bit more of a focus, I think the literature review should be much easier to write now. Better be because I have a big ball of anxiety in my chest where I feel like I have wasted so much time!

In a previous post I said I would ask my supervisors the question: “What is the best and most useful way to show you what I have learned and read and have been thinking to move the project forward?”

We decided that I need to show them something in writing, so not just scrappy notes. One said that it is best to start writing from the beginning of the doctorate. But this always makes me think write what? I know nuffink so can’t write nuffink! But after a bit of a discussion I think I have finally got it. There are things I can write about. The ethics of the research, the dataset I am using, the ‘factual’ stuff about the historical context, the methodology.

We have decided that I will produce something every month for my supervisors to read. That way they can look at the content but also how I write to help me become an academic writer. Both my supervisors have a lovely clear writing style, so I am confident that we are all on the same wavelength about what we think a good academic writing style looks like which I think is important.

The book by Rowena Murray ‘Writing for Journal Articles’ (see her top 10 tips from the book on The Guardian website) was recommended to me by my supervisor. Although there are some useful things in there, the problem with some of the writing books I have been reading is that they are geared toward people who are knowledgeable on their subject and are perhaps writing about something that they have been researching for many years – they actually have something to write about and tend to focus on tackling the issue of finding time and space to write. But for a full-time student, this isn’t really an issue.

So instead I think I will buy Rowena Murray’s book ‘How to write a thesis’.

So I am feeling optimistic and excited about writing – learning by writing I should say – as at last Murray’s book about writing a thesis addresses the whole idea of what to write even if you don’t yet know what you are writing about. Yay!

© Annika Coughlin 2014

Sometimes I worry that I have nothing to show for all that I have been thinking and reading. But how do you ensure that you properly reflect to your supervisors what you have learned and discovered from your reading. How do actually present that? How do you communicate your current thinking and the connections you are making. Do you have to write an essay for them before each meeting to summarise what you have found out? What about if things are still so up in the air that all I have written down are some handwritten scribbles in a notebook or annotations in the margins of articles. I don’t think I could write everything up nice and neatly before every meeting as it is almost like nothing is quite ready yet to be put to print in a nice neat way.

This is the question I am asking my supervisors tomorrow. What is the best and most useful way to show you what I have learned and read and have been thinking to move the project forward?

© Annika Coughlin 2014

This is an order to myself! In a previous post I started that I had started a worklog in an Excel spreadsheet. Of course it didn’t last. I think the main reason is that it isn’t really necessary if you trust yourself to do what you need to do. Clocking in, having managers check up on how long you spent on toilet breaks, check you aren’t chatting to your friends and such like is something that gets left behind when you leave school and if you don’t work in a place where your every action in monitored and checked against the clock (as documented about Amazon for example ). For some people with bullying bosses and a competitive working environment this can happen and not just in factory style workplaces. I don’t want to be a part of this sort of environment. I like a more flexible way of working.

I think when you are doing your PhD, the pressure to try not to disappoint your supervisors and to try to justify your existence to tax payers who pay me through the ESRC to do this research is enough.

Of course, like in all work, time-management is a challenge but guilt and a sense of duty is all I need to keep me in check –  and an occasional disapproving look from friends and family when I slip up.

But perhaps this is just idealised thinking – perhaps students should invest in a clocking in machine for the home – perhaps a sexy vintage one.

Oppression - in sexy walnut! http://www.elemental.uk.com/curiosities/clock-in_machine_1384/product

Oppression – in sexy walnut!

And if I am good, I could reward myself with this gold badge:gold badge

(I secretly like the idea).

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