February 25, 2015
No detail of my confirmation viva, nor the destruction I’ve caused to my nerves, would come close to describing the relief I feel today. I am pleased to confirm that I’m through! After a meeting of over an hour followed by an agonising twenty-minute deliberation – whilst my supervisors and I waited outside, I was given some recommendations and informed that I am now a confirmed PhD student. This sounds like zero progress, but this is huge considering I faced being kicked off the programme in October. The letter of my unsatisfactory performance was as recent as January 14th.
What does this mean now? It means with doing the recommendations of the panel (which add about three months work) I can move ahead with the research. I have received a nod from the university for the topic and how I intend to study it. I have successful defended its potential theoretical contribution and (less importantly) its practical. I can move ahead with the empirical work soon. The recommendations are sound and although they will add three months work now, they will save a some time during the analysis stage- so I’m hoping to remain on target for a completion in 2016. Anything beyond that would be financially, psychologically and probably physically no longer feasible.
Today I will just remind myself that I’ve passed, upgraded, transferred, confirmed or whatever the hell anyone wants to call it.
February 24, 2015
The date has been set (25th Feb aka tomorrow) and since I handed in my confirmation report and chapters I haven’t even read my own work since. Although I did nothing to prepare like I had imagined, I did agree to meet my supervisor before the viva. I landed in London yesterday and met him in the evening. His advice was to be prepared to answer confidently on the theoretical work within the submitted chapters, and to read up on sampling for the methodology. I’m spending the day alone promising myself I will at least re-read what I have sent. After all they would be reading it now and I risk them knowing it better than I do!
I’m on my third coffee and more than half-way. I will have dinner with my family and read the rest tomorrow. My confirmation viva is not until 2pm.
February 2, 2015
I worked non-stop to produce my confirmation report by the deadline and indeed the three chapters attached to it (plus the first draft of my methodology chapter). It’s funny how we wait for validation and this very wait can make us stop doing any work. The day after I sent my document to the printers, I got on with jobs around the house that I had neglected. In fact the day I arrived home I was setting up new internet routers, calling the painter in to fix some patches, and had brought in an electrician to fit wall lights that until that day were an idea for the future. Within a week of being home, I felt good about being back and catching up with chores first, and then with family and friends.
January 18, 2015
When I said I would be moving to London and focussing on nothing but the PhD, It meant I would leave my wife and kids behind (and all of what that means!), delay and risk loosing a dream-job offer I had received (for a December start) and spend more money on tickets (yes again) and a temporary move… With all of this, I was genuinely worried I would do all of it and come back with nothing. On many levels, that would be worse than not going at all and quitting.
The good news is today I am able to breathe the sigh of relief and report that what will from today be known as ‘The Surge’ has worked! There is no doubt that since I started this PhD back in 2012, I have changed the wiring of my brain from a business man to an academic researcher. There is also no doubt that from knowing very VERY little about how motivation works, I have become an expert in the area and familiar with all the major theories and thinkers in the field. I’ve also learned how to read and understand a paper without reading the acknowledgements twice and wondering what font they’re using. However all of this is (and wasn’t) enough to show progress in a PhD. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was on my way out of the programme, if I did not submit a confirmation (called transfer or upgrade in other universities) report plustwo chapters by mid January.
I had written (and very poorly) about 9,000 words on motivation describing it very generally and textbook-like. This and the learning above was all I had to show for my time on the PhD. When I started working in the first week during The Surge, I had already deleted 5,000 of those words at the very least.
Today I have completed a literature review on the topic of motivation which is a lot more critical than the first attempt back in summer 2014. Another literature review of organisational support, and another on previous studies in Kuwait as well as Kuwait’s culture. This, together with a methodology, brings my current word count to 40,000 words in four chapters. The thesis is effectively half-written if I can pass my confirmation at the end of February.
All in all this is great news – because I will not be kicked off the course and my lifeline continues until my February meeting when I hope to get the nod for the next steps… I believe I have now caught up to where I should be at this stage… and all it took was 7 weeks of 16 hour days with only four days off (did some reading and editing on those). This really hasn’t been easy – but like I said before: it was never meant to be.
January 2, 2015
I just spent five wonderful days catching up with my wife and kids, my family and my friends. I even found time to think, plan and do nothing. Cycling, meals out and zero reading and writing for almost a week. I flew back to London on the first day of the year, and today I make a start on my final two weeks of the big push that I started early November. It will not feel like I’ve achieved anything until I’ve passed the confirmation (or transfer) which will most likely be sometime in February/March. However, I will not be where I am today had I stayed in Kuwait and just hoped for things to get better with the hour here and there that I was spending on my PhD.
First meeting of the new year with my supervisor(s) is this week – hope we all come back on the same page as that’s one frustration I could really do without. Two more weeks before I submit my report. It’s half ready at present and will be complete by then if I put in all the hours God has given me in the next fortnight.
December 25, 2014
There is no explanation for what has happened in the last three or four days. I can only describe it as mission creep. I haven’t been able to do much on the literature review, nor for that matter on anything else. Apart from visiting family and friends for Christmas, I have done very little else. My drive is no longer there, not even for exercise or photography (exactly… something is not right!). I was laughing at myself when even the TV remained off as I sat reading the evening paper in the living room.
I guess I need to see my wife and kids and have a ‘normal’ few days to recharge. I’ll still have to do some work in the evenings but I need to catch up with them. This has probably been the longest I’ve been away from them- matched only by the summer breaks which are altogether very different. Anyway – I will have five days back home to breathe a little; then back here on the first day of the new year to make a final push to the mid-January deadline.
December 19, 2014
Well… that was a short-lived celebration I fear. I’m back to being confused again after a strangely short and misleading meeting a couple of days ago. It was followed by an email from my first supervisor asking why I’m not involving him. There is clearly a serious communication issue here. I can probably figure it out – but is it really my role to CSI the situation? In any case, I reassured my supervisor that I am doing nothing other than my PhD since the beginning of November, and that my bad communication is unintentional. For God’s sake I’m trying and failing to meet my second supervisor who in theory should be available at least once a week- why on earth would I not involve anyone?
I suggested a joint meeting but with Christmas around the corner, it is not going to happen! It’s back to email with one and, Skype with the other; and back to me wondering if I’m on the right road. At least I’ve found my road so I’m no longer as lost as I was in a couple of months ago. My navigation skills have improved somewhat- so I will push, pull, force, kick and punch my way forward- and hope and pray for the best in the new year.
Frustrating times again- and really missing my wife and children (and cat).
December 8, 2014
A week after my second literature review was submitted, I met my second supervisor yesterday who seemed genuinely impressed, and moved the conversation forward to focusing the research questions and some ideas on methodology. What a feeling! From nothing at all, to something worth discussing over a few weeks. Indeed, what has happened in the last six weeks would have taken that in months if not more if I stayed in Kuwait!
A few suggestions were made about how to direct the literature to the questions and we agreed to meet again a week later. I’m spending this week and next at the Surrey campus- it will be really good to connect and familiarise myself with my institution since I’m here longer than the usual 3-5 days.
December 2, 2014
The feedback on the first chapter is positive (difference between the traditional supervisor and the one with a more modern approach – but that’s expected) and there is clear agreement that it’s a departure from the sad first attempt back in the summer. Of course I always knew it had nothing to do with ability, and I’m glad my supervisors finally know that too. Some amendments have been suggested and I will work on them soon, but that’s not what made today a very difficult day.
The title of the second part of the literature review may suggest a departure from my original research. In many ways it isn’t a departure at all, it’s the autofocus kicking in as I zoom into my particular area. I only shared the work on Saturday (late night at that) and it’s only Tuesday today – so they haven’t yet read it. When I was asked why the change, I explained that the research took me there. In fact it’s the most normal thing to hear that the research focus shifts slightly over time. What I am perhaps not explaining well to them is that the last two months are equivalent to a much longer period, relative to the time I’ve spent studying the subject. It’s a frustrating day because although I feel ready to talk about my research questions and methodology, I need to wait for the second chapter to be read and for it will hopefully bring us all to the same page (no pun intended).
I therefore need to get through this week… Patience is not something I associate with what feels like a race. I know research is more of a marathon than a sprint- but at this stage of my ‘marathon’, I have no option but to sprint to make my final time look somewhat reasonable.
November 30, 2014
I have worked harder and longer on my research in the last three weeks than in the last year put together. The results are clear and I managed to send a re-written chapter two weeks ago, as well as a whole new one (that I started in September) yesterday. This covers 90% of my literature review. I have not seen my supervisors yet but I am meeting them this week which is great news and perfect timing. I just need to maintain the momentum and to start on my methodology this week. Very exciting time.
If you’re reading this because you’re a PhD student, I recommend wasting a little more of your time on phdcomics. It’s always good when we realise we’re not alone…