Regular readers will note I’ve managed to hide no fewer than 2 jokes in its pages – albeit minor ones. And that’s not including the doubtless myriad of typos that are still in there too.
Guess this means I need to revise the other pages of this blog now to bring them up to date too. Now, I just need to either re-write the whole damned thing into a book – or start writing some papers from it…the labour never ceases!
Yes, I know, shocking. I’m writing about my PhD again, something I’ve not done for a long time. Why? Well, because essentially all of 2016 was writing, editing, revising, rewriting and then more editing. Oh and panicking, there was a quite a bit of that when I realised I wasn’t going to make my official deadline (thanks to family deaths, illness, general life events etc). Thankfully, and despite the usual scaling of Mount Administration, I got an extension through to Jan 2017. I was ready to submit before Christmas, but gave myself the first couple of weeks of the new year for a final proof-read and tidy before submitting on 18th Jan 2017.
Setting the Date
I kinda expected the viva would take place within about three months post-submission, since THAT’s what the university’s own regulations stipulate. And given I’ve had to keep to their administration rigid timetables myself, you’d expect the same to be true for their own efforts.
Yeah, I know. Anyone who’s spoken to me or read my earlier posts, knows that my professional opinion of the university’s administration layer is low, and my personal one is probably not repeatable in public. Hence, consider how much foul language I’ve used when finally I got the viva date set for 15th June 2017: 5 months post submission. This really wasn’t ideally, especially for applying for jobs where having had the viva could have made all the difference between securing paid employment and not even getting an interview. I really feel the university has damaged my potential future earnings and career by their poor speed of turnaround. Glad I had the opportunity to feedback on this in the recent PGR student survey, but this couldn’t make the viva happen faster.
I’ve been trying (and failing) to read 10 pages a day of the thesis in the build up to the 15th June. Certainly, once I hit May (the month, not the PM) I made a redoubled effort to try and get through the chapters again. I’ve probably eventually re-read it about three times fully, with one final skim through in the last couple of pre-viva days. It struck me as being not too bad at all, although I kept finding the odd niggling grammatical error. I know far worse theses have passed muster, as I’ve flicked through them over the years, so I wasn’t letting this stress me out. All the same it’s frustrating to realise that despite all the careful proofreading by me and Mrs Llama, these things still slipped through.
The Day Arrives
I was pretty calm, and relaxed about the approaching date, although my sleeping patterned had gone to hell. I partially attribute that to the light June mornings – I do not do well here, and Mrs Llama insists on leaving the bedroom door open to let more light flood in. Given a free hand for my own room arrangements, I’d be sleeping in a dark, dark hole all summer long!
On the day, I packed some water, a hat and my thesis and headed off into campus bright and early. I planned to hideout in the library for the morning, having a last skim of vital parts (research rationale, claim to knowledge, theory, results, conclusions). The viva was set for a 13.15-13.30 kickoff, so I had some time to collect myself and my ragged thoughts. The library was (mostly) nice and quiet, until 11am when schoolkids on an open day came tearing through excitedly looking for “The horror section”. I think they were disappointed by what they found! Meanwhile, I was struggling more and more to keep myself calm. I indulged in a few BJ Blazkowicz-style breathing exercises, chatted to the Wife and tried to dissuade myself of the notion that the last page I just skipped over would be THE bit I should have read more closely.
Shortly afternoon me, and my rising nerves, headed over to see my supervisor for a chat and lunch. Or in my case, some camomile tea – I do not like eating ahead of interviews or other stressful events as my stomach tends to throw a fit. ‘Lunch’ was just what I needed, in that in our talk about future papers we’re aiming to write I was nicely distracted. Then it was time to head to CELS101 (yes, Room 101, thank you NTU for that Orwellian additional fear factor!) and face my panel. Well, it was time, but the Independent Chair was a very much ‘by the rules’ kinda guy, and hence I had a loooong wait (20 minutes, it SEEMED long) before I came in and things began.
Your Starter for 10
The viva itself was actually as I had hoped. A conversation between relative peers, focussed on my research, approaches, thoughts, conclusions etc. I didn’t feel stressed, I was able to talk (mostly) clearly about what I’d done, why and how it was important. All credit to the External and Internal Examiners for that. There was a very interesting debate over my conceptualisation of activists and indeed my whole ethnographic-framing, and that was probably the nearest I came to having to make it a viva-defence. Did my best to take their points on board, while at the same time making my own thinking and perceptions clear. Eventually, we ran out of questions, followed by a chance for me to ask them if there was anything they should have asked. Yeah, like I’m going to say “Hey, you should REALLY have asked about this bit, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing“. I suggested they could have asked ‘What’s your perfect Sunday?’, but that was about it. I was excused while the examiners took a comfort break and then deliberated their decision. I glanced at my phone – the viva had only taken 65 minutes.
Congratulations, Dr Llama
I didn’t have long to wait. 2 minutes. And was greeted by the Chair almost immediately saying “Congratulations, Dr Johnson, we’ve recommended that the thesis be passed with no corrections“.
Despite THIS moment being what I’ve been working towards, hoping for, for over 4 years…to finally hear it was beyond a shock to the system. I remember muttering some thanks, shaking everyone’s hand and trying not to beam like a loony. I kept thinking “No corrections…not even Mrs Llama’s PhD got passed with that!“. No thesis is perfect, and there was a lot of really useful feedback and suggestions from the examiners on how to improve it for publication as a book, or preparing it for journal articles (I’m not quite sure which yet). They also wanted to tweak a single word in the title to “Better represent the depth and breath of your research“…wow.
A New Dawn
Writing this two days later…I’m still not quite sure it all happened, there’s still that slight doubt that I dreamed it all and I’m still waiting for the viva. But I’m not. Sure, I need the official letter to arrive and there’s (hopefully) an amusing hat-wearing related ceremony to attend next month to get the certificate. Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes I am now a Doctor.
There was time for a quick drink and a chat with the examiners and my supervisor, which was a great wind down. Nevertheless, I was bursting to go home and see Mrs Llama to share the moment with her. Needless to say, she was quite excited too and we went out to dinner to celebrate.
All that remains now, is I just need to find a paying job that’ll make all the struggle, effort and learning really feel like it was worthwhile! Stay tuned for that one…
So, it’s finally arrived, the day that seemed at first infinitely far in the future, and in the last year crashingly close every day. Yesterday, I submitted my PhD thesis. And after completing around half-a-tree’s worth of paperwork and forms, after four long years I finally find myself at somewhat of a loose end.
To say the feeling is weird, would be an understatement. Certainly for the past year, if not two, I’ve woken pretty much every working day with a slight feeling of incipient panic that I need to be doing SOMETHING. Yet, there’s also been that feeling that I’m forgetting something, that by doing Task X today, Task Y is being neglected, while hidden away from sight, Task Z lurks…waiting to trip me up when it suddenly becomes Task Right Bloody Now!
I anticipated yesterday was going to be a long day, I perhaps didn’t count on how long. In at 9am to spend three hours nurse-maiding a printer to run off the required submission copies, and running afoul of my university’s not well articulated format settings. Spotting some minor errors that upon correction necessitated junking a copy of two as they utterly threw off the page settings. I tried not to give into feelings of panic either, as the minutes ticked by – knowing the print unit closed around 2pm, and that I also required to get a physical signature off my supervisor for the submission form. While he’s a great guy, my supervisor can prove hard to track down physically at times, and is also very forms-phobic. I’m with him on that! In the second decade of the 21st Century, why the fuck I need to collect a physical signature and submit physical thesis copies is maddening. I have to submit an electronic copy anyway, as well. Just one of many, many niggles about the university administration I’m coming away from this experience with.
Having bound the thesis, and following a long walk and a tram ride, tracked my supervisor down in the city centre campus (I’m based at the out of town campus). Signed form, multiple abstract copies and bound thesis in hand I strolled to Stalag Luft Graduate Office. Or Doctoral School. Or Graduate School…or honestly whatever name they’re calling themselves this week, they’ve rebranded about four times while I’ve been studying. They’re also hidden away, on the fourth floor of an anonymous building, with a reception point…behind a security locked door. Really weird that last one, you have to know who you want to see and ring to be allowed in…almost like the staff don’t want to interact with us students. As up-front-customer service paradigms go, it’s not a winne. Odd really, as when you do meet and talk to the staff, they’re lovely. Perhaps they’ve had one shouty student too many over the years.
The hand in moment was…beyond anticlimactic. Over four years of my life and thousands of hours of labour, dealt with in an exchange lasting less than thirty words. Most of them me asking about viva arrangements. And then it was all done, bar the viva of course.
Afterwards my supervisor took me for a pint, a chat about next career plans (I’m flexible, I’m available, I’m not sure I’m staying in this country) and initial viva tips. My personal favourite “You know all those articles that tell you how to pass a viva? Don’t read them!” It was, to say the least, a really useful and enjoyable chat.
And then, all the Nottingham trams stopped due a traffic incident and I was stranded 5 miles from my car. Okay, I could have caught the bus but I had a) no idea which bus to catch and b) no idea where said bus went from and c) really hate riding busses during flu season. So, I walked the 5 miles across town, moor, riverside and express way in the gathering gloom and fog to my car, to drive home to the next phase of my life.
What exactly that’s going to be…I just don’t know for sure. I do hope it involves less sitting in a cold, dark and somewhat damp house for hours on end on my own!
Well December just flew by with a whole heap of analysis and coding, along with a very useful meeting with my supervisory team. I even found time to catch up a little bit on my reading, although my to-read pile seems to get higher by the day. I suspect I’ll barely have dented it by the time I get to the end of the PhD. And that end, is nigh. 2016 is the final year of my PhD and the end of September my absolute deadline. When I started the date on my university card seemed impossibly far into the future, and yet now it feels ominously close. It’s already giving me sleepless nights worrying about getting everything done in time. During the day, well that doesn’t seem quite so impossible but it’s still giving me the collywobbles.
Continuing to enjoy my new job as it moves into its third month, perhaps not moving forward as fast as I’d hoped on some aspects, but I think that’s down to my enthusiasm to crack on with work. After 4 years of largely only having to motivate myself, it’s taking a bit of getting used to, to once again rely on other people to do things. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say how much I look forward each week to my day of non-PhD work – as it feels more than ever like I’m doing something more concrete a lot of the time.
Was quite excited when my two worlds of work and research collided and I heard about the launch of the White Rose University Press this week. With my research hat on, I’m very interested in the role of university presses as a counter to industrial scale publishing hegemony. With my job hat on, I’ve an interest in how these sort of presses function on a practical and operational level. Now if I could just afford the time and money to go to the University Presses’ conference in Liverpool this year, I could find out more – but that’s not going to happen. Not unless I want a lot more sleepless nights worrying about lost time!
And here we are once more at the two week catch up – and what an eventful couple of weeks it’s been.
Started my p/t job this week with the Mercian Libraries Collaboration. I was excited before I started…which was unusual for a new job, normally I’m quite nervous and full of apprehension the first day, but I was just champing at the bit to get stuck into this one. Lovely first day, meeting with various people at Leicester who I used to work with (and most of whom didn’t realise it’d been 3.25 years since they’d seen me). Lots of very familiar faces, and a handful of new ones. Felt very welcomed, and that’s not even going to be my office home for the long term*. Lots to get into, read about and bring myself up to date on, and even have the use of the Project Room as my office – well, when no one else’s booked it! But I rather like the nomadic existence, which is just as well as a lot of this job is going to be about being on the road certainly for the early days. Now I just need to find out where my tech and work mobile are coming from and I’ll be totally good to go. All in all, a very positive commencement – I almost regret I’ve only the 1 working day a week to give to this!
Now if I can just stop myself saying Meridian or Mercenary when people ask me whom I’m working for, I’ll be happy. Mrs Llama just keeps shouting “MERCIAN!” at me, as though she’s just escaped off the set of The Last Kingdom.
Went into campus at the crack of dawn one morning, to pick up the new software key for Nvivo. During the 30 minutes I was on site I met an academic friend, printed off dozens of pages and admired the new central building (The Pavillion). Not bad. And then was home before 9am!
The big job of the past couple of weeks has been finishing off the second of the two coding frameworks I’ve been building. So the code books are all written, and the definitions are all in place. Now in the process of creating then in NVivo (and reteaching myself NVivo as I’ve forgotten bits of it). Which means next week – all is go for the full coding phase!!! Much excitement and celebration at this point.
Following a discussion on FriendFace and Chitter this week about where Linked.In harvests the rather random suggested contact names from (seems it’s largely from the app which sneakily scans your GMail unless you remember to block it), went on to explore the wonders of endorsements. Which thanks to a number of chums means I now have some VERY interesting skills on my profile. There’s a lot of interesting debate too around the dissonance between what your connections perceive as your skill base vs what you know are your actual skills. I’ve done some rearrangement on my skills, to try and highlight a bit more the things I’m rather better at professionally…still not 100% sure what the Hades the skill Library is anyway!
Mrs Llama tells me she likes to randomly endorse people for skills in the hope they might return the favour, so I’ve been doing that as well. Feels rather akin to FriendFace’s poking of old mind you me. Anyway, feel free to endorse me for something…or should I say something that’s not Activated Sludge (you know who you are!).
Other odds and sods
Filled in an AHRC survey about changes to PhD funding. Delighted to see they want to move to a 4 year standard…wish they’d done that with me.
Tried filling in another survey about gaming/gambling research from some local scholars. Gave up on about question 746. Not the best example of questionnaire design I’ve come across, and a strong argument for using a different methodology IMHO.
It’s been another couple of weeks, and frankly I’ve spent most of the time engaged in creating, consolidating and refining my qualitative concept coding framework for my field work data. From those of you who know what it’s like, you’ll understand why I’m starting to see patterns forming in everyday life. Woke up in the middle of the night yesterday having suddenly analysed the plot of You, Me and the Apocalypse and worked out the ending*. Just about avoided waking the Wife up to tell her my revelations!
Hopefully next week once I’ve finished this process, and writing my concept code book, I’ll be able to start running through my final test coding phases, make the final modifications and then break out NVivo all over again. Just about at the point where my yearly licence runs out and I’ll need to pop to campus to get the new software key! Gah.
Had a very useful conversation with my new line manager (at least for the first 6 months) mid-week, and it looks like all being well I’ll be starting off in the new role at the beginning of November. That is of course assuming HR can get their respective ducks in a row by then, and I’ve never known HR to roll at any realistic speed, so I’m currently taking that all with a pinch of salt. Not had written contracts through yet either, which means I don’t really want to start talking too much about what I’m doing publicly until I’ve signed on the dotted line! Suffice to say I’m really actually very excited about starting in the job, and I think there’s a great deal to do in/with it! So roll on November.
Meanwhile, finally heard back from the last of the other 4 jobs I’d applied for around the same time as this one. Not too bad all in all, a 40% application:interview ratio. A little surprised one of them (a media librarian post) I didn’t ever get an interview for, as I was a damned good match and wrote a storming application. Ah well, guess it wasn’t to be…and anyway, I’d already accepted this (exciting) job!
Met with my supervisor last week to discuss a joint conference paper proposal for next year. Really animated (and long) meeting where we discussed my research findings to date, looked a bit into the analysis and dealt with some of my concerns over word limits. I think I’m going to have to do some pruning as I’m close to the university’s limits, but I’ve yet to really establish how absolute they are. Graduate Office tells me one thing, supervisor another. So for now, I’ll keep on writing, but it does look like I get to chop one of my proposed chapters – just wouldn’t fit!
Also looks like I’m going to have too many results for the thesis (!), so potentially already thinking how/where to publish these in the new year. Once the thesis is closer to its final shape of course.
Oh yes, I also carried out one bonus research interview – one of my actors who I thought had dropped out of contact, got back in touch. And a very useful set of insights it was too, glad I went ahead with it. But that’s it, final line really drawn under it all. Short of someone from my UK government approaches reappearing, I can’t foresee doing any more. Kinda going to miss this element of talking to people, finding out what they’re doing…but then it looks like that’s going to be part of the new job. So one door closes…
And that’s it…other than dealing with an unreliable tradesman in between all this, and a still fairly sickly Mrs Llama. And now…back to the coding framework.
*In case I’m very wrong (we’re only on ep4 of 10), and to avoid spoiling it for anyone else…I’m keeping quiet on this!
Well there goes another week, and what a week it was. Well, actually it’s been about 7 working days since the last post, but you know what I mean. Or at least I hope you do. Actually, the idea that anyone will ever understand anything I write is weighing heavily on me at the moment, as I’ve been working on writing the introduction to the second field work chapter in my thesis. I can’t believe it’s taken me the best part of 3 days to get 3,000 words into some vague semblance of coherency. And then of course Mrs Llama looked over my shoulder and told me it was gibberish in a lot of place. Just what I need, more stress!
Aside from the writing I’ve been working on developing the coding frame for my qualitative analysis of my phase 2 field work. Having gone through this process once before, this time I’m hopeful that I can speed it along a little bit. And from the progress I’ve made in a couple of days, I am fairly confident that it will be sorted by next week, and I’ll be able to kick off the full-scale coding of the data. I’m aware though I’ve actually two sets of data to work on, and this is only the coding for the first chunk, hence the need for a little more speed. But truth be told, the data in total is not quite as massive as my first field work – thankfully!
Unexpectedly one of the potential interviewees I thought had just stopped replying to my emails a couple of months ago suddenly re-appeared in my inbox yesterday. Since they belong to a group that I’d like to hear a little more from, I’ve made arrangements to speak to them next week. Thankfully it’s before I’ve done any coding work on the actor interviews, so it’s not something that’s going to derail me.
I did have a little outing on Tuesday to the city campus. I’d been invited along to meet with the sponsors who bank rolled (pun intended) my trip to Vienna. Having slogged my guts out over the poster for that in recent weeks, I was rather looking forward for a chance to say ‘thanks’, to have some discussions with some non-academics about the value of my research etc, and perhaps to meet a few other PhDs and seeing their posters. As it was I think I was the only PhD recipient of the scheme to turn up; all the rest seemed to be undergrads who’d gone off on some form of sponsored internship as part of a related scheme. Not to mention no posters were visible – which leads me to the conclusion that they’re in the bank’s vault somewhere to be dragged out whenever they want to show ‘Hey look, we do community stuff’. Really wish I’d not spent a fraction of the time I did agonising over its production now!
As the VC and the banking chief signed another 3 year concordant, I realised I was just meat in the room – there to make up the numbers and make the bankers present feel important. And there were a LOT of bankers. It was also very interesting to hear the VC and the chief banker talk about all the lovely synergies between HE and the finance sector…which I did my best not to mutter about into my beard. Actually, I’d tried my best to put on my best PR face having gone in my lovely velvet jacket, but as the room turned out to be rather warm was slightly regretting it. I did have a brief discussion with one of the senior banking chaps about my work, but he was mostly determined to find out if the investment of my time (and their money) had been worthwhile, before making a swift exit to talk to someone more interesting. It wasn’t a total waste of a four hour round trip for me, I did get lunch and Mrs Llama got some biscuits I bought on the way back to the station. But it wasn’t really the most profitable use of my time, that’s for sure.
Aside from that the only noteworthy news this week is that I was offered the job I was interviewed for. After a bit of thought, and mild salary negotiations, it looks like I’ve going to take it. And naturally I’ll talk a bit more about it, once the ink’s dried on the contract (currently, I’m at the verbal acceptance stage and haven’t signed anything). As for the other jobs I’d applied for, 2 of them I’ve heard nothing a couple weeks after the closing date. But of the other 2, one at Sheffield Hallam turned me down (but were decent enough to tell me), and another one – a very interesting RA job for 3 months invited me to interview. I turned them down with some considerable regret – the job was a little bit further away than I would have liked (~90 miles) and 2 days a week – so it could well have eaten into my research time a bit too much. All the same, it was very flattering to get that far, and hopefully bodes well for when I’m applying for full-time jobs…you know, once I get this PhD done and dusted.
And not even time to mention my epic 12hr roundtrip to London on Sunday evening to see Weird Al in concert. Utterly, totally worth the trip – but boy was I wasted on Monday. At least I’m still a student for now, and can do these occasionally mad things without worrying too much about being up at the crack of dawn on a Monday!