Clearing out and moving on(ish)

I cleared out my PhD office at Edinburgh Napier University today. It was a bit of a strange feeling as I know that I will be back in the office a few more times before the end of the year as I finish up a project that I am working on with my colleague, Gemma. But at the same time, I’ve left. I am no longer a PhD student. I am no longer an associate lecturer. I am no longer a regular employee, although I am still listed as associate staff whilst I do some mop-up work. But mop-up work isn’t quite the same, and the paycheques have ceased!

When I left, I did so without fanfare. There were no good-byes. There were no “we’ll miss yous”. There were no leaving drinks; no email to alert people of my change in circumstances. I just… left. And that lack of fanfare left me feeling quite deflated. It left me feeling that my time at Napier was inconsequential; like I am not/was not an integral part of the Napier Machine. (I know that’s not true, really, I do!)

And I am still kind of there. Or at least, I will be around for occasional meetings over the next few months. That means I will still be interacting with folks from my research group, which would make “goodbye” seem silly. Although once my project there is done, I suppose I will just silently fade into the past; I will just be someone that folks “used to know”. (There will be some connections that continue, I hope!)

But, alas, this is another part of my story. I have to leave Napier so that I can go onto the next thing. I have to leave Napier so that I can build my academic career out there in the Big Bad World. Indeed, I have already gone onto the next thing by way of my post-doc in Dundee. And I am actively applying for other posts in the UK and further afield. Oh, and I have applied for a small pot of funding for a small project with one of my Napier colleagues, so my real departure might be delayed a bit longer.

Anyhow… now that I have boxed up my Napier office, I have to start working on putting my home office. That is where I will spend most of my Dundee hours, as I will only commute twice per week. It is also where I will work on applications for other jobs.

Of course, that task will have to wait just a bit. Because I am leaving for my summer holidays to The Homeland tomorrow. Which also means that I don’t have to think about the sadness of clearing out my office and moving on with my life. For now, at least! It also means that I will have to go through all of the contents from my office after my holidays. So I suppose the clear-out isn’t complete quite yet!

The doctor is in: Frances Ryan, PhD

It has been a long time coming, but I am finally a doctor. Oh yes, I am now officially Dr Frances Ryan. The PhD kind of doctor, not the medical kind – just so that there is no doubt.

When I say “a long time coming”, I mean that my PhD Dreams began with my undergraduate degree way, way, way back in 1999. At the time, I had hoped to move directly from my undergraduate work at Central Washington University into a master’s degree followed, hopefully, by a PhD. But after meeting a cute boy during my undergraduate year abroad, I put my postgraduate dreams on hold so that I could get married and do all that lovey-dovey family stuff. (No regrets!)

Later, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, Paul, the plan changed to doing part-time postgraduate studies whilst we raised our family (we were getting ready to adopt from the foster care system). But my beloved Paul died before I was meant to begin my studies, and so I put my dreams on hold so that I could relearn how to breathe. (No, really. When you become a widow, you can forget how to do simple things like breathe, eat, sleep, laugh, and even hope…)

But, eventually, I managed to find the strength to return to school for a master’s degree. And at some point during that degree path, my PhD Dreams were renewed. I was privileged to be offered three different PhD placements and I happily accepted the one at Edinburgh Napier University.

My PhD studies began in November 2013 under the supervision of Professor Hazel Hall (director of studies), Alistair Lawson (second supervisor), and Peter Cruickshank (third supervisor). Whilst the “ideal” PhD journey is about three years, my journey took a bit longer than that. Which isn’t uncommon, but I am a bit disappointed at myself for not finishing sooner. (Some of the delays were out of my control, but I have to acknowledge that some were down to me and my self-confidence – or lack thereof.)

In the end, I submitted my thesis on Halloween (2018) just shy of five years after beginning my studies and my (slightly delayed) viva took place in February 2019. I was quite keen to complete my minor corrections in time for the summer graduations, so handed in my corrections a tad bit early (so not everything about my PhD was delayed). After all, graduating on the 4th of July is a pretty cool thing for an American – especially one who is the daughter of two United States Marines!

And so, finally, here I am: Frances Ryan, PhD. Or Dr Ryan, if you prefer.

Of course, this dream could never have been realised without the encouragement and support of others. So, thank you to all of my family and friends in America, the UK, and in the virtual world for helping to see me through this crazy adventure!

I am not certain where life will take me next. Ideally, I will be able to remain in Scotland working as an academic for the foreseeable future. But I am a realist (begrudgingly so) and I know that I will have to be open to opportunities wherever they might be. (If you know of a job opportunity I should consider, please get in touch!)

And now that I have accomplished this great dream of mine, I suppose I should start thinking about the Next Big Thing. After all, having a big goal to focus on is what keeps me going!

You can watch the ceremony on YouTube below. I enter the stage about 6 minutes in, so no need to watch the entire 90-minute show!

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!

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.

Applying for the next phase

I submitted my first post-PhD life job application today, which I am counting as a milestone moment (hence the celebratory bubbles illustrating this post).

The application is for a lecturer post at a Scottish university which would incorporate elements from my PhD experiences with my “past life” as a communications professional. The post is also well suited to my undergraduate and master’s level degrees, which relate directly to my professional career, which helped to inform my PhD research.

It is a strange feeling to be looking forward to the next phase of my academic life, especially when I’m not quite finished with this phase. (I am close though; very close!) Although, I suppose it is fairly standard to start looking for jobs during the last few months of doing a PhD. (Not that I am generally one to do things the “standard” way!)

When I first saw the post advertised, I thought it looked interesting. However, I dismissed it because I’m just not good enough. (Imposter syndrome, you understand.) But then one of my PhD supervisors sent me a link to the post and said that it was right up my alley. So I gave it another thought and decided, yes, I can totally do that job! (Confidence is a wonderful thing.)

However, as I started to pull my application together I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t a good candidate after all. So I threw some talking points together and sent them off to a (non-academic) friend, along with the job specs. He replied back with excitement, declaring that the job was perfect for me and that I should most certainly apply. (He works in career services and hasn’t steered me wrong yet!)

With my confidence growing stronger each day, I sat down and wrote out my supporting statement. Then I went for a run so that I could talk through a potential interview in my head. (I know: I’m crazy.) By the end of my run, I had a better idea of how to finish up my statement and was starting to feel really excited. In fact, I spent an hour or so making edits before I took my post-run shower. (Too much information, I know.)

As today’s deadline fast approached, I sent my CV off to be reviewed by a couple of trusted colleagues and friends. And when I was finally ready to share my supporting statement with my reviewers, I was pleased with the positive feedback I received. (Being told you have a strong application by people you admire and who have proven academic track records is a real boost!)

When I hit the submit button on my application, I felt a wave of satisfaction come over me. I felt very confident and I knew that I submitted something that is worthy of consideration.

Of course, I also felt a bit of doubt because, well, imposter syndrome. Again. You understand.

But the doubt is also relevant as the post is for a permanent lectureship position in an area that is not (quite) the same as my PhD. And I am not (quite) a PhD. (But I am within the timeframe they stated.) And it is not overly common for new PhDs to land a permanent lectureship right out of the gate.

At the very least, I hope that my application gets me an interview. Though as I’ve already started dreaming about a new “I got the job” work bag, I will be a bit crushed if I don’t manage both an interview and a job offer.

But, I am perfect for the job. I really do meet (or exceed) the specifications for the role and I have the passion and commitment to excel in the position. Yes, I am very well qualified for the post and would make a positive contribution to the university.

“They’d be so lucky to have me,” she says, forgetting all about that previously mentioned imposter syndrome.

However, if they do not agree with me, at least I now have a bit of experience in applying for an academic post. And that’s what life is all about: Experiences!

A special shout-out to my colleagues and friends who took the time to review my application materials. When I get the job, I’ll buy the celebratory drinks!

Now, on to the next milestone!

2018: 300(ish) days to go

Welcome to 2018—the year that I am finally, really, really going to finish my PhD. And this is getting serious now. In fact, there are now only about 300 days remaining for me to submit my thesis—or I cannot submit at all. And so, the pressure is well and truly on!

When I started my PhD four years ago, I had great hopes that I would finish in three years and that it would be a positive experience. But (for a variety of reasons) it has been a struggle that has found me making one excuse after another for why it has taken me so long. To be fair, some of the excuses were quite valid and I probably should have suspended my studies for a couple of months a couple of times because of them.

But it’s too late now and there is no more time for excuses—valid or otherwise.

So I now have about 300 days to write an 80,000-word PhD thesis. Thankfully, some of those words are written. And I have no other responsibilities at the moment, so I don’t have to take time out of my writing.

And that means that the first four months of 2018 will be writing, writing, writing, and more writing. (And editing.)

I will try a bit harder to update my PhD blog as I go, but I have to prioritise that writing so I can’t make any promises.

Anyhow. Happy New Year to all of you!

The Doctor will be with you shortly…

Writer’s block? Write, now!

For more than a month now, I have been suffering from severe writer’s block. I haven’t been able to write my thesis. I haven’t been able to update my PhD blog. And I haven’t been able to write on my personal blog. In fact, it has been so bad that I haven’t even been able to reply to personal letters to my family and friends. (Yes, I write “real” letters!) I don’t know exactly what prompted my block, but I think it was caused by a lot of little things working together to become one great big thing.

However, before my block, I signed up for a three-day non-residential writing retreat hosted by my university’s Research and Innovation Office (RIO) that took place last week. The event, Write Now!, was held off campus to allow for a much-needed change of scenery—which I always find helpful.

And, thankfully, on the Friday before the retreat, one of my supervisors came by to check in on my progress. When explained my extreme writer’s block, he helped me to re-work a couple of things and to re-think my mindset. (And he checked back with me later that same day, which helped. A lot!) That chat helped to better set me up for the writing retreat.

When I first signed up for the writing retreat, I told myself that a 1,000-word goal would be achievable each day. However, I had to amend that to 500 because of my block. My reasoning was that if I tried to go from 0 to 1,000 straight out of the gate, I would become even more frustrated. So I chose a more manageable goal so that I could feel a bit of success at the end of the retreat.

In the end, I wrote 1,713 words (daily counts were: 539, 651, and 523).

That doesn’t seem like much for what should have been an intensive writing session. However, it is more than treble the words I managed in the month prior.

We marked our successes each day by hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree. Small baubles for 500 words, large baubles for 1,000 words, and golden snowflakes for 2,000 words. It was encouraging for me to see more baubles added as the hours and days went by. (Though I wish I could have added more than I did!)

In total, there were about 20 people at the retreat from across the university. And between us, we managed to write 40,000 words. Though it should be noted that some writers were editing documents, rather than bulking them out, which means that some people were working on negative word counts. (Which makes me think we should have had additional ornaments for reaching our daily goals—which would have included editing pages. I think I’ll mention that to the RIO team for next time…)

I am still feeling a bit blocked, but I am pleased to say that the retreat has helped me to see my way forward. It was also a good reminder that when your goal is total words, you can always switch to another section or chapter when you’re feeling blocked. Even if that is not the chapter you were meant to be working on that day. Words are words!

With the Christmas holidays (nearly) upon us, I am aware that I will not be spending full days at my computer—especially as two of my nieces are coming to Scotland to spend the holidays with me! However, I am going to aim for 250 words a day minimum with a stretch goal of 500 per day for my holiday average. (My nieces are 21 and 23, so if I plan to write when they’re Facebooking their friends, I should have plenty of time!)

Anyhow, as my thesis writing time is tick, tick, ticking away, I will need to work really hard at finding my motivation and overcoming this block. But I am confident that I will manage to pull it off. I just need to remember that writing needs to be prioritised and that, when I am blocked, I just need to suck it up and write, now!

Teaching to learn; learning to teach

As my time as a PhD student (hopefully) winds to an end, I am beginning to look towards my career as an academic. My hope is that part of that career includes teaching, which is why I eagerly accepted the opportunity to teach a module at Edinburgh Napier University this term.

More accurately, I accepted the opportunity to co-teach alongside a more established and experienced educator, Professor Hazel Hall.

My official title is Associate Lecturer on a module called Knowledge Management (KM). The module, which is half-way over, is being delivered to a group of 4th-year honours students in the School of Computing.

The module’s content includes lectures and activities related to approaches to KM, knowledge capital, KM infrastructures, and techniques for the creation, capture, classification, exchange, dissemination, and use of knowledge for competitive advantage and corporate growth.

By the end of the term, students will be able to: critically assess the general principles of KM; make effective use of the principles of KM in organisational settings to increase effectiveness; examine KM processes and tools for organisations; develop KM teamwork activities in organisations; and demonstrate sound understanding of theory and practice in KM.

I am sure that the students felt overwhelmed when these learning outcomes were shared on the first day of class. And I cannot imagine how overwhelmed I would have felt if I were teaching the module on my own.

However, whilst my role is one of “teacher”, I am also there as a learner. That is, a learner of teaching through co-teaching.

Some of it is quite easy though. For example, I feel quite confident in the task of speaking in public and sharing knowledge to an audience. I find delivering presentations and workshops to be energising and enjoyable. And I feel that when I deliver learning events, people do learn.

However, delivering a one-off workshop is not the same as delivering a multi-week module to a group of undergraduate students. And that is part of what I am learning from my teaching experience.

Thankfully, I am learning from someone who has a proven ability to deliver the module!

Hazel has taught the module for a few years now and has developed a strong programme of lectures, readings, personal study assignments, and in-class activities. This means that I have been able to see what a well-developed module looks like from beginning to end. Being able to see the entire term’s plan set out in front of me eliminates much of the unknown “fogginess” that I would expect if I were starting from scratch. Instead, Hazel knows what works well (and what doesn’t) and has learned through experience how best to deliver each segment.

From the administrative side, Hazel and I are both well-organised which means that her way of preparing for each class (and the module as a whole) suits my own working style—even though our overall organisational styles are not identical. Seeing how Hazel has organised materials (print and electronic) has given me a lot of ideas for how I can combine her methods with mine to improve on the ways I might have managed things without that insight.

Over the next few weeks, there will be more learning on my side as we near exam time. I am a tad nervous about marking all of those essays, but I imagine the students writing them will be a tad (or more!) nervous, too.

One of the things I’ve learned from teaching so far is that I was right in thinking that I would enjoy it. Although I know that the never-ending planning and administration that goes along with the role will bring a bit of stress and chaos on occasion, I feel that the rewards will far outweigh those (potential) negatives.

So, that’s another feather in my CV-hat (which you can view here).

Why am I still writing?

I am still writing my thesis. Still. Yes, still. I am still writing my thesis. Oh my goodness, I am still writing my thesis!

When I began my PhD more than three years ago, I was confident that I would be one of those irritating students who submitted their work spot on time. And then, I hit a bump or two in the road. One of those bumps was more of a mountain than a bump, which didn’t help. But that was fine; I would survive!

After I recovered from that pretty miserable first year (a year that led me to reconsider if a PhD was for me), I got back on my PhD Pony and began to ride again.

I was picking up speed and making up for some of the time I’d lost in the first year’s Pity Party. The way I saw it was that I could still submit within three months of my three years. Yeah, that would be good. I could be happy with that.

And then, I hit a bump or two in the road. I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed. And then I got sick. And then there were more social stresses. And then I broke my ankle. And then, and then, and then… And let’s not forget about the second bout of extreme self-doubt that led me to reconsider if a PhD was for me…

[Enter more excuses, rationalisations, and justifications here… Then enter a few more for good measure…]

But it was all fine. I was starting to feel confident again and, even though I would definitely miss my three-year [impossible] goal, I was going to submit within three months after the three years. Well, maybe four months. Five? Six…? OK, seven. Seven months. Definitely no more than seven months. Three years and seven months. And that’s it. Really. That. Is. It.

So here I am, three and a half years into my PhD and I am still writing.

Because I can’t do it. The work has been so very overwhelming and I have struggled to find a way through my massive mountain of data. And it doesn’t help that my own physical health has been less-than-brilliant which has added to my stress, creating a crazy cycle of, well, crazy. (You can read about my May madness on my personal blog.)

However, I have been working some new approaches to my writing, and to my entire work-life balance system. And I think I am finally starting to gain some traction. Some of those changes mean that I am spending less time in front of a computer but, happily, I am more productive when I am working on a computer.

Over the next week or two, I will be busily (and manically!) working on completing my findings chapters which has been a massive, ugly, furry beast of a task. But if my new approach to work (and data analysis) continues to go smoothly, I should be able to succeed in this goal.

I am hoping (desperately!) that I will not face as many challenges when I start putting together the rest of my thesis. Because let’s be honest, my supervisors (as wonderful as they are) are probably getting really fed up with my ongoing delays!

And that, in a rambling nutshell, is why I am still writing. (But hopefully not for long!)

Determining examiners: A happy milestone

One of the vital elements of a PhD in the UK is the Viva, or “viva voce”. (Or, if you’re an American, the thesis defense!) It is an oral examination of the PhD research. It is an opportunity to discuss your research with an expert in your field. And, importantly, it is an opportunity to prove your worth in the Academy.

Before you get to the viva, you have to make sure that you have a qualified, knowledgeable examination team. The structure of that team might vary from one institution to the next, and even between disciplines. But one thing they’ll have in common is that the examiners will know their stuff!

At my university, the viva includes both an external and internal examiner with your panel chair acting as the chair and moderator. Supervisors are only allowed if the student says it’s OK, but they are not allowed to speak during the examination. (I am inviting my supervisors. They’re a wonderful support to me and I would be happy to have them there… if they dare!)

The examiners are generally identified by the supervision team (with potential input from the student) and are confirmed by the Research Degrees Committee. That confirmation is based on the relevant experience of the team and is determined based on a thesis abstract and the examiners’ CVs, relevant publications, and previous examination experience.

And confirming your examiners is a big deal! It means you’re getting a bit closer to your viva, which means you’re getting pretty darn near to submitting your thesis.

As for me, I submitted the relevant form (RD12) and accompanying information for approval today. Which means I’m close to being ready for my viva. Or, at least, it means I should be close! I still have a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, of writing to do. But I’m getting there. Slowly. Very slowly.

I don’t know if I’m able to share my abstract or the names of my chosen examiners yet. And I don’t know when the committee will formally accept my suggested people. So… I won’t share that information here today. But I did want to share this important milestone.

But for now… it’s back to that thesis writing thing that I should be working on…

My final (?) RD6 review

My last (hopefully, my last!) RD6 review meeting was this afternoon. I say my last because I am hoping (praying!!) that I will have submitted my PhD thesis before the next round of these 6-monthly review meetings take place. So… let’s all hope together that this was my last!

Unfortunately, I was not as far along in my thesis writing as I had hoped to be when I met with my full supervision team today. But I am feeling mostly confident that I have things under control.

I felt a bit frustrated admitting to my panel chair that I have not delivered any completed thesis chapters to my PhD supervisors. And I felt even more frustrated because I don’t have an honest idea of when I will be able to do so. I mean, I’m working on things, but I have been struggling to find a way forward!

Still, I was left feeling confident enough to know (to think, at least) that I will be able to submit my thesis before summer gets into full swing. I was also left feeling confident that I am ready to submit my RD12 form, which is the determination of my viva examiners.

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing, writing, and writing. And when I have time, I will do a bit of writing, too. After all, as much as I like my supervision team, I don’t really fancy meeting them for another RD6 review!