September crept up very quickly. I noticed my last post here was back in June. I managed very little since then but I am moving forward. Immediately after the family holiday in California, I stopped over in London and spent a whole day with my supervisor. We discussed secondary sources of data, sampling, and the questionnaire in detail. Since then I did very little due to three main distractions: the holy month of Ramadan, the terrible bombing of a mosque in Kuwait, and a very busy spell at work. I don’t mean busy at work with meetings and emails… It’s been a period of writing and calling job applicants, being there for hundreds of assessments in July, and conducting a hundred interviews August and September. All this, with ‘work’ having to find its way into the day, week and weekend, somewhere.
Therefore PhD work didn’t have a chance. My family, until last week, were still in London which meant that late evenings were relatively free. Although I was exhausted from work, I did manage to work a little on the questionnaire design. Late August, I shared it with both supervisors and their comments were positive. Waiting for some more feedback on my revised draft. I need to start working on translations and uploads so that I can meet my milestone for the pilot study (needs to be completed by the end of October). This is going to be challenging when I look at the next six weeks. They are looking to be even busier at work than July and August were!
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘Whenever I’m not motivated to work on my thesis, I am acutely aware of the irony!’
I posted this on instagram and thought it would be good to capture it here too…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.