Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Five PhD Tips

What follows is the commentary of an email conversation with - nearly Dr - Val O’Reilly, who, despite currently replying to examiner comments, is brimming with ideas on how to get the most out of post-grad research projects.

Val told me "I must say I really did enjoy my first year of the PhD (possibly naive about the hard work ahead) and just threw myself into a vast treasure trove of literature, much of which didn’t end up in the thesis". She noted that the wide range of her reading helped to keep her engaged in understanding the key elements of her research - the notion of identity - which then led to her investigation into professional identity for  school career development practitioners.

key tips are: two 2B5 journals (perhaps a third for miscellany), Skype recording, and the power of summaries to track progress, and regular supervisor meetings.

Firstly, she kept an old fashioned hard copy 2B5 journal of the readings as she went, which meant she could sit in the sun some days with hard copies of books or articles. She made structured notes using a very useful set of questions one of her supervisors had suggested:
• What are the themes?
• What did the authors do?
• How did they do it?
• What did they find?

Secondly, another 2B5 journal she kept was a reflexive journal. This included all her notes and impressions from Skype sessions with supervisors, notes on participant interview audio recordings, and her own progress from time to time. This journal served her well as an audit trail in relation to her qualitative methodology.

Thirdly, she found it very useful to record all her supervisor Skype sessions. She asked permission each time, as well (excellent ethics!). Her recordings ensured that she could check that she had heard, and enabled her to be sure that she had understood clearly. She would review the recording then write up session reflection in her 2B5 reflexive journal within 24 hours or so. She found summarising her Skype session notes the same day - or as soon as possible afterwards - was the most helpful. Longer than that and you lose connection to the event. She would often email these notes along with what she was planning to do next to her supervisors.

Fourthly, the summaries meant that both she and her supervisors had an action and audit trail that they could follow. Additionally, as sometimes only one of her supervisors was available, the summary was useful as a catch-up mechanism to keep the absentee in the loop.

Fifthly, as Val and her supervisors finished their Skype meetings each time, she booked in the next Skype session. Having meeting times always scheduled ahead in the lives of busy people is a very, very good idea.

Val's third 2B5 "ended up being a slightly messy 'everything else' journal where I noted career and education policy initiatives and developments, possible chapter sections, signal words for paragraphs etc etc." It is certainly not a bad idea to create a catch-all space for everything else.

While Val's PhD journey is nearly over, she feels that these tools helped her to get through the higher degree by research process and to enjoy it. 

Val also tells me that what she will "miss the most is access to the [Uni] library"… but she has found that alumni can pay a little each year to retain their library card. She is currently investigating that... because there is always more research to be done!


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