Posts Tagged ‘Phd Research proposal’

Back from the PhD Experience conference in Hull. There were three days of themed sessions with about 100 people in attendance.

It was a pleasant surprise to find so much common ground in the emotional states of people doing their doctoral studies, despite differences in subject matter (though I think most people were researching in the social sciences). The topic of procrastination and of “imposter syndrome” were discussed, but there were plenty of positive messages, too.

Highlights for me:

1. Giving my first conference paper, albeit a short one, was a good experience. It struck me how different this is from the type of work I do at Henley, where there is generally more of a workshop atmosphere, stops and starts and interaction. Here, I was supposed to talk, and they were supposed to listen. I learned that a good (and rehearsed) start is important.

2. Feeling that the central messages of my slot made people think. These were: that we reflect through telling stories, that stories only have meaning when they venture out and bump up against other people’s stories, and that a good model for reflection(or reflective learning in Personal Development) needs somehow to acknowledge the “inward-outward” necessity.

3. Spending time with several fellow travellers, and hearing about their research experiences, helps me in my own.

I also got a lot out of Ann Cunliffe’s session on research perspectives, and thoroughly recommend anyone looking for direction in social research to read some of her stuff.


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The topic now is “stresses and problems”.  I am supposed to highlight two, providing descriptions, details, source, case history and my plan for dealing with it. It’s 10:46 and I know that this is asking me to focus on something quite signficant in my life, but I can see where this is going.  It’s a commonplace to say that time causes stress, but that’s because we place time in a context where one of its properties is measured by “stress”. You can only come up against a deadline when you have set yourself a deadline. “Disappointment takes planning!”

Where are the stresses in my life? Well, I had a nice little wake-up call from one of my Supervisors, which ought to be stressing me (in a good way). I had sent one of my occasional “up-dates” which is intended to show whether I’ve moved along. Yes, came the answer, you have, but where is the indication of contribution to knowledge? This is, after all, a PhD, and while I have done a good job of creating an idea in a very practical project on Learner Identity, I still have to frame its worth within some dark and dusty corner of academia. I totally get the point, and it’s one that has been nagging at me as I leapt from academic discipline branch to academic discipline branch in my reading.

[As an aside: stress seemed to be a common denominator this evening in feedback sessions at Henley with the two teams of Executive MBAs I’m personal tutor for (who had themselves spent the day alongside the even more stressed out Full-Time MBAs). Not surprising, really, given the nature of the course generally, and the specific tasks of two big assignments immanent for submission.]

Is stress, like everything else, entirely contextual?  Is it viral, passed between people? Actually, “stress” must be the name for a collection of feelings. Something in and of itself cannot be stressful. It becomes so by defining the meaning of that “thing” as a member of a class of things.

Contextual or not, I do think I have “stress and problems”.  For the first time in writing these entries, though, I don’t think I can bring these up on such a public forum. This is an odd feeling. Aha, a “what just happened?” moment. I wonder whether this is because to do so will involve talking about characters and events that have not yet happened, and this is sometimes the most difficult part of reflection (assuming that reflection involves thinking about past, present and future).

Pause, while I think.

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Applying myself

I finally finished writing my application to start a PhD. It’s taken months! That’s not because it takes me an age to fill out a form, but rather because I felt I needed to present a decent case for my proposed area of research (which I’ve blogged a little about quite a while ago). What I thought would be a 2,000 word document, including references meticulously referenced the Harvard way, actually expanded to nearly 5,000 words.

Apparently, what I actually get down to in my research may well be nothing like where I have now begun, but (equally apparently, or so I’m told) the process of writing, reflecting, rejecting and re-creating is essential to the doctoral process.

Great, I can hardly wait!

For now, I am going to sit back for a while and wait for the reaction from Lancaster. And post up one of those generic metaphoric photos of people in a race (culled from the Guardian).

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Rummaging around in the references

I confess! I am now preparing a proposal to undertake a PhD.

I imagine that this, in educational terms, will compare to my MBA Dissertation rather in the same way that the Hobbit compares to the Lord of the Rings.

What I sense lies before me is the dubious honour of sacrificing every free moment for the next four to six years in the selfish pursuit of, first, a thorough background understanding in, then the pinpoint investigation of and finally the worldly-wise formation of noble yet unfinished conclusions around my given topic. And all written and spoken about in a way that must please minds so well-trained in viewing the world with rigour that in so pleasing them, my own mind must itself become changed and enlarged.

Ah yes, I am in this for an enlarged mind!

On the few occasions I have spoken with people about this, the first question asked is generally “a PhD on what”? It’s at this point I can report I become uncustomarily tongue-tied and inarticulate. I usually blurt out something about management learning, but it feels like a paradox – the problem is that the more you look at the beginning, the more you see, and the more you see, the less you feel able to focus, so the further away you feel you are becoming from answering the ‘on what’ question.

But I am told this is normal, and the feeling on confusion will pass and be replaced by others, such as ‘overwhelmed’, ‘intrigued’, ‘engaged’ (if you’re lucky), ‘frustrated’ and ‘sick of the whole damn thing’. Can’t wait.

Anyway, my topic (as worded in my head today) looks something like this –

‘Creative Interventions in the development of cognitive capacities for strategic decision making in managers’

There, I’ve said it!

Already I can report progress in my learning. I have learnt that you don’t have to read every word of every academic paper! In fact, you are stupid to do so. There will be some that you will read until you know them word-for-word and be glad that you do , and others that you will you know that well but wish hard that you didn’t. But mostly you become a very discerning raider of the lost references, picking through the papers cited to pick out the gems and the links. I am likening it to the newspaper journalist who goes through the litter bins of the subject of their story to look for clues.

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