Posted in academia, academic writing, PhD

The joy of moving on to the next chapter

I’m very happy to share the news about moving on from my first analysis chapter (Chapter 4 in the thesis).  On January 31  I was already sharing my frustration about writing this chapter and now, exactly two months later, I finally have a full draft. Actually, I’ve been sitting on this draft for a while with only a few paragraphs that needed reworking or were still in the shape of bullet points. In the mean time the text has been part of various different documents/files. The screenshot here displays the metadata of the current file. I know it’s at ~ 17,000 words too long for the final chapter. Now this number includes tables that I might shorten/delete/move to the appendix in the final thesis. The document also has a rather long background and methodological section which I might have to move to the background and methodology chapters of my thesis at a later stage.

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For now, though, I’m just really happy that I was psychologically able to call it a ‘full draft’. This means I sent it to a friend today who will have a look at it and give me some comments. She’s also a linguist, but works in a different subfield. I need some distancing from this text and – as I’ve been feeling quite insecure – either some confirmation that it is an okay text or some advice on what is needed to clarify things a bit. I won’t go back to this until late April or early May, though.

I think that having worked on this chapter or preparatory stages for it since September has been too long of an intense period of thinking about this particular aspect of my PhD. My supervisor has been urging me to move on and today I finally felt ready to let it go. I know that it’s nowhere near the shape that I need it in for my final thesis. Some references aren’t probably as relevant as I first thought and others are lacking. The argumentation may not be clear enough. But I am moving on to the next stage of my analysis where I’m applying the same method to a different dataset. I am sure this will also give me more ideas for the analysis of the first corpus.

Best of all, I can feel some enthusiasm again! Have you felt tired about any of your chapters? Did it help to move on to something new and return to the work after a couple of weeks? Or have you found it most useful to fully finish one chapter/study before starting something else?

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Posted in academic writing, PhD, Uncategorized

Little cartoon sharing at the end of the leap day (just for fun)

Everyone loves phdcomics, right? They even get included in Grad School workshop presentations…

Lately I’ve come to admire another source of grad student/ academic comments though: Have a look at A Prolific Source by Belle Kim, will you? I think you might enjoy it 🙂

Belle Kim’s cartoons are just lovely and they often strike a chord with me. I also like her approach that drawing can help you stay sane. It made me want to start, too. Now here is a very poor first draft. (I HAVE drawn other stuff recently but it’s too cute and non-academic; Chinese-style stickers from WeChat… and I have also jumped on that colouring book bandwagon). Anyway, not trying to do anything professional here, hence also just a cellphone picture, no scan. A really quick drawing to share an anecdote from the end of my leap day.

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[By the way, it’s March now! oO *ahhhhhh* *heeeeeelp*)

 

Posted in academic writing

Leap day = thesis day?!

It’s Monday morning and I should be full of joy about the opportunities ahead. Not only is a new week starting, but today is leap day – what a rare chance to have a leap day during the PhD! (Is it?) Somehow all I want to do is crawl to bed though.

BUT I saw a tweet just now saying “What Leap day means for me: an extra day of thesis writing.. ” (by @A_GowardBrown). I liked that attitude and that got me thinking that I ought to be more positive! After all, the sun is shining here in the English Midlands, I don’t have any appointments or teaching commitments today and I don’t need to sit on a train for hours. All of these rather rare events coming together seem to make this leap day really special with an extra few hours for me to get that chapter draft fixed.

By the way, I wish I knew how to add the tweet here looking like properly embedded, like a clickable screenshot. Does anyone know?

I don’t have energy for checking now – and it would only be procrastination anyway. So what I’ll try to do is to pretend I’m attending one of the lovely ‘Shut Up & Work’ events at my Grad School’s PGRHub, with a self-enforced schedule and tasks for every working session and plenty of breaks with biscuits and coffee. Perhaps I can move the afternoon session to a cafe.

Happy Shut Up and Working 😉

 

Posted in academia, academic writing

Flying (and floating) like a kite

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Just a some quick sharing today. First of all I’d like to thank everyone who read and commented on yesterday’s post on my feelings related to writing the first analysis chapter. It really feels great to hear back from people who have been through this already or are going through the same sort of thing.

So far I still feel a bit lost – and today some other annoying bits like problems with technology and bureaucracy were added to my plate. It doesn’t help, either, that I’ve some other deadline coming up … in theory it’s all very exciting only right now it doesn’t seem to be working quite ideally just yet. But I’ll try to hang in there and follow everyone’s advice to just try and get something ‘down’.

For now I just wanted to share this silly little drawing. I mentioned this simile to a friend recently (who is also a PhD student) and we got some fun out of it. We sometimes really feel like we’re flying (or floating) in the wind, sometimes way too far into one direction (or so it seems). Then at some point our supervisors may try to pull us back. At the moment I can feel lots of forces pulling on my line. But I do hope that something will pull me back to more familiar heights or grounds so that I’ll feel more comfortable soon. If you can relate, I hope you’ll feel that soon as well. Or perhaps you’ve already gotten into this kite thing – in that case happy flying :)!!!

Posted in academic writing

Trying to write my 1st analysis chapter

There’s been silence from me since November. What has happened in the meantime? Somehow time has been disappearing ever since the academic year started in September, because I started teaching. Not only did I start teaching for the first time, it is also a subject outside my area of expertise. As a result I have been on a steep learning curve both in terms of pedagogy and the subject matter.

Now of course I’m also supposed to be doing my PhD at the same time. I have finished the data collection for my corpus in October. My supervisor has been very keen for me to start writing the actual chapter about the analysis of this corpus. At times I have felt a bit under pressure because I’m afraid that if I’m doing this too quickly I will make mistakes. And I have experienced several times that with corpus linguistics it is very easy to make such ‘mistakes’: not necessarily in terms of really doing something outright wrong but simply ticking (or forgetting to tick) a certain setting option that then makes the results either somewhat wrong, illogical, or at least not ideal. The problem is that often the initial list output from a corpus tool is followed by a considerable amount of manual work (categorisation, interpretation) so that it’s really rather disheartening when you have to redo the list and all subsequent steps.

Apart from all the technical considerations, one of the scariest issues has been this thought: “I have no idea how to write a chapter”. I started my PhD right after the MA, which I had done right after my BA. So I have the experience of 4 years of intense term paper writing. Yet, term papers seem so different. I loved them, actually. Yes, when I had 4 MA term paper deadlines on the same day, the psychological pressure was simply awful (and it happened to me twice – once in each semester). Yet, this shortage of time and the lecturers’ advice to “keep it manageable” was enough to help me refine my thoughts, my structure, my bullet points for each section and the term papers somehow wrote themselves. The PhD is so different. Obviously I wrote a proposal before I even started it (i.e. during the MA!) and I basically spent the first year reading and drafting a tentative literature review and methodology. Now that I am 1.5 years in it seems like I can toss much of that right into the bin… why is that?? But yes of course everyone tells you that. The whole project will shape itself as you proceed and your thoughts will get refined and all that.

Writing BA and MA term papers seems to have been a straightforward process. Either there was a set task and I knew what to do/ look for and therefore what literature to review (at least the literature mentioned in class plus 5-10 articles related to the topic found on Google Scholar or in the library catalogue; often there wasn’t space for a literature review of more than a page anyway). Of course there were moments of desperation. Being somewhat of a perfectionist I did many overnight term paper writing or proofreading sessions, often in the company of classmates in a departmental computer room or a 24-hr library section with lots of chocolate and soft drinks. Nevertheless, there was always this wonderful idea of further examination being “beyond the scope of this paper”. And this scope had been neatly defined in discussion with my lecturer.

For the PhD, then… I am often confused about the scope. Everything shifts and floats and new ideas come up or get rejected. The thought of “writing up” makes me feel really dizzy. Of course I have the lit review and methodology drafts from year one and lots of drafts of what I have been doing in year 2, but I know very well that EVERYTHING WILL HAVE TO BE REWRITTEN. OMG OMG OMG!

Phew… I tried overcoming the little panic attacks that I had when thinking of the transition of term paper to PhD chapter by asking my supervisor very practical questions along the following lines:

  • Do I need to put lit review bits into the chapter as I’m drafting it now? How do I know which bits need to be moved to the ‘lit review chapter’ (which will have another name) and which stay in the chapter?
  • [Same for the methodology]: Do I add methodological details into the chapter?

I’m also struggling with the structure of the actual results etc… but anyway, regarding the literature and methodology bits, she basically told me to add the critical bits to the chapter for now and once I rewrite or put together the whole thesis I will find the balance. She actually suggested that it would be neat to have one general methodology chapter that is followed up by a more detailed short methodology section in each analysis chapter relevant to the local discussion there.

I have been writing so many drafts of my current analysis… they all seem to end up like a report rather then a chapter. So she told me to stop trying to find out other things or change the method again but rather add some interpretation and theoretical implications in relation to my research field. This is what I have to do now.

Bolker_King_writing_books

In the meantime I have also referred to one of my favourite procrastination strategies: reading about writing. I have come across two great books for that recently (which you may know already), Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day (Joan Bolker) and On Writing (Stephen King). The first one has a title that first sounds a bit ‘cheap’ but I was really positively surprised by the book and it’s so far my favourite PhD guide. In fact, I finished it in four nights. King’s book is of course pitched at writers of fiction. (This was also interesting as I’m involved in teaching a stylistics module). Both books are very easy to read and suggest many interesting writing strategies.

Do you know of any other good books? And what are your strategies for writing a chapter? Sorry for writing such a long post – I needed to let these words out.

 

Posted in academia, academic writing

Nail your colours to the mast!

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“Nail your colours to the mast”

Meaning: “To defiantly display one’s opinions and beliefs. Also, to show one’s intention to hold on to those beliefs until the end” (phrases.org.co.uk).

This blog post is inspired by my recent first year confirmation review. The review was actually a positive, encouraging and also refreshing experience. I received numerous pieces of valuable advice. One point, though, stuck with me most and this was the motto “nail your colours to the mast”. This seemed to be the examiner’s main concern (and I shamelessly quote his saying about the colours here). What’s the actual theoretical approach that the project is based on?

Blog_Terminology_20150613As the author of the report, having spent like half a year on it, I can testify that this has really been the main struggle. In writing my literature review I had spent plenty of time on locating different positions in the literature and identifying potential differences between the different approaches. This was at times a frustrating endeavour, as ever so similar terms were used for frameworks with only very subtle differences. Coping with this diverse, overlapping terminology has been a key issue. Mapping out the different terms and their usage had already cost quite a bit of energy. I understand that I fell short on the next step – evaluating them and picking one for my work or even making up another term (and of course justifying it!).

Whose side am I on? To me as a first year PhD student it is just a scary thought to have to make such a decision. If I take up a specific term (such as, in my case, ‘corpus-assisted discourse analysis’ rather than ‘corpus-based/driven’), do I need to then follow the scholars associated with this terms for the rest of my work? Will I contradict myself if I choose one term and at a later stage take a turn with my work that doesn’t really harmonise with the work of the related people? How do I know the implications? Due to some of these daunting questions, I attempted to stay on ‘friendly terms’ with various approaches. This, however, is problematic in itself.

Is it possible to decide on a different set of colours at a later point? (The definition for the colour metaphor quoted above seems to suggest this, but maybe in academia we can allow for more flexibility? Clearly we’re all evolving and learning?) The saying was new to me, but in the context of the confirmation review I understood what was meant – clearly express what you’re trying to achieve and how you are doing that. I think I did that fairly well in my methods section (although at times it needs simplification as I was told) – in the parts that are very practically oriented. I have noticed that I struggle more with attempting to explain the theoretical implications of my work. And I believe this problem is routed in the fear that I misuse theoretical claims, for instance by combining incompatible approaches.

At the end of the review meeting both my examiner and supervisor emphasised, however, that it is okay (and probably even good!) to keep an open mind throughout the PhD and refine your theoretical standpoint through continuous writing. That made me feel more relieved. Still, I have had to go back to more reading on the terms I wasn’t sure about (this includes the definition of ‘discourse’ – a real can of worms…).

What are your views on this topic? Have you encountered similar difficulties?