Passed, with minor corrections

I am very pleased and extremely relieved to be able to (finally!) announce that I have passed my PhD viva – and with only minor corrections! This good news comes after more than five years of hard work and emotional turmoil, and I am just so thankful that my PhD Dreams are almost a reality.

The preamble:

I submitted my PhD thesis at the end of October. At the time, I had hoped that my viva (oral examination/defence) would be just before Christmas. However, there was a slight glitch that meant everything was delayed. But the outcome is such that I will still make the July graduation ceremony, so it all worked out in the end!

Because of the delay, I mostly ignored my thesis for nearly three months after submission. (Part of that was due to a post-submission illness.) It wasn’t really until the start of February that I started to really prepare for The Big Day, as blogged about here.

On the day of my viva, I woke up at 5am (after a slightly disrupted sleep). I showered, put on a suitable dress for the occasion, and painted my nails. I arrived at my office just before 8am and unpacked my bag, then I headed down to the canteen for a full breakfast (with extra bacon!). Then, I waited nervously for my 10.30am start time.

My thesis was examined by Sheila Webber, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield iSchool (external examiner) and Dr Laura Muir, Associate Professor at the Edinburgh Napier University School of Computing (internal examiner). My Panel Chair (viva moderator) was Professor Ben Paechter, Director of Research in the School of Computing.

My Director of Studies, Professor Hazel Hall, also joined me at the viva to take notes. She sat behind me so that I would not be tempted to look towards her for input, but also so that any facial expressions she might have made didn’t throw me off.

I went into the room prepared with my trusty water bottle (my medication makes this a necessity!), two pens, several sheets of blank paper for notes, a handkerchief (in case of tears), and my thesis. I also brought with me a tummy full of butterflies and a mixture of fear, excitement, worry, and hope.

The gritty details:

At the start of the viva, the plan for the examination was explained. The plan was to go through my thesis chapter-by-chapter, with questions alternating between the examiners (for the most part). As the questions were lobbed at me, I found myself examining the motivations behind them. Is this a question about clarifying a confusing sentence? Is it because they were trying to tease out the finer details about my methods? Is the question meant to challenge something that the examiners held different views about? Or is it because they want to see how (clearly) I can defend my position?

Some questions were easy for me to understand (assume) these motivations. Especially when in the process of answering it was clear that my response was “the right” response. But the motivation of others was a little harder to pin down, especially when it because clear(ish) that the examiners were coming at the thesis from a different perspective to my own.

Throughout the process, I found myself gauging how well the viva was going. I felt that I was heading towards a “pass, with corrections” but I couldn’t quite pin down if that would be minor corrections or major corrections.

It all felt quite positive and I felt (mostly) confident when answering questions and defending my work. I even felt that I stayed (mostly) on point and didn’t go off into a rambling tangent, something that I sometimes do when I am nervous.

And then I was blindsided by a bus! One of the examiners started down a path of inquiry that I was absolutely unprepared for. There was a back-and-forth that lasted what felt like about 5 minutes at the end of the viva that made my heart sink into the pit of my stomach. From that point on, I was no longer able to control my fragile emotional state and the tears started to fall (good thing I had that hankie, right?). I was certain that this was the thing that was going to take me from a pass with corrections to a resubmit (with or without a new viva). It was a horrible feeling and was, by far, the worst moment of my viva.

[Note: This isn’t to say that I think the questions were unfair or unwarranted. The examiners were fair, kind, and encouraging throughout the entire experience.]

At the end of that line of questioning, there was a very short (1-2 minutes) wrap-up chat where I was asked if there was anything I would like to add about my thesis as a whole. This was my opportunity to give my work a final sales pitch. But by that time, I was too emotional and felt too defeated to say anything more.

With that, I was asked to leave (along with my Director of Studies) so that the examiners could chat with the moderator to confirm the outcome. During that time, I sat in Hazel’s office, unable to stop the tears because I was certain I would be resubmitting my work based on the “bus” questions. Hazel, however, felt that I was still in the passing lane. She walked me through some of the (many, and high quality!) notes that she took during the viva and shared her own interpretation of the outcome. That helped to dry my tears a bit, although I wasn’t as convinced as she was.

The wait in Hazel’s office felt quite short. It might have been about 10 minutes – 15 at the very most. We were then invited back to the examination room by the chair. I was feeling a little more positive by that time (thanks, Hazel!) but I was still quite sure it wouldn’t be the result I was hoping for.

However, when I walked in the room I was greeted with smiles, a “congratulations”, and the words “passed, with minor corrections”. I was extremely surprised at that outcome, given the bus that had knocked me over just a few minutes earlier. But a short conversation followed about the “bus” incident and it was made clearer to me what the examiner was hoping for from that specific line of questioning.

The conversation to follow was about the general next steps in the process. The first of these steps is that the examiners will write a formal letter outlining the corrections that need to be made. That letter will be sent to the research office at my university before a copy is sent to me. It is at that time that my official corrections time will begin.

With minor corrections, I will have two months to complete the changes before sending an electronic version of the amended thesis on for my examiners to sign off on. After that, I will have my final thesis bound for submission before graduation – which should be in July, barring any hiccups along the way. My Panel Chair reassured me that we could revisit my current non-PhD workload to ensure that I have time to make my corrections. (Although I don’t think that there should be an issue, I felt very supported to have been told this help is available.)

Once the viva was officially over, I was invited out to lunch with my examiners and Hazel. We enjoyed a wee toast with some lovely prosecco followed by a nice conversation about a wide range of topics not related to my PhD. (Which was nice!) After lunch, I made my way home as I was completely exhausted.

The personal reflection:

In a nutshell, my viva was not a fun experience. I know that isn’t what people want to hear, but for me, that is the truth. Although, I do acknowledge that my reflections might have been more positive without the aforementioned “bus” incident! (Also, it wasn’t a completely horrible experience.)

In the lead-up to the Big Day, I knew that my viva might be an emotional and exhausting experience. Like many of life’s big moments, I had invested my heart and soul into this. Thankfully, I know myself well enough that I knew I would be shattered from the experience. And that means that I didn’t make any plans to celebrate the day.

And I was right! The experience was so draining that I couldn’t truly be happy on the day. In fact, when I got home, I donned my pyjamas and cried a bit. I then had another glass of prosecco and called my parents to share the good news with them. Then I shared the news on Facebook (Twitter was saved until the following morning). That was the limit to my celebrations. (But not the limit to my tears!)

The following day I returned to the office and politely thanked everyone who congratulated me. But I still couldn’t celebrate because I was still too dazed from the experience. And now, three days later, I am still a bit “meh” about it all.

Maybe these feelings of apathy are because I know that there is still much work to be done before I graduate. Or maybe they’re because I am too busy worrying about what my next steps will be after graduation (there are so many questions about jobs, post-docs, and locations!). Of course, maybe these feelings are simply a bit of exhaustion.

But, ultimately, I have passed my PhD (subject to minor corrections) and that does make me happy – even if I can’t quite celebrate that happiness just yet.

Thank you, again, to all of my lovely cheerleaders who’ve encouraged me along the way. My PhD Dreams aren’t over quite realised yet, but they are almost a reality!

My thesis: The viva version

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about my thesis. In fact, I haven’t done so since I submitted last October. At the time, I expected that I would be blogging about my viva before the Christmas holidays, but there was a glitch in the process that meant everything was postponed.

That glitch means that I didn’t return to my thesis until the end of January. (I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or not. I’ll make that decision post-viva!) I am now in full-on viva-prep mode, and I am dreading looking forward to a constructive examination.

I got a bit geeky and had my viva version bound with a light-weight, coloured cardstock in between each chapter. That allowed me to add sturdy tabs to each chapter so that I can easily flip to the section I want. (I even colour-coded the tabs so that all “like” chapters are the same colour.)

In addition to the main chapter tabs, I used writable Post-it tabs to mark out pages that are more likely to be referred to during the viva: my research questions, theoretical framework, study design flowchart, and participant details. These were placed on the top of the pages so that they did not add clutter to the main navigation tabs.

Small, narrow Post-It flags were also used to mark pages that need minor edits (for example, there is a missing colon on one page). These are also located at the top of the pages as to not interfere with the navigational tabs.

The rest of my thesis mark-up and notes are all hidden within the pages. Here, I have used different sized Post-Its to note minor edits or to clarify a point that might be a bit confusing the way I have it written. I have used larger edits to write down additional thoughts or to summarise more challenging or “technical” sections. This way, if I am asked about them during the viva I will be able to refer to my own notes about these things. Of course, that also assumes that I will only be asked about the things I’ve specifically prepared for. (I wonder what the odds are… ?)

My viva version thesis does not include any writing on the pages. There are no highlighted sections; no scribbles in the margins. Everything is done with notes on Post-Its. I just can’t bring myself to make any permanent marks on something that I worked so hard on creating. Although I am sad to say that the act of carrying “my baby” around with me has meant that the edges are starting to show a bit of wear and tear.

Anyhow, there are only two more thesis posts after this: One will be sharing the process of corrections and the other will be sharing the final product. It’s hard to believe that I am that close! In fact, my viva is so close now that my next post here will be about that. And, hopefully, it will be about passing my viva. So… stay tuned!

PhD studentship applications at Napier: Apply today

There are currently two fully-funded PhD places advertised within the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. The studentships, which start in October 2019, are Skills Development Scotland Collaborative awards offered through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS).

Key dates:
** Applications are due by Friday 22nd March 2019.
** Interviews are scheduled for Thursday 11th April 2019.
** The start date for successful candidates is Tuesday 1st October 2019.

The first of these studentships is for a doctoral study investigating work-based learning and industry performance and the second investigates career information literacy and the decision-making of young people.

If you are interested in these studentships, you can find the full details of each project, including eligibility criteria and the application process, on the current studentship opportunities page of the SGSSS website or by following the links below.

If you are interested in these studentships, you can find the full details of each project, including eligibility criteria and the application process, on the current studentship opportunities page of the SGSSS website or by following the links below.

Opportunity 1:
Work-based learning environments for fostering industry-relevant skills and optimal economic performance, supervised by Dr Laura Muir and Dr Colin Smith.

Opportunity 2:
Career information literacy and decision-making behaviours of young people, supervised by Professor Hazel Hall and Dr Pete Robertson.

The successful applicants will be admitted to the PhD programme at Edinburgh Napier University. Lyndsey Middleton, who is currently writing up her ESRC-SDS funded PhD study within the Centre for Social Informatics, has also blogged about these opportunities and her personal experiences doing a PhD in the CSI. You can read her post here: Come and study in the wonderful Centre for Social Informatics of Edinburgh Napier University! You can also read about our most recent PhD graduate Dr John Mowbray, who completed his ESRC-SDS study last year. You can also have a read through my own blog here to learn more about my own PhD experiences here at Napier (or feel free to contact me privately with any questions about student life here in the Centre for Social Informatics).

For further information about these advertised PhD opportunities at the Centre for Social Informatics, please contact Dr Laura Muir (L.Muir@napier.ac.uk) or Professor Hazel Hall (h.hall@napier.ac.uk).

Study participants wanted for research into helping older adults with social media accounts

I am currently recruiting participants for a research project that investigates how people help or support older adults to use social media accounts. Any help or support you provide to older adults or people with dementia at any age with social media is relevant (for example, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc). 

I am interested in speaking to you if you assist an older adult or a person with dementia to use their own social media accounts. If you think this might be you, please contact me at f.ryan@napier.ac.uk

You can also help by taking a short survey here:
https://survey.napier.ac.uk/n/smp.aspx

Participants will be asked to keep a diary related to the activities they undertake on behalf of the other person for two weeks, followed by an interview which can be conducted in person or via phone or video call. (Participants do not need to be a carer, but they should play a role in helping with social media accounts.)

If you are interested in taking part in this study, please contact me at f.ryan@napier.ac.uk.

More about this study:

The project is titled “Social media by proxy: strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia” and is being undertaken with Dr Gemma Webster (PI). The work is funded by a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant.

The work was developed based on Gemma’s previous work with people with dementia, carers, and dementia support organisations and my own PhD work on social media use. The combination of these research areas is strengthened by the fact that social media use by older adults is at an all-time high and the increase in people with dementia*. This brings the ongoing discussions of social media use in today’s society to a growing population of users.

The general goal of this research is to identify how people manage the social media accounts of older adults and people with dementia “by proxy”. This includes:

  • How “proxies” manage social media accounts for older adults or people with dementia in their care;
  • How and if people with dementia engage with their social media accounts (with or without support); and
  • What kind of support (if any) “proxies” have for managing these social media accounts.

For more information about this research, or to note interest in participating, please contact me at f.ryan@napier.ac.uk.


Note: This project has been given ethical approval by Edinburgh Napier University.

And please feel free to re-share this information on your own social media platforms!

*UK statistics: Nearly half (48%) of Internet users aged 65-74 and 41% aged 75+ maintain social media accounts. Further, there are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with a predicted rise to 1 million+ by 2025.

Write Now! (Again.)

Three years after Write Now! was launched, we’re back! This time around, my colleague Dr Bruce Ryan (no relation) is the project lead, as he attended many of the sessions during the first year and was keen to get it going again. I joined in on the project bit to lend my expertise and experience, and to assist in setting up the writing sessions each week.

Write Now! is a series of writing sessions supported by Edinburgh Napier University’s Research and Innovation Office. The sessions are held at our Merchiston campus in the Triangle Café to re-create the experience of writing in a coffee shop.

The sessions are held on Wednesdays from 2.30-4.30 pm. There is no obligation to join us every Wednesday. However the sessions are held at the same time each week so that participants can add the on-going events to their calendars. This will essentially block time out in advance so that they can protect this valuable time slot from being taken over by other meetings. It’s a great way to prioritise writing time.

Write Now! is for research students and academic staff who want time for concentrated writing. This time can be used to work on thesis chapters, journal or conference submissions, research grants, or other academic writing.

The sessions are self-led and participants manage their own writing processes. On arrival, participants are given a voucher for a drink and snack before they start writing. At the end of the session, they are asked to fill out brief (anonymous) progress cards noting what their writing goal was (and whether they met that goal) and the approximate number of words they wrote during the session.

Join us every Wednesday through May (and maybe into June)!
Triangle Café (downstairs at Merchiston)
2.30-4.30 pm
Free drinks and snacks
And don’t forget your laptop (or pen and paper if you’re Old Skool like that!)

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!

My thesis: The findings

I am well and truly into the thick of thesis season now! In fact, I have now added an additional three chapters to my master thesis document. The new chapters are my findings chapters, one for each of my three research questions.

Chapter 4 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the first research question, “How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?” The findings in this chapter show that people use online information to present aspects of identity, rather than to build or create identity in its own right. It also highlights the fact that identity is comprised of multiple personas which are showcased in a way that highlights different aspects of an individual’s identity for different audiences. These practices are generally undertaken to manage the blurring between both individuals’ professional and private lives and their online and offline environments.

Chapter 5 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the second research question, “How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?” The findings show that participants deploy different information sharing practices based on the platform they are using and the perceived audience for that platform. This is generally viewed as a way of managing the blur between participants’ professional and private lives, with an emphasis on managing their professional reputation.

Chapter 6 presents the findings of the analysis and interpretation of data for the final research question, “How do individuals evaluate the reputations of others based on the information available to them online?” This set of findings shows that the evaluation of others on the basis of online information is not an intentional practice. Further, when evaluations are made, the findings show that the participants use their own information practices as a benchmark for the evaluation of others. Interesting, it has also been shown that reputational evaluations are not static. Instead, they are often impacted by additional information that the participants have in relation to of the individual being evaluated.

There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. But you will have to wait until the whole PhD is done and dusted before you can read all about it!

The next big step is to complete the discussion chapter. After that, I will finalise the introduction and conclusion and review the entire thesis in preparation for my submission. Things are starting to come together now, and I am very excited about my progress.

My thesis: The methods chapter

Figure 1 from my methods chapter: An overview of the design and implementation of my doctoral investigation

As thesis season continues, I am pleased to see some real progress on my thesis. Today’s bit of progress was adding my methods chapter (Chapter 3) to my master thesis document.

This chapter covers the determination of my methods (including a pilot study), a description of my participant sample, and details of my data collection tools. It also discusses how I coded and analysed my data and how I decided to present my findings.

I feel somewhat confident about this chapter, but I admit I am a little concerned that my examiners might want a little more detail about some of the more philosophical aspects of the methodological approaches I used. However, I think that there is a bit of overlap between the start of this chapter and the end of my literature review that might need some re-jigging once the whole document is together. And maybe once I am reading the full thesis as one document, I will feel more confident. Or, maybe, I’ll realised that the last bits of Chapter 2 (literature review) really do belong at the start of my methods chapter.

As for the actual writing of this chapter, it was relatively enjoyable and relaxing to write. (Unlike my literature review chapter!) I think that’s because the methods chapter is about me. Or, rather, it’s about the work that I did and the decisions that I made. Sure, some bits were a bit more challenging. But most of the chapter is a narrative that outlines what I did – or did not do – and my reasoning for those things. Because I was writing about things I knew quite well (my own actions) I wasn’t faced with the fear of getting it wrong or misinterpreting someone else’s work.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be getting my three findings chapters ready to drop into the main thesis document. I will also be writing up my discussion chapter which is feeling a bit overwhelming at the moment. But it does feel good to see more progress being made – especially as I have to send a full draft of the entire thesis to my supervisors in 11 days’ time! (Yikes!)

My thesis: The literature review

As of today, I have 19 days remaining to complete a full draft of my PhD thesis for my supervisors’ final review and comments (and 41 days to submit for examination). And that means that it is time I start populating my PhD “master document” with content.

And so, today was spent copying my literature review document across to the first draft of my full thesis document. This is the first chunk of main-body content to be added to the main document and I am quite excited about this tiny milestone. (Starting with Chapter 2 seems a bit odd, but I will be writing the introduction, which is Chapter 1, at the end.)

The process of copying the literature review was fairly straightforward, especially as each chapter draft has been created using the same document styles as the master document. This means that I was able to copy things over without worrying about formatting. (But I still went through the process of checking the formatting. Just in case.)

The literature review is divided into four sections. The first three sections review literature related to (1) citation analysis and academic reputation; (2) online information and reputation from across a range of academic and non-academic sources; and (3) alternative means of building academic reputations (such as social media). The final section is a theoretical framework that has been developed for my doctoral study, based on the similarities and differences between citation practices and similar practices deployed in social media.

At 10,925 words, it is on the shorter side of PhD thesis literature reviews. I feel that this is in part due to the interdisciplinary nature of the review. The way everything came together meant that the literature review would have needed to be really, really long (too long) or rather brief. Because of the stress this chapter has caused me over the years, I decided that I would stick with brief and hope for the best.

My sincere hope is that I have done a decent job on my literature review and that there are only minor corrections to be made to it. Of course, when I think forward to post-viva corrections, this is the chapter that keeps coming to mind. Some of that is historical (and slightly hysterical) self-doubt that lingers from a negative experience with another academic. But some of that is due to a more rational fear that I’ve just missed something – either because I was unaware of a whole body of literature or because I missed a few newly published items that should be included.

Looking back over the process, I think I have learned more about how not to do a literature review, rather than how to actually complete one! But knowing what not to do will certainly make things easier for my next (much smaller!) literature review.

To be fair, I have learned several “best practices” to carry forward into my post-PhD research career. I have learned better ways to search for literature, but also better ways of keeping track of what I’ve read, along with improved note-taking techniques. (This theory will be tested in the New Year when I begin working on a small research project about social media proxies for adults with dementia.) I hope that as my experience and confidence increases, I will be able to help others in their quest to conduct a thorough literature review. But I really do need to learn more myself before I try to teach the art of it all to others!

It feels quite good to have a solid chunk of content in my main thesis draft, and I can’t wait to add more content. But for now, I must concentrate on creating a first full draft of my discussion chapter. And that, I am fearful to say, is looking to be almost as frustrating as the literature review chapter. (Although there haven’t been any tears yet, which is a happy thing!)

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of my thesis progress!

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.