Let the work begin: The start of a new research project

Last week was the start of a new academic role for me—that of a research assistant on a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant project. I will be working on this project on a part-time basis for the next six months and I am very much looking forward to doing research other than my PhD for a while.

I will be working with Dr Gemma Webster (PI) on the qualitative research project titled “Social media by proxy: strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia”. The project was developed based on Gemma’s previous work with people with dementia, careers, and dementia support organisations and my own PhD work on social media use.

The broad goal of this research is to identify and share good practice in the “management by proxy” of the social media profiles of adults with dementia. Over the course of the first month, I will be conducting a literature search and an annotated bibliography. After that, Gemma and I will begin to work on the next steps of the study, including preparing for the data collection phase.

Six months isn’t a vast amount of time in the world of academic research. However, it is anticipated that this work will act as a springboard for further research. Plans are already underway to investigate the most appropriate opportunities for the next round of grant funding. With a bit of luck (and a lot of hard work!) I will be sharing research outputs with you before the year is out!

For more information about this research project, please contact me (f.ryan@napier.ac.uk) or Gemma Webster (g.webster@napier.ac.uk).

New roles for a New Year

Welcome to 2019! I am very excited about the New Year because it means new roles (and changing roles) in my academic life. It is bound to be a busy year but, hopefully, it is an exciting and energising year as well.

The “changing” role is that of my PhD student status. Whilst I am still a PhD student (I’ve not graduated—yet!) I have submitted my thesis for examination. That means that I am not starting out this year with plans to work on various chapters of my thesis or conducting PhD-related data collection. I am no longer planning long thesis-writing sessions, there are no more “PhD weekends”, and I am feeling a lot less stressed about how my thesis will come together.

Of course, my plans to have my viva out of the way before the end of last year didn’t work out very well. And that means that I have yet to have my PhD examined. But the viva has been scheduled, so things are looking good.

My changing student status means that I am in a sort of PhD Purgatory—that state between submitting my thesis and my PhD being granted. During this purgatory period, I will prepare for my viva whilst looking forward towards my larger academic career.

Excitingly, there is also a new role to celebrate in my academic life. That is the role of Research Assistant on a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant. The research project is called “Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia” and will investigate the lived experiences of people who act as “social media proxies” for adults with dementia in their care. (Read more about the project here.)

This new role is quite exciting because it is my first research role outside of my PhD. The project is only funded for six months, but it is a good opportunity to work on a small project that will (hopefully!) lead to something more substantial. It is also an opportunity for me to work on research other than my thesis, which was starting to wear me down a bit. (Although I am now excited to do more research with the rest of my PhD data. I think I just needed a bit of a break from it all!)

In addition to new and changing roles, I am also continuing my role as an Associate Lecturer here at Edinburgh Napier University. In the new trimester, which starts mid-January, I will be delivering tutorials for a first-year module called Introduction to Human Computer Interaction. There are around 260 students in the module and they are divided into five different tutorial groups, of which I will be running three.

As part of my Associate Lecture role, I will also have a role as a supervisor for several “Group Project” teams. The teams will be working on small projects for a wide range of organisations. My role will be more project oversight than anything else, with quick and targeted 15-minute meetings with each group each week to ensure they are making progress and keeping to schedule. This will be my first time supervising students and I am looking forward to the opportunity. Although my supervisor role isn’t quite as substantial as, say, that of my PhD supervisors.

As I enter into this new phase of my academic life, I am looking for my next bigrole. That means that I will be spending a lot of time applying for academic jobs and post-doctoral fellowships. I will also spend time working on grant applications and investigating other opportunities that will allow me to further my research and build my academic career.

Yes, this New Year is looking quite promising. So “role” on, 2019; role on!

My thesis: Submitted!

And with that, I have submitted my PhD thesis for examination and thesis season is over!

The last few days have been spent finishing up my thesis, all with an aim submitting on Halloween (success!). That included finishing my conclusion chapter and writing my acknowledgements page. These final days were also spent making sure that all of my references were accurate and that the fiddly little things like automatic bookmarks were rendering properly.

Once the document was finalised, I set everything up for printing. I intentionally planned it so that I was printing after office hours so that I wouldn’t have to worry about hogging the printers. After all, a thesis is a fairly long document and I needed four copies: Two for my viva examiners, one for my mock viva examiner, and one for me.

To save time, I sent the thesis to print as two separate print jobs, each with two copies. That way, I would take advantage of the two printers in the print room. It took about 30 minutes to print the four copies, and another few minutes to straighten the pages and (meticulously) fold a couple of double-sized pages for the appendices. I also included coloured cardstock in between each chapter for my own copy of the thesis. This way, I can add section tabs to the cardstock so that I can easily flip to the correct chapter when I am revising or during the viva itself.

After I finished printing, I carefully wrapped each copy in paper and called my taxi-driving landlord for a lift home, cradling my “babies” the entire way.

The next morning, I woke early and got the bus out to my university’s print shop. There, Gordon bound the documents whilst I waited. And then I took another bus to my campus where I panicked a bit (and got a bit teary) before heading upstairs to the research office to officially submit my thesis.

To be honest, submitting my thesis was quite an emotional and self-doubting experience. Although, to be honest, the entire PhD process was more emotional and self-doubting than I had expected! I won’t get into all of that today though, as I plan to share a series of posts (over time) that reflect on my experiences with the PhD process.

But yes, my thesis is done for now; it has been submitted. And that really is something to celebrate!

Of course, submitting my thesis is not the end of the PhD journey. No, there are still a few steps remaining before my PhD Dreams are realised. The first of these steps is my viva (oral defence). After that, I will be asked to make amendments to the thesis before I submit my final, hard-bound thesis. And then, finally, I will graduate.

My thesis: The full draft

With thesis season nearing its end, I am pleased to have a full draft of my thesis pulled together into the master thesis document. It has been a long road to get to this point, but I feel quite confident now that I have everything together in one place.

This draft includes all of the main body of the thesis (literature review, methods, findings, and discussion chapters) as well as the introduction and conclusion chapters. Of course, as a full draft, the document also includes everything from the title page to the last of the appendices. In fact, the only thing that is not in the document yet is the text for the acknowledgements page. And that is only missing because I don’t want anyone to see that page until after the document is submitted.

Now that I have the full draft ready, I have started to flag up pages that need additional text, edits, or formatting. I also have a couple of other people looking at parts of the thesis to flag up any additional errors or omissions that need my attention.

I have two weeks until my submission deadline, which has me a bit stressed. But thanks to my amazing master thesis document, at least I know that these last two weeks will be spent on the content of my thesis, and not wasting time fiddling about with the formatting.

My next post, if all goes to plan, will be about my thesis submission. (How exciting!) But for now, it’s back to editing.

My thesis: The discussion

The last of my “big” thesis chapters has finally been added to my master thesis document and that means that thesis season is really nearing the end now! This latest chapter is probably one of the most important ones, too. As the discussion chapter, it is the one that pulls the entire thesis together. This chapter answers the big, important question: What does it all mean?

The discussion chapter took me far too long to write. And, if I am honest, it is not very good. But that’s not because I don’t know what my research means. And it’s not because I don’t know what contributions this work makes to knowledge. I know these things. I know them quite well. What I don’t know, however, is how to articulate all of these things into an academic thesis chapter.

Ultimately, my struggles with writing this chapter stem from my fear of being wrong; from my lack of academic confidence. Ultimately, my fears and lack of confidence are down to imposter syndrome.

That said, I do feel a bit more confident now that the discussion chapter is in the main thesis document. This means that I have come to a point where the draft is fairly complete and that, if I had to, I could submit it as is.

Next up, I will be pulling the rest of the document together into a complete, full draft of my entire thesis. Then I will have a few days to edit and finalise the full document for submission. It’s not long now until I can start planning for my viva!