The diary of a student visitor to Finland – week 2

This post is a continuation of my previous blog post: the diary of a student visitor to Finland – week 1. The blog post reports my little trip to Finland to collect PhD case study data.

Saturday December 9th 2017

It has been quite a busy day today given the fact that it was supposed to be my day off. I spent the day doing two main things: (1) working and; (2) vising some tourist places in Turku. I spent the morning working on a journal article review that I had been asked to do for a leading journal in Information Science. I had ben quite worried about doing this as it was my first review but my supervisor reassured me about it and said that I should be flattered that I was asked as a PhD student. It was not a difficult task, it just took time to go through the article, look at the literature, aims, methods and results. I also managed to write some of a report for the funding body that helped me get to Finland. You may recall that I was awarded a John Campbell Trust Bursary form CILIP and a requirement is that I write a shot report about my findings. I know I cannot write the findings yet, but my report is in draft form and I now just need to add in the results and findings from my data collection.

In the afternoon, I spent some time with one of the PhD students at Abo Akadmi University (Anu) and she showed me around. We took a trip to Turku City Library first of all and Anu showed me around the old and new parts of the library. It makes you realise how many people in Turku use this facility – it was packed with people of all ages! We then took a trip to the Christmas market and saw what was on offer. There was a lot of food luxuries, handmade items and drinks and Anu was kind enough to explain to me what things were and where they originate from. It was nice to have a bit of a tour and know what is going on 🙂 We decided to end our wander around with coffee and cake in a local café but came to the conclusion that we sold both return home to o some work. Clearly the PhD guilt got to s both when we were out and we both decided getting on with some work was the best plan.

Sunday December 10th 2017

This day was more chilled. I blogged and worked on the final parts of my report and that was all the work I did. I decided that I needed a day off work as I had worked all week and the day off would do me the world of good. I decided to take a wander up the river and see the marina, taking lots of photos on the way. I also needed to pop to the supermarket so that I could get some food for tomorrow’s lunch and some other odds and ends. I also made sure that I skyped home so that I could keep in touch. Sundays are perfect days for this as I can Skype my Mam whilst she visits my grandparents so I can say hello to everyone in one. The rest of my trip will be less-relaxed so I made the most of my time to myself!

Monday December 11th 2017

Monday was a day of more data collection – three interviews in three different places at three different (spread out) times of the day. I managed to pop to the office for 30 mins half way though just to show my face, say hello to my host and back up my data, but after that I was out an about all day. I woke up this morning to snow and you can tell from my pictures that this had been a little heavy overnight. In comparison to London (which I know went into some kind of meltdown due to 2 inches of snow), Turku cope very well and have small digger type vehicles clearing roads and paths so people can get around. It was nice to get some sold fresh air in my lungs as I had not been feeling great with a bad head, but this turned into a migraine type things and I had to spend a couple of hours in my hotel later after my interviews in a pitch black room to soothe my eyes and head. I think my body must be getting used to (or sick of) the types of food, drink and way of workings of Turku and maybe my body is just not used to this way of life. I felt a lot better after some decent food in the evening but possibly the lack of hot food and lots of coffee the day before did not help my head. Either way, I felt much better later on, got on with some work and prepared for my interviews of the next day.

Tuesday December 12th 2017

Tuesday was my final full day of data collection – another three interview ticked off the list. It was good to get to visit some buildings that I had not before and meet more people who I had not met before either. My participant provided me with some valuable data and I can now start to see differences between my UK case study data and Finnish case study data as well – this makes the data collection all worth it. The snow had fallen very heavily overnight and it was about 3 inches deep outside. All of the paths and roads were covered but as with yesterday Turku coped very well. Obviously my walk to work was full of photographs as people here enjoy the snow. Many people, however, get sick of the snow as they see it year in and year out so often it’s just the tourist in me that wants me to snap every picture I can. Turku looks very picturesque in the snow but I did not dare leave the hotel on the nigh given how slippery the place would be and how likely it could be that I fall on my bott. So far, this has nearly happened a few times but I have finally got the hand of walking at a decent pace in the ice and snow.

Wednesday December 13th 2017

Today in Finland it is St Lucia’s Day. This is the day (on December 13th) every year where many people (including those in Finland) come together to celebrate Saint Lucia bringing light over darkness. You can find more about it here but celebrations took place of the evening of 13th December including a precession of a young girl (dressed in a white robe and red sash) and the precession walks from the cathedral (or church) in Turku centre and towards the market place. This day normally symbolises a day in advent and signalling the official arrival of Christmas time in Finland and also its Swedish origin. IT was good to be here today as people kept telling me about what was happening so I just had to go and explore myself.

Oher than this, it has been my final day of data collection. I have 12 good interviews and am thankful for my 12 participants. My job now will be to transcribe and analyse the interviews form this and the remainder of case study 1. I spent the remainder of the evening packing up my stuff, making extra backup copies of my data and making sure everything is organised for my trip home.

Thursday December 14th 2017

This day is dedicated to my travel home. I am expected to arrive back in Edinburgh about 11pm if my flights are all on time. I am taking the same route as I did on my trip here so it takes a while longer than I had hoped. I have decided not to blog about this trip home. It’s dull, boring and quite depressing to think my trip is over

Learnings from my trip to Finland

I have learned quite a lot from my trip to Finland. It has been wonderful to see another place in my PhD and visit a different university for two weeks. I have learned that things are done differently in Finland both in terms of the way they live and the way doctoral degrees are delivered and assessed. The food over here is also so different too – lots of herbs and spices! I have found it quite easy to get used to the types of food and the differences in cooking, but found it hard when I have just fancies something plain (oh how I have missed my beams on toast and roast dinners this trip!). I have also missed a bath as most Finnish hotels only have showers in them. This means that you can’t soak your feet after a hard day’s work and you can’t just relax. I have missed this very much and will enjoy the moment I can have a bath back in my flat in Edinburgh.

I have learned that experiences like this in a PhD study are the most valuable and I have been able to collect a good amount of data for my PhD case study. I have learned that if you don’t take chance and apply for things like finding, you will not have the opportunities to go elsewhere and visit places never seen. I have also learned that two weeks is the perfect amount of time. I have not really felt homesick, although I have missed home slightly. I have coped by Skype, FaceTime, calling and texting my family so that I can keep in touch.

Overall my trip to Finland has been a complete success and I would recommend taking this kind of opportunity if anyone ever gets the chance! I would like to finally thank Prof Gunilla Widén for hosting my trip and also Anu (one of the other PhD students) for looking after me whilst I have been here! My trip here would not have been successful without you both.

 

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The diary of a student visitor to Finland – week 1

So I have just returned to my hotel after my first week vising Abo Akademi University and also collecting data for case study two. I successfully carried out PhD interviews and managed to talk in detail about my topic, so now my job is to transcribe, analyse and write up the results (when all data is collected). However, I thought I would give you an insight into what has happened in the past week and I thought I’d do that in the format of a day to day diary – sort of!

My visit was made possible as I won a John Campbell Trust award which enabled me to travel abroad for data collection. My director of studies encouraged me to apply as she believed that I would be successful in winding the award and so I was. My school also agreed to pay part of the amount of my trip so that I was able to travel there for a substantial amount of time, enough to collect some data. So we decided that Finland was a good place to visit as we could combine my data collection with a trip to see Professor Gunilla Widén and her research group. I am thankful to all of these people, especially Gunilla who has provided an office and work space for me, a computer and organised access to the buildings I needed – for this I am grateful!

Whilst in Turku, I have discovered many things. Firstly, it is colder than Edinburgh but the weather is quite the same in terms of rain and wind. The first day it rained a lot and then we got a couple of days of snow. This was short-lived as it was washed away by even more rain that followed (but I did get some lovely pictures of it all!). I have also found that Finish folk are really quite friendly, but only if you make the effort. If you ask for help or something like that then they are more than happy to help, but if you don’t then they don’t. Finnish people also walk very fast and travel a lot my foot and cycle (especially by the riverside). You need to be careful not to get knocked over by a bike as they cycle quite fast but this is something I got used to quite quick. I’m quite enjoying the Finnish culture, the quietness of the place, definitely the coffee and also my work so this could definitely be a place that I return to in the future should I get the chance! J

Saturday December 2nd 2017

This was my day of travel. I had to get three flights: (1) Newcastle to Heathrow; (2) Heathrow to Helsinki and; (3) Helsinki to Turku. I must admit that when we first booked these flights, I was very concerned about the lack of time between each flight and the lack of time to board the flights. I managed to check-in at Newcastle without a hitch and got to London with no problems. However, I only had time for a toilet stop and to eat a bag of crisps before it was time to board my next flight. The flight to Helsinki comprised a screaming child, one who would scream every time the plane made a bump. This was not good considering I was wrecked and needed to sleep and every time I shut my eyes she moaned. I was glad when this flight was over. We then had a total of 15 minutes to get from one arrival gate in Helsinki airport to our departure gate in the same terminal, and this was achieved with just seconds to spare. As soon as we boarded the Helsinki-Turku flight, the doors were closed and we were off… finally on our way to Turku. Now days before I left, my supervisor advised me to take a change of clothes in my hand luggage so that I had some for Sunday if my baggage did not arrive. I’m glad I took her advice as coincidently our bags did not arrive in Turku with us and our entire first full day was sent with nothing but our hand luggage – joy!

Sunday December 3rd 2017

This was our first day off before I began my work on the Monday. In true Turku style, it rained all day and we got absolutely soaked through. However, we enjoyed a walk around the riverbanks and a wander into town to find some emergency supplies. When finally got our bags late afternoon and were relieved that we had clothes to spare… I had however, bought an emergency set just in case so that I would not look like a total scruff on my first day at the university the next day (happily I did not!). It was in the evening that we discovered that most places close early for dinner (including the hotel). We searched around for a while to see what we could find and we were baffled that not many places were open. We decided to embrace the North East England heritage and pop into a takeaway for a kebab. I have to say that this was a pleasant experience and something I thought about doing again, but I just did not have the time. Unlike the UK, the kebab tasted fresh, the meat was not greasy and the sauce was just yum. I did realise that I would need to plan ahead on the Sunday to follow unless I wanted another emergency kebab!

Monday December 4th 2017

The two days to follow were interestingly fun and I enjoyed my first two days at Abo Akademi. I was welcomed very warmly by Prof Widén early morning on the Monday and she showed me my desk, facilities and associated things I needed to know. I was able to meet some of the staff and students at the university and settle in quite nicely with my surroundings. I quickly got comfortable and got on with some data analysis of case study 1 at my desk, and awaited the arrival of my supervisor soon after. Hazel is a Docent in Information Studies in the department so she has yearly visits here, so it was quite nice for me to schedule my data collection around this trip to so that I could participate in activities scheduled.

On the afternoon we participated in a paper review meeting where some of Gunilla’s researchers requested feedback on a paper they had prepared. Hazel and I had both read the paper before our visit and prepared questions / comments to ask. The paper was well presented and we both has comments we thought could be changed. It appears that the authors have had the same issue as me when I first started writing my recent theory paper in that we have all found the literature structure difficult. I really like the statistics in the paper and though this has bene presented well. It’s lovely to see a paper in this area with quite complex statistics in it and I was able to questions some of the reasons behind the statistical choices. This meeting gave us the opportunity to discuss a valuable paper (in draft) in the fired and for me to practice my paper reviewing skills. These are skills that are invaluable when you are a PhD student and I am thankful for being able to have the opportunity to use these skills in a university where I would not normally be based.

Tuesday December 5th 2017

This was Hazel’s second and final day of her visit to Abo Akdemi and we had more academic things planned. Most of our time was spent with some of Gunilla’s colleagues in a workplace information literacy meeting. This gave all of us the opportunity to discuss our work, and Hazel and I resented ours in PowerPoint form so that our audience had something to take away. You can find my slides here and Hazel’s slides here too. I found this experience to be quite beneficial both to me and my research. I was able to talk about my doctoral study in relation to information literacy but then explain the aims, methods and purpose of my research (including what I hope to get out of it). I also received quite a few questions which I enjoyed answering… normally this is the part I dread! The questions of methods, future research and the use of Social Cognitive Theory surfaced and it was good to know the theory had been heard before. I was also able to show the group a copy of my recent submission to the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science which discusses the use of SCT in Information Science research like mine. I am pleased to say that this publication has now been officially accepted so it will be published sometime next year! J During the afternoon, we heard about the research of Gunilla’s research group and discussed relevant issues in the field. These include the use of different methodologies, concepts in questionnaires and the literature review process which we all know is major part of all research. It was good to get to know that other research projects in this group actually do align and actually overlap with mine. It’s not surprising that I felt very comfortable in talking about my own research to this group and I could see where mine fitted in.

Wednesday December 6th 2017

Today was the 100th celebration of Finnish Independence so all university campuses were closed and we had a day off – kind of like a UK bank holiday. It was a day for celebration and you can find more about what was on offer all over the country here. We saw Turku Castle lit up in blue and white and had a walk up the river (in the snow!). Plenty of photo’s were taken up to now and some of them can be seen in this blog post.

Thursday December 7th and Friday December 8th 2017

These two days were dedicated to data collection for my PhD case study. In the run up to my trip to Finland, I was able to arrange 12 interviews with people who had openly volunteered. This was a good amount for European case study and my participant did not disappoint. I was able to interview a variety of staff form my participating organisation and ask their views on my topic. I brought all practical things with me (consent, info, schedule etc) so my main focus of the days was to travel around and meet me participants at their location of choice. It was a good to get to know how organisations work in Finland and also what influences the learning of employees. From carrying out only 5 interviews so far I can see a clear difference from my first case study data and this will be something I discuss in my work.

The most interesting thing of the day (Friday) was meeting someone who already had a PhD. This person explained the process of obtaining a PhD in Finland and also showed me copied of their ‘book’. You see, in Finland (and other similar countries), the doctoral programme is much different. The programme is usually 4 years compared to our 3, and there is a public defence involved. I have spent the day explaining the UK viva process and what this means for the candidate, and exploring how this differs from the processes elsewhere. I found a really interesting blog post here which explains the process of the public defence and the idea that many doctoral researchers are required to publish their own through the process before it can be passed. The doctoral thesis is still externally examined like ours, and you normally need permission form your primary supervisor to submit this for examination, although I have been informed that this is not always the case! I really could not imagine submitting my PhD without my supervisors being happy with it.

I finished my working week by blogging (this blog post) and feeling content that my data collection was progressing well. I also made plans with one of the Turku PhD students for over the weekend. I do not think the weather is particularly good though!

My next blog post will surface soon, probably when I return to Edinburgh!

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Finland here I come!!!

IMG_4391This time next week I will all packed and ready for my trip to Turku, Finland. For those of you who do not know, my trip was made possible by winning a Student Research Bursary and I did blog about this here. It has also been made possible due to the wonderful people in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University who agreed to part-fund the trip too. It was also possible because my Director of Studies had faith in me and encouraged me to apply for the funding which I won.

My trip to Finland has two purposes – firstly to help me collect some PhD data in a Finnish organisation and secondly so I can visit Åbo Akademi University to both share my own research and hear about work similar to mine.

As the identity of my case study organisations are confidential, I can’t really say much about who I am interviewing and where they are from – all I can say is that they are members of an organisation in Finland. I know this does not help the curiosity of some people who really want to know what I am doing, but in the case of my PhD integrity and ethics, this is just tough luck! 😉 I can say, however, that my panning is going well. We have some interviews lined up already and I’m hoping to have more scheduled in before I leave Edinburgh next week. I’m hoping I can come back to Edinburgh with some nice European data to analyse and lots to talk about after my trip.

My host whilst I am in Finland will be Professor Gunilla Widén. I’m very thankful to Gunilla for her help with the practical side of things and for her constant communication before my visit. It makes me feel very welcome even before I have arrived on campus. It is nice to know I will have an academic base whilst I am collecting data and getting on with work but it is also nice to know I can get to know more about the work of Gunilla’s research team as the research themes link quite closely with mine.

TurkuI have been frequently informed that Finland will be cold. As I type this blog post I am searching the BBC weather app which has lovingly told me that it is only going to get even colder for my visit (many minus numbers indeed). Fortunately, I have lots of layers of clothing, thick coats, hats, scarves and gloves to keep me warm as I bought much of these for Scotland and have not needed to use most of them since!

I’m sure I will return to Edinburgh with lots of stories to tell and lots of information to share. But for now, I have data analysis to get on with and a presentation to run through so I will just have to blog about my trip when I return.

 

PhD Workshop Series Launch Event!

Phd workshop series launch

A while ago, some of the other PhD student’s ad I applied for some funding form our Research and Innovation Department which aimed to help improved skills of researchers. Sean, Cedric, Andreas and I applied to create and run a one day launch event of a workshop series we had in mind. Our funding proposal comprised an outline of our activity and proposed timetable as well as justification of why we wanted this event to be carried out. We also had to explain how our event related to the Researcher Development Framework, a told used by PhD students in their own training and development as a researcher. I think creating and writing a research finding proposal is an important skill for doctoral students and we have had the opportunity to improve our skills in this area from planning and organising this event.

We were successful in our funding bid and were awarded a grant to officially plan and deliver our event and here is a quick run-down of how that planning and delivery went. The planning stages were somewhat difficult as we had to coordinate everything as a group. We had to ensure that the practical things were done – such as booking rooms, ordering lunch and setting up IT equipment but we also had to ensure our event was planned and advertised accordingly. We worked together as a team, each of us taking on roles and responsibilities as part of that team. We all gave feedback to each other on elements that were going public and we all made sure we contributed fairly to the event so that nothing was left untouched. I think this was one of the most important parts of making sure the event went well and making sure that everything was done. If we had fought or argued continuously then we probably would have batted heads and the whole thing could have gone down the drain.

The running of the day was rather smooth and there was no problems on the day at all. You can see that we had a variety of speakers on our programme here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B9tqD58MuafTNERkRjY2RFRkWnM

We started off with a quick introduction of what was to come and why we were here. The purpose of the event was to launch a workshop series so we wanted to give students a flavour of what was to come but also encourage them to volunteer to share their skills with students for the series that we are planning to carry out in the future. I think we did just that!

IMG_4351.JPGOur first speaker was Dr Laura Muir form Edinburgh Napier and she talked to the students about research design. Now research design is really important as it’s often the first things students need to think about when planning research and sometimes (as in my case) we forget this until part way through. Laura’s talk was welcomed with lots of questions about research philosophies, methods, design and practicalities of these as well as questions about where more information could be sought. You can tell by the information on twitter feeds here, here, here, here, and here that many people tweeted about the event and I would like to thank everyone did so to promote the event worldwide.

Our second speaker was Professor Bill Buchanan OBE who talked about data analysis. This focused a lot on how to present data and analyse data properly, and focused on the use of Python as IMG_4357this is where Bill’s experience lies. Bill also used students as examples of data and asked students to fill in question polls about data analysis motivation, what makes a PhD and important factors in gaining a PhD to demonstrate the use of data analysis but also bring home the fact that a PhD is completely worth it and thee is a reasons for us being here too!

Our third speaker was Professor Adrienne Muir for Robert Gordon University who kindly made a 6 hour round trip to talk to our students about research ethics. Adrienne made an excellent talk about how ethics should be considered as part of research in general and held discussions on how ethical considerations should be made. Adrienne spoke form the heart as she has not only researched legal and ethical issues but she has also supervised students too. Adrienne touched upon some of the things Laura Muir IMG_4359.JPGtalked about in research design and took this one step further to help students think of ethical implications in research carried out and expressed in the media. Students were then asked to think about ethical implications in their own research and whether things such as values, should be considered when exploring which direction to take.

Our final speaker of the day was Dr Laura Jenkins form Strathclyde University and she had lots of statistics to talk about! Laura has a vast amount of experience in teaching research methods and statistics to students so we felt her expertise was perfect to help students understand consideration they need to make when thinking of statistics in their own research. Laura talked about the different ways dataIMG_4361 can be presented and then explained how often, just explaining data in a descriptive way may not be the most appropriate thing to do (especially of you are looking at patterns in data to support a research question). She then spoke about the different kind of statistical tests that can be carried out and emphasised the importance of choosing tests to suit the data type, research aims and research questions created. Laura has only recently completed her own PhD research (only last year!) so she was fully equipped to answer the questions about statistical type and data variation which she had to consider in her own quantitative research.

For all of the talks, the speakers and content were received well. We had a little panic early morning thinking out audience would be a grand total of 5 but soon realised how popular the talks were going to be and had to get more seats for other rooms and add them to our set. We were very impressed at how interactive all sessions were and would like to thank the students for coming along and participating… and asking lots of questions for our speakers to get involved in!

As a team, we would also like to thank all of our speakers of taking time out of their days to present to our students and we would welcome them back anytime that would like to make a return. We would like to thanks our Research and Innovation Department who held the Researcher Development Fund 2017/18 competition to which we bid for and won the funding, and to all of the other people who helped us out on the day (catering, IT, facilities) as we could have not held this event without your help.

85 days later…

case studyIt was nearly 100 days ago that I spoke to a contact about the possibility of having an organisation as my case study 2 (as to not give away the identity of the case study, I will not name them in this post). This was good news given that all of my other efforts had led to nothing and I had thought that my attempts had failed.

As part of this case study, my research needs approving by the organisation so that they know what I am going to do and what the implications of this study are (all organisations would need to know this). The approval takes a while to get given the amount of forms and supporting documents needing to be filled in, but we got there in the end.

It was also quite a difficult task given how remote (distance wise) I am from my case study 2, but we have managed in a fashion – communicating by phone, skype and email as much as we have needed to.

However, I can confirm that as of 4.30pm today, the application and all accompanying documents and signatures are submitted and will be reviewed by the appropriate people / boards before I get some sort of response.

Thank you to the people involved in this process, but whom I shall not name as this could breach the confidentiality of my case study 2! Also thank you to my supervisor who has put up with me for the last 85 days whilst going through this process!

This is a milestone in my PhD journey as this now means I may have three case studies in my PhD and not just two (approval pending of course)!

🙂

It’s OK not to be OK!

bannerToday is world Mental Health Day 2017. I only found this out when I was on twitter and saw people using the hashtag #WorldMentalHealthDay2017 – funny that (not particularly)!

Anyway, my university has advertised some events to help celebrate this, raise money and knowledge share but I still think this is a problem within the PhD community everywhere which is under-addressed and quite often ignored.

Mental-Health1You may recall that quite a long while ago I attended a workshop on stress control and for me, in my as a first year PhD student, this provided to be absolutely valuable. Many students don’t realise that stress can be the root cause of mental health concerns, and that when stress or triggers of stress are not address, mental health will probably suffer. Students quite often start by feeling in control and then it’s when the work builds up, you get feedback and start to feel a little down that this cycle can start. When it hit me, I found that I was often just sitting in my office with far too much to do in one day and often I was just think ‘what the hell am I doing here?’. I decided to buy myself a ‘to-do’ list book so that I could note down the larger and smaller task I have/had to do. For me, this helped me to prioritise and see what I was actually needing to do. Quite often, my list would be large and then be small within an hour. The minor things looked like big tasks until I compared them to everything else I needed to do and I learned a little trick in the long run. When you have your daily / weekly to-do list, select only two or three things to complete that day. Make time for tasks manageable (i.e. don’t say you’ll write a whole methods chapter in a day!) and make sure the time you give yourself to complete tasks is appropriate too. That way, you can see your progress daily and not feel too overwhelmed with everything you need to do, or everything you have not done. I often found that Monday mornings were the worst, coming back to the office after a weekend off and then looking at a list the length of my arm. Making a cup of tea and sitting down to prioritise first of all made sure that I did not jump straight into work and also having my to-do list handy when looking through my emails meant I could keep track of important things to do and things that could be put on hold for now. Things have changed more recently as I now teach first thing on a Monday morning so my morning is not full of worry and stress – its full of nice students to teach!

I also wrote a blog nearly two years ago now (jeeeez!) about mental health in the PhD and things that can help. I wrote this blog after suffering a massive round of homesickness when I first moved to Edinburgh as it was my first time moving away from home. I then got poorly and that spiralled into me thinking I could not do the PhD and that I was not good enough to be there, and I had to ask for help. Quite often students do feel a little out of sorts and they may need help from time to time. It might be that cycle of negative thinking starts and the students can’t see how to get out of it. For me, I kept looking back on things that had happened pre-PhD and could not see my road or route ahead. I had literally just started the PhD so was in the literature review phases and I had not yet realised how important that initial phase was. I did not know that this part of the PhD helps to set the foundations to knowledge and helps with skills in searching too. Doing this ‘year of literature review’ type thing then helps to set the grounds for the methods you use and the techniques you will use but at that point in time I could not see this. I could see all of the literature I still had to search and I could see all of the analysis not yet done. I could also see all of the other students around me collecting data, going to conferences and doing other things ‘better than me’. I quite often put the other students on a pedestal and compared myself against them massively. At that time I did not realise (I knew, but did not process this information) that they were months ahead of me and that their progression was for their part of the PhD and I had not even reached that time stage yet. To help me out a little in this instance, I tried not to compare myself to others. The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to others. This was not easy when applying for funding that I did not get (and somebody else did), and when I was trying to plan my route for the next two and a half years, but I tried. I started to ask for help and advice from other students and found they were more than happy to help. I was then able to tell them what was worrying me and making me struggle and most of the other students had also had the same concerns too. I then started to get into the phases of PhD research that other students were in… the annual review, secondary data analysis and planning out my empirical work. I think some good advice I was given was when I was told that PhD students should embrace the phase they are in but also ask for help when they get stuck. Whether it is enjoyable, easy, fun or not, keep going at what you are doing and seek advice from as many people as you can. The more advice you get form others the more likely you are to succeed (whatever success means to you).

One day, when I was having a moment, I got talking to a staff member. This staff member kind of highlighted a point that PhD students often forget. The process of applying for a PhD is quite rigorous in itself and universities only choose the best. Therefore by the time you have got to the PhD stage itself, you have already been vetted, referenced and chosen for your skills, abilities and experiences, so you have already achieved something amazing to get where you are in the first place. 

MH3

I also found that my supervisor was a good point of contact when I felt that I had not achieved a thing. She is really good at being blunt and telling me all of the good stuff I have done and I would hope that (by now) she knows I don’t often accept positive with a smile! I often don’t see that I am doing well or even what good things I have done and my supervisor is good at telling me all of these things so that I process the information and see what I have done. Quite nicely, she tends to do this when I’m feeling a bit miserable, when I’m bogged down with work or when I’m feeling frustrated at things not going right and this makes me take a step back, take a breath and have a bit of a reality check that things are not as bad as I think. I also know what my supervisor talks about her students a lot, to everyone (the good stud, achievements I mean!). This makes me smile knowing this as people done talk about good things unless they are proud of them – I think my supervisor is proud of us all. She’s one of the only ones in our department who tells the world and blogs when her students do well and when her students achieve something fab and I think this makes a huge difference overall.

Supervisors also know that sometimes s*** happens and this can interfere with your PhD. For example, earlier this year my Grandma passed away and although this was not unexpected, I needed time off to travel home for her funeral. This time happened to awkwardly coincide with a trip some of the PhD students had planned, yet the decision to take this time off my PhD was not questioned at all. It was supported by supervisors, directors of research and the staff member in charge of PhD students in our school. Supervisors and staff know there are sometimes priorities over the PhD and that sometimes those priorities need to be dealt with first in order for the student and the PhD to flourish.

doctoral studentSometimes the s*** that gets in the way of the PhD can be things that are completely uncontrollable. Other examples can be ill-health, family concerns and even just needing to take a break. Taking time off for these types of things is okay too. One thing I have noticed is that PhD students (in general – not making any assumptions here) don’t take time for themselves, and this is something I try to do. I try to take a holiday every now and then so that I can rest, relax and be away from the PhD. I know that if I start to feel really overworked my productivity will slump. This happens almost every time the week before I go on annual leave where I reach the point to which I need a break – this is okay to! I also know that if I am unwell and I don’t take a break, I make myself worse. This was exemplified (accidently!) by a hospitalisation early this year when I had had a virus which had not gone away. I had not rested when stating to feel very not myself and then was hospitalised due to the consequences of this getting painful very quick. That s*** is what makes every student journey different in every single way and it is that s*** that can cause students to crumble and need help more than they may realise.

But I am now in my third and final year of my PhD. I have already panicked about the lack of job prospects once I submit, what I will do come September 2018 and how on earth I am going to get everything completed in the next 355 days! This will inevitably lead to me freaking out from now until the end of my PhD and inevitably lead to me crying my eyes out one day saying I can’t do this and saying how much I don’t want to be here. This is fine. This is okay!

I know the journey for PhD students is different for everyone and the issues faced by students are their own – and I’m not saying dealing with a PhD is easy. But I also know that I have had my own fair share of pain in my journey so far and I sure there will be more to come. The main thing to remember is that…

#ItsOkNotToBeOk

This blogpost is dedicated to Elizabeth Jenkins (Grandma Betty) who sadly passed away earlier this year after suffering from a major stroke. I will always remember the time I walked into your care home and you could not remember who people were, yet you asked me how my time in Edinburgh was going, and whether I could still see the hills from my window!

Images

http://www.rackham.umich.edu/blog/graduate-student-mental-health-matters

https://www.hypnotherapists.org.uk/7325/escalation-mental-health-issues-cause-concern/

https://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/health/mental-health-and-well-being.html

https://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-i-m-a-doctoral-student/

 

Let’s keep writing for project PhD!

methods booksIt has been quite a while since I have blogged mainly as I have been very busy over the summer and following month. You may recall from a previous post that I was looking for a second case study. Well, I found one! This case study was quite unexpected, firstly because I had not contacted this organisation before and secondly because it initially started with a social media introduction (and we all know how they usually end!).

My second case study does require a lot of paperwork to be done as my research needs to be approved by this organisation too, just like my other case study too. This is not uncommon in many cases as organisations like to know that the researcher (ie, me) will be able conduct their research in reasonable time, collect appropriate data and make sure nothing bad will come of the research. So I have spent most of my summer doing this. I have prepared review documents and other supporting documents. I have written about my research objectives, methods, justified methods and also considered implications of my research. I have pretty much written a research methods chapter in letterone but this has not been for the purpose of my chapter, just preparation for my research review. This has been a lengthy process but it is finally coming to an end. I have been able to get stage 1 of this process all sorted and stage 2 is being checked over for me to submit. Once this part is done, all I can do is wait. I need to wait to see if my research is deemed as suitable for the organisation and deemed suitable to go ahead. If all goes well, I can then start advertising my study in the hope participates get in touch to help me out.

article-writing.jpgApart from this very lengthy process, I have also been doing other things. All of these things have revolved around writing and revolved around editing too. Firstly, I have now copy edited two articles for Information Research. This means I have been able to see research in its very pre-publication stages and research which is ready to go. I have been able to take in a lot of information and learning from this process.

I have also been writing and editing my own journal article to submit along with my supervisors. You may remember that I presented a paper at a conference in June, well this is the paper being written. I have been able to draft it out and then send it to be edited (quite a lot – it needed it to be fair!) by my director of studies who managed to make it look fab. It has also been reviewed by my second supervisor too who was able to tell us what we had missed. It is good to get the opinions of my second supervisor as his expertise are not in the literature domain of the article we had drafted so he was able to spot some vital things that we had missed. As the deadline is the back end of this week, we are hoping this is done and sent off by then so we can have our very first journal article submitted (fingers crossed!).

IMG_4159As well as paperwork and journal writing, I have been trying to get some of my methods chapter written too. It’s really important that I get this done soon so that I can have a solid base for my work. I did do some form of methods writing for my RD5 review last August. This, however, this was just the start and now the work needs to step up and ‘beef up’ (ie, add more information so it looks like a good PhD chapter). I have had to draft out my chapter headings and then fill the gaps, something I do not find east to do. This has required a lot more reading than I had thought, and a lot more planning than I had anticipated but I am progressing fairly well on this. It has taken a while to find some decent materials (books, journals) for this chapter, but I have managed to get my hands on some books that are giving me the information I need… and then a lot more books to supplement this. So my life from now – until my case study 2 is approved –  will be writing of the methods chapter of my PhD. I do have my own deadline to work to and I do have other things I need to do…

Next on the list… qualitative data analysis! 🙂