Thesis season: August update

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

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

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

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

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

In August, I will:

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

 

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

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

A research grant, by proxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thesis season

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

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

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

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

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

So, what’s up next?

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

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

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

But for now… it’s back to the thesis.

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!

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).