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.

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