How to survive your 2nd year as PhD Student

How to survive your 2nd year as a PhD student

Here is a quick overview of yesterday’s training course, organised by https://www.vitae.ac.uk/ and delivered by the fantastic Dr Jim Boran (Researcher Developer Manager, University of Manchester @whalesense) and Dr Victoria Sheppard (Researcher Developer Coordinator, University of Salford, @vishepp).

The purpose was to boost the confidence of those of us who are full-time in the second year of our PhD. Here’s a rundown of the questions we asked ourselves:

How does the 2nd year feel?

Personally, I feel that I cant see wood for the trees!

in_the_wood_by_r3novatio-d1qgq6v

“In The Wood” by MarcoHeisler at http://www.deviantart.com/art/In-The-Wood-104916631

Other descriptions included – “Too far in to stop” “Reality sinking in” “I’m an academic teenager: -acting out!” “Middle-of-anything blues”

Where are you on the PhD mountain?

We were asked to draw a mountain – and where we are on the mountain. My image was of a tunnel: I feel like I’m finding my way under a mountain, and am now stuck half-way through, where it’s cold, dark and lonely!

a_tunnel_to_____by_mamophoto

“A Tunnel To… ” by Mamophoto http://www.deviantart.com/art/A-tunnel-to-56010281

What advice would supervisors give someone starting their 2nd year?

– Read in an organised way 1-2 articles per week

– Start writing as early as possible

– Be clear about defending each sentence in what you write – defensibility starts in the 2nd year

– Is lack of time the issues – or is it lack of motivation?

What advice would supervisors give someone starting their 2nd year?

– Don’t prevaricate – just do it!

– Keep perspective – don’t live to work, work to live

– Read continuously – maintain a current literature review

– Manage your supervisors

What is your research question and your hypothesis?

Quite a few of us struggled to succinctly verbally explain our research question and hypothesis. This was where submitting papers, and routinely explaining the nature of my research to outsiders has helped me.

What is a thesis?

We reviewed the four main thesis type and how our research could fit into one – or none of the them! https://student-learning.tcd.ie/postgraduate/topics/writing/structure/ – The final work should create “sympathy for the reader”: an examiner has 80,000 words to read, so we should make it easy for them to read.

Thesis Regulations

We discussed the importance of knowing your thesis regulations, including the marking structure. We were also reassured that the best research is rarely done in your PhD, and that the contribution to knowledge does not need to be dauntingly huge. Thesis Whisperer has a good post on being realistic about your contribution to new academic knowledge http://thesiswhisperer.com/2010/06/23/where-do-good-ideas-come-from/

Managing the Doctoral Process

  1. Is everything you are doing taking you towards the end of the project?
  2. Where is your plan?
  3. How does your supervisory balance look?
  4. When was the last time you wrote something?
  5. Who is in your support network?

Finally, we completed a project plan, to help us plan the remainder of the year. We left, feeling energised, uplifted and ready to climb the mountain…

Mount Everest Zig Ziglar

“Climbing a Mountain” by Zig Ziglar via http://www.ziglar.com

What are your reflections on Year 2? What advice would you give Year 2 PhD students?

Interviewing as a Martial Art

Pierre Bourdieu, the provocative, brilliant, exasperating French thinker, described sociology as a martial art:

I often say sociology is a martial art, a means of self-defense. Basically, you use it to defend yourself, without having the right to use it for unfair attacks. Pierre Bourdieu

Now in my second year of my PhD, I have completed and transcribed around 30 interviews, of both family firms and policy makers. These interviews have, at times felt, like defending the value of research. Particularly if the interviewees have not themselves attended university. They are keen to talk about their struggles and successes. They also want to know how my research will help other family firms. These are valid questions and ones that every business school academic should be able to answer: why is theoretical, conceptual work important in a business school? How do we help these many small businesses succeed, or make their exit less traumatic? I hope that, for a start, putting these businesses in touch with our students, researchers and other resources can help them grow. And that eventually, yes, my research will help explain why some family firms successfully innovate, why others do not, and what “familiness” even means in the context of business innovation.

But a martial art involves violence and we should not be afraid of passionately defending our right to understand the world in more depth and to explore areas that have not previously been studied. This is, partly, what universities are for.

Martial Arts by dunnodt

The family firms who have been willing to talk to me have been curious about the research, though I suspect that they are delighted someone takes an interest in their business, and wants to learn more about them. Bourdieu was passionate about the need for academics to take a stand, to be activists in the real world. As a business school researcher, taking a stand for me will involve teaching the “attack and defense” moves learned by family firms, to students, policy-makers and firm owners themselves. This will also be a way of honouring those who have given up their time to talk to me.

“La Sociologie est un sport de combat” http://icarusfilms.com/new2002/socio.html

Taming your tiger

“Staying OK” (Harris A, Harris, T., 1985) is an early self-help book, using Transactional Analysis methods. early childhood experiences shape our lives: for the better or worse. I was struck by their description of how we can continue to fear a person, or situation, that no longer has the power to threaten us:

“It is as if [we] spend out lives locked in a cage with an enormous tiger…and all we know how to do is walk backwards. Anyone else can see the tiger is fifty years old, toothless and slowing down. Also, the lock on the cage is rusty. Escape is possible. We do not see what may be obvious to others because our seeing apparatus is not working for us.”

Whether it’s an ex-friend, an ex-boss, an ex-colleague, how many times have I failed to realise that my tiger is now toothless, and that I’m fighting an enemy who no longer has power over me. In the PhD jungle, toothless tigers are lying in wait. I fear the pile of unread books; sitting down to write, when writing is so hard; the journal reviewers who turned down my first draft….This is where the world of blogs, writing workshops and coffees with friends come in: talking about your fears with other people, makes them much less scary.

Let me know what toothless tigers you have successfully recognised as such, and escaped from…

“Lords of the Swamp” by Gabor Dvornik http://www.pixoto.com/cpt?category=animals&subCategory=lions-tigers-and-big-cats

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