It has begun.

The writing retreat has commenced in earnest. I’m now struggling crossly with my methods chapter, aware that I lack much information about 1/narrative inquiry methods; 2/ case study (does anyone know just how expensive Stake’s book actually is?!); 3/ ontology and epistemology; 4/social constructivism; 5/ everything else.

I’ve at least put in my headers and flung some material from my brain in there. Now to substantiate. And organise the material. Never quite sure where to put what. And this is the easy chapter. At least I’m doing it.

But how now? What do I see? A lovely landscape? A delightful snowy backdrop?

IMG_1851A walk beckons.


Today is the start of a new beginning (or ending)

Saw my supervisor yesterday and we concocted a great plan to have me submitting my PhD by the end of the year, possibly earlier. I have 61,000 pretty decent words already written. It was a great meeting and I realised I’m closer to the end than I thought. I have promised 16 hours part-time study a week, but given that my narratives are done, the remaining should be bog standard. (So my DH tells me!)

I have three mostly completed narrative chapters to send out to my participants; I have half a literature review (10000 words down) and I have half a Methods chapter (5000 words down). I have a completed autoethnography and I had begun thinking about my discussion chapter before I gave up that idea in disgust, so at least I’m starting to get a handle on my key themes and findings.

This month I’ve promised to send my supervisor my Methods chapter draft 2; to send out my narratives, and to find out when my Thesis Review is due.

I also have to revise my RSME article (that old one) and finish the Springer book. It’s a big month, given my work commitments and playing with the dog.

But today is the start of the end. This is the final year of my PhD, and I have a deadline. Time to get on with it.



Back to the grind, in every sense!

DH and I arrived home from our Christmas holiday and we’ve returned to the usual grind of New Year activities. Today, I’m talking about grind. The grindstone, hard work, honing and polishing and refining of New Year’s resolutions and other travails.

I’ve identified four main areas of grind for me. The first is, of course, my health and fitness. Like so many during this holiday season, I’ve eaten and drunk way too much, and I’ve done no more exercise than an elegant stroll down the beach. Well, ok, the stroll was 8 kms long. I’ve probably put on half a kilo, but I’ve stuck pretty well to a pared down diet, with dessert being the main culprit. DH and I were married 5 years ago December 28, right in the heart of the festive season, so all our revelries occur in one week. Cunning, huh. And, of course, far too much drinking. Less than I would have this time last year, but still! So it’s back on the diet wagon (and aren’t I relieved about that!) and I have my first personal training session tomorrow afternoon. Ugh. That’s gonna hurt.

The second grind is to complete the works on the house we’ve organised. For me, that means sanding and painting during VERY hot weather. It’s going to be vicious. But it’s important to get a start on it before our carpenter comes back to build the remaining fence.

The third grind, and probably the hardest, will be to start up my reading and writing for my doctoral thesis, which is due to begin again in February. I had a lovely break from it and I feel much better now, but it’s time to get cracking again. I tried some of it today and boy, all I wanted to do was get up off the computer and clean the house or literally do anything other than study. That was hard. But it’s a resolution I’ve made to myself to complete it this year, as expected. So I’m starting with my methods chapter, because I need to do the reading for Narrative Inquiry methods again, and start to shape the chapter from its rather bloated state at present.

The fourth grind, and one much easier to sustain, will be to begin my singing teaching again. I love my teaching and while I’m enjoying the holidays, I’m looking forward to developing my practice for the year ahead. My times are quickly filling up and then when uni starts: whew! It’s gonna be a challenge to maintain the study and the teaching, as I’ll be teaching about 30 hours per week. In fact, I have to do as much study as possible before teaching begins because it’s so hard for my brain to switch from one activity to the other. I’m dying to do some professional development n singing teaching but until I finish the PhD I won’t have the time – or the money! So I’ll have to content myself with some reading instead this year.

4 grinds. A big year ahead.


I really HAVE been working on my PhD – pinkie promise!

This week I’ve managed to do most of what I set out to do, and work on my PhD analysis every day bar Wednesday.

However, naughty me: instead of doing new PhD analysis on Tuesday when I was at my friend’s house for study group, I put together yet another poster presentation. This time it was for the ISME conference in Greece. Posters are a bitch for qualitative researchers, as they are better for graphs and pictorial representation, rather than the findings from something like my study, which is ALL WORDS. Anyhoo, I’ve finished the poster (well before time) which is entirely unusual. Normally, my hubby claims, I dash around like a mad thing trying to get my poster organised the day before we fly out (sometimes while I’m overseas, too, which is even worse, in his opinion).

The poster was taken from findings in my PhD, so it’s not really so bad – I’ve revisited findings I can’t use in the PhD itself, and the data is lovely, rich stuff. I’m taking over some pre-printed information sheets too, which contain all the references and some extra information. Unusually for me, I’m all organised. But that’s because I wrote the paper late last year, and so all I’ve had to do is rearrange my diminishing word count into a meaningful poster that people can read from afar. It’s just that the findings are so wordy!

Now it’s back to that thing I’ve been doing all week: analysis of my narrative chapters into individual tables containing their dot-pointed values, beliefs, and practices. This is slightly boring but very useful, because it becomes big picture stuff simultaneously with the intricate stuff. How do I do it? Weeelllllll, I’ve used an iterative process. I basically read my narratives until I’m going mad. I find all the beliefs, values and practices and put them into the correct position in the tables. I read them through again. I find more values and beliefs I’d missed from the first time around. I put them in. I read my narratives AGAIN and do the same thing AGAIN. I check my tables for inconsistencies and repetition and remove the repetition and laugh at the inconsistencies. It’s perfectly ok to have inconsistencies from my participants. People are human and often change their minds. I’ve gone through all but one of my participant’s narratives now, and I’m nearly finished. This “distillation” of my data then is analysed for meta-themes and even though I’m not doing cross-case comparison (intrinsic case-studies tend not to), there are a few features that are similar in each case. These then become my findings in my discussion chapter, and help to redefine my literature review. It’s all starting to make some sort of sense now.

Problem is, it’s hard to sit down and do the work. It’s boring and time consuming, yet ridiculously satisfying. I tend to punish myself by not going for a walk or moving about or some such, so I stay glued to the computer raging at myself for checking FB yet again when I know I’ve only got one case to analyse. And I know I should go for a walk instead of checking my email, but I’M PUNISHING MYSELF. Blergh. I should just go to a yoga class already, but then I feel more guilty. So I stay, yet again, glued to my chair, frustrated, knotty and unfit. Oh well. I promise to go for a walk today. It’s Saturday, after all.


Things to do – STAT!

List time! This is the pointy end of the year when I become a little overwhelmed with TTD in research land. Here is my list for TTD these next three weeks before we leave for the ISME conference.

June 11 – 17

Monday: Springer Book preparation and reading

Tuesday: PhD work at my friend’s place

Wednesday: Teaching, so no research

Thursday: PhD/ RA Assessment research

Friday: PhD/ Springer Chapter

Saturday Springer Chapter: RA Assessment

Sunday: MAYBE a day off for good behaviour. Maybe not.

The list goes on in the same rather depressing vein for another two weeks. In other news, I re-read my narrative chapters this morning and I became rather disheartened by them. If for no other reason than they really lacked thick description and lovely jubbly contextual analysis. As my supervisor wrote in her critique, they really seem more like journalism than narrative. This bothers me somewhat. Ok, I’ll admit it. I’ve been reading the work of others and their work is much more flowing than mine. I’d rather have the participants’ words take centre stage because they say so eloquently what I cannot equally eloquently paraphrase. However, this means there are lots of their words and rather less of mine. Including analysis. I guess what I am trying to work out is how to make the narratives cohesive. Not easy, given their length. Perhaps I have to find a better way? Ugh. Anyway, kind and loving hubby says that as they’re due to be sent to the participants for member checking, to stop agonising over them and send them already.

Humph. Don’t wanna. They’re crap.

Narratives are done!

Today I sent off the last of my three narrative chapters and my autoethnography to my supervisor, who is currently overseas. I’ve managed to keep the narrative of this final chapter to just under 16000 words, but I have hit the wall and have had to let her know I am a little bit stuck on the analysis of the findings. My supervisor sent me some really great comments about my autoethno that I greatly appreciated and I have sent her a revised account, almost entirely rewritten and more detailed.

First of June: I thought I would be much further along than this! I am now ready to tackle my discussion chapter. A girlfriend asked me the other day what my findings were and I still had trouble articulating them, so the discussion chapter will be an excellent way of unpacking the findings and making them explicit. Currently I am still in the exhausted phase of just having finished the main part of my analysis, so I really don’t want to think about it ever again, but I need to get cracking on the discussion while the memories are still fresh.

I am realising my method for working is hopelessly intuitive. I have such trouble seeing the bigger picture for my study, yet I always thought I was a big picture thinker. I wonder if what I am seeing now is a change in how I approach large details. Reflecting on the essays I used to write as a young person, they were nearly always better when I didn’t have to worry about structure. I intuitively understood how to do it, without knowing precisely how I got there. Now when I write, I have to remind myself of the topic sentence, of the flow of the paragraphs, of the connecting sentences and the overall argument. Bloody difficult and annoying.

I read someone else’s thesis last week – one not yet ready for submission – and there were glaring errors in spelling, grammar and even the ideas were dodgy. There was no literature review to speak of and no methodology. The discussion chapter was ok. Thank goodness. It reminded me that my supervisor is really very good, that she has for the most part been understanding and rigorous in her supervision. And at the time when I have felt the least able to cope she has been able to listen to me and propose a solution for my angst.

So, now that I am about 47000 words down (hopefully only requiring light editing now), I can move onto the last part of my thesis. I’m still avoiding the literature review, but I have a cunning plan. My discussion will determine my literature. Those resonant bloody threads so important in narrative inquiry will help realise my literature. I’ve avoided writing about cultural psychology but I think now is the time to write a short essay on how it aligns with my research. Hopefully then the draft will be good enough to edit for the thesis. That’s the way I’m looking at most of my chapters, anyway!

I’m still uncertain whether I should write a survey chapter, given that it is descriptive analysis. Still, that’s a topic for another time.

I can smell the end.

I can, you know, smell it. A few more days of throwing together my third narrative chapter (5 months overdue now), and my narrative drafts will be at their penultimate stages. And then I can get on with the rest of the show.

I’ve started reading again, and I’m getting quite excited about some ideas I’ve been trying to articulate for the last three years. I think I have found a path through. My theoretical framework has some scaffolding at last. Something to do with the value of apprenticeship, perhaps?

But this last hurdle has been huge. Yesterday, when I couldn’t do ANY more of my narrative, I rewrote my autoethnography. I think I’d like to make it more poetic and sparse. But the ideas are now there. I just need to find a rhythmic voice for it and I’ll be fine.

I can smell the finish line, still a long way away, but OH so evocative. (Hang on, that’s the shit behind me and the shit still in front of me. Plus Attar of Roses. And sweat.)

The “submitting draft” fear

Yesterday I sent my supervisors a 25000 word draft of one of my Narrative chapters. I wanted to hug them and tell them not to cry, because if someone sent me a draft containing 25000 words I would almost certainly break down in tears and sob uncontrollably. I’ve only 80000 words in total that I’m ALLOWED to submit*. I have to cut my draft down to 15000, still say what I want to say, and still have my participants say what they’re saying without speaking for them. This is hard because there’s so much lovely data, such rich veins of material that I’m having trouble finding my way through. In a way this is good because I have a chance to see what my supervisors think, and to have them help me find the rigour and tautness of the data.

At the same time when one submits one’s first draft to one’s supervisors it’s always a little bit like the “death of a thousand cuts”, and you have to be very disciplined about one’s writing and not get too precious about the ideas. They are nascent, messy things at first. Drafting and editing requires some of the most disciplined effort I have ever done, and even though I can whip up a quick essay overnight and can look at it weeks later and realise that it’s very good, I can’t do this with my PhD material. It won’t stand up to scrutiny in the same way, and also, because the work is longer, it’s harder to keep an outline in one’s head, unlike a 3000 word essay. Still, every time I press the send button on the email with my draft attached, I feel a little sad, like I’ve just had a baby who’s going to lose its head very soon, or at the very least, a series of limbs.

I am about to start redrafting another chapter I did last year, before I had finished all the interviews and before I had transcribed the end interviews. At the moment it just looks like a lot of interview transcript and lessons excerpts and there is not much analysis linking all the data. It will be good to get back to it, and revisit this case.

Supervisor joy!

It has been a while since I received comments from my supervisor on my work – perhaps 6 months or more. Today I just received comments on my 21000 word epistle and they were fine! I mean, I have lots more work to do to make the whole thing stick together, but essentially I agreed with all her comments. Yes, I was too intrusive in the script. Yes, I too worried about words such as “compliant”. Yes, I think I am also wondering whether my participants will be offended by my commentary and whether I will have to tone it down or be more tactful. Absolutely. I have serious questions about all these issues, but I am so relieved that my supervisor also perceives the same issues.

I have my supervisor meeting tomorrow – adding to the immediacy of the draft corrections, so I will be able to address the concerns straight away. I am thrilled about this. I think it means I am on the right track.

I will report on the result of the meeting in due course, but for now, on to making those corrections.