I won’t lie, the first year of my PhD has proven to be a rather tough one. All of the qualities that I thought made me a good student, I appeared to lose sometime time around March last year – like the ability to get out of bed. You may notice that there is a large gap between my previous post and this one… So it’s been a tough time and I have spent much of the last year berating myself for it not being easier (and yes, I know how unhelpful that attitude is – I’m working on it!). In particular, I have struggled with writing.
But somehow, despite my internal struggles, I have managed to achieve a few things and in the spirit of the new year I’d rather focus on those:
- I completed my first year of teaching on the Education Practice MA – and my students all successfully passed the module I taught.
- I returned to the Teacher Education Advancement Network conference and presented on my previous research.
- I designed and implemented a pilot study for my thesis research.
- I successfully completed a 10,000 word review of my PhD work to date, along with an internally assessed meeting – which comprised my Formal Review.
It is the formal review that I would like to focus on today, because after struggling for a year, feeling as though I wasn’t cut out for a PhD after all, and living in a state of what felt like eternal writer’s block – completing my Formal Review document and finally seeing all the thinking I have done over the last year down on paper was the most incredible feeling. It was very reassuring to know that it had indeed been in there all along, it just needed a little more time before I was ready to write it all down.
I was also very lucky in my supervisor’s choice of internal assessor. We had a productive conversation about my work, in which she was positive, supportive, challenging and provided me with a new perspective on the way that I write about my research. I took a lot of notes during the meeting but I wanted to share some of the key points, the things that have really stuck with me, here.
Right at the very end of our discussion, my internal assessor apologised to me for ending on a tricky question. She told me that it is important to always have one question at the forefront of my mind when writing about my research – So what?
Why is my research important? Who is it important to? What impact could it have for them?
In the first week of my PhD study I wrote a blog post about my own personal goals, and they were:
- To share why I believe that digital literacy has value in education. Why it is critical in supporting staff to make best use of technologies for all teaching and learning purposes.
- To bring teacher voice to the forefront. I do not believe myself to be the expert in this area, school staff are and I do not want to underestimate their knowledge and expertise.
- To develop something which is of practical use – rather than theory alone.
We discussed these goals in the meeting and agreed that they go some way to answering the question of ‘so what?’. This is something I intend to keep in mind for the remainder of my studies. My assessor also pointed out that it would be lovely if I could find a v word for the final goal – so that I have 3 V’s to underpin my thesis. If you have any ideas – do let me know!!
I am currently relying on the good will of the schools that I previously worked with, as part of the DigiLit Leicester project, to find participants for my research. This has had mixed success. Schools can be tricky to access for research purposes, particularly when I don’t have a way to make it worth their while in anything other than an intrinsic sense. I am also very aware of the increasing pressures on schools, on top of their existing responsibilities, and so can understand that my PhD research is not a key concern for them. My assessor works in a similarly complex area and was able to offer me some practical and useful tips – for example, offering to write one page reviews of lessons learnt from observations and focus groups that I conduct for school senior leadership.
A priority area for the beginning of this year is to review my recruitment strategies and try some new approaches.
‘It should read like a recipe’
My final take away from the formal review process revolves around the presentation of my methodology. At this early stage in my research, and given my chosen research strategy (grounded theory) it was quite hard to write about the finer details of my research design – at least in the sense that I cannot say how many interviews I will conduct, until I have completed them. The feedback I received on my methodology write up was that whilst it was detailed, it was very abstract and did not related back to my own research, but rather discussed the various techniques I had chosen to employ outside of the context of my PhD.
My assessor point out that a methodology should read like a recipe – being as explicit about the process as possible, and always relating back to the context of my own research. This was particularly helpful feedback that will come in very handy when I am preparing my final submission.
So, I finished last year on a much needed high and have returned to the University after Christmas feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to jump straight back in – which is just as well, as I have my first round of data collection for the main phase of my study starting next week – can’t wait!!