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).

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!

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!