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.

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Research Methodology

The literature review and methodology seem to be milestones within the journey of PhD research without any clear reason why they’re there.  I say this of course with my old hat of industry and business on my head.  I have since learned (and am still learning) the what, how and where these fit in; and more importantly why they need to be there.  I am adjusting my literature review to reflect my main research question, and will need to work on writing a clear methodology that sets out the plan on how I intend to answer it.

In my quest to learn what my literature review and methodology should look like, I came across many articles, helpful pages on different university websites, and of course some books, videos and online classes.  Personally I found the style of Amgad Badewi to be perfectly pitched.  It’s simple enough for a non-academic to understand and follow; and is in depth enough to make it worth the time invested to watch. This LINK is a playlist of eight videos which take you from zero knowledge to basic knowledge, in 2.5 hours.

Thank you, Amgad, and best of luck with your research.

‘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 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.

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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.

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.

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.

Annual Review

How is it September already? My July milestone was missed and I tried to finish my Literature Review for September but that doesn’t look possible.  It’s the evening of the 24th and I have just met my supervisor who was not very happy.  Nor am I to be honest – frustration is taking over.  Frustration because I now know what I need to be doing, I just need to find the time to do it.  The review we both agreed was ‘satisfactory with reservation‘ and my comments and his were a fair reflection of the past year.  Slow progress but moving in the right direction.

I managed to reassure him in less than an hour – after it took me a week of reading nothing but Psychology to reassure myself.  The realisation that the answers don’t sit in Organisational Behaviour books, because the source of all the theories are from Psychology, was instrumental.  My reading of the past few weeks has been like a language course making sense of what was foreign text.  ‘Locus‘ of control, and ‘operant‘ behaviour and god knows what else.  It suddenly placed everything for me.  I should point out that my knowledge of Psychology until a few weeks ago was an image of Frasier (yes the sitcom) – and yes I know that’s Psychiatry.

Looking ahead, I have to complete a large chapter by late October (I’ve written 4000 words of the 20,000 expected), another chapter by January and my Methodology chapter by June.  Sounds reasonable – until I remember just how quickly September came.

Deep breaths.

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.

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.

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.

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.