Overwhelmed and Overwhelming

Everyone having a great summer so far?  Fab.

Thought I’d skip the epistolary style for a week, which has nothing to do with the fact that I reached Thursday this week and hadn’t had the time and energy to type anything up.  This week’s been a mix of a couple of interviews, trying to get on top on transcription and trying to read more on political economy and HE.  It’s also been a week where following the loss of our last chicken (sob) I’ve had more alone time than ever to reflect on how things are going on the PhD.

It’s now month 10 and I thought by now that I’d be perhaps just about picking up the pace a little.  As it is I’m already beginning to worry about fitting into the 3-4 years everything I need to do.  On paper it all looks very doable still, but then I think about the first round of interviews which have stretched back over the past 3 months.  That’s a large chunk of time, and while I’m happy with the results the fact that I’ve yet to do a thorough analysis on the outputs is niggling me for sure.  Then I think about how long it’s going to take to arrange the next set of interviews, oh and plan out the questions, and I get a bit worried.  Everything just seems to be taking more time than I anticipated.

Back before we had a summer I planned out the next four months.  I’m well behind in where I wanted to be – I’d hoped to have drafted my first chapter by now, but I’m really only just getting into the reading.  A large part of the problem was that as the uni lacked the books I needed I had to either buy or ILL them, wait for them to arrive and then find a suitable time to do the 30mile round trip to pick them up.  That probably cost me the best part of two weeks delay.  A delay that I used to do interviews sure, but I’m not sure what my supervisors will say about progress when we next speak.

Not that we have spoken for well over two months.  I know I need to organise a meeting but feel like I need to generate at least some concrete progress before we do.  I am hoping next weeks Repository Fringe conference might help me take stock a little, as it’ll be the longest I’ve taken away from my studies since I started.  And perhaps in that is part of the problem.  Due to the Wife and I’s current situation as I’ve mentioned any kind of holiday this year is off the books, and a staycation would just find me walking around all the places I work in the week and fretting about lost time.  So I’ve decided that taking some time away is a much needed thing for the good of my mental health, and I’ve managed to persuade myself that a 5 day camping/LARPing trip at the end of August is the perfect time to take it!

In the meantime – here’s some light relief…

How to fix openness in academic discourse
How to fix openness in academic discourse

Curiously Empty Diary

Monday

As Mrs Llama had the day off, I decided to take the day as well.  Making it officially the 5th day I’ve taken off since I started the PhD (not including weekends, bank holidays etc).  I’ve 30 days annual leave in my contract with the funder and university, but frankly I don’t much see me getting into double digits before October comes around.  Wonder if I’m the only student who find it difficult to shut down and take time to relax?  Actually I think I’ve forgotten how to relax…

Tuesday

Back to work today.  This week for the first time…this year I think, there’s nothing in my diary.  My to do list remains massive, but I’ve no interviews, appointments etc.  Well there is a note telling me email is off line Thu-Sunday this week, so I guess I’d best make what use of it I can today and tomorrow!  Spent the day doing transcriptions – which is not that much fun at the best of times, and in the current heat wave even less so.  The fan at the top of the stairs is doing a great job but it is just shifting around hot air.

Wednesday

Another hot day which I spent finished off Harvey’s A Companion to Marx’s Capital.  Don’t know if the first half had been absorbed in the preceding days but I found the second half far more digestible and actually quite enjoyable.  My notes about it include some potential relationships with academia that make some sense in the light of my forthcoming chapter on HE.

Finshed off the day typing in the most recent readings into RefWorks, though by half past five the heat had given me a nasty headache so I went for a lie down in the coolest spot I could find, before popping out for a cheeky drink with a nice bloke I know to bore him to tears with social media, research and LARPing.  He did well not to run out the door screaming 😉

Audit cultures
Audit cultures

Thursday

A day spent reading a book on anthropology, ethics, morality, auditing and higher education, which was recommended by my supervisor.  Have to confess that I wasn’t convinced by the opening chapter which seemed to be focused on the IMF field operations – quite how that tied into HE I couldn’t follow, though it was an interesting read.  However, large chunks of the rest of the book were very interesting in terms of the forced evolutionary path of institutions as a result of neoliberal audit culture influences.  Having worked in my last post for a boss who was statistics and KPI crazy (honestly, everything had a metric) I can certainly attribute some personal reflections here on the subject.  Came away with lots of ideas for my nascent chapter, though I’ve three or four more books to read at least before I really write it.

However, that said I did draft the opening paragraph, which makes it officially the first bit of my thesis I’ve written.  I suspect that probably every word of it will change in editings, but it’s the start of a long long process.

Friday

A day transcribing interviews in the heat.  It doesn’t get more exciting than this at the moment.  Still a whole heap of them to do, but am picking up on themes and issues that I didn’t quite clock the first time round so it’s doubly useful.  Hands pretty sore from typing as a result.

Elsewhere my father went in for a lengthy brain tumour removal operation, so my thoughts were with him and his family very much today.

Hot Times at Interview Central

Monday

Had planned to go to campus to get my ILLs, but decided since I’ve got to be there for a meeting on Wednesday that there’s no point driving 30 extra miles these week just to collect books, when I can do it all at once.  Hence today was one interview and a lot of transcriptions.  My hands are quite sore from typing so I’m off to warm them in the sun.

Tuesday

7 interviews lined up on a very bright and sunny day.  So all the windows were open, the fan was blowing and the shades were most definitely shut.  As it was one of the interviewees postponed so I only had 6 of them in the end, but that was more than enough time spent on the phone.  Did manage to squeeze a little transcription in, but had promised myself a treat once I got through the phone sessions.  Said treat was a 14mile walk in the blazing sun.

Think I might have to think of less painful treats…

Temperature in the conservatory-office (conservaoffice?) was 47DegsC when i got back. Aye-yi-yi.  And my digital thermometer’s time readout had melted.

Wednesday

Was amused to note that Apple have been ruled to have fixed e-book prices with publishers in the US today in news.  Shocking, fancy publishers acting like that (he added sardonically).

Today in between interviews and transcriptions I headed into uni to pick up some ILLs and other books, but also to have our last scheduled Dept of English, Culture and Media PhD meet up.  And like last time it was slim pickings with just two of us turning up out of a possible 8.  Two of the more regular members sent apologies but heavens knows where the rest of them are – they never tend to respond to emails, not sure if it’s them being rude or a cultural difference, but it doesn’t help when the idea of the group is to help us support each other

Ah well, we had a good mutual support and exchange session all the same, and then planned out what we’d like to do in the next academic session.  Let’s see if we can whip up some support.

Thursday

X Marx the Spot
X Marx the Spot


Today once more I enjoined in battle with Dr Karl Marx’s works, though this time mediated through the wisdom of David Harvey and his book A Companion to Capital.  More readable than the last book on Marx I read, but slow going all the same as I tried to get my head around use-value, exchange-value etc.  However, come the evening I ended up having a discussion with my very non-academic neighbour about life in general and was delighted to hear him express a number of the Marxism concepts (all be it in laymen’s terms), so that made my day.  Well that and the fact we spent nearly 90 minutes chatting over the fence!

The other interesting fact of the day was my gardener came mid afternoon.  It’s a bit distracting trying to read when someone’s working on your garden, though today I started getting metaphysical/ethical guilt trips as I sat reading about productivity, labour and exploitation while I had someone working for me.  So very much a day of practical experiences brought to life my theory.

Did one interview in the middle of the day too, but there was nothing about Marx in it sadly.

Friday

Not the greatest of starts to the day, as one of my two remaining chicken’s passed away in the night, which left me feeling far more upset than I thought it would.  She’s been ill for a while and I’ve been feeding her water through a syringe the last couple of days since she just gave up drinking.  She’ll get a chicken state funeral later today 😦

Also scanned through this article for prospective PhD students 10 truths a Supervisor Will Never Tell You.  For the most part it’s a good read for would be and 1st year PhDs, although I couldn’t stop myself roaring with laughter at number 9 “Weekly supervisory meetings are the best pattern”.  Given supervisors at my university are technically assigned 16hrs a year to devote to their student (and as I was informed, this includes time spent reading/commenting on submissions etc), there’s not a snowballs chance in hell that that could happen.  I even suggested a weekly or biweekly meet up before being put straight.  Given the workloads of academic staff at my place, I’m surprised they get to go home to be honest! Personally though I’m happy enough with perhaps every month or 6 weeks (which reminds me, I’m a bit overdue for one – but want to get to the end of these flipping interviews and get my thoughts straight first).   All the same, go have a read of the article and let me know your thoughts.

Interviews and transcriptions the rest of the day* which takes me to 77 institutions (and 78 interviews) I’ve done.  I really think, bar any of the other people who I’ve got penciled in as “pending” getting back in touch that this might be it.  It’s been a wild ride, and have to say today’s interviews were a bumper crop of info and exchange.  Not to mention one of my interviewees who was speaking to me in the middle of her office being relocated – now THAT’s dedication I’m impressed by!

Also heard from the Repository Fringe where I’m going to give a short (pecha kucha) talk, co-chair a discussion group and probably write some bloggage type stuff as well.  So it’ll make my trip north of the border at the end of the month all the more fun.

*Also went to the public library in Loughborough to return/renew/borrow some books.  Asked for my PIN number (which I’ve long since lost) and was charged a pound (£1) for the privilege of getting 4 numbers.  Honestly, even academic publishers don’t charge a character rate that high – bit outrageous, but I do love the staff in there so I paid politely.  If we’d charged students for getting their PIN back at any library I’d worked in, I suspect there might have been a riot!!!  Still a little bit of creeping neoliberalist capitalism at the library seems to be the perfect capstone on my week!

9 Months In

Monday

So here we are entering the second half of 2013, and I’ve now completed 9 months work on this PhD.  As regular readers will realise this means I’ve still barely scratched the surface in terms of background study and field work, let alone analysis.  All the same though when I think back to my first real day on the job in October it now seems a very long time ago, along with all the bafflement of the start of the RPC!

Today was never going to anything special as I had an absolutely vile night’s sleep, and since Mrs Llama left for work around 6am on her two-hour weekly commute, I didn’t really get a lie in.  So I made the best use of the morning finishing off my Foucault book (surprisingly insightful, though I’d be lying if I said it had all sunk it), and then rounded it off with an interview (number #51).  After a light (it’s a 5:2 day) lunch I tried to get going on some transcription but the lack of sleep forced me to curl up in bed for the best part of an hour (while my neighbour drilled holes in lawn).  This really helped and since 3pm I shot through two transcriptions and also planned out what I need to do tomorrow.

Decided it’s time to follow-up with the dozen or so people who I’ve either approached and heard nothing, or had a partial exchange with but never tied down to a time.  And perhaps try a further final dozen institutions to see if i can just fill in the edges of my scoping work.  There’s a concept in qualitative interviewing called saturation which is when you start to hear the same things over and over, and it’s there to help you realise that you’ve managed a sufficiently broad sample.  Unlike quantitative research which strives to be all inclusive with huge numbers or representative samples the idea here is you may miss the odd factoid, but I will have captured the grand scheme of things.  Which I think is true as there is a lot of rich data in these interviews, but I’m starting to feel like I’m getting diminishing returns now in terms of unusual, unexpected and eye-opening responses.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the interview process (even the ones where the interviewees were a little more tacit in their vocalizations and needed more encouragement to open up), but I do think this phase is coming to a natural conclusion.  Think I’ll try and tie it up the data gathering over the next couple of weeks, and focus in on theory, chapter writing and working out how best to analyse the hours of data I’ve captured.

Tuesday

And having said that, I then woke up today and reviewed the institutions I’ve approached and spoken to.  Came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t inclusive enough and that I’d certainly not made nearly enough approaches to some of the smaller, newer ones.  So I spent the morning seeking out contacts at around another 60-70 HEIs and sending them a variety of emails; or rather drafting the emails and sending them out in one burst.  I also went back over the dozen or so places where I’d approached and got no answer, or where I’d opened a dialogue but not landed an interview yet.  I still won’t have approached every university in the country, but at least I’ve approached the vast majority now.  Might see if I can’t capture a few of the missing ones at the Fringe at the month’s end as the capstone to this work.

The afternoon was spent following up on a few of the replies I got (hardly a flood) and doing a couple more interviews.  Arranging, conducting, transcribing and analysing interviews is certainly turning into a far bigger time suck than I anticipated; but I do know for my next phase of interviews that I’ll try and go for a bigger initial target group as I’m fairly certain that I’ll get a lower initial response rate.

Wednesday

More replies and have adopted a taking the bull by the horns approach, and rather than trying to slot interviews in later I’m actually grabbing those people who say “Call me anytime” and slotting them in on the same day.  Hence 4 interviews today, and four on Friday.  But keeping Thursday free for theory and reading.  Managed a little bit of transcription, but I’m horribly behind on this now.  Can’t be helped as data capture is more critical right now.

Read a short article about procrastination and motivation for PhDs.  Thankfully while I’m as guilty as the next doctoral student for putting the kettle on and stacking the dishwasher, I’m also someone who’s happy to keep working beyond the normal 9-5 once I hit that rhythm.  And perhaps right now with the pressure of everything I need to do, that’s motivating me more than anything.  Always noticed I work better with pressure and deadlines, so setting my own deadlines means I keep more focused!

Popped over to see a friend and her academic husband for dinner, and spent half the evening thinking about him as an example interview subject and how I might approach questioning someone like him about open access.  Also had a tasty dinner and good company for a change mid-week. Which was lovely.

Thursday

A day of no interviews.  Odd that, especially since i won’t be seeing anyone today (bar the neighbour who popped round with a tech support question mid morning and had to deal with my glazed “I’m reading Marxist theory” look).  Today was about a spot of Marx.  There’s a better book I’ve tracked down that I’ll pick up next week at the uni, so for now I’m reading a less accessible text to just try and ground some of the ideology, phraseology and concepts before I engage with it.  Hopefully that’ll mean I’ll get more value out of it.  Certainly each bit more of Foucault I read is a little easier to access, so I’m hopeful my brain can be tamed/trained.

Last couple of hours spent in a blizzard of transcription – wrote up two by challenging myself to focus for two hours.  Clearly gamification of transcription is the way to motivate myself.

I also heard back from two papers I’d requested via our local inter-library loans service.  As the former manager of a ILL service (and past Chair of FIL) I always appreciate the efforts that people go through to get stuff.  Sadly the BL didn’t hold these papers, no other library did so the library suggested I approach the author (tricky since the last trace of him is in 2007…).  The journal’s website is defunct as well, so there’s no use even trying buy them from a publisher (and this would rather frustrate my professional ethics!) In frustration I did a quick and dirty websearch with the article  titles…and found both them straight away in full text open access.

I’ve always been curious why most ILL staff don’t do a Google Search for papers as a matter of course (yes, and indeed I should have done my self before putting in the ILL request, bad ex-librarian/stoopid student) – especially as it was something I used to do and exhort my team to do as a option of last resort.  A lot of library customers for some reason don’t like links to websites I’ve found, preferring a nice crisp British Library photocopy through their door.  Ah well, I’ll remember next time – Google before you use your library, it’ll be quicker, cheaper and more effective!

Friday

4 interviews today, a spot of Marx and a whole heap of transcriptions.  As I’d woken up at dawn I ended up starting work at 7.30am, and only knocking off after 5pm as my last interview was 4.30pm today.  A whole 30 minutes for lunch and a whole heap or work really.  Next person who tells me it must be nice to lay around all day as a student might just have to face the big green llama Hulk! 😉

Sadly one interviewee wasn’t available today when I phoned, which is a shame but it turns out they were trapped in a looooong meeting, so we  rescheduled for next week.  But all the interviewees who did pop up today were a treat once more, and I finished the day with interview number 60!

And since as it’s been on hell of a long week, here’s my favourite academic singing my favourite song about academic life.