“Summit of Hardknott Pass” by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/9361797530 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

In the briefing notes I wrote, it should have just been one more supervisory meeting. I intended to cover the recent activity in which I’d been involved and that which was forthcoming, followed by a progress report on my data collection. There were a couple of things which had arisen that I was keen to talk through and seek advice. However, things took a different turn when a thought occurred and I asked what would the implications be if I wanted to submit in time to attend the November 2018 graduation ceremony. Given my October 2016 start, a three year programme would take me to September 2018 finish; rather tight for a November ceremony. So our discussion then shifted to considering the implications, first of which was the timeline in order to fulfill that.

Tracing back from a November graduation would require a viva in early September, but that would only work if the outcome was ‘minor corrections.’ There would be just enough time to complete the corrections and still submit in time to be included in the graduation. If major corrections were required, then there simply wouldn’t be time. Shifting the viva to July leaves a bit of a cushion in case of unforeseen admin difficulties, however, clearly still not enough time for major corrections. So having tentatively settled on July, this then meant submitting the final thesis a couple of months before that, and therefore the first draft would need to be completed by around January. Eeek!

It’s not unusual to come out of supervision meetings with a slight wobble; your supervisors will invariably spot something in what you’ve presented or discussed that needs exploring, reviewing or adjusting. The feeling after this meeting was a little more …seismic, although in a good way. I’d naturally assumed that I’d begin the process of setting out the thesis and formalising the writing I’ve done so far, starting around September time. That’s now got shifted forward about four months. It’s not a problem. Thanks to some very generous research participants, I have an ‘elegant sufficiency’ of data, however, my analysis is currently only in the preliminary stages – that which you undertake during the first reading of your data. Having presented a one-page overview of my data for this meeting, I now need to do two things: (1) provide a concise summary of how that data was generated1; and (2) produce another overview which will outline how the data will be analysed. It therefore follows that the data collection phase, other than those strands which are currently ongoing, needs to brought swiftly to a close. However, depending on what emerges as the analysis unfolds, I may need to return to the field for supplementary data.

As the curtains on the next phase open, I also need to set out a timeline which will lead my writing to have that first draft of the thesis ready by January. This also means I need now to begin to plan out the structure of the thesis so I’m better placed to divide up its production into manageable chunks. This leaves me in somewhat of a quandary; until I’ve done the analysis, I can’t know what all of the chapters will be. On the other hand, I do know that there will need to be an introduction, a literature review and a methodology, even if they’re ultimately not called that, or even if those topics are distributed in a different way through the thesis. I say that because I’ve read some theses to see how they’ve been set out, and it’s clear to see that when you’re following a course of research in the way that I’m doing, you won’t always find that the conventional layout (intro, lit review, methods, findings, conclusion) is suitable. However, just to brainstorm some of the ideas I might cover, I needed something concrete to kick things off.

“20170512 Thesis Mindmap” by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/33783587514 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

This was where I got started, but is in a regular state of flux as I think of new things. I quite like text2mindmap for this, as it creates the map from a simple, indented list; something which can easily be copypasted across to a word processing package.

My timeline begins immediately with a more focused approach to analysis, whilst concurrently producing a first draft chapter. That can’t of course be the introduction, nor indeed the findings or conclusion, so that leaves the overview of the literature and the methodology. I’m leaning towards literature at the moment, but we’ll see how that pans out.

The first metaphor I thought of as I reached this significant milestone and the temporal halfway point, was that of a summit being crested, with the downhill section now before me. That quickly vanished as the enormity of what actually confronts me sank in. If you’ve ever been cycling or hill walking, you’ll know about false summits; this was definitely one of those, with the next crest having appeared on the horizon … and doubtless several more beyond that. I do know that the experience of cycling down from Hardknott Pass soon wiped that smile off my face in the opening photo. I wonder whether the adrenaline rush I felt then will be replicated in my thesis writing?


1 I am only too well aware by now that language is so important. Using the word ‘generated’ carries with it certain connotations in terms of the research process. Perhaps that should be, the data emerged, were found, or collected or, given my sociomaterial sensibility, were performed?! I use ‘generated’ here merely for expedience.


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