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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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.

IMG_2616

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Papers and More

I should probably call this post paperless because Papers helps achieve this almost instantly.  I spent a significant amount of time reading through what researchers do to ensure a good workflow of reading, collating and referencing articles and books.  Had I not seen my wife’s trees of papers blocking doorways and becoming the size of furniture pieces, I would not have even imagined it would be an issue.  In the same way many projects fail because logistics are underestimated, I felt this was something of a weak link that needed addressing.

My target was, and remains, to have the ability to work on a flight, in an office, at home or in a cafe with everything – yes everything – to do with my PhD on me or accessible online.  I am pleased (and cannot believe) that with an iPad and a few apps this is truly possible.  It is not the only app I use.  I have a page on my iPad dedicated to my PhD apps.  The synchronisation of DropBox and Pages is very useful and apps that help with searches in journals are always welcome.

The only other thing I carry is a small notebook and a pen.  Whilst there are notebook type apps, I’m still more comfortable doing that the normal human way.

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.

How to get a PhD

I mentioned this book before when I came across it in an article in The Guardian’s archives.  After reading ‘Authoring a PhD’ I wanted a book that described the process of research and what doing a PhD involves, rather than just writing the thesis.  This is without doubt an excellent reference if you’re looking for an overall description of virtually everything.  For example, it sheds light on the vagueness associated with words such as ‘originality’ and describes how a ‘Literature Review’ should be made relevant – something I noticed missing in some of the theses I’ve been scanning.  Another chapter I found very useful is the one about the relationship with the supervisor(s).

It gets great reviews on Amazon and I agree that it’s an excellent start – and companion – to anyone doing a PhD.  I read the older edition (my wife found it among her books from her PhD days).  The current one is the fifth and you can find it here and there is a Kindle version too.

Authoring a PhD

Having read the many positive reviews this book gets on Amazon, I thought it was time I had a look at it before my reading time becomes more focussed on my research. I’m still not 100% sure about my place on a programme but it’s looking good and my offer letter will be with me ‘in the next few weeks’ according to Admissions.

This book, in my opinion, is a little too long. I find myself skipping paragraphs and sections. Having said that, if I had to remove a section I would find it difficult to choose – so this is probably an unfair criticism. The chapter summaries are very useful if, like me, you’re looking for a quick read. It is very well written and covers everything about ‘authoring’ hence the title. It’s not a book about doing a PhD which is probably what I need to be reading at this stage. It’s more about the thesis itself and research planning. I need to know/learn more about the actual process, expectations of and from supervisors.

Amazon link and there is also a Kindle edition

Find a PhD

In preparation for the work that I will hopefully start soon, I have been searching for forums and blogs about PhDs and found a great place which has already been of help.  I joined their forum as a prospective student and asked a question in the forum about where to find archives of successful theses.  I received a reply within minutes, garnished with words of encouragement.

Check out the link below for everything you can imagine you would need to know about doing a PhD and click the link on the top right hand corner for the Postgrad Forum.

Link: http://www.findaphd.com/

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…

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!