My thesis: The master document

As thesis season continues, my thesis is finally starting to fall into place. Yes, everything is starting to come together and I am quite excited about that. This post is about how I plan to pull the full document together with the use of a master document, or a thesis template.

As a planner, I began thinking about the end of my PhD from the very beginning. That is also when I started thinking about the master document for my thesis. I knew that I would spend an inordinate amount of time faffing about with the aesthetic layout of my final document, so I decided it would be best to get most of my formatting determined long before I started working on my final document.

It was that decision that led me to use my university’s thesis guidelines for all of my PhD-based work (see pages 41-42), allowing me to “test” my chosen formats. That means that all of my drafts and reports were written using the approved font sizes, spacing, and margins. At the same time, I experimented with different section heading and table styles, as well as document header and footer text. (Thankfully, the guidelines ditched the rule for Arial fonts, so I was able to pick a selection of serif and sans serif fonts that fit with my views of aesthetics.)

Once I had a style that I liked (and that rendered nicely when printed in grayscale) I developed my master document. This document has all of the top-level chapter headings (along with appropriate section breaks) and document headers that match. Within each chapter, I have placeholders for the sections that belong there. The master document includes all of the “fluff” pages, too: The title page, abstract, acknowledgements, various tables of content, and appendices.

Early versions of this document included several “notes to self” with reminders and explanations about the purpose of each section. For example, under the “methods” heading was a reminder that the section needed to justify everything I did (or didn’t do) in the process of determining my methods and collecting my data. These early versions also included content and links related to the process of writing up a thesis so that I could reflect on the best practices developed by others.

In the most recent versions (before the final) the document was stripped of these “helpful” reminders and links. In their place, I began entering notes about the estimated word count for each chapter as well as details related to the timeline for completion. The final (?) version of the document received the rank of master a few weeks ago.

One of the useful things about this process is that the master document has become an outline for the final thesis. I can look at that document to see how the whole thesis flows, including the structure for each individual chapter.

Of course, the most useful things about this document is the time it will save when I pull the entire thesis together over the next few weeks. Because I know how fiddly document numbering can get when you muck about with the styles, I thought it was best to get everything into a shell this way (including section headings) so that I can do a simple copy-and-paste from my draft chapters into (a copy of) the master document. The document has placeholders for my “perfect” table layouts and notes about some of the little glitches that sometimes happen when text is copied over.

The plan now is to start populating a document based on this template. To do that, I will save a copy of the master file that I can title “full-thesis-draft.v1”. Then, once each chapter is fully drafted with no (obvious) major edits required, I will copy it into this document. At that time, I will ensure that all of the in-document cross-references are where they’re meant to be.

Once the full “v1” document is populated, I will be able to give it a full review before sending a full, complete draft of my thesis to my supervisors. (My versioning system means that it might be v2 or v3 before they see it though.)

If all goes well, there will be very little (or, hopefully, no) additional formatting required. However, I am sure that I will find something to change once I see the full document. But that’s where styles come in. A wee tweak to a style will cascade across the document.

I am really excited to start filling in this document. And that excitement is growing as my deadline looms nearer. The best thing about that excitement is that it is making me feel very motivated to write, write, write! And so, I had best get back to writing, writing, writing!

And for those who are counting, I have 54 days until my submission deadline – and 32 days until I need to have a full draft to my supervisors for their feedbacks. It’s not long now!! (I am so excited!!!)

Thesis season: September update

As thesis season continues, I am starting to feel more and more confident that I will manage to complete my thesis without (too terribly much) stress. And as September begins, I am excited (and nervous) about the next 61 days. (Yikes! Only 61 days to finish writing. How scary!)

My progress in August was steady, though slow. I worked on my three findings chapters and my methods and literature review chapters. Sadly, none of those chapters are completely completed, but they are fully drafted and are just seeking edits at this time.

The highlights for August were getting all of the main content for my findings chapters completed and knocking out a near-final version of my literature review. I also enjoyed a successful (final!) research progress review at the end of the month.

However, August wasn’t as amazing as I wanted it to be. I didn’t manage to complete the visualisation of the data and I didn’t manage to complete my literature review and methods chapters. Although I am pleased to say that they are all in fairly decent shape and only need a bit of editing. Thankfully, I know what I need to do for each of those chapters and will add that work to my “easy work” list. That list is a variety of tasks that I can do in the evenings when my brain needs a rest, but my motivation levels are still pushing me to get something done.

My plans for September are fairly ambitious, but I am confident that I will manage them without too much agony. I am including a few late nights in my work plans, which will include taxis home as my local bus stops running at 6.30pm. However, I will be doing some teaching again this term which will give me the extra money to pay for the taxis. (Yay!)

Here’s my plan for September:

  • Create a full “primary draft” of my discussion chapter. This means that I will have that chapter written to completion (based on content), but the draft will (likely) need further edits for language and grammar.
  • Complete all visualisations for my three findings chapters. This work will happen in dribs and drabs as my brain needs a break from the “extreme” thinking that is needed for the discussion chapter.
  • Complete all edits for my literature review and methods chapters. As above, this work will largely take place as a break from the discussion chapter.
  • Finish all appendices needed for my literature review and methods chapters. These are largely complete at this time, but I need to do some formatting. As with the other edits, this will be done as and when my brain needs a break.
  • Draw up a final completion plan for October. Yikes! That document might be a bit scary, especially if September doesn’t go as planned. But if all goes well, the plan will be largely focused on writing up my introduction and conclusion chapters and making edits to my discussion chapter. I will also give myself plenty of time to do all the fiddly little things like formatting the full document.

 

Yes, September is going to be crazy! But I am feeling quite confident about it and I am sure that it will be a productive month.

Thesis season: August update

With August now upon us, I am aware that there are only three months remaining for “thesis season”. And that is a scary realisation when I stop to think about how much work I have yet to do. And so, the next three months will be spent writing, writing, writing… and writing a bit more.

I am pleased to say that my July thesis goals were (largely) met. And that means that I have now (mostly) completed drafts of five chapters. These are the methods chapter, three separate findings chapters, and my literature review (submitted to my supervisors for their comments last night).

Today and the first half of Friday will be dedicated to making updates to my findings chapters, ahead of Friday afternoon’s meeting with my supervisors to go over my literature review. Then the rest of August will be spent making edits to the chapters I already have drafted whilst making notes to develop the structural outline for my discussion chapter. I expect that to be a very challenging chapter to write and will dedicate much of September to completing it.

So, what do my thesis plans look like for August?

In a nutshell, it looks like a lot of time in front of computer screens and very little time enjoying the great outdoors! More specifically, August will be spent making edits and notes for September’s work.

In August, I will:

  • Make updates to my literature review. This will include incorporating edits, comments, and suggestions from my supervisors as well as adding new literature sources where relevant.
  • Review my findings chapters. This will be done with consideration to my literature review so that I can ensure that I have not missed out on literature that should have been included.
  • Make notes for my discussion chapter. This will be done in conjunction with the review of my findings chapters. These notes will help to form the narrative structure for my discussion chapter, which I will write in September.
  • Prepare for my next (and final!) progress review meeting. This should be fairly straightforward and will include sharing an update on the progress of each of my thesis chapters and a plan for completion. (There will be about two months left to submit by this time.)
  • Work on updates to my methods chapter and appendices. This work is fairly simple (as compared to the literature review, at least). Because of that, it will be done in between other work as a “treat” when my brain needs a bit of a break.

 

And, as always, I will be attempting to take care of my physical, mental, and emotional health. This will include my (sometimes faltering) healthy eating habits, regular 5K runs, a minimum daily step goal, and a bit of “me” time each week. (All easier said than done!)

There is much work to do, but I am feeling quite confident about it. (For now.) Stay tuned for a September thesis season update!

A research grant, by proxy

Earlier this year, I worked on writing a grant application to The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland with my colleague, Dr Gemma Webster. And I am excited to say that the application has been accepted under the Trust’s Research Incentive Grant scheme with Gemma as the Principal Investigator (PI).

The research project is called “Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia”. This work will investigate the lived experiences of people who act as “social media proxies” for adults with dementia in their care.

As the PI and lead applicant, it is Gemma’s experience and role as an established academic that allowed her to make the application (newbies like myself almost always need to ride the coattails of more senior researchers). And it is her experience that will guide the project so that we are in a better position for getting our work published and (hopefully!) creating an even larger funding application that will help us continue our research.

The inspiration for this research comes from Gemma’s past work with vulnerable adults and the recognition that the use of social media by older people is increasing whilst instances of dementia diagnoses are growing. Further, my own doctoral investigation into the role of online information in the building and management of personal reputation found that some participants have helped or noted concerns about vulnerable individuals in their lives and their use of social media. When considered together, we determined that the role of social media proxies for adults with dementia was a relevant and timely topic that warranted further research.

My role in this project is that of the research assistant. I will be work on the literature review, the design of the study, and data collection. I will also work with Gemma to analyse the results from our data collection and to create research outputs.

We plan to use a combination of participant diaries and in-depth interviews as data collection tools, a process I used for my PhD thesis. Participants (social media proxies) will keep a diary for a set amount of time where they will keep notes related to the online activities they undertake as proxies. This will include information about the specific tasks they undertake as well as any reflective thoughts they have about the tasks. Interviews will take place after the diary-keeping exercise and will include a range of topics related to participants’ roles as social media proxies.

We plan to report on this research through (1) a project report; (2) an academic journal article; (3) guidance materials for social media proxies (for example, leaflets); and (4) an article in The Conversation. A dissemination event for stakeholders will also be planned towards the end of this project. That event will include care home workers, carers of dementia patients, local authority officials, and members of third sector organisations that provide support to vulnerable and/or incapacitated groups.

On a personal note, I am grateful to Gemma for providing me the opportunity to work with her on this project. It will be my first piece of work after submitting my thesis, and it kind of serves as my first external grant (by proxy, in a round-about way). I am looking forward to learning from Gemma as she supervises my work and I’ll try not to let her down!

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

Thesis season

Wow! It is the 1st of July already. And that means that my PhD thesis is due in just four months’ time. Yikes! Of course, that means that the next four months will be all about my thesis. Thesis, thesis, thesis. And writing, writing, writing. And, most likely, stressing, stressing, stressing.

But I am looking forward to cracking down and getting things done. And as I have no other obligations in my diary (other than teaching starting in September) I have no excuses for not PhDing my days away.

Thesis season is the final stretch of my thesis writing. During this time, I will finish writing some chapters, edits others, and start writing a couple of vital chapters. And, of course, I will need to put it all together into one sensible narrative for examination.

The structure is (fairly) straight-forward and simple, with 8 chapters for the main body of the thesis. These are the introduction, a literature review including the theoretical framework, the methodology, three separate findings chapters, a discussion, and a conclusion. There will also be several other bits before and after the main body for references, an abstract, tables of contents, and various appendices.

Much of the work has already been done, it’s just a matter of writing it all up in thesis form and the literature review, methodology, and findings chapters are in various stages of completeness. The biggest challenge (and a vital part of the thesis!) will be writing up the discussion chapter. Unlike other sections of the thesis, this doesn’t already exist in another format so I will have to start from scratch. (Though I do have several little notes that I’ve written that will help with that process.)

So, what’s up next?

My July tasks (in order of deadlines) will be to complete drafts of (1) my methods chapter, (2) all three findings chapters, and (3) my literature review. That’s not to say that they will be finished at that point, just that they will be fully drafted. I expect that I will be making further edits and improvements to them in August.

Thesis season is bound to be stressful, so I will need to ensure that I am taking good care of my physical, mental, and emotional health during this time. To do that, I am continuing my healthy eating routine and will be sure to bring my own lunches to the office most days. This way, I am sure to be getting all of the nutrients I need without the financial burden of eating in the canteen. I am also working to keep fit by running several 5Ks each week and getting off the bus a mile or two before my stop so that I can get some walking in before I get to my desk. And, of course, I am trying to build in some “me” time each week. (Though I have always struggled with making “me” a priority, so that one will be a challenge.)

I will aim to do monthly thesis season updates, so stay tuned for August when I hope to announce that some of these chapters are near completion!

But for now… it’s back to the thesis.