Back to Work with a capital ‘W’

This time it’s different, I’ve been telling myself… This time will be different, I’ve been telling my wife.  I just hope I’m right (and I believe I am).  The job I mentioned I had risked by moving to London has materialised, and with the blessing of God I am now back in full-time employment since May 1st.  The previous two months and immediately following my confirmation, I have been busy putting the ground work for what has become my new role in building a new government entity to support and fund SMEs.

Although it will take a huge share of my time, the challenge remains for me to balance my life and make time (and plenty of it) for my PhD work.  The good news is that I am now looking at my methodology, questionnaire design, and tidying up my hypotheses – all of which exciting work and requires serious effort. However, it does not suffer as much as working on the literature review whenever I’m interrupted by work, or anything else.  I can (almost) pick up and continue from I left off.

Summer will be a little slow with work pressure and a family holiday, but the autumn should see a significant drive.  Until then, I must ensure a trickle of effort continues to flow so I don’t have to start again in a couple of months.

Confirmed!

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.

Confirmation?

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.

The Wait

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.

The Surge

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.

BEFORE
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.

AFTER
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.

It’s 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.

Christmas Break-ing

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.

Week Six

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).

Week Four

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.

‘Much improved’ but why the change?

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.

Week Three

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.

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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…

Week One

Ok it’s just over a week and I am pleased to have just sent in a revised chapter to my supervisor for his feedback.  That’s a proper rewrite of 13,000 words and some 200 references. Now working on the next chapter and hoping to start on my methodology as soon as possible.  Waiting to Skype my supervisor as he’s still not back in London and will hopefully be even more clear about how to maximise the next few weeks in London.

Special blessings and a lot of help have come this way from my amazing wife.  None of this would be possible without her!

London

It’s day five and I have managed at least nine hours a day since getting here.  I should be able to do more considering I have NOTHING else to do.  I’ve even managed to get access (via sconul) to a local university library which makes my daily ‘commute’ a 15-minute walk.  Yes.  There are no excuses.  I am fortunate and extremely thankful.

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This week I managed to complete the structure of the second part of my theoretical framework (this would have taken me three weeks in Kuwait).  I should be able to send my supervisor a draft of the whole thing early next week.  He already has the first part (I sent it before I travelled) which he is reviewing and we will discuss soon.  Unfortunately, the same weekend I moved to London, he left fora 3-week trip to Canada.  It will therefore still be via Skype when we eventually speak again.  I hope to see him in person as soon as he returns.

Difficult but exciting time.  Difficult because I miss my wife and kids.  Difficult because I have left everything for her to manage (as well as helping me with my research).  Difficult but necessary.  Feels great to take control again.

7even

Was a little busy this morning, but I got to test out the theory of doing nine hours with zero waste today.  I had seven hours to test and I timed it without a minute wasted with any sort of distractions. No achievement to speak of though! Still learning my way around the process of critical writing … Need to learn and fast.  Tomorrow I will have a full nine hours and the timer will stop with any distraction – including my call with my supervisor (on Skype – I’m still in Kuwait).

Lockdown

Like it or not, the content of the annual report is mostly a true reflection of the status.  Yes… some was out of context, but frankly it has been 30 months and I have only done a year’s work at best.  I’m moving to the UK (I am so blessed I have a wife and family who support me – and not just in words) and will be there until I get this situation under control.  I will stay until I hand in my confirmation report which has been set to me as a make-or-break target.  Not going to be easy nor fun – but I’m remembering now it was never meant to be all fun – some pain is always necessary for anything worth having.

Breakdown?

It’s probably an unnecessary title but September ended up being slow after a whole month off in August.  I am paying the price in October.  Just when I’m starting to find my rhythm and the hours in the day, just as I restart communication with my supervisors in a face-to-face meeting on my way to the States.  Unfortunately after the first Skype call since July and after talking to my wife about spending daily sessions of uninterrupted six-hour slots, I receive my annual report.  Unsatisfactory again but very petty indeed.  I agree with its content overall, and with the new set objective – but it’s a punch below the belt considering only last week I was sitting in the same room explaining everything and putting it all into context.  Yes it has been 30 months… but with the extensive travel in job-one, switching to part time, and the demanding and somewhat draining job-two, coupled with health problems mid 2013 and a house build project earlier this year, I’ve actually only had a year or so on this research.  It annoys me on many levels and demotivates me (so to speak).   It also gives me the impression we have a serious breakdown of communication.

Student on Holiday

It’s been refreshing having time to catch up with my wife and kids. We even managed to spend a week in Paris and am now writing these words having had three meetings on Skype with my advisor. I sent an unfinished chapter on Motivation that we will no doubt return to one day. I’ve started the next chapter (headings and chapter plan only for now) and we’re talking about sample size and questionnaires which is great news. Not sure how the next few weeks will be – but I finally feel focussed on the research and am thinking about it from different angles. I’m also ensuring my days are spent as a student and evenings are family-and-me time. Hobbies such as photography and cycling have made a come-back too! Being a student and on holiday is a fun place to be: an important reminder to all those young people who wish their lives away wanting to rush to a working life after graduation.

Enough ‘Motivation’

Very much aware of the irony, but I need to move on from my chapter on Motivation and start my next chapter. In fact, if I’m going to go back to work later this year (I can’t remain a full-time student for long in case that’s not yet clear) I have to start thinking about my methodology too. I will send whatever I’ve done on the chapter to my advisor and hope we can call it a day on this for now. I hope to start my next chapter – on performance management – and to resume my Skype calls to talk about the next stage.

Back on Track

No more commutes, meetings, issues to deal with and strategy. Work on the house is completed apart from odd jobs here and there. My family are in London for the summer and I have a functioning study in the house. Coffee is my only excuse (fasting during the day during Ramadan) and even that is available during the evening. It’s time to drag this research back on track.

Resigned (again)

Decision time after my meeting with my supervisor and whilst not an easy decision it was a simple one to make. I said it many times and meant it, nothing should get in the way of this PhD and work – whether I liked it or not – had taken more time and energy than I had expected. Any other time in my life and this job would have been a great career to continue probably until retirement. The difficult period of setting up the teams and creating a positive environment was all done. It was time to look forward to the fruit but I will not be there for the harvest.

It’s just as well! Because although I was under the impression I was building something special, it looks like some members of management had other intentions. This would have been a battle I would have enjoyed winning but I have a more important battle of my own and I’ve never been clearer where to put my focus.

Homework

In case I felt I wasn’t distracted enough with life, this is how our home looks like today.  We are confined to one room and a dining table for a kitchen.  The plan was to study at my office at work but that’s about to change too (yes another post I think – just waiting for things to settle).  Must find time.  Must make time.

Unsatisfactory

Yes, it’s April.  No, I haven’t submitted anything to my supervisors for review.  I met my main supervisor last week who was very concerned.  I managed to reassure him but I will need to meet some serious milestones to show (in action not just words) that I am serious.  It is shocking how long I have taken on this chapter.  I reached 16k and tidied up the content to produce a cleaner 14k version in February.  Since then, very little has happened.  There are obvious gaps, and I’m hopeful that by the end of this month I will have something decent to call a draft.  The time I need for my research is just not there.  With all the pressure I put on my time outside work, I am still only able to produce an hour or so a day and a Saturday.  This is only possible with disappointed kids, family, friends: often all on the same day.

I am at a cross-road (yes another one) and it looks like a difficult decision has to be made – or has been made.  I feel the theoretical side of the research is something I can finally get my head around.  The practical side was always clearer.  To give up and let this slip out of my hands at this stage, and after some significant investments would be ludicrous.

 

‘More than a little disappointing’

This is what my supervisor said when I sent him an honest update of my delay – yet again – in getting some serious writing done. I’m so behind, I only found time today to update this blog.  January was hectic at work and, with the end-of-year appraisals for my team and bank-wide, it flew like superman shooting to the moon.  The truth is: there is time.  There is always time.  It’s focus and, ironically, motivation, that are lacking.  Moving the PhD office to work… didn’t work like I had planned.  Interruptions I expected, but deliberately finding a distraction is something I simply need to stop.  Even outside the office, I spend way too much time on social media.  The latter I’m not sure I want to stop – it provides sanity and contact that I enjoy.

I need to change the perception of my supervisor who was not reassured – despite my nice emails.  His most recent reply included not only the title of this post, but also a line that said he found my progress ‘unsatisfactory’.  I promised a chapter by the end of February (25th today and I’m just over the halfway mark); and another smaller chapter by the end of March.

Moving!

December? Really?

Life (mainly my work life) is getting in the way.  I need to get my act together or this will simply not happen!  I haven’t made any progress in the past five weeks.  Nothing at all, not even any significant reading.  If I stop and think how much I’m wasting on my university fees it may give me another kick – one that I probably need.  It’s time for some drastic action: less socialising (what it actually means is virtually zero socialising – at least for a while) and, more so, to know when to stop at work.  My work days seem to get longer and longer.  My two hours in the early morning are not well-utilised from cafe to cafe; and I’m too drained to do anything after a long day at the office and an evening jog.  Research time has been gobbled up by end-of-year appraisals and more new initiatives that seem to only add to my workload.  A long business trip (the first in months – but still) took out a good chunk of late November and early December – and any free time during the trip that was supposed to be for my research ended up being spent on much-needed leisure.

It’s not good enough!  Guilt – in case it isn’t apparent – is eating away in chunks.  My PhD now needs to muscle its way back into my life.  Decision: I am moving my PhD desk to my office at work.  This will give me two hours before ‘working hours’ and if I stay behind for two more hours I would get a total of four (pray, pray, pray).  This should be an absolute minimum but it’s a start.  On slow days (I am yet to have one!!) I could potentially take half an hour here or there on top – but I’m happy with the four if I can get them and would be very grateful.  Having my notes, books, papers open and ready all day will hopefully add to the urgency and reduce the time it takes to set myself up every time I find a good spot at yet another cafe.

I’m packing.  Should be in my new home over the weekend or Sunday at the latest.

Slipping if not careful

November already…  It would be unfair to say I haven’t had time to finish my motivation chapter – but if I had taken every available moment, I’m not sure I would be here today with the same frame of mind.  Travel is almost non-existent in my new job but long days with meetings are fast becoming the norm.  I am simply too tired to continue after a day at the office, short jog and family dinner.

My wife has been amazing and working out things at home (in fact doing everything in the morning including driving our kids to school) which gives me an hour or so in the early morning before I walk into the office and start my work day.  I need to get my act together and find more time in the week and focus better during the weekends.  Whilst I’ve missed this milestone (again), I will be able to submit something for motivation and performance management by the end of the year – and if I do that I will be happy.  As I write this I’m at 13k words.

Too many words… too little time

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I do not need reminding that this is an important milestone and a deadline to stick to.  I must complete my literature review on Motivation by the end of October.  On a short family holiday last week, I spent more time in the hotel lounge than anywhere else (including sleep) and am a third of the way as I write these words.  I need to get to the more quality content after finalising a draft structure and putting in around 10k words (of which half will probably remain) as an introduction to the topic and the relevant theories.

The Other Way Around

The most basic of time management skills would have taken me to where I need to be without much effort, yet somehow in my attempt to achieve good balance, I tipped everything over.  The main victim has been my study time with work, family, social engagements and exercise taking over the rest of my time: on most days, in that order.  Since February this year, I have been looking for scraps of time here and there for my study and this simply doesn’t work.  A chat with my wife last week spelled out the very obvious.  I need to make a change – and now.  I have to do things the other way around.

Study time has to be set, respected and utilised.  Life has to fit around my PhD.  This is especially true with me switching to part time and thus requiring a somewhat lighter daily investment .  Family stays number one (they let me get on with it more than any family could), work is no longer allowed to invade the rest of my time (not as much as it has been the past few weeks), exercise (not a luxury with my hypertension) will be shorter daily sessions instead of prolonged ones on alternate day.  Everything else needs to push its way in.

This sounds logical and simple, but I have missed it completely.  I feel a lot more positive now – even if I’m missing a major milestone as I type these words.  I can see that with this new approach I can quickly catch up, and meet the other milestones set for the next twelve months.

Tension

Another very busy period and very little time spent on PhD.  I have written more here on this post and the one from May than I have on my thesis.  I have done some more reading which, although sometimes feels like a waste of time, is very valuable.  The new job started off much busier than I had anticipated.  Restructuring my new department has taken a lot more time and effort than working hours provide.  I am arriving home very tired and am not working on my research in the evening.

With the job move I also discovered that I have excessively high blood pressure, so more exercise and less stress are both a must.  I will need to find my rhythm – and soon – in order to get back into it.

Good Job

Life has a way of planning the unplanned and no matter how much we put in place to create a path, God has a better one that may not always be what we expect.  As my first year ended with not much to show, another summer of job change was on the horizon.  Holiday plans have been cancelled, and I start a new job mid-May.  I’m taking the opportunity to meet friends in London over the weekend and I saw my supervisors earlier today to assure them I’m still around.  It looks like the part-time route is the right one since I am simply unable to find the hours every day to justify calling my research full time.  At this time I struggle to even call it part-time.  I have resigned from my job with Emerson and will be joining a local bank next week.

One of the first things I read – and may have mentioned on this blog – is not to get a job during your PhD.  I am now on my second job during the first year! The good news is that my new job will be in the field of Human Resources, which matches my research.  There is, thank God, no travel involved – or very little.  Compared to today this will hopefully make a significant contribution to my time pool.  I have agreed a new timeline with my supervisors for my literature review to be in by end of July (a draft version before if possible), the second half of the literature review (on the subject of Performance Management) by December, and my methodology chapter by June next year.

Year One

It really is hard to believe that it is one year since registering at Surrey.  It went by quickly and I have achieved less than I had anticipated.  However, when I consider that I took on a full-time job in July last year it is probably no surprise that I slowed down on the PhD project.  Today my achievement is a draft chapter one which I know will change 100%.  Effectively this puts me exactly where I started a year ago… but…

It was very much a year of discovery.  From knowing nothing about motivation, to knowing a lot more than the average human should.  I have read (or looked at) every book on the subject and am slowly working my way through key journal articles.  My aims and methodology are not clear but as I read more and more I am becoming familiar with what needs to be tested – and more importantly how to test it.  I have also begun to understand the academic world and the process of research at a whole new level.  I am asking and enquiring as I read and critique.  This is the part that I enjoy most: learning to have an opinion.

In short, I have nothing tangible to show for my first year – but I am supposed to hand in a draft of my literature review by the end of April.  If I do that, I would be very happy and with it I will be able to stay at my job and switch my PhD to a more realistic part-time programme.  The next meeting with my supervisors will be in May.  Until then I need to spend all the hours God gives me to finish my literature review.

Huge Leap Forward

It was a busy start to the week with preparations for a meeting and a whole day with clients in Reading.  The last few days have been wonderful.  The first time I really knew what I was doing with my writing and I was able to make a good start on the structure of my chapter as well as the headings.  Now it’s about filling in the right theories and presenting the relevant studies within the right headings.  Relatively simple but very time-consuming.

It has been great to be back at Imperial.  The library is well stocked with good internet coverage and comfortable working areas.  It’s also not very far by underground from where I live – which is a great bonus.  It’s going well.  I know I have a few business trips and engagements when I return.  I will take a week off in April to catch up with my family (I have seen very little of them) during the day and with my writing in the evenings. It’s probably the only empty slot I have left until the end of April when my literature review is due.

No-Study Weeks

From good to bad this week – but nothing unplanned.  A business trip, followed by a week’s training (with evening group work) left zero time for PhD.  Next week is another work trip – this time to London.  I will take a few days after including a weekend to get some serious work done.  I managed to get access (24 hours) to the library at my old university.  I should be able to spend some quality catch-up time if I stay behind after the meetings.

Study Week

The more I get involved in this project, the more I realise that an hour here and an hour there (even if they add up to half a day) are not the same as a good chunk of time taken together.  I took the opportunity of national day holidays to go to London and be alone with my research. I managed to do a lot of reading before meeting my supervisors.

photoMy review was a little more positive this time, and my next milestone is to hand in a draft literature review about motivation by the end of April.  ‘It’s about 500 words a day’ said my first supervisor.  Easier said than done with work and travel.  It also looks like I will be switching to part time in April.  We will make the final call then if I’m still working.

Busy End and Messy Beginning

The couple of weeks before Christmas, then my kids were home for the holidays, followed by a very tough period at work where three major projects have come alive together, have made the end of 2012 a very challenging time.  Just when I was connecting the dots and putting in place a map to build my knowledge onto, I am physically and mentally too busy to read.  The first two weeks of January have not been any better – in fact they’ve been worse.  I’m writing this in Dubai having spent most of the day responding to emails after a long day of presentations in nearby Sharjah.  I am drained and am surprised I have the energy to write this post (recovering from a cold too).  It must be the guilt of not reading for three weeks – and indeed not having any conference call contact with my supervisors.

I must (and will) take back control very soon.  I need to re-start the weekly calls and more importantly go back to my reading (and some writing). I will also book some time away from the office and away from family and friends… a PhD holiday of 100% focus on nothing other than my research… It’s time to sleep at the university library.

Uploading…

Reading at record speed recently.  I am having to slow down now and then when work is especially busy or when I travel.  Family and friends time is also suffering but I am going through a lot of material with some good progress on learning my area of research and linking the main theories together into a model that is starting to actually make sense.

Not Good Enough!

Ok so I’m not doing enough reading and my ‘draft’ of my draft literature review was a source of concern.  After a tough meeting with my supervisors, and dinner with my second supervisor, we have agreed weekly conference (Skype) calls to ensure I’m reading the right and relevant material – not secondary sources such as text books.  I need to do a full upload of everything written about Motivation over the past 60 years.  Like keeping fit, or controlling weight, this is simple but not easy.

One thing is certain: I agree 100% that I need to bring my learning and work up a level or two…

Eureka

Although there were words on paper that described – in detail too – what I wanted to do with my research, I was not quite sure what it actually meant.  What did I mean by ‘testing a theory’? It took me long enough to grasp the significance of theories and how they draw the pencil lines for management systems that come years (sometimes decades) later.  My draft of the Literature Review is forcing me to put down the little I have learned over the past few months into sentences and paragraphs.  My supervisors who have left me alone to get on with it thus far explained in our last meeting that my aims would become clearer after I finish the Literature Review.  Like many things I am learning in this process, I chose to ignore that and tried many times to adjust my aims to make it into a ‘real doctoral research’.  I kept asking them and my wife if there was enough there… Well, today I have finished my Literature Review plan (which is yet to be appropriately filled) and my God it is all making sense.  I almost know what I meant when I wrote my proposal over a year ago.  It should not be a celebration – but it sure feels like one.

Literature Review

I was not sure where to start and I was told by my supervisors that the best way to write one is to read a few Literature Reviews and not books on how-to… It is good advice and I am reading a few examples from theses online.  Howver, there is so much information online that I had to see something about the structure.  I wanted to make sure I am not falling into traps that other authors may have fallen into.  The best (and shortest) guide I came across is by UCSC and is available on their website:

How to Write a Literature Review

Update 11 October 2012: Here is another good one.

Month Five

It is hard to elieve that I started in April.  The draft of chapter 1 was received well by my supervisors but I have done very little since then.  The next agreed step is a draft Literature Review (Chapter Two) by the end of this year.  It sounds far away and enogh time – but when I think how quickly August went by without a single letter typed I feel a little anxious.  I have also done another PhD no-no and accepted a new job offer.  The hours work well (if there is not a lot of travel) and I shold be able to put in enough of an effort.  I just need to motivate myself to do so (not intended!).

I need to post about the apps that have made working remotely and from different locations easy.  They were put to the test during the final days of the chapter-one draft and most passed with flying colours.  More details on the next post.

Chapter One

From everything I read and everyone I speak with, this is the chapter that is written last. My supervisor agrees but has asked for it to be the first thing I do in order to set the scene for my research. I agree and it was in my plan for delivery sometime now. It will be a draft – and a weak one at that – but the idea is to ensure I’m starting off on the right foot. I’m meeting my supervisors on Monday and am writing this post instead of writing my chapter which I need to send by tomorrow (or Sunday at the latest). Oh and I’m also watching Wimbledon (Murray vs Tsonga) and am running the British10k in London Sunday morning. Madness!

Update: Miracles are possible… First British man since Fred Perry (1938) has made it to the Wimbledon final.

Motivation

It is ironic that I am writing here after a lull of two months and announcing that my PhD research is evolving into the subject of Motivation! Specifically it will be about Kuwait’s public sector and the problems that we have there with people not pulling their weights and demanding salary hikes matched only by bankers in the western world.

I have not been working as hard as I should be. However, I have been reading a lot about the subject and am becoming more and more fascinated. My senior supervisor suggested I draft the Introduction chapter – which is usually written last – in order to get my ideas into words. I agree with him and am now drafting my ‘Chapter One’ to share with my supervisors in the next week or so.

I need to update this blog more often if I am to look back at it as a diary. I will come back as soon as I have sent off my draft, to write about my paperless work-flow in case anyone else may find it useful.

Small World

I will be finalising my registration tomorrow and getting my library card. I am very excited to be able to work in an area where I am surrounded by thousands of books.

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Two big events this week: Meeting my supervisors tomorrow, and having my induction onto the PhD programme on Thursday. When I was informed about my induction, the email introduced Prof Mark Saunders as the Director of Postgraduate. The name rang a bell but I only scratched my head when I read his research area of Research Methods. The book I recommended last October when I was writing my proposal, has been written by him! Small small world.

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Day One

With the Easter holidays keeping the university quiet until next week, I have not yet actually started. I have however registered and am in the process of initiating my IT account in order to have a university email and access to the online resources. The next step is to join the library and get my ID card which will provide access to all sorts of doors and equipment on campus.

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In a couple of weeks, I will have a formal induction to the PhD programme. I am also looking forward to meeting my supervisors. I hope we can start a special relationship where I ask just the right number of questions and get just over the right amount in answers.

Ouch

I have left this post as late as I could to avoid jinxing any chances of getting funding for my three years of study. Unfortunately I have not been able to get sponsorship for my PhD from Kuwait and will therefore do it on my own expense. It will not be easy – nor cheap. I will, God willing, register tomorrow and pay the first installment. My wife and I have discussed this and she’s more supportive of it than any wife should be! The best way for me to reduce the ‘shock’ of using up our family savings is the analogy of a midlife crisis and pretending I bought a sports car… Just like that. At least this one will offer a little more return.

Student Again

Before I completed my research proposal, I contacted Surrey in September and mentioned my interest in the subject of Performance Management and wrote a paragraph describing my research idea. I received a reply that same day and was promised another from the Professor specialized in the field. The following day I received an email saying the idea and subject had merit and that I should submit a formal research proposal for review.

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When I completed my proposal in October, I shared it with many institutions and received very mixed feedback. Mostly positive with a common theme requesting more of a theoretical approach to add to the ‘existing body of knowledge’. This was fair feedback, but the main difficulty was the availability of supervision in my chosen area of research, not the shortcoming of the proposal. Surrey remained the only interested school so I put together my application and submitted it online before the end-of-October deadline. I also applied to King’s College London, who soon after advised me that they didn’t have a supervisor available. Imperial College London, where I did my Masters, told me the same before I even applied (they remained as my back up for September 2012 if needed). My only chance was with Surrey, who by December had reviewed my application and proposal in detail and had asked me to make minor revisions. I worked day and night for a week and sent in version two with the suggested changes, a few days before Christmas. This delayed the processing of my application and, thanks to the Christmas and New Year break, I was unable to start in January.

I visited the campus and met members of the faculty mid December. I had a chance to look around and to visit the library, who furnished me with a visitor pass allowing me to use their facilities. I felt welcomed before my application was finalized. It was looking good and the revised proposal seemed to capture what was required to proceed. The next few weeks were nothing but an agonizing wait.

It’s hard to believe we’re already in March and I am over the moon this week as I have received confirmation from Surrey of my place on their PhD programme to start in April. Next month, I am officially a student again.

Light

Photons of light are racing through the tunnel giving me hope of a start. I’ve learned in the past few months to assume the worst, and this light should therefore be considered as nothing but a speeding train racing toward me before I can contemplate which way to jump.

It does look a little better than that, I admit, and I will know for sure in the next ‘few weeks’. Until then I am again able to start making some plans, reading up on the subject of my research, and even starting to think how to introduce more focus into it.

Sleeping much better tonight.

It’s as simple as 1 3 2

I have been working so long in industry that I take it for granted how a customer is always King. My adventure with applications to different universities has been mixed to say the least. Websites are not updated and many links are corrupted. Faculty are working in silos and there is no focal point from the university’s side to talk about a particular research idea. The structure of the programme is only clearly presented by some institutions; and the guidelines are clear and detailed but often miss something as fundamental as a start date! I can’t help thinking that if I worked this way in my current, how many orders would we have missed?

The first step is to identify a potential supervisor which means it is my job to read the profiles of faculty and contact them with my proposal. To me it sounds strange that I, the customer, will do this work. The Admissions people simply advise you to contact the relevant experts. I understand why this is necessary, but there is no way of knowing who is and, more importantly, is not available to supervise! I am often writing to a professor and finding out a week or so later that he or she is not taking on new students. Only a couple forwarded my proposal internally to colleagues (why this is not the norm makes me want to punch my screen) and only one of those replied. Of all the universities I considered, only one profile of one faculty member mentioned that he was looking for students.

It is simple. But frankly not simple enough. It lacks a logic that I believe exists in the pragmatic and effective commercial world. The theoretical nature of academia means I am having to make people look down through the clouds at the real world in order to move things along.

The waiting is difficult, but it should not be much longer now…

Theory is Everything

After weeks of ‘research’ I was struggling to understand the link of management systems to theory. I was to write a Theoretical Framework section in my proposal. Why? What’s the point? What’s that got to do with the real world? Questions I usually fired at Consultants over the past many years.

Yesterday, at 9:19 in the morning while having a late breakfast (it was a weekend before you judge) my wife explained it all to me. It wasn’t the first time she explained it, but it was the first time I listened. I have been wearing the practitioner’s hat, or for the engineer in me the bloody hard hat, and have forgotten the role academics play in looking at the theoretical side of our world. Reflecting and describing patterns and causes and solutions after painstakingly studying their surroundings. I admire it, but I highly doubt I actually understand it. It’s going to be a fun journey.

The dreaded proposal document is almost complete. Applications begin this week.

Proposal? I’m down on both knees!

The Literature Review is more of a challenge than I had anticipated. I’ve never read a book in one day and this week I’ve done it twice! Not sure whether to be impressed or concerned.

My amazing wife is helping me with this part. I need my proposal finalized soon so I can start taking control of my life again and actually apply for a place.

The Proposal

This is step one and not one I can simply bypass. It’s the heart of any application not only from the point of view of presenting what I intend to do for my PhD, but also to crystalise it in my own mind. I’m happy with the subject and I’m sure of its merit – but I need to commit it to paper. It needs to flow and make sense to someone other than my wife and best friend.

It’s time to shut away from the world. Reread the research methods books and contact some people to see if I can negotiate access to collect data. It’s exciting if only for having a clear objective for the next few weeks. I have to be ready to apply by the end of this month!

It’s Called Teleworking!

Ok I’ve been reading quite a bit about this subject. It’s called teleworking, and whilst we don’t have anything like it in this part of the world, it’s a growing phenomenun in the West. I was surprised to see how many companies have offered more flexibility in the last few years – both in order to make savings (and keep jobs) and to offer a better work-life-balance to employees.

Still wondering how to bring this subject into a PhD… It has to be within the area of career progression and maintaining contact with virtual teams.

Working Remotely

This is an exciting time, my wife keeps reminding me. I’m thinking about topics! BAsed on my experience, I’ve been thinking about the possibility about this topic. People who work away from their head offices. I’ve had an interesting mix in my work: both managing representatives across the Middle East and reporting back to head offices in France and USA.

This could be very interesting. The angle may be closer to home than I would like… I’m thinking about motivation and career progression among people who have are in similar positions… The notion of ‘Out of sight, out of mind’.

Marketing

Management, Marketing and Project Management are all the fields I would love to explore.  When it comes to teaching in the future and indeed further research, Marketing wins hands down.

The interest in all these areas is more practical than academic.  Fifteen years in industry and in different jobs and different countries offer a nice collection of war stories to share with students.

What If…

A few years ago, we packed our London house, rented it out, moved to a short-let apartment near Kew Bridge and I typed my letter of resignation.  I had a job offer from Kuwait University, pending a place in a university, and I was ready to move to Washington DC.  I was looking at when to go, only to realize that the ‘approved’ list of institutions by KU had changed.  Our belongings were in storage by then;  Our son, Yousef, was just over a year old and our daughter was beginning  her journey to join us in this world.  Life had other plans for us, and when Noor was three months old, we were back in Kuwait.

Fast forward to last night.  Work is great but some challenges at management level are leaving me frustrated.  It was acceptable until last week when actions spoke louder than words and my actions had to be equal and opposite!  I made it clear that what happened was unfair and unacceptable.  It wasnt enough.  I needed to change jobs before I loose my fantastic relationships with so many great peoples in a wonderful organization.  It was simply not worth it over one person!

So in considering options, I mentioned (almost jokingly) the idea of a PhD.  We  had a ‘what if’ conversation and I started pacing up and down our living room as my wife and I discussed ideas on how to bring me back onto the academic road. Is this really an option?

Five hours later, I was still pacing!