Research, originality and new knowledge is what each PhD student is striving for. Juggling these concepts with a full-time job and life – family, holidays, relaxation, hobbies, exercise… can be difficult and sometimes impossible. Today’s blog looks at some experiences, my colleagues and my own, from the past six years. Most of us are still working at achieving the final submission but there have been fences to jump, mountains to climb and some periods of bewilderment to overcome along the way.
Some readers may think that six years is a long time to have studied and still not completed but the application process, or pre-acceptance period, can take months if not years before the official start. For some of my colleagues there was a smooth transition from a Masters course, for others there was a period of researching and finding the question before submitting a proposal for consideration. In many cases this took many months to formulate, as did finding the most appropriate staff who would be supervising the study in the following years. Eventually when all these processes are complete the interesting research can start with enthusiasm.
This interest and enthusiasm will be tested in the years to come – stubborn determination, patience and the persistence to reach a long-term goal are some of the personal qualities that are required for the success of part-time study.
Some other matters to be aware of during the course of the studies include the need for mutual respect between the supervisor(s) and yourself. It is your research and the supervision needs to allow you to submit to the required standard but have complete confidence in the ownership of the content. There is also the need for many conversations with family during the studies to forewarn them of periods when some solitary study will be required and give some idea of how much time will be needed (although there will never be quite enough time in my experience). Discussions with managers at work can allow for a regular period of study in the week or month that will help with the test of endurance you are engaged with.
Another part of the process I was concerned with was the writing, one main reason for starting this blog. The regular production of some written material, each week, has helped my progress in this aspect. This can be about any subject matter but not written in isolation, some criticism, comment and sometimes praise from colleagues has been very helpful in developing my confidence and speed in a skill that had been dormant for many years. Joining a research group (or setting one up in your community) is also very useful, learning from others who are going through similar experiences does help in this long distance solo marathon.
Do not be afraid to edit your work so that it is solely focussed on the question you are considering. The thousands of words of research (all correctly referenced) that have been cut from my thesis as they were not relevant is just part of the process. This discarded research is not a waste of time as it is used in my teaching but will not form part of the final submission.
Why do it? A question that many colleagues will have asked during the years of research and will be asked by many more in the future. As a lecturer I am far more informed than I was even though I thought I knew a great deal about my subject. I have made contact with some very interesting people who may collaborate in future projects and I am enjoying the challenge.