Submission

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!

 

Annual Review Take 2

Monday

Suffered a case of the post-weekend loss of motivation today, but eventually kicked into gear to polish and reformat my oral report to the review panel for tomorrow.  Now makes more sense, comes in under time and hopefully will kick off a useful discussion.  Have decided that I’m not so much treating tomorrow as a defense of my work, but rather a dialectical engagement in which I can see what insight my assessment team can bring to bear.  May or may not bear fruit, but I think it will hopefully be an interesting discussion at least.

Took an early lunch break and then sorted through my chapter papers, although I couldn’t face sitting and writing. Tomorrow is preying on my mind a little.  Instead I sat down and read a short book on critical theory.  Like all method books it was a swine to get into, and a lot of it passed over my head.  But there were some very interesting bits related to Hegel and Gramsci that really resonated with my topic.  I’m a little clearer about what CT is now, which should make my use of critical management studies slightly easier.  Or at least I hope it will!

Also had an email following up on something I’d been discussing briefly a few months ago, only to have it go very quiet.  So quiet that I was beginning to wonder if I hadn’t dreamed the whole exchange.  But no, looks like there’s been some slow movement at the other end that’s holding things up.  Looking forward to being able to talk about this one openly (it’s not that exciting, but it is a very interesting opportunity none the less).

Tuesday

Talk, damn you! Spill the beans about the applicability of critical management theory in a post-Marxist analysis of HE...
Talk, damn you! Spill the beans about the applicability of critical management theory in a post-Marxist analysis of HE…

Today’s the big day” (to quote Bruce).  Annual review meeting in the morning with both my supervisors (and internal assessor) in the same room for the first time with me in 9 months.  It was hard not to look at this as another mock version of the viva…which while down the line a few years, will probably be upon me before I know it.  I can confess no small amount of terror running through me this morning.  Not sure why, as my supervisors and assessors are helpful and generally quite nice people.  By the time I hit campus I could actually feel my flight or fight reactions kicking in (which for me means my stomach turns upside down and I get hit by chronic belching as well – gee thanks bizzaro-belly).  Half a tonne of chalk later it calmed down enough for me to go into the meeting.

It was actually very constructive, and for the first half I took them through my research findings – which to be honest I’ve not had a chance to present internally yet!  They seemed genuinely interested and in places excited by them.  That’s good, I’ve been working with them so long that right now they seem to have lost a little bit of a shine.

The rest of the meeting while far from the grilling I perhaps feared, did address some of the concerns I’ve got about the theoretical bits of my research (aka the bit that keeps me awake with worry about in the small hours of the night).  Looks like I need to basically finish my current chapters and then work on developing this before I do any more field work.  Bit of a pain as I was looking forward to more interaction with people, but I confess I totally agree with their assessment.  I need to break the back of this one, and while now I’m feeling a bit clueless – hopefully in the next couple of months I’ll really develop it.  I think I might approach it by writing a chapter about the search for theory…if nothing else than to codify my own understanding and give us something to talk through.  Whether that makes it to the thesis or not, well that’s another matter.

Might even get another conference paper out of maybe!  Speaking of which, looks like my submission to iFutures conference has been accepted and I’ll be off to Sheffield in July.  Excited about that as it looks like it could be a great event.  Think I also get to have my paper published too, which will be a nice little bonus.  Not been back to Sheffield in a devil’s age, so this will be nice.  Although…gah, that means another deadline for me to hit!

The afternoon was spent writing up the notes from the meeting in long form (for me and my supervisors to use) and pointless short form (to satisfy the institution’s managerialised bureaucratic requirements).  Useful to go through this right now while the grilling…sorry…discussions are still fresh in my mind.  Also had to update my academic CV, and was astonished I’d got about 6 new conference papers to add to it.   A requirement for yesterday’s super-secret-engagement (which it looks like I’m all but confirmed for from Sept 2014 onwards).

Elsewhere it was the PG Research Festival, where I see that my chum Ania won the 3minute thesis comp. Way to go Ania!  Wish I had time to attend these things…but looks like I’m nose to the grindstone til…oh about late 2016 right now…

Wednesday

I said Mr Motivation...not Mr Motivator!
I said Mr Motivation…not Mr Motivator!

Feeling wiped out today, despite having a long night’s sleep.  Begrudgingly finished off my notes write up from the day before and modified my report, but other than that pretty much a #Fail of a day for me. Plan to get up tomorrow and relocate Mr Motivation.  It’s one of those days where the total lack of anyone else’s office to wander around to for a long chat and exchange of ideas really sucks.

Most thrilling thing that happened all day was an email exchange with one of my fellow PhDs who’s waiting on her panel review at the moment.  We ended up trading motivational music videos.  Go team Culture & Media PhD support network!  I suppose this is as near as I’ll get to that little chat today.

At least I’ve my students’ essay marking to look forward to next week, that should be somewhat more stimulating!

Thursday

Let’s start the day as I did, with a spot of astrophysics.

Love this series of weekly videos, if only someone did these for social theory!

Day spent adding in content to my analysis chapter, aside from 30 minutes or so when I read through a preview of one of my student’s essays.  They’d asked me to cast a critical eye over it to see if they were on the right tracks.  Wasn’t bad, although I did spot a few issues (lack of any reference list, sigh).  Did wonder with the deadline for submissions being tomorrow if I will get a flood of emails asking for help.  Right, time to pack up work and go and vote in the EU elections…if I can find someone I can intellectually/ethically/morally vote for, in-between the “Anti-EU” bigoted candidates.

Friday

Today I’ve been doing more editing on my analysis chapter.  This sounds straight forward enough, except what I’ve actually been doing is going back through my data analysis and pulling out representative quotes from the various themes to illustrate my narrative.  Along the way I also realised I really needed to improve the standardisation of my anonymisation.  In part so readers of my thesis (all 4 of them) can see what kind of university I’m pulling the quote from, but also to ensure that I can go back directly from a quote some time in the future and work out which of my interviews I pulled it from.  I’ve developed a simple spreadsheet to hold all this cross referencing data, and I’m much happier with the tagging than I was with my original approach.  Of course I did then have to go back into the earlier parts of the chapter and retro-actively fix the references there as well.

I’m close to finishing an initial draft of this chapter, which is great as I’m hoping by next Friday to have something I can leave for a week or two and focus on my other two chapters in progress instead.  Fingers crossed 4 days next week will be enough editing time!

Gee, thanks UKIP
Gee, thanks UKIP

I also tried to book onto an AHRC course that popped up in my inbox yesterday – only to discover that registration closed at the end of April.  Gee thanks AHRC for the advance notice on that one!  On the reserve list so we’ll see if anything comes of that.  And having stared at a screen for far too long this week, I’m off outside to enjoy the long Bank Holiday weekend.

Oh, thankfully no flood of emails.  Huzzah.

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]