Category Archives: PhD

Progress vs “progress”

I had every good intention of doing a lot of PhD work over my extended Christmas break, and I think I actually did do a lot of PhD in that time. However it doesn’t feel like I have actually made any real progress, even though “progress” has been made. I am now going to make a list of the things I have done, then explain why it doesn’t feel like I have achieved anything.

  1. Read a stack of articles on diversity, super-diversity, Leicester and migration.
  2. Written about 4,500 words of an article on Leicester from a super-diverse perspective.
  3. Put together two lectures for Sociology first years on Diversity & Super-Diversity and Identity & Belonging.
  4. Delivered two lectures for Sociology first years on Diversity & Super-Diversity and Identity & Belonging.

That’s not a bad list for 6 weeks work (part-time studying), that included two weeks holiday and four weeks full-time employment work.

But this is why it doesn’t feel like I have achieved anything…

progress 2019

January 2019

phd progress

September 2018

There is an extra strip of progress on that level, but in reality I am still on 20% of my word count. I don’t want to ditch this measure because when I am writing it is enormously satisfying to fill it in. The writing process is a fluid motion, editing takes things back down sometimes. I need to remember that progress isn’t all about the word count.
Next up putting together three more lectures for Sociology third years, a couple more ad hoc family visits to the museum, finishing the article on Leicester and looking for a journal to submit it to. That and…chipping away at that word count, and working full time. Time to get my Wonder Woman underoos on!


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The end (of term) is in sight!

I don’t feel like I have made much progress recently, but that is only if you measure progress in words and not ideas or fieldwork. Since last posting I have completed another visit to the museum with a group, got contact details for three more family visits after the holidays, am definitely volunteering again next term, been out teaching with some second year undergrads, read a huge pile of articles on diversity and scoured the census data for the last 40 years looking at different patterns.

I am very conscious of my mental and physical health so have been making sure I am taking time out for me. But often this feels like laziness. Tonight I have had a long hot bath, writing this is giving me a little sense of direction but I am aware that this is not me reading or writing. But it is me thinking…(is that too far-fetched?!?). My topic is never far from my thoughts, this morning I ended up in a conversation with a taxi driver about the migration of Ugandan Asians to Leicester!


The full time job has been very much full on, but with the end of term imminent I decided I needed to take my annual leave and have an actual solid block of time off. So as of Friday I will be running away from my work desk until January. As we all know this does not mean that the PhD work stops. I have my plans, I am going to focus on that diversity area, properly analyse the census data and write an article about it, this will also add to a thesis chapter.

However, I will be maintaining my Christmas traditions! I will eat my weight in food on Christmas Day and I will walk it off on Boxing Day.  So, roll on Friday!


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The trickle of progress

I have just spent 10 minutes trying to think of witty titles for this piece along the lines of laxatives and writing but couldn’t find any that were satisfyingly alliterative! Needless to say I have eased my creative constipation a little and in the process learnt a little more about me and how my brain works.

I used my own advice and thinking about the idea of thinking time that my first supervisor discussed with me – I gave myself a break. Not a physical, going on holiday brecreative flowak (there’s no time for that!), but that actual no input, let your mind wander break. Here is what I changed, so that others who are struggling might find something that will help.

  • I stopped listening to music on the way too and from work. I realised this was prime mind wandering time. When I was listening to music I would get the last song stuck in my head all day. So it wasn’t just effecting my walking time but also my whole day by getting stuck on repeat.
  • I stopped multi-tasking when at home. At work, not so easy, but at home I stopped watching tv on my ipad while washing up. I also stopped browsing on my phone while watching tv. When lying on the bath I just lay there instead of having music or reading a book. I just did one thing at a time!
  • I went back to facts instead of interpretation. I was looking at what I need to get down and decided to move away from my literature review for a while and go back to my methodology. This allowed me to write about facts – what happened, stats and demographics – rather than trying to interpret ideas and theories. All of a sudden 1000 more words! This helped me get some of information in my head out without having to “think” too hard about it. This has led to some interesting observations and possibly an article.
  • I took it easy on myself. I gave myself permission to not be productive. I lay on the sofa for a whole weekend under a blanket and didn’t do anything. No housework, not reading, no writing, no drawing. I think I needed that, guilt free.
  • I had a supervision meeting. I think this is definitely worth mentioning. If you are stuck chat to your supervisor(s). They see things you might not have yet. They have a different opinion on what progress is. They will tell you it’s normal to be stuck every now and then. Get their moral support!

My one final piece of advice which is only relevant at this time of year is ignore the #NaNoWriMo people. Their aim is to churn out 80,000 words in a month. That’s an entire thesis. There is an #AcWriMo which is useful but you need to know your limits or it can be disheartening. I did this a couple of years ago and set my targets to high. I now know that 250 words a day is a reasonable target!

My main point here is take it easy on yourself and think about how much you are putting into yourself whether that is visually, aurally or subconsciously. Free up some sensory space to let your mind explore and it will come up with its own ideas and conclusions.

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Being creatively constipated

I am stuck. I seem to have writer’s and artist’s block. I am not stationary though – reading, ideas, images, plans are all happening. So progress is being made in different ways.  I just feel like it is all going in and nothing is coming out right now! Hence, being creatively constipated! help-with-writers-block

I suspect one of the causes is being ridiculously busy at work. Usually I have a little more thinking time in my day which allows for ideas to percolate and notes to be noted. So at home my brain is trying to wind down but there are other things to think about and also resting to do because (as previously stated) I am not Wonder Woman. There is the potential that another cause is that I have started listening to music on my way too and from work, I also do this while washing up. This is also valuable thinking time and maybe I am filling my brain’s time with stimuli when I really need to let it works things out in silence. Some of my best problem solving has happened while I am asleep!

But any tips to get the words and images out of my head are appreciated. I am going to try to not listen to music for a few days and see if this helps.

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PhD, Work, Life Balance?

I chose to embark on my PhD knowing that I would have to work full time to pay the bills. I had done two part-time distance learning Master’s degrees before so the idea of working on something at home, in the evenings and weekends had become second nature. However there was much more structure to the Master’s degrees, modules to complete with set assignments and broken down into easy to schedule sections. Embarking on my PhD journey is turning out to be quite different to this! 

I will be the first to admit that some days I don’t make any progress. I class progress as reading, writing, drawing, working with a group or organising something project related. I have all the best intentions because it isn’t far from my mind but some days it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes progress only feels like progress if it has been written down and there is a tangible result to what I have been doing. Part of the problem is also that I enjoy working on my PhD and so it isn’t a chore and that feels like cheating! But also, I am not Wonder Woman and I need to give myself a break and maintain relationships with real people and family.

I am lucky in that I work at a university and have easy access to the library, online resources, printing and how the university works. So printing off articles and searching for literature is something I can fit into my lunch break ready for later reading. I prefer to write into a notebook rather than type directly onto a computer which might should like I am adding an extra step. But that extra step allows me to write whilst sat on the sofa, away from screens and I can be a little social during this time. It is also an extra editing step. When I type up my writing I am adjusting, revisiting and reformatting. The extra questioning makes me think harder about what I might have written in haste when an idea was fresh and maybe not quite fully formed.

I also get distracted. By so many things! Housework, cooking, social media…but these things are thinking time. If my brain is not in my PhD at that time I am not going to force it. If I have done a full day at work and tried to cram in a few hours of writing when my brain is tired, I would not be doing myself any favours. Sometimes planning is all that happens, quite often I just switch off for a bit. Then I try and ignore the feelings of guilt. I am also a thorough planner. I plan around my supervision meetings, they are my new deadlines. Getting something ready to for us to discuss is important to me. I also use those couple of days between emailing in a draft and the meeting as a break from writing. That time could then be a weekend away with friends or watching an entire series on Netflix! 

Sometimes work is so busy I don’t get anything done for days. October is a very busy month and might be able to do some fieldwork during this time but very little writing due to long days, travelling and just brain fatigue. Luckily my supervisors understand. The hard part is getting back into moving words from my to the paper afterwards. I am sure there must be techniques I could use to make some of this easier! 

Overall the benefit of part-time studying is that I have time. Working with local communities, local organisations and families means that somethings don’t go to plan and we have to reschedule and replan. If I was working on a tighter timescale I would be panicking all the time about running out of time! I am writing and doing fieldwork at the same time. Conversations I have through work often benefit my PhD. Someone once said make sure everyone knows you are doing it, have pride! While I am sure that some people are sick of hearing about it and it sounds like I am boasting, but conversations in passing have lead to help from unexpected areas, teaching experience and getting new supervisors! 

I don’t know how it all fits in, but it does. There isn’t a formula, but I think I have got a balance between work, studying and being social. I have declined weekend plans to make sure that I have time to write, recover from work or just make the house habitable.  I won’t pretent there hasn’t been some sacrifice. It has made me pick my social activities more carefully! 

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PhD Fieldwork – the Realities

Over the last year I have been working on my methods chapter and reading about amazing work that other people have done with different communities. I will leave the actual details to my chapter, but there is a underlying problem with a lot of the fieldwork accounts that are out there…they lie about what it is really like! They are perfectly documented and amazingly executed methods where participants are on time (or even turn up at all) and engage fully with the project from start to finish wiperfect meetingth no hitches. There is no chasing of appointments or survey responses. There is no mess, no one has better things to do than come along to an information session or a museum visit.

My project has been some crazy Venn diagram of when people are available, when I am available (and not at work), when the museum is open, when they don’t forget, when the children are alert and engaged, when everyone is not hungry, when it is not organised too far in the future, when it is organise with enough notice, if it isn’t raining…in fact, I am surprised that I have managed to get any families to visit the museum with me sometimes! Don’t get me wrong, I love the people and the families I work with, but they have real lives that don’t put my project at the top of their priorities list (and it shouldn’t be anyway). So when I spend an hour waiting outside the museum for a group, I don’t actually mind.

Symmetrical_5-set_Venn_diagram.svgIn the long run there is a reason for an absence and it’s not because they didn’t want to come.

Then there is the methods. It’s great asking people to take photos with you. In the past I have used disposable cameras and taken them away to be developed. This has it’s own problems of children not knowing how they work (this was hilarious the first time – “where can I see the photo when I am taking it?” and “How can I delete ones I don’t like?”), fingers over the view finders and over winding by the more zealous participants.  It all leads to no data. I was not (and am still not) in a position to buy lovely digital cameras to give out to families. So I asked my families to use their phones and share pictures with me. Perfect! They took loads going around the museum of each other, of things they liked or made them laugh…but the actual act of sharing those gets more complicated. You get a “yeah, sure” and one photo or two. This then makes the next step of discussing those photos more complicated because there are no photos, and the getting together to talk about these, well see Venn diagram problem.

The above issues all happen after you have found a group to work with. They are out there, but sometimes the gatekeepers can be tricky. However, if you go and have a chat and a cuppa about your project and how you can help them it all turns out lovely. People genuinely want to help!

I am halfway through my fieldwork and originally I had planned it to be one academic year with one group of people. At the end of the summer term the group fell apart for a number of reasons, and I lost regular contact quite quickly. I wondered what I was going to do as I wasn’t finished and it seemed a bit of an imposition to ask for further meetings – they had other things on their minds. I potentially have a new group now. So a contrast maybe, but also a new start with some of the lessons learnt from last year. I also have the assurance that this crazy process is “normal”. So if it is normal, please please write about it! Let’s not let other researchers and students feel like they are failing because the course of research does not run smooth.


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Filed under Distractions, Hints & Tips, Methodologies, Museums, PhD, Supervision, Uncategorized, Visual Methods


Having looked at the last date I posted and my fieldwork journal, I thought I would approach the roller-coaster of a time I have been having. Blogging obviously did not seem to be a priority for the last two years. Twitter has been a good venting mechanism and way to show what has been going on and what other people are doing but it has its ups and downs as well.


One thing I have realised is that other PhD students use Twitter to make out that it is all work, all the time and there is no respite or thinking time.  You are in a lab or writing/reading and there is nothing in between. It is the hardest slog you will ever encounter. I am wondering how many people this may have put off embarking on an really curious journey into research. But then, that’s social media for you. Twitter is for complaining how hard your life is, Facebook is for making it look perfect.

Back to my last two years…I was getting on nicely where I was when my supervisor moved to another university! I had a couple of options. I could stay where I was with a new supervisor (but they were struggling to find one), I could follow my old supervisor to the new university (not best practice) or I could see if I could return to Leicester (where I work and completed my previous degrees). Following some chats, where I through I would be selling myself and it ended up being them selling the department – I am back at Leicester with two new supervisors. They are not so new to me now as it has been a whole year since I returned. The upsides to being back on home turf are no commute to meetings, a small amount of teaching opportunities (with no commute)and being able to be part of the PhD community here. So after a small amount of worry it all worked out.

phd progress

So here I am, about the begin my fifth year of my PhD. I feel like the end is in sight. I am still working full time, “studying” part time. I am not over encumbered with workload, I seem to be able to have days where I don’t do any PhD related at all which allows me thinking time. It is never far from my mind though. I am writing my methodology and literature review. Fieldwork is happening, but will also be the subject of next week’s blog post. I have even put a reminder into my diary to make me do it and not wait another two years!



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Filed under Distractions, Hints & Tips, Methodologies, PhD, reading, Supervision