Sometimes it’s the simplest questions …

flickr photo by caseorganic shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

In the Q&A following my Confirmation seminar one question floored me, perhaps because of its simplicity.

‘What is your ethnography an ethnography of?’

The answer to me was obvious, but because it was being asked by someone much more experienced and acknowledged than I, I assumed there must be more to the answer than the obvious. But perhaps it was more a case that I hadn’t actually stated that anywhere in my presentation and it simply needed laying out. So here’s my attempt to set that record straight.Read More »

Confirmation Q&A – #1

The Confirmation of Candidature process I mentioned in the last post is partly about monitoring your progress and strength of your work, but also about exposing your thoughts to academic scrutiny – another manifestation of the peer review process I guess. After presenting for half an hour, the remainder of the seminar was given over to Q and A and it is through these that you get a better sense of how your work and your ideas hold up. When added to the formal feedback provided  by the rapporteurs, the areas which are robust and those in need of further development become clearer. In this post then, I want to catalogue the feedback people were kind enough to provide through their observations and questions.


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Confirmation of PhD

I’ve been rather quiet on the blog recently; my energies have been focused towards writing the report and designing a seminar to fulfil the requirements for my Confirmation of Candidature (RF2 in local parlance). As I discussed earlier, this is the final hurdle to overcome before you can call yourself a PhD student. Essentially you are providing a panel of assessors with evidence of the progress you have made during your first year, and that your study is of a standard likely to lead to you being able to fulfil the requirements of a PhD.


I submitted the report just over a week ago and delivered my oral presentation yesterday (the slides are above, though may not mean a great deal without the commentary). Rather than the small panel that would usually be involved (your supervisory team plus two ‘rapporteurs’ – academics not associated with your research, but familiar with the field and PhD supervision), I agreed to present a seminar. As it happened, this was the first on this year’s programme of the Institute’s Research Seminar series, so rather than half a dozen people, there were over thirty – academics, PhD students and Masters students. I’m sure some would have found this intimidating, but for me, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Rather than speaking to a small, incredibly intelligent and necessarily critical panel, it felt more like talking to a class and helped me to relax. The audience was not solely those obliged to be there as part of their duties, but was mostly people who were sufficiently motivated  to give up some time to come and listen to me talk, based on the title and abstract I had provided.
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flickr photo by derekbruff shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Just had a meeting with my supervisory team; one that I called. By the end of September, I will need to have completed what we call locally, the RF2, or ‘Confirmation of PhD.’ It’s a checkpoint through which you can pass if you’ve made sufficient progress and what you’re proposing to undertake is worthy of study in pursuit of a doctorate. There are two parts: the first is a 6000 word report and the second a presentation to a panel. I guess the combined process serves (at least) two functions; whilst providing that obligatory passage point, it also provides an opportunity to experience, on a smaller scale, what the end of the doctoral process is like – the production of a summative report together with an oral examination. It all makes sense and hangs together.

In preparation for the meeting I produced and circulated a set of notes – points I wanted to cover. Some were simply procedural, but the main thrust was to get some feedback on the pilot phase of my study. Although not quite complete, I have enough data and have undertaken sufficient analysis to begin to make some tentative observations. I wanted the meeting to provide some sense of reassurance that my interpretations held water and to help bring some clarity to some the rather fuzzy and less coherent preliminary thoughts I’ve had. It was not to be … as has been the case in most of the meetings I’ve had so far. As I recounted my thoughts, my sensei’s pushed the points I was making that little bit further. ‘If you’re saying xxx, then you’ll need to consider yyy.’ ‘If it’s the case that xxx, then might it be that yyy.’ In many ways, rather than sharpening the focus, issues became more blurred as possibilities expanded. I found the experience most unsettling.

As I began the process of mulling things over, I realised that my expectations of supervisory meetings might have been opposite to what they’re actually intended to do. They’re not there to bring forth order from chaos; that’s my job as a doctoral researcher. Instead, they’re about being unsettled; having your cage rattled. You arrive at a meeting with a set of thoughts, some fully formed and others mere fledglings. What supervisors then do is test the strength, flexibility and elasticity of those ideas – do they stand up to scrutiny and do they fully represent the phenomenon or situation you’ve been studying? Supervisors are there to pose the questions you, as a student, are too inexperienced to have thought of, or too insecure to have articulated. It should be an unsettling process; if it isn’t, your work may not be moving forward or achieving the standard it needs to.

Based on the data and initial interpretations I offered, there were a number of considerations I need to take away and questions I need to address.

  • Professional development, professional learning, CPD – what significance does the terminology have and how big a deal do I want to make it? Do I define what term I’m going to be using throughout my study and therefore set out my stall from the beginning, or is
  • In trying to ‘tame’ the research ‘site,’ I need to take care that I don’t massage out the very essence of Twitter. It’s a messy, intense, unruly, unbounded, chaotic space; some of that might be what helps to generate the benefits and outcomes that people have begun to describe.
  • There some tentative indications that ‘identity’ might be a topic which needs addressing, though I got the impression that that carries with it a whole other set of baggage.

During the course of my summary, I offered up a variety of possible avenues, each of which might make a fruitful area of exploration, but I now need to decide which thread, running through the whole study, that I want to gradually pull and tease out. I also need to begin to set myself some limits, especially if I intend to continue with multiple methods. If I’m unable to reassure those assessing my capability to continue, that I can conduct and complete my study within the time scale, then I may not be allowed to move forward.

So yes, I’ve definitely been unsettled, but that was needed to encourage me to confront and make sense of the raft of possibilities, and to bring some coherence to my unfolding research.