Posted by: jleventon | May 15, 2011

The Aftermath

I have started writing my second blog post a number of times and can’t seem to get past the opening few sentences.  It seems I am having problems focussing at the moment and its not limited to blogging: I have started reading three books this week and not got beyond the first chapter; I blocked my cash card because I forgot the PIN code I have had for years; I have double-booked appointments; and I have forgotten to make lunch half way through cooking.  This isn’t like me as I’m actually quite organised.  Prior to submission I read something about post-thesis disorder (I can’t provide a link to this excellent article because my post-thesis brain can’t help me find it) and laughed about it.  I’m not laughing now; I’m believing.  So my blog posts on communication across the physical-social science divide; the confusing ‘they’ in interview transcripts; or the mistakes I hope I learned from in fieldwork will all have to wait.  Instead, I can offer you this post about the multitude of post-submission tasks that I am attempting, and that are incredibly complex when your brain seems to have stopped.

I need to write my acknowledgments page but I have writer’s block; structure and style elude me. I know who I will acknowledge; I have funders and a committee and have been lucky enough to have a set of outstanding people who have helped me more than they appreciate through my thesis.   But its all a bit complicated.  I have performed research in three different institutes during my PhD, in three different countries and have had social and family ties in two other countries. I was funded by a Marie-Curie Research Training Network which provided me with access to a network of motivated experienced scientists and doctoral researchers.   I have also benefited from the online community of academics and PhD students.  Each of these locations, or more abstract spaces, has yielded a wide range of people to whom I am indebted for the wide range of roles they have played in supporting the production of my thesis.  To do them all justice is tough and to categorise them and therefore give the page a structure (beyond just a list of names) is difficult.  My attempts have left me with numbered headings and sub-headings.  I have decided that its all gone too far and is starting to look like a thesis chapter, so I have put that to one side to return to later.

I have my pre-defence this week which means I have to write a presentation and do some corrections to the thesis.  This is the opportunity for me to present my work to my committee and receive criticism before the final defence.  Its important.  I really need to make sure that the slides are perfect and that I know what I will say for each one.  I need to work on the focus of it, to ‘sell’ my results.  I need to work out how I am going to address the comments that I have already received from my supervisor and external supervisor.  I definitely need to correct the typing errors that I’ve picked up.  So why am I more worried about what I am going to wear?  And if that needs to change if its going to rain that day?  I rather suspect its because all the preparation requires me to re-engage with the thesis.  To not just read it, but to start thinking like a dissertation writer again.  Yet I feel a bit used-up and empty.  The work I am doing is motivated by the thought of “I have to get rid of this now”.  Which is strange and a bit sad because deep down, I love my research.  But seriously, enough is enough.  So I am trying not to put that to one side to return to later.

I have also attempted to return to normal life.  My sleep pattern is slowly becoming a pattern, which is lovely.  I have been cooking again, and my stomach is grateful.  I have been out with friends and have loved it.  I have also returned to proper running training and its hell.  I am unfit and I have gained a bit of weight after sitting at my desk for hours chain-eating chocolate.  I am being beaten in training by people who should not be beating me and my coach is being tough so that I get back in condition quickly.  All of this suffering is compounded by the physical aftermath of my thesis: My back.  Evidently running with a post-thesis back causes sciatica and a sore, stiff hip.  So I am feeling slightly sorry for myself because my ailing joints are causing me to put this to one side for just a bit longer.

I think what I am finding is that submitting the thesis may be the beginning of the end, but the end is hard work!  Its all about taking it one step at a time though and none of these steps is as big as that of producing a whole thesis.  So I am reassured that even though I’m finding it really tough going, by the end of Wednesday I will have done my pre-defence and will be that much closer to the end of the end.

Posted by: jleventon | May 3, 2011

The Beginning

I submitted my thesis exactly one week ago.  As the writing process had increasingly dominated my waking hours, and occasionally penetrated my dreams, this was a moment I had been desperate for.  It was supposed to be the beginning of the end.  Now I ‘just’ have to get through the pre-defence and then the defence and I will have finished my PhD.  Brilliant.  One week on, and I realise that it is also a little bit scary, because it marks the end of the beginning.  If the PhD forms the foundations of an academic career, I now need to build on them.  While this blog won’t directly achieve this, I hope that it will help shape and support my construction efforts!

The first way my blog will help is by providing a forum through which to communicate and shape ideas.  I admire other academics with blogs around their topic area.   In my opinion, and particularly within the arena of environmental management, academic research is performed both in order to be relevant to the wider public and environmental stakeholders, and in order to increase knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  A blog is a method for reaching out to both audiences.  Done well, I have found that a blog can provide: a way into understanding a person’s research; an opportunity to communicate with that researcher; and an opportunity to see how their ideas evolve and take shape. I hope to achieve this here.

Secondly, my blog will also contribute (I hope) to the strong community of online researchers.  Throughout my PhD, I drew on the knowledge and experience of others and gained so much support from people’s online presence.  I was inspired by researchers making progress in their own work and comforted by their shared problems (and solutions).  I learned from their tips about structuring work, overcoming writer’s block and a great deal more.  As I moved around throughout my PhD, an online peer network became increasingly important to me because at times I felt disconnected from real-life peers.  I hope that through this blog, I will continue this support into my post-PhD life, and I hope that someone, somewhere finds my ruminations useful in some way!

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