The Next Phase

Monday

Today was my Project Review Panel meeting.  At this the idea is you present a brief presentation to your supervisor team, and the institutionally appointed internal assessor.  Then the assessor gets to quiz you about any and all aspects of your proposed research, and goes off to make a recommendation to the School Graduate Research Board as to whether or not you can progress, and any amendments that need to be made to the proposed research.  Having spent nowhere near enough time to be happy with the presentation during Sunday’s preparation, I was up early going through my notes and rehearsing my talk.  I’m lucky in that my research is within a field and environment that I’m quite professionally familiar with, however, saying that and justifying it to academics with years of experience in applied humanities research is a whole different matter.

Thankfully it was't quite like thisThe Project Review in many regards had been sold to us as our first taste of that most dreaded of PhD elements the viva – and thus I approached it with that in mind, an oral defense of my research.

Hence, needless to say I had a bit of a sleepless night and arrived at the room where I was to present fairly early.  Having mooched around the nearby computer labs to calm my nerves, at 9.55am I went into the room to find…well, I was the first one there.  I spotted my supervisors a few minutes later coming into the building  and I thought I saw my internal assessor.  As it turned out it wasn’t him, and a few minutes later we had to shout and bang on the window to attract his attention as he nearly headed into the wrong building!

Loss of assessor averted, and after introductions I went into my talk.  Now like most people I had prepared some slides.  Sadly to (everyone’s) surprise the room lacked a computer or a projector.  This didn’t especially bother me, as I’ve had to lecture more than once in the past sans-expected equipment, and to be honest I was talking about something that’s pretty much been my full time focus for the past 7 months.  Thus if I couldn’t talk about it now, well then I certainly wasn’t fit to progress on with the research!

Nor was it like this eitherPersonally despite my nerves I felt it was a very positive discussion and the whole team in the room had some good suggestions for areas I need to think about, or explore further in developing my work.  I did manage to suppress a wide grin when I was told I had an excellent and extensive bibliography, especially for a PhD at this stage.  All those hours of reading paid off it seems!  I was also able to bring in some elements of the discussions from the conference at the weekend, and aspects of the scoping interviews I’m doing at the moment; to give the proposal that up-to-date edge.

We will still talking when the next room booking folks turned up, and so we continued the discussions in the corridor outside for the next 15 minutes.  Thankfully we weren’t outside anyone’s office.  Some good ideas came out of the discussions, not least of which the suggestion that I could turn the tables and make use of my assessor as one of my research interview candidates.  That might be…interesting!  Now I just need to wait to hear formally what the assessors and graduate panel’s judgement is, and then I can relax.  Hope I don’t have to wait too long.

Having done this I came back home, lunched and ran another of my enjoyable and informative telephone scoping interviews.  After that I confess the past 8 days of work kinda got to me and felt a bit burned out, and thus beyond this blog I can’t really cite much more I’ve achieved today.  Ah well, 4 interviews tomorrow should see me back on the old work horse once more!

Tuesday

As I expected a day of interviews, and one or two nice comments about this blog. Thanks, I think I’m writing this largely for myself as a reflective aid, but it’s really nice to hear that other people are getting a little something out of it as well.  This site is never going to get major traffic, unless, you know, I say something really controversial or discover the cure for cancer of something; but it is nice to know that I’m not writing into a total vacuum   It also helps to keep the writing muscle engaged I think, given that one of my assessor’s comments yesterday was that I should be writing chunks of my thesis from here on out pretty much on a regular basis.  I think writing up my methods and outcomes from the interviews will probably be one of the early bits, though I suspect a framing/introductory chapter will by default be the first thing I’ll need to concentrate on.  Doubtless my supervisors will have ides when I see them again next week to discuss my activity and focus for the coming months.

Given my hectic schedule of the past week or so (this marks day 9 on non-stop work) after the interviews were over I went for 12 mile walk to clear my head and stretch some non-thinky muscles for a change.  I’d say I did it to relax, but at the speed I try and walk, relaxing doesn’t get much of a look in!  Still, it’s the last long walk I’ll do before the marathon this weekend down in Wiltshire.

Wednesday

My brain keeps suggesting a poster that looks like this!Came into campus today as it’s the last RPC-A session today (course review – which I suspect might be a bit painful to experience due to niggles with the course that a lot of people have expressed).  But I also came in to kickstart my research poster design.  I’ve really only got a week in which to pull this one together, though thankfully having my panel review this week has at least brought some of my thoughts on the research into sharp relief.  The feedback from the assessor will be useful in this respect too.  It’s a bit annoying that as I don’t have the MS Office suite at home I can’t easily work on the poster at home.  Might play about with Open Office designer later and see if that’s a viable alternative, as I don’t much fancy sitting in a student PC class room for the next week (and given that the one I’m currently sitting in is at 35DegsC I might just melt before then!).

I did sketch out a design for a poster a few weeks ago, but now I’m having second thoughts about it.  Given that I’ve really only got an hour to work on it before class, I plan to just mock something up visually and see how that looks on paper (A3, can’t print to A1 easily!).  It’ll at least give me some guidance, and then I can work offline tomorrow on the actual textural content.

[Later] Well the feedback session about lived up to the rest of the RPC course, it had some good bits and some not so great bits.  And it didn’t deliver everything that was promised at the start, not least of which was the idea to record us talking us about our research again.  Waaaaay back at the start of the course we were recorded talking about our research briefly.  The idea was at the end of the course that this would happen again and then we could could compare how much we had improved in our thinking and communication skills.  Given that about 2/3 of the people on the course didn’t bother showing up for this last session, it was perhaps just as well.

We spent the two hours instead giving the (slightly nervous) tutor course feedback.  It wasn’t exactly cathartic as some of the complaints we might have aired didn’t really seem worth the while, given that this is the last year the RPC course runs in this format.  And given that we’re now beyond the course, there’s always a slight disinclination to say anything as it won’t be of tangible benefit to ourselves.  I think we did experience a little of the British reserve as well – if you can’t say anything good about something, don’t say anything.

After this slightly tense two hours a small group of us retired to the student union beer garden.  This might sound like typical student behaviour, but for me this was:

  • a) The first time I’ve set foot in the union since I wandered through at the start of October.
  • b) The first time I’ve been out with any of my PhD course mates socially full-stop.
  • c) Probably the first time I’ve been in a pub in 7 months.

*sigh* My social life basically sucks, okay.

I always knew that living off and working mostly off campus and being a mature student wouldn’t make for an especially social time, but I had kinda hoped something might have happened before now.  However, this was a delightful couple of hours, and so I’m going to probably end today with a smile on my face.  Although having learned about a Spanish tradition involving a goat, a church steeple and the phrase “hurled from the top” I shall probably remain perhaps a little disturbed!

Oh, and we only left around 5pm because the union was hosting some kind of awards ceremony so they threw us out.  Been a while since I’m been thrown out of anywhere!

Thursday

Back to normality with a day interviewing, and transcribing.  Thought about doing some work on my poster, but in the end decided to think about it tomorrow afternoon in a bit more detail.  That way I can mull it over the long weekend and then crack into it full steam the following week.

Friday

Kicked off the day with my last currently scheduled interview (number 23 of a series, collect them all!).  There are still a few people I’ve semi arranged to sort out a date later in May, and one or two other people in locations (Wales and Ireland mostly) where I’d like to include their views and institutional thumbnail sketch in my work.  But with the poster presentation, and a week of training after that I’m a bit backed up with competing priorities.  So I think I’ll concentrate on these, along with transcribing and reviewing the interviews I’ve done to date – and then see where I am come mid-May.  Of course since I’m meeting with my supervisors late next week, they may well have a different view they’ll want me to take on board, so I won’t be making any more concrete plans.

The interview was great, and I spent most the morning transcribing.  After lunch I had fully intended to work on my research poster, however one of the regular irritations of working from home is having to clear the dining table and re-assemble my working space in order to actually work on things like this.  Hence it was 3.30pm by the time I had cleared the space, sorted my papers, and done all the filing of books, papers and interview scripts I’ve neglected for the past couple of weeks.  As Mrs Llama tends to arrive home around 5pm on Friday (and often with demands that I down-tools “Because the weekend is here!”, this didn’t give me much thinking time.  So I’ve now assigned Tuesday as a full on poster day, and Wednesday as an on campus day to work on the computers there.  Instead I finally sat down and wrote up my notes from the meeting on Monday, and shared them with my supervisors.  That way it’ll give us some focus when we meet next week to discuss my work plans.

I then spent a while debating the merits of Dragon Naturally Speaking (or similar) voice recognition software as a potential way to transcribe faster.  I think it doesn’t look like it would work, as it’ll have to cope with two different voices – but if anyone’s got any experiences with using it for interview transcribing (good, bad or indifferent), I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts*.  Certainly don’t want to fork out for a copy if it turns out to be naff.  My Amazon discount only goes so far!  Finally I sat down and went through my notes from last Saturday’s conference on Humanities, Copyright and New Technologies.  Good conference, and I suspect other’s have written more thrilling and impactful write ups; but I wanted to stick my own notes somewhere – and the blog is as good a place as any!

Me finishing it for the first time in 2011!And with that (and this) post finished this brings together the longest week I’ve worked yet on this PhD 12 days straight.  Thankfully it’s a Bank Holiday; although always a sucker for more punishment I’m doing a marathon power walk across Salisbury plain this Sunday.  Hope everyone has a splendid bank holiday – and here’s hoping I don’t boil/freeze/collapse down in Wiltshire!

*[Edit: Some interesting thoughts here, and yep looks like nope is the answer]

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2 thoughts on “The Next Phase

  1. I noticed that the “interesting thoughts” link is from 2008. Dragon – and speech recognition in general – has improved a lot since then. Dragon’s now on v12 (it was v9 in ’08). However, there is no trial version available so you’d have to find someone who already has it installed to have a go.

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    1. I watched a video with a fella using a v10 copy okay, but it was only transcribing his voice. Chatted to a few folks on twitter, and it does look like while it has improved by v12, that it’s by no means good enough yet. Certainly not at 80 quid to buy!

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