Category Archives: Dissertation

Look how far I have come!

Working for a university at this time of year raises quite a few discussions in the office about qualificaitons, exam results and degrees.  Combined with a friend who has decided to embark on a PhD herself It got me thinking about what I have done and where I am now.    Warning:  this is quite a long post.

Going back to my school days, I was a bright kid.  I performed well in my GCSEs, I got nine all together, all As and Bs.  I didn’t do so well in my A-levels though coming out with 2 1/2 in the end.  In this day and age this is not enough to get me into university!  But I got in to do a BA in Art and Art History at Aberystwyth, so it wasn’t a problem, it didn’t even get mentioned.

I stumbled through my degree, I dropped the Art part and carried on with the Art History bit.  I scraped a 2:2.  I could have been more engaged, but there were a lot of interesting things going on at university.    I had a degree and remember once thinking about a masters back then, but dismissing it quickly due to money and only having a 2:2.

I thought that is where I would stop.  I needed to earn money, got a job and ended up in a profession entirely unrelated to my interests.   Then the most amazing thing happened.  I was made redundant, with a fairly chunky redundancy package.    All of a sudden I was thinking about what I really wanted to do rather than what I needed to do and it was brilliant.

I volunteered at the local museum and applied to the best MA in Museum Studies in the country.  Question was, after a nine year gap, experience in an entirely different profession and a 2:2, would they let me enrol on their course…   The answer was “write us an essay to show us you can do it.”  So I did, and they let me on.

I worked hard on my MA, but in hindsight I could have worked harder.  I had a new goal though, I wanted to do a PhD.   I had an idea and everything.   Getting onto the course had also meant a change in career as well and I was working in a more community based area.    I was going to combine all of these things into one!  It would be amazing!

I finished my MA, my average being less than 1% under a merit.    I was proud of myself.  I applied for a PhD, I was turned down.  To be fair the feedback I got was invaluable.   It does seem a little extreme but I was told to get published, get more research experience and apply again.    I was heartbroken.  Then I pulled myself together and worked out a solution.

Entirely by chance an academic publisher emailed me and said they wanted to publish my MA dissertation.  I looked them up, checked the deal they were offering and went for it.  2 whole copies have been sold to date (thats is about 2 years)!  But it is published! And in the University Library too!  So getting published….tick.

Me and my work in the library

Me and my work in the library

I applied for a masters by research (MRes), these masters degrees are all about research methods with a much greater focus on the final dissertation and putting your research methods into action.   To be quite honest this was exactly what I had needed.  I had no idea about research methods until completing this.  The training you are given on standard masters degrees barely touches the surface of what you can do with research.   My marks were coming back as merits and distinctions.    So, more experience in research methods….tick.

On top of that, I had an academic poster displayed at a conference, attended other conferences (actually an important part of learning more) became a Trustee of our local museums and had gained valuable experience of working with museums and audiences.   People were starting to listen to me when I had an opinion on these things as well.

Working on the MRes dissertation had given me a new idea for a PhD project that is much more innovative and hasd a much better grounding in theory and methodology.   I was going to wait to apply for a PhD, get my proposal completely right and take my time, but potential funding applications came up.  I didn’t rush the process and once again the School of Museum Studies gave me loads of advice, they liked the idea and the potential outcomes.

I got an interview, I answered the questions.  I got turned down.    I really wanted to do my PhD with them!  I went for feedback.   There was nothing wrong with my proposal, I was just in the wrong place.  They didn’t have anyone who could really supervise it as the research methods could pose problems, I wanted to work with toddlers.   It felt a bit like I wasn’t going to get anywhere with this.

So I resorted to posting about my sadness on Facebook, where some wise PhD student friends said “find the supervisor who will take you on, don’t think about which university they are at or which department they are in.”    So I thought I would give that a go.  I emailed a potential supervisor who specialised in working with film and photography in research.  She emailed back quickly but had just relocated to Australia so couldn’t take me on.  She did recommend someone to me though.     I emailed them, fifteen minutes later I had a supervisor!

The whole official application process took another six nervewracking weeks, but now I am actually going to start this PhD.    It is with another university, but I think that will make me work harder.  They don’t know me, I have to prove myself.

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One chapter ends another begins…

I have woefully neglected this blog for nearly a year. I have been contributing to a staff blog at work, however that is no excuse. So I thought I would bring this up to date and also broaden my topics.

I have finished my MRes, I will go into more detail on that process as time goes on, and I have secured a place at the University of Sheffield to undertake my PhD. So my plans are progressing via the application of hard work and sometimes abandoning my social life! As the inspiration comes to me I will write about various aspects of finishing research, dissertations and applications.

What really bought me back to this was looking through my photos on Facebook. I am a larper, and I also tend to put myself up for interesting projects or activities. The photos reminded me of some of the fun stuff I have done, there are a lot of photos of my smiling while I am doing things. So I thought I would expand my topics on here to include some of the other things I have done outside of academia.

Let’s face it people are made up of more than on aspect. It’s is the sum of these parts that create a personality and experiences. So I think I would like to tell you about those. I will probably use the photographs as inspiration and to jog my memory, and as a frame of reference for some of the stories.

If you see that I haven’t posted for over a week, comment, poke me or something so that I pull my finger out. I have no excuses!

As a starter I am going to leave this photo here-

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Fatty the Cat as pictured by Al. The internet loves cats.

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Reliability and Validity

I started a post in the middle of May about how things had become increasingly hectic, I got two sentences in and then possibly got distracted by something else! Since April 8th I have been the University of Leicester’s Richard III Outreach Officer and it has been a massive learning curve and amazing experience so far. That isn’t what I want to write about though!

I have read Henry VII: The Winter King by Thomas Penn in the past. I enjoyed the book and the fact that there were references and evidence for the facts that were being explained. Correct or not, there was proof or at least the evidence behind suppositions. I was comfortable with the details I was reading. It was in black and white and explained clearly.

The other day I watched the tv programme in the BBC’s Tudor History season that was presented by the author himself and covered may of the facts about Henry VII from the book. However, some of them were wrong. I didn’t remember them from the book and I then found myself doubting many of the facts being delivered during the show.

So, after having a think about why I was doubting I realised it was the medium of instruction. I am more willing to believe something that is written down that I can see the references and evidence than a tv show. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It does make me doubt the news and other documentaries. What hasn’t helped with that situation was being told by one of the University’s academics that one of the documentaries I watched and was quite happy to accept the facts from wasn’t incredibly accurate and the academic who was presenting wasn’t well regarded in their field. I am not sure if this was bitterness at seeing someone in the same field on tv or if it was entirely true. The problem is, without my researching the whole subject myself, even I don’t know who is right and wrong in these cases! So I think I will stick to books and articles for my literature review and research, mainly because I can compare and criticise based on my own knowledge and reasoned research.

This nearly turned into a post about validity and reliability in research findings, but that may come later. So far I have completed a number of interviews for my dissertation, I have a few more in the pipeline and have data on three museums out of five or six so I am almost there on the data front. I have a lot of reading completed as well, but seem to be getting stuck into a topic and then finding more exciting information on it for more reading and I am not getting much writing done. I am hoping this will all come out in the wash as 5,500 words out of 30,000 isn’t very many at the moment!

I might even blog about my job soon too, well, the bits I can blog about now. The rest will have to wait!

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Learning curves

So, today I did my first day as what felt like a real researcher. I have conducted interviews before, asking a series of questions of various people in various situations, but today felt different. I had to get a proper buy-in from my participants. I managed to get four families to agree to take photographs for me during their visits to the Ashmolean. Three were happy to be interviewed at a later date (two within the weekend and one over the summer when I can pop back) and one wanted to be interviewed on the day. This is where the learning curve came in:
– getting camera developed within an hour is fine, provided you don’t have a deadline.
– taking 20 minutes out to go and fetch the cameras invariably leads to missing people dropping cameras off and arranging set times for the interviews.
So, I have an interview completed, one for Monday and two that require arrangement. I am hoping that I achieve all four interviews. If not, it is not a problem as long as I achieve two interviews which is my self determined target for any museum at which I am researching.

Other things I have encountered today were things such as a lovely man with five hats on, that if you are doing anything with some sort of authority in a museum people will ask you things and most people who go to the Ashmolean are relatively well dressed (I am not sure why as there isn’t really a dress code in museums). One of the other things I noticed was that toddlers adore revolving doors. After watching a few parents with toddlers (and I have to admit there were quite a few who had come in to meet other parents with toddlers) that a toddler led tour of a museum could be an amazing thing. Just follow the direction they are pointing in and see what exciting thing they have seen. One father seemed to be doing just that and he looked like he was having an enormous amount of fun!

Many of the visitors seemed genuinely interested in my research whether they fitted my requirements or not. The museum staff were lovely, helpful and welcoming.

I will try and work out some of the logistical issues before my next museum, but at least I now know that it can be done and this dissertation will have data!

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Enthusiasm about museums

After Christmas and a slow start to January, I think I am getting back into a routine with my dissertation. I have made myself try and review a journal article every weekday. On top if this I have been busy organising my museums. I think I have cracked it now! I decided I needed to actually go and speak with some people to help me get on with it, so I took a day trip to Oxford. This was the best idea ever!

Meeting my contacts at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers, not only helped me plan the logistics of the study, but also helped me to articulate the project and my goals. It gave me the opportunity to explain in person what I wanted to do, how I thought I was going to do it and that I wasn’t entirely sure of the exact outcomes yet, but that was part of the design. The feedback and discussion provided an opportunity to highlight some of the gaps in my plans and create a constructive platform to fix them. I found that discussing the project gave me more confidence in it. My main worry is now that the photos actually come out!

The trip to Oxford also gave me a fun day out. I spent about two hours in the Pitt Rivers Museum and four in the Ashmolean. As it was a Thursday and not a holiday, I had some of the Ashmolean galleries to myself. I went on a tour and had a chat with the museum assistants too. After a tough day (very tough on the feet anyway) I met a friend in the Bird and Baby and had a filling dinner. I am looking forward to going back for a few days and getting the interviews done.

Since I completed what could be termed as a site visit, I have had a surge in enthusiasm, ideas and focus. I now have an excellent selection of fee charging and free museums, run by local authorities, independently or nationally, and my first test subjects visitors are taking photos on Saturday. I have even got a rough plan of the structure of my dissertation. However, I am now not sure that 30,000 words is going to be enough…

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Moving Forward

Last week I met with my course director/potential dissertation supervisor.  I chose to meet now, early on before even having completed my last module so that I could vent some ideas and make sure I wasn’t on the wrong track even before I had started.  The proposal isn’t due in until October, but we have had an extra week before getting our next module so I took advantage of this opportunity.

My original plan was to explore the visitor experience in one of our local museums using disposable cameras and then follow up interviews.  I have to admit that the idea was a little broad when I went in.  We discussed the topic and came to a few more firm decisions.

I will look at focusing on the family experience within the museum.  This can be used to show the following topics amongst others:

  • decision making within family groups
  • pathways through the museum and why that particular path is being taken
  • learning methods and the use of prior knowledge within family groups

I hope that this will also highlight any differences between the curator’s objectives and the actual visitor experience as well.  This proposal is in the early stages, I am fully expecting some changes to come out during the development stages.  I will keep you all posted on any changes.

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