Finding new literature for the review: the snowball effect

Gah. Every time I think I’ve collected all I can about my subject I find I’ve not checked the usual journals for a while and BAM! There’s a whole new section for my subject opening up in front of me. It’s known as the snowball effect, I think. You find you’ve not substantiated something with enough literature so you look online at a journal article and BAM! On the side link is another article that someone else has read, so you look at that and BAM! There’s another one that’s relevant. And then you switch journals and BAM! A whole new avalanche of material hits you. At times I feel I’m suffocating under the weight of all that snow.

The challenge is accept that, yes, there is lots new stuff out there that looks WAY interesting and everything, but I can’t include it all in this thesis. In the words of Elsa, Let It Go. (Sorry, references to Frozen will continue unabated until that darned ear-worm dies.)

However, my current challenge is to update my literature. In the last 5 years since I began the project, lots of work is being done by a number of good folk in the UK and Australia that supports my findings in some way or another. Granted, we’re all doing this using startlingly different approaches but the ideas are similar. So I’m doing a last sweep of the literature, basing my search around the conservatoire and one-to-one teaching. I’ve found at least 8 articles to support the literature I currently have. Of course, I just found a review of a singer’s practical guide book about European opera houses and culture I probably need to read. Bugger, if I’d only looked sooner.

This is what happens when one takes time off one’s study to do other stuff like LIVE. Now, the next thing to do is read the bloody stuff then weave their work into my review. I have a specific approach to selecting an article to read. I read the Abstract to decide if it’s important, then I do a super-quick sweep of the article online to get a feel for the study. I scan the conclusion. Then, if it passes all those checks I download the article to read again later. Takes me about 5 minutes to do each one, but this gives me the breathing room to actually read the articles in a bunch and get on with writing in the meantime.

I organise the writing and reading as different activities done at different times. Examples of my reading and note taking are below: my notes on actual books are usually sticky-notes with one word added to make sense for me later. In the case of the Rogoff book – which I own – I read through the ENTIRE book taking notes. Then, I write the section on cultural psychology, I look through my notes for cues.


The writing phase for me is one of  stream-of-consciousness style. I just get stuff out of my head, then I decide – usually much later on – if it’s worth keeping in the document. My first draft is hilarious. My second not much better. But as my ideas coalesce I am then able to see where my thoughts and ideas match the research and what I am trying to say. I’ve been doing massive sweeps of my work and I’m almost at the reading-out-loud phase, which helps to identify areas that make no sense, lack flow or lack substantiation.

Anyway, DH arrived home this morning which interrupted my sleep and therefore my flow today. I’ve taken the opportunity instead to get the articles I needed and write this. Now it’s back the flow state. Ciao!




A sense of purpose

Amazing when you have a deadline the things you can do. Last weekend I had a lovely time pottering about the house, planning a few fun things and not really worrying about the PhD. Then, Monday, BAM! I’m there, baby!

I am very much on the home stretch now. Although my lit review is still messy, it’s a lot better already than it was just last week. I think in a week I’ll be able to start on my discussion chapter and connect the dots from the findings to the research.

My thesis review was passed on Monday, and although the reviewer thought I needed 3-6 months to finish, she doesn’t know me when I’m on a roll. That is, I only have four weeks left to write this thing, so I’d better get on and do it.

I’ve sat in my smelly jim-jams all day today, working on my PhD. I’ve taken a scatter-gun approach to the work because I tend to get bored and instead of sitting grumpily looking at my lit review wanting to watch GoT I’ll fix up bits of my method chapter, or introduction, or fill in some more missing bits of my reference list. This is working for me now as I can see the overall structure of the thesis and where it’s not linking, or some such.

I have a list of Things To Do which was provided by the thesis reviewer. Many of them I’ve already done because they were simple formatting problems. Other TTD, including the links between my conceptual framework, research questions, theoretical underpinnings and my findings, are rather harder to do work around. But because of my jumping back and forth between literature, methodology and introduction, I’ve now been able to find the big gaps.

When I look at what is required in the overall conceptual framework, the key issues that I’m trying to investigate aren’t always clear. This is the hard bit. How do I ensure the key issues are front and centre in the lit review and discussion? But this is the deep question I have grappled with over the last 4 years and in a way it’s not getting any easier to answer when I look too closely at the literature. So I have to keep stepping back and decide what’s pertinent and what’s not. I think I’m finding the way through.

The reviewer reminded me to keep matching the findings to my theoretical framework, which is cultural psychology. A good thing to remember because the literature can keep creeping outward to general research in one-to-one music teaching, rather than focussing on the three main things I am investigating. So I need to keep going back to my research questions. Which I’m doing.

The sense of purpose and purposeful work I am doing fills me with great satisfaction, and I feel I’m getting into a flow state of writing much quicker than I could even a year ago. Leaving FB was a Very Good Idea.







Thesis-baby is growing up. Sent her off to review-college.

On Friday I handed in my thesis for review. I am much closer than I thought to the end. In fact, I can see the end of the tunnel now. The light is there, shiny….

I’ve worked on my thesis all week including removing one of the research questions because, in the words of my supervisor, it is a rather circular question that is actually partly answered in the first two questions, and then part of it I can’t answer at all. So, take it out. Ok, quoth I. At this point, I’m not going to argue with the wisdom of someone who has done lots of these things. And I’m in need of an objective observer.

I wrote me an introduction on Wednesday and rearranged my discussion chapter. It’s looking better already. My friend (who got her PhD last year) texted me to ask what I was doing – nothing, quoth I, just sitting at home doing my thesis (and also looking at an old article that DH and I put on the back burner because I felt it was a bit too revealing and I needed time away from it. It was a good piece which I’ve sent to a friend for commentary prior to sending it to a journal). So I went into her work and we worked together. Just like old times. And it was great! Super productive and everything.

On Thursday I looked once again at my literature review and began to see a light where previously there was dark, dark swampy swamp. So on Friday I sat in my jimmy-jams and worked on the whole document, reading through each chapter and beginning to fix up bits that didn’t make sense.

And then I put it in one document. Yes, I’ve created a draft thesis. The whole thing. It’s 296 pages and some of it is substantially too long with not enough substantiation or in text citations. (I am a very wordy writer – could use some decent editing.) Other sections have no stuff at all. Including chapter 4, which is just a title. There is a ToC (table of contents). Whoa.

Now, of course, I’ve read it again. Blah. Sometimes I hate my writing. Other times I think it’s fantastic. Usually my writing is fantastic when I have to do it in a hurry. Guess what I’ll be doing in the next 2 months? Writing my thesis in a hurry.

And how did I feel, doing this? Well, DH was home when I sent it. I burst into tears. He laughed at me. He didn’t know why, but everyone cries when one waves the kid off to college. This felt like that – the beginning of the end of my thesis-baby.

And now I have no excuse to delay doing my personal tax.







School holidays = PhD study bliss

The title is a misnomer. I’m not actually on holidays. But my afternoon teaching has stopped for the school holidays and while I’m still working at Uni, I’m usually home in time to do some afternoon study.

So I’ve started to look once more at a few things. Such as my Methods chapter. And my Conclusion. Both of which are Not Quite Right. I’ve had fun rewriting them over the last couple of days and it’s easy to see how close I am to actually getting this thing submitted, because they are nearly ready for re-reading by my supervisor.

I’m still dodging round the misery that is my Literature Review. As I said to DH, I don’t have a good Big Picture plan, so the lit review remains awfully sparse and horrible. I was reading in Research Design by Creswell (2014) about how to create a concept map, and I did one of those AGES ago, but I might have another go to see if I can’t get this literature under control.

I’ve missed the ease and joy of doing this type of work. My brain has definitely switched onto PhD study mode and I feel eager to get home and write after I’ve finished teaching for the day. Curiously, the relatively mild amount of teaching I do at Uni when my studio is closed for holidays seems to be completely manageable in terms of brain power. That being said, I have completely given up on keeping the house clean. There are others who can do that. I’ve apologised and will get back to housework in August, once I’ve submitted. There are always areas that I have to abandon in order to finish this work! Besides, I have to beat my sister, who only began her PhD 2.5 years ago. I began mine in 2009. Time to pull out the stops and get a wriggle on, and put a Dr next to my name.

At present I’m studying up to 4 hours a day. Feels good. 3 weeks of this and my literature might actually start to look like something.


I’ve been waking very early of late or in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, and I wonder if it’s because of the ongoing low-level anxiety that writing one’s PhD seems to engender in me. 5 years of low-level anxiety – I wonder how I will feel once I’ve finished? I’ve read that people often feel emotionally exhausted and drained, and are beyond all point of caring about their research when they submit. My main desire is to stop the mental battle between doing my work and feeling like a stupid fraud for even trying. Or my early waking could just be that we live on a busy street and I’m waking to morning traffic noise. Yes. That’s it.

My worst enemy is still my busy schedule, but if I’m waking early why am I not doing a quick read of a research text or other light entertainment? I assume it’s because teaching is SO exhausting that I’m mentally wiped out by Friday. I’m teaching 33 hours per week, and half way through semester I’m feeling somewhat breathless and rushed and racing to the finish line. My private students are doing preparation for auditions, so it’s a busy time of year. There are organizational elements to my work that have always terrified me such as concert preparation – marshalling the troops causes me great anxiety. I’ve the end-of-year concert to plan and eisteddfods to prepare for and singing exams for my students to prepare as well. And that’s just my private practice. My uni work includes a bunch of other stuff that requires careful time management. No wonder my PhD gets pushed to the side! However, last Friday, when I could (and should) have stayed home and studied, I went shopping. Clothes shopping. What does this say about my priorities?! Still, I now have a decent wardrobe and only want for a few more things. Like another pair of black dress shoes, some new sunglasses (both fell victim to Poppy the dog), another black jacket, an opera jacket, more slim-line casual pants…summer outfits…another handbag… (oops, did I say I like clothes?)

So, today I checked my timetable. I have blocked 3 hours for PhD work today and on Friday I have the whole day blocked out for study. That makes it 10 hours this week. Ok. I can do this. Breathe.

My Literature chapter is open, and if I start at the very beginning, I can see there’s a section on Cultural Psychology I need to flesh out. That is today’s job. Yes. How am I going to plan this? Well, in about 5 minutes I’m going to do the following things in preparation:

  • Set my computer to hide FB and email.
  • get out my Cultural Psychology books and open them on the desk;
  • get dressed
  • eat breakfast
  • go to the gym
  • come back, shower, change and grab a coffee.
  • at 10.30am exactly, sit down and begin to read and take notes.
  • 3 hours later, at 1.30pm grab some lunch and prepare Friday’s PhD work.

I presume this is the best way to do this writing jag. Not sure, not really having prepared my study in this way before, although I’ve managed to write much of my PhD regardless. It’s an experiment to see if I can stay to task. If I can do this today and Friday, then it’s my approach for the next 6 months. Because if I can prioritise and manage my uni work, my private business and our finances, I can certainly manage my PhD.

So, breathless and a little afraid, here I go.



Literature Review looms

I’ve nearly finished my uni teaching for the semester and for at least 3 days per week I now have all day to work on my PhD. This month it’s the literature review. I wrote half the review 3 years ago when I did my confirmation, but now I have to go back and rewrite with brand new and exciting information. The methods chapter was hard. This will be harder. My previous lit review had used Shulman’s “signature pedagogy” to unpack the ideas. I’ve abandoned that theory and am instead more interested in looking at cultural psychology theories to underpin my review. So I have to go back to the old review and scrub away all the old theories and reshape. Plus add the new stuff. I like the new stuff better, anyway. Signature pedagogy is a limited theory when you are looking at relational theories in singing teaching and learning.

So today I’m planning my next 6 weeks of work – I don’t go back to full time teaching until late July, and I plan to spend most of my days henceforth doing this one, exciting job. I need to spend time doing this one, exciting job because I have no money left to spend. Buying a car tends to do that to you.

Of course, I’ve planned a couple of weeks to do fun things like ICVT 13 (an international congress for voice teachers being held here in Brisvegas in mid-July, in which I’m revisiting some data from my survey that I did in 2010); plus I’m running an Winter Audition workshop for aspiring musical theatre performers from the 1st July.

So, actually, when you look at it, I really only have a month. But it should be about right to get some of the work done. So, rather than sit here and write about it, I’d better get on with it!!!!

In pieces on the floor. Not me: my lit review.

I’ve been working on my literature these last few days and I must say I’m getting all in a bother. One of the problems I have is sorting out my quite substantive literature into areas that make sense. My literature has had to be cut up into little pieces. It is now all over the floor. I’m not normally one for the old fashioned method of paper-scissors, but I’m stymied by how to make my old literature fit into a new framework. It’s not that what I wrote was bad, although it is pretty patchy and poorly articulated, it’s that it’s just all over the place. Am I writing about the environment or am I writing about the culture of singing pedagogy? Of course, to answer my rhetorical question, I am writing about both. However, culture begets the pedagogy, and environment affects the pedagogical approaches. Making this fit is difficult and I am annoyed. So, I think now I will give up on it and instead do some singing practice. I quite enjoy singing, but I suspect the neighbours won’t, so best to do it before they arrive home.

In an aside, I’m in my new study space at home and I have to confess I am having a great deal of trouble spending time in here. From about 11am the room becomes almost unbearably hot, despite all the windows being open, and I have trouble reading the computer screen, even with my glasses on. I suspect the screen is mirroring the window, causing my eyes to go bler. That’s blurry with no blur. I’m struggling to stay in my room and work consistently as I think the conditions aren’t really ideal. With the windows open the room is also noisy.

SIGH. First world problems, as people say.


Literature Reviews. Where to start?

I am currently in the throes of trying to put together a literature review, cobbled as it were from bits of my confirmation document that I submitted last year (thank Dog I worked so hard on it last year).

My theoretical framework has changed, unfortunately, so I’m a bit stuck on where to start. I’ve 10000-odd words, which is great, because I’ve not many more to put together – my supervisor and I discussed 15000 words total, but last year my framework was organised round Shulman’s Signature Pedagogy and now I’ve moved on to Cultural Psychology theories. These theories are so different as to be non viable, even though they pretty much cover the same ground, and I have to fit in all my thoughts on what makes a singer and what then makes singing teaching and learning unique. 15000 words? Could take a hundred, AND I’m not even looking closely at adult learning theories. I’m pretending they don’t exist.

I’ve had a bit of a squiz through my mid-candidature review, which was pretty good, I thought, but I am a little concerned about how to develop my literature review to succinctly and clearly encompass the research. How do I shape my framework? I’m mulling over this one at present.

3 hours later…Ah, it’s always helpful to have a recently PhD submitting friend tell you how to shape your literature review. Should remember this for future panics. So, my friend suggested that lo! behold! I should plan my review around my research questions. Well, der. Why didn’t I think of that?! This sage, seven word piece of advice makes my job a lot easier. Over the coming weeks I will be working on the chapter, hopefully submitting a halfway decent draft to my supervisor before the end of January.

In the meantime, I have another conference paper to write, a journal article to revise, and two or three book chapters to put together. Before April. That’s a lot of work!

With my resolutions underway, I am trying to plan my working week to be more productive. At present it simply isn’t. So, the plan is (we’ll see how it goes, har bloody har har) to be at the desk by 8.00 am and work through until 1pm, with a little bitsy morning tea break at 10.30. This will be the sum total of any meaningful work on my PhD, as I just can’t concentrate on anything more than 5 hours writing per day. Then the afternoon will be spent doing meaningless tasks such as lesson planning, singing, walking the dog, teaching, running a business and the household, you know, the stuff of life. Hopefully by quarantining the morning for writing will see me develop a stricter work policy to get me out of my sloth impasse.

I give myself two weeks.

Oops. I was wrong.

I thought I had read and completed nearly 50 articles for my Narrative Inquiry annotated bibliography: I was wrong. The numbering system for some reason started at 20 when I checked last night. I will have read and commented on 31. I still feel this is probably enough. But I am disappointed that I’ve not reached the magical 50 – this number, I feel, is the point at which I can relax a little bit and not feel I have to read another 20 articles. Which I do now that I know I’ve only reached 30ish. Bum bum bum. And frankly, I am really sick and tired of sitting down. My back hurts. Time to stop for a bit, have a shower, get dressed, and do some note taking for my interview on Friday. I have about 8 hours of video to review and not really enough time to closely look at the videos 3 or 4 times before my final interview. This shouldn’t matter, as I had seen most of the videos last year several times, but it always helps to revise.