Making time count when doing your PhD

Lisa MurphyI am a first year PhD candidate in Applied Psychology at University College Cork. I did my undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology here and I honestly love the School! Its home to a lot of memories, but more importantly it has what I need in terms of progressing as an academic and as a professional. So, I’ve decided to embark upon a 4 year structured PhD programme – exciting (and terrifying) times ahead! In these early days, I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m actuallydoing a PhD – not so long ago, this was something that only grown up’s did!  You can tweet Lisa or visit her website, where this blog was originally published

 

Time is perhaps the most important thing in our physical and psychological world. We can neither save it nor store it, exchange it nor rewind it. We are constantly spending, and often wasting, our most precious resource. Since beginning my PhD, I have come to understand the importance of time (both my own as well as the time of others) more earnestly than ever before. Our time must be planned, utilised effectively, enjoyed, never squandered and always considered.

Yet I sometimes wonder – even if I succeeded in planning each and every minute of the next four years to a degree of astounding precision, and completed each minute exactly as scheduled, would this time be enough to accomplish all of the things that I want to accomplish, mainly, four perfectly designed and impeccably executed pieces of research? Probably/definitely not! Somewhere, somehow, a trade-off must occur between completing your doctoral research in a reasonable amount of time and conducting ‘perfect research’ of faultless quality. Although the latter, in my opinion, can never be accomplished, it is certainly achievable to waste mental energy and more importantly, precious time, trying to conduct perfect PhD research.  For example, at the moment I spend a considerable amount of time every day sitting at my computer, books and journal articles covering the surface of my desk, a new Microsoft Word document open on the screen, faced with a blinking curser, and no words. Here is why (a.k.a what not to let happen):

I have become so preoccupied with writing ‘the perfect literature review’, that I have convinced myself the only way to do so is to study every word ever written on my topic, before I put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, so to speak). My topic is time perspective. Writings on the psychology of time perception go back as far as the year 1781 (to the best of my knowledge). By this outrageous logic, I must therefore study, review and recall every detail of roughly 250 years of literature before I can even begin to write my introduction section. At that rate, my supervisor should receive the first draft of this introduction section by the year 2018 (I am a relatively slow reader). She is a patient woman, however given that it is in my research plan to submit for publication in December 2015, I imagine her patience would be tested to a large extent in this instance.

As I take my seat each day, vowing to be productive and do some writing, I am consumed with writing the perfect literature review. And what happens next? I am not sure how many of you will relate, but fear is what happens next. I am afraid to write in case I haven’t discovered the most important paper ever written in my field, identified the most influential thinker, or studiedthat thing that everybody else in the area knows, but I have yet to uncover. In essence, I am terrified that I will leave something important out…so nothing goes in! Even more ironic, I sit staring into space, contemplating what little time I have to read all of this literature, when I could actually be reading the literature! What a gigantic waste of my time!

Today, following a brief meltdown, I had an important conversation with a friend. She told me that it really doesn’t take an exceptional amount of intelligence to complete a PhD, but still many do not finish. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a reflection of intelligence, but rather of character, or more importantly, a reflection of one’s responsiveness and reaction to an intense and difficult character building process. And it hit me – more than I wish to write the perfect literature review, I hope to build my character and resilience to setbacks and meltdowns, enjoy the highs but learn from the mistakes, push through procrastination and panic, and acquire the skills and expertise necessary for a successful career in academia, all the while conducting research on a topic which gets me so excited that I could cartwheel, research which will never be perfect, but will be my best. This, I have been told, is good enough, and that, in my opinion, will be time well spent!

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How many of me are there?

Rebecca Photo PortraitRebecca Turvill is undertaking a PhD at the University of Brunel in the School of Sports Science and Education. Her research “How are children developing number sense, post national numeracy strategy?” is supervised by Dr Gwen Ineson and Dr Heather Mendick. You can follow Rebecca via twitter @RebeccaTurvill

 

 

How many of me are there?

                I am in a wonderful position to be researching something I am passionate about and believe needs detailed further research. Working as a primary mathematics consultant in a London borough, with a stark achievement gap between the highest and lowest achieving pupils in mathematics, I was interested in the fundamental way children learn mathematics. At the same time my supervisors were looking for someone to undertake a PhD in how children develop number sense. It was a marriage made in heaven.

                To begin with (and I mean perhaps the first week) the mathematics consultant in me was happily undertaking a literature review around number sense, looking at policy and pedagogy documents with great interest and some critique. The neuro-psychological literature is heavily influential here, so I moved further into this area. Fortunately, having a psychology degree seemed advantageous.

                However, a major feature of my early work has been to examine the concept of number sense from a range of theoretical perspectives. So, whilst my previous studies have been useful, I have also had good guidance to broaden this focus with a sociological perspective. This has had the fantastic outcome of acquainting me with Bourdieu. This is an acquaintance I am still nurturing, but which has already had a major effect on me. The idea of working reflexively to study a field I am very familiar with is a central issue for my ongoing work. But starting this reflection has had a far deeper impact than just a practical, methodological one. By the end of my second month of study, I was feeling a bit split – not about whether to continue, but about who should be continuing? Unbeknownst to me, I have been building quite a repertoire of versions of myself.

                So far, I have introduced you to the mathematics consultant who saw the need for the study and the psychologist who supported a neuropsychological explanation for the phenomena being explored. But it also turns out that the teacher in me (who predates the consultant) has an opinion. In brief this equates to a child-centred pedagogy when there is time to carry it out, and whatever fits when tests / Ofsted are looming – and much soul searching was needed to finally admit it. Beyond that, I am also a parent. I have been surprised at how strong this voice has been. I have used parenting examples to illustrate some of my key theoretical critiques; yet my concern is with the school system’s influence on number sense. I am not planning to include parents in my research design; yet many of my thoughts seem personally salient in the home context.

                There are then, of course, the more fundamental sides to me, which I have never previously questioned, but feel naive not to have done so. I am a female primary teacher – a common sight – but one who is running the gauntlet of post-graduate study. My decisions to study maths at A-Level and take a “mathematical” route through my B.Sc. seemed quite easy when I took them, but as I look back and reflect more my gender seems somehow more relevant. But I have been lucky, I was a third daughter of supportive parents who through occupation (Army) sent me to private boarding school. How many sides to me proliferate in that one sentence alone!

                So, I return to my earlier question, who is taking this research forward? The motivation and the interpretation appear different from each angle. In truth, I may be some way from answering that and I suspect I haven’t even met all my forms yet. I feel like I’m walking through a hall of mirrors – I wonder if we will all make it to the end!

 

I wish to acknowledge the support of Dr Gwen Ineson and Dr Heather Mendick for their supervision and guidance and the whole EISI group at Brunel University for allowing the many sides of me to emerge. I am grateful for a studentship from Brunel University to allow me to undertake this research.

Cyber-femininities

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Crystal  is undertaking a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia, Perth. She is passionate about gender equality, feminism, percussive music, and penguins. Read more of her blogs  and follow her via @wishcrys

Cyber-femininities

cyber femininitiesImagine a world where we traded on intellect, circulated ideas, and communicated textually to convey our ‘inner selves’, where others evaluated us based on our ideal self-perceived identities… In this world, visible bodily markers that used to distinguish race, gender, and age would no longer penetrate our exchanges as fervently… Would this ideal world be a place free of racism, sexism, and ageism? Perhaps, an age of non-embodiment?

Apart from being a biological interface that maneuvers technology behind the screen, the physical body is not a necessary entity on the inter-webs. After all, one may craft avatars, pseudonymous personas, and entire standalone life course profiles to interact with other users without any reference to their actual physical appearance.

As appealing as this seeded thought is, users are more often than not bringing their physical bodies into the forefront of cyber-worlds, often intensifying particular bodily features and aspects of personality that they imagine to be their truest selves. We’re talking about self-trained artists in digital manipulation who erase fat, enlarge eyes, insert pecs, alter skin tones. We’re talking about the use of language, emoticons, and social media interfaces to convey an entire digital profile of a finely crafted individual. A re-embodiment on a digital interface. Perhaps even a hyper-embodimentin a bodiless world.

In my study of commercial bloggers in South East Asia, bloghop models tended to follow a handful of gendered scripts to convey their ideal mode of femininity. As gendered performances that are practised on and intensified via the Internet, I term these scripts cyber-femininities.

These modes of cyber-femininities were sieved out through textual themes, repetitions or recurring regularities in blogshop launches and the blogposts of owners and models.

As with other, recent work on femininity and masculinity, this analysis of blogshops moves away from a simple dichotomy between hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity on the one hand and subordinate masculinity and femininity on the other (Connell, 1987, 2002; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005) toward a more nuanced view of diverse and complexly hierarchical femininities (Schippers, 2007).

At least six different sorts of femininity became evident in analyzing the online content of blogshops.

The ‘family girl’ portrays herself as a loving daughter and stresses the importance of her tight-knit family.

The ‘material girl’ emphasizes branded goods and other possessions in her online presentation of self.

The ‘globetrotter’ blogs about her travels and adventures.

The ‘fashionista’ updates readers on the latest and upcoming trends in apparel and accessories as well as beauty tips.

The ‘party girl’ showcases her sensational nightlife and provocative (hetero)sexuality.

The ‘rebel’ claims to reject social norms, including female body image, and expresses herself through verbal rants and expletives.

These femininities – or modes of feminine expression – are not mutually exclusive, though certain blogshop models are known for highlighting one or more through their online persona.

One blogger, for example, exudes the qualities of a ‘family girl’ with frequent references to her mother’s sacrificial love and supreme culinary skills, her tight-knit and doting family, and a consistent reverence towards God as the provider of all.

Another blogger paints herself as a ‘globetrotter’ with a plethora of past and future holiday destinations pictorially catalogued and communicated in pixels. Although she has a life partner, a close-knit family, and a day job in a corporate firm, the blogger focuses on her independence as a young sojourner in search of exotic adventures and exciting escapades.

Yet another blogger openly flaunts her ‘rebel’ image boasting a punk lifestyle taking on conventionally masculine sports like skateboarding and surfing, and a grunge fashion slant with multiple tattoos and piercings. She is also liberal in conveying her frustration and anger through harsh words and tones, though often being passive-aggressive in addressing everyone yet no one in particular.

While these and other blogshop models perform diverse cyber-femininities, in contrast, for instance, to a singular hegemonic femininity or masculinity (cf. Connell, 1987; Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005), their position within the commercial sphere produces powerful and disciplining effects for both blogshop consumers and the models themselves.

More on this another time!

“How breakthroughs come: tenacity and perseverance”

kip jonesKip Jones is a reader in Performative Social Science at the Centre for Qualitative Research at Bournemouth University. Kip is an American by birth, and has been studying and working in the UK for more than 15 years. His main efforts have involved developing tools from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider public. You can read more of Kip’s fascinating blogs at http://kipworldblog.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter @kip_jones
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The following is a repost of a blog written a while back that describes the process of creating, then publishing,’On a Train from Morgantown: a film script’  in Psychological Studies, an academic journal.
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train kipMore than ten years ago now, when I was living in a bedsit in Leicester and had just finished my PhD, I decided to write a conference presentation about Ken Gergen and Klaus Riegel. Both scholars played important roles in the development of my thinking for my PhD thesis (Narratives of Identity & the Informal Care Role). During this time I came across a volume (Life-span Developmental Psychology Dialectical Perspectives on Experimental Research, edited by Nancy Datan & Hayne W. Reese, published by Academic Press 1977) that was a result of the Fifth West Virginia University Life-Span Developmental Psychology Conference held at Morgantown, West Virginia in 1976. The conference centred on the work of Riegel and the book included a chapter by Gergen.My imagination got the best of me. What if these two, both influences on my own work, had a conversation following that gathering? As I recently explained, reported in a Times Higher Education article, “Gergen is a giant to our generation, so it was good to look back to a time when he was insecure…I wanted to examine how breakthroughs come, and the price people pay for them”. Thus, “On a train from Morgantown” was born.It seems a short time ago now, but we must not forget that in 2001 digital production was limited, at the personal computer level at least. I found video-cassette recorded footage of trains that would have been in service in West Virginia in 1976 then convinced a techy at my university to help me cut and edit it. I wrote a script (much like a radio play) and found people to record it on cassette tape (one in Germany, the rest in Leicester). I produced overhead projections for some of the visuals and created lots of sound files and edited music (again, on cassette) to fill out the imaginary train journey.

I packed up all these production materials and caught the ferry to Hamburg and then a train to Berlin and a conference at the Free University to present my grand production … to an audience that would include Mary and Ken Gergen. When my allotted time came, I spent it dashing about starting up a TV, co-ordinating a cassette player, an overhead projector, etc.—a bit like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain. Ken Gergen responded quite emotionally following all of this. The mostly German-speaking audience seemed a bit confused by it all.

I recall this as a bit of madness on my part at the time, but also in many ways as the public birth of Performative Social Science, or at least the seeds for its future development. Being a visual person, I wanted to ‘show’ as well as ‘tell’–and this frustration became central to my efforts in developing a Performative Social Science (PSS).

Because publication is (is supposed to be?) the end-all of some academic lives, I began to think about how to possibly publish ‘Morgantown’. Because of my visual inclinations, I thought that a film script with all of its optical instructions might do the trick. So I wrote ‘Morgantown’ up as a screenplay, looking at many scripts in order to get a sense of how to present a visual story as text. A bit of a Pollyanna at publication at that time, I actually submitted the script to a few journals which I naively thought might be adventurous enough to publish it. They were not and it was rejected.

I put ‘Morgantown’ in a drawer somewhere and so it languished for almost a decade. About a year ago, the editor of a special issue on the work of Ken Gergen for Springer’s Psychological Studiescontacted me and asked if I would be interested in submitting a paper for the issue. I responded that, yes, I do have something that may be fit for purpose. Go ahead, I told myself: ‘I dare you.’ I submitted the script for ‘Morgantown’.

Desktop23 kip blogTo my great surprise, the submission was accepted with no substantial changes and now is published as a film script in the special issue on Ken Gergen in Psychological Studies. In my estimation, this represents a great breakthrough for Performative Social Science, or the use of tools from the arts in dissemination of social science research. It gives others a reference in support of their own work in moving academic publishers to being more open, even inviting, to alternative presentation formats.

‘Morgantown’ and its eventual acceptance holds a special place for me. In so many ways it represents ‘working in the dark’ against unknown forces and circumstances, but still being driven by our muses to create and invent. ‘Morgantown’ represents what I like to call ‘kitchen sink’ work—work produced because creativity compels us to find the means, the ways, the materials and then the outlets. This mirrors the way in which artists frequently work–something that social scientists and policy wags can learn a great deal from. The artist does not wait for someone, somewhere to establish a ‘cultural value’ for their outputs. They create and damn the consequences! I never want to forget that it is in these personal efforts the potential to make a difference lies.

Some of the responses to the publication of ‘Morgantown’ are repeated below. They convince me that efforts to open up channels previously closed to innovation and experimentation are not unfounded and offer support and encouragement to others:

· Congratulations. This is really amazing. Thank you for your courage. And for the work that you are doing for all of us.
· It’s just wonderful to see the glimpse of barriers breaking down between interdisciplinary research and innovative work. Well done!! It is happening a step at a time and we just need to keep on pushing those boundaries.
· Breaks the waves for academics like me dreaming of more than the written words to portray researched life
· I got very inspired, though, when reading about your publication as I share PSS’ engagement and ambition to intensify publications moving in between arts/social sciences/performance …I say/shout “GREAT!!!” from Copenhagen! Thank you for sharing!!
· I continue to watch your career with great interest and derive much hope for my own work from your example.
· Fantastique!!! gives me hope
· Think it is really important to share this kind of news as it gives all of us who research in creative ways hope!
· A massive achievement in the current climate!
· This is fantastic … and I received this just perfect for our course in qualitative research methodologies where I am teaching narrative and performative approaches. Will use your article as a brand new example and hope to encourage some of our students to be more daring!

Call For Guest Blogs

The ethos underpinning this Social Research Hub is to support a narrative between all of you who are interested in social research. It is hoped that SOCPHD can facilitate communication between researchers, those who apply its findings to develop and implement policies and practices, with those whose lives are affected by it  – Everyone of us.

As such this invitation for guest blogs is purposefully broad; I do not want to dictate the narrative. Clearly, no abusive or defamatory blogs will be posted, otherwise I want to help share your knowledge and experiences. Your blogs do not have to be exclusive to SOCPHD.

By SOCPHD hosting guest blogs I hope to engender a sense of community, but it is equally important to support your collaborative ventures. I am constantly inspired by your generosity and innovation and want to  let others know about it. So do tell us what you are doing.

I have established a forum at www.socphd.co.uk where you can post about your research interest, leave a link to your blog and help others to find you.

This feed and our sister site @phdforum   www.phdforum.co.uk are developing according to your needs. I am grateful to those of you who have expressed an interest in becoming more involved and look forward to developing these conversations  in the coming months.

Please forward any blogs you want to feature on SOCPHD or inquiries to    admin @ socphd.co.uk

Currently these enterprises are facilitated by one full time phd student and your patience with my response times are very much appreciated.

I look forward to hearing from you,

 

Donna (@donna_peach)

Preparation and Passion for a Future in Psychology

Mike Lomas 1Mike Lomas has recently completed a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology and is looking to move onto a Phd. He is also a qualified teacher of the subject, currently working at Bolton College, as well as doing some guest lecturing at the University of Salford, where he has also contributed to an ongoing research project in the area of emotional intelligence. His main area of focus is social psychology, but his role as a teacher means the scope of his reading stretches wider than this. You can follow Mike’s Blog and follow him on Twitter via  @MikeLomas_

Hi there and welcome to my blog, which is essentially all about my passion for the subject of psychology.

I have recently completed a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology and am looking to move onto a Phd. I am also a qualified teacher of the subject, currently working at Bolton College, as well as doing some guest lecturing at the University of Salford, where I have also been fortunate enough to contribute to an ongoing research project in the area of emotional intelligence. My main area of focus is social psychology and the various aspects of modern life that may impact us, particularly in terms of mental health. However, my role as a teacher means the scope of my reading stretches wider than this, so I may also venture into other areas of the subject.

From personal experiences to current goings on in the news, this blog will explore the psychology that underlies every aspect of our modern lives. The posts will take different forms; from short, opinion pieces, to more in depth articles based on my reading. In each instance, I am looking to put some of my thoughts out there, as well as to gather the opinions of others and get some form of discussion going. I’m always looking for fresh perspective on a topic, enabling me develop my own understanding, whilst trying to contribute to the field as best I can.

The blog will also serve as a  resource for my students, and I’ll often post material linked to their studies. Say, for example an interesting debate arose during class discussion, I’d look to bring some of their ideas on board, and get them to begin to think critically about the subject. Even if nobody takes interest and reads this, I feel it will benefit me personally, as it will allow me explore my own curiosity and develop my writing as I go. Albert Einstein once said; “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”, and it is this intellectual curiosity from which I gain motivation. I am simply awaiting inspiration, and for that spark of interest for which to apply it.

I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

Mike

Don’t mock the mock: The importance of a having a practice viva

jennacrop-213x300Jenna Condie is a Postgraduate Researcher who lectures in Psychology and Media Psychology at the University of Salford. She is an enterprising academic or ‘Enterprademic’  taking an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial approach in teaching, learning, research, enterprise and consultancy work. Jenna’s doctoral research contributes to Environmental Psychology, as her qualitative study explores how people make sense of living in ‘disruptive’ places, specifically living alongside railways.

You can read more about Jenna here: http://hub.salford.ac.uk/entreprademic/home/ and connect with her via:

Twitter @jennacondie   LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jennacondie

Don’t mock the mock: The importance of a having a practice viva

I submitted my PhD thesis just over a month ago.  Since handing in, I’ve been a tad unenthusiastic about looking at it again.  When I do read it, the writing seems unfamiliar, almost as if someone else wrote it.  If the viva was the day after submitting my thesis, whilst I might be delirious, at least I would still be immersed in my research.    As more time passes, I feel increasingly distanced from my work.

However, I recently had a mock viva and this has changed everything.  In preparation for the real thing, my supervisors organised a practice run with two academics that I didn’t know.  The mock ran as similar to the real thing as possible.  I waited outside whilst the examiners convened.  I was called in and we shook hands.  They started with some easy questions to get the conversation flowing, which then proceeded into a more intense ‘grilling’ of the how’s and why’s of my research. All the while, my supervisor sat quietly taking notes on my performance.  It lasted for around two hours and I left the room red faced with a pounding head.  They had a chat and I re-entered the room for feedback.  Here’s a summary of what they said:

  • Rehearse your answers – so that I convey the main points of my thesis more clearly and concisely.  Although I made some good points, I did waffle on at times and strayed from answering the question.
  • Your language impacts upon perceived confidence – avoid vagueness and saying words such as ‘stuff’ and ending sentences in ‘I think’.  I need to find ways around this and further rehearsal of arguments is crucial to giving a confident impression.
  • Champion qualitative research – I know that I have a tendency to sound unconvinced of qualitative research and often position it in relation to quantitative research…but I still did it anyway!  I need to drill it into my head that qualitative research is valuable in its own right.  So, to prepare for the viva, I plan to fully immerse myself in the social constructionist and discursive literature again.  I am thinking of preparing a journal article to scaffold this reading and give it purpose.
  • Read up around qualitative research evaluation criteria e.g. generalizability – I got a bit stuck on this and how I ensured rigour in my methodological approach. I’ll be doing some reading around this as well too.
  • It’s ok if you can’t answer a question – I tried to answer everything.  Prepare phrases that give you a get out e.g. “that was beyond the scope of the study”.  It’s also ok to ask for clarification e.g. “could you expand on what you mean”.
  • Summarise each paragraph of your thesis into a sentence – even though I had my thesis with me, there wasn’t time to read over sections in the flow of conversation. One suggestion was to summarise each paragraph into a sentence so that when examiners refer you to a section, you have a condensed version.
  • You must own it – it is my research, I have done a good job, I need to believe my research and defend what I have produced.  It makes an original contribution to knowledge, and what I did met the research aims.

On reflection, I can see that the distance between the research and I impacted upon my performance in the mock viva.  I now have a clearer idea of how to go forward in preparing more thoroughly so I enter the real thing with greater confidence.  Having a mock viva also gave me the opportunity to talk about my research with others which has reignited some of the enthusiasm that I used to have for my work oh so long ago now.

I don’t understand how someone can go into a PhD viva cold. As it’s such an unusual scenario, it requires a rehearsal.   I think the mock viva worked so well for me as it ran as close to an actual viva as possible. I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously if my supervisors or colleagues had played the role of examiners.  The experience has made me feel more positive about my work and given me a number of ways forward. Fingers crossed I get a date for my viva sooner rather than later so I can keep this momentum going.

Thank you to Karen Smith and Jackie Taylor for taking the time to read my thesis, giving me the opportunity to talk about my work, and provide invaluable feedback (and notes!).  Thank you to my supervisors Phil Brown and Anya Ahmed, especially to Anya for arranging and hosting my practice run.  It is massively appreciated!

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