A New Chapter

I haven’t blogged for some time, party due to the fact that I forgot my login details-duh! But partly due to moving jobs, location and general moving on with life. However with the (no so) new job has come a new opportunity in the form of leadership development. Towards the end of last year I applied, and was successful in obtaining a Florence Nightingale Leadership Development scholarship. The particular scholarship I have is sponsored by the Council of Deans of Health, and is particularly targeted at emerging academic leaders who aspire to be a Dean of a health faculty. My plan now is to blog through my experience of this leadership development, with reflections on my personal development and the experiences I gain throughout this exciting year.

The first thing that happens on this scholarship is the personal leadership profiling. I have found this fascinating, gaining new insights into my self and how others might see me as a leader. This experience has been hugely important for setting the direction of the development opportunities which are tailored to each scholar. Although the profiling mainly confirmed my own assessment of myself, this in itself was reassuring, as it has confirmed the areas I need to develop so that I can become the leader I want to be, and the leader my colleagues need me to be. 

Two weeks ago we had the first main leadership development event where nearly all this year’s cohort of scholars got together for the “Leading Change and Organisational Renewal” course. This course is an adapted version of the course of the same name delivered at Harvard and Stanford Business Schools in the US. It was led by an excellent and inspirational group of facilitators who led us though detailed case studies and root cause analysis of live issues relating to scholars workplace areas. The lessons learned from others cases and the pre prepared cases were easily transferable, and I’m sure I will have plenty opportunities to apply the skills.

For me the highlight was meeting the other scholars. What an amazingly talented group of leaders from NHS and higher education. The openness and shared learning was fantastic and I am looking forward to learning together throughout the year. On the LCOR course we had the opportunity to form free groups, relating to key areas highlighleted by the scholars. I raised the issue of how we as leaders can use our skills to influence policy and political decisions- never one to shy away from the challenge! I was delighted that four other scholars were also keen to explore this with me, and we have formed a group to explore this issue during the scholarship year.

Developing policical awareness is one of the key areas I am keen to develop my own knowledge and skills. The Westminster Experience which is part of the scholarship activity looks to be an ideal opportunity to help me in this area. However, I am also keen to explore local politics, within my own organisation and within the Scottish context. We are very fortunate in Scotland that due our our relative size, being able to create these opportunities seems relatively easy. Of course having the Florence scholarship paves the way for this. I hope to blog more about my learning on this area throughout the year.

At the moment I am developing the leadership project which is part of the scholarship. For this I will be looking at developing clinical academic partnerships between the university I work for and the local NHS. There are many areas that do this very well, and I will be looking at models across the UK and this will be the focus of an overseas study tour, again part of the scholarship activity. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about this early stage of the scholarship. Applications for Florence Scholarships open on 1st March and I would encourage anyone to apply. You can find out more about the various types of scholarship at this link http://www.florence-nightingale-foundation.org.uk/content/page/33/ 

Please feel free to leave a comment, or contact me directly through Twitter @strictlykaren 

Revisting the literature

Having recently completed the writing of my thesis I wanted to return to reflect on the purpose of the literature review in the PhD thesis. Probably like most PhD students I began with a rough idea of the type of study I wanted to conduct with vague aims and questions. These were based on my existing knowledge and experience as a nurse and academic. In the initially stages of the PhD process I understood an extensive review of the literature around my topic area in order to identify the gaps in knowledge and lead to the refining or the research aim and questions. So my initial review did just that, it helped me define the aim for my study and refine my research questions and inform the underpinning theory of the study. It also informed the development of the topic guide for the focus group I conducted with MS nurses, as well as the interview guide I used to loosely inform my semi-structured interviews with the participants -people with MS and their support person.

The purpose of the initial literature review is quite clear; it identified the gaps in knowledge and understanding and allowed me to, progress to data collection. I recall my supervisors at the time advising me that the thesis had to have a “golden thread” running through it in order for it to present a coherent story. I admit I wasn’t confident at this stage what the golden thread was going to be but biographical disruption was the focus for the study so it seemed likely this would be it. I worried that my data might not highlight the golden thread, what if my participants did not have any disruption to their former self? Or would my thinking and seeking this out introduce bias to the study.

Using an interpretative phenomenological approach allowed me to consider my perspective and own it; appreciating how it influenced the study and how that enriched the interpretative process, whilst acknowledging that it was my own interpretation. I needn’t have worried about the data though. There was ample evidence to weave the golden thread through the data, however once the data were analysed and I had written my discussion, I developed a conceptual framework from the data. Now I had a problem, my initial literature review no longer quite sat well with the rest of the thesis. This meant a re-drafting of the literature review or substantive re-write.

Pat Thomson’s reminds us in her blog about the purposes of literature reviews. So now was the time to re-review the literature, this time with the whole thesis in mind, and that “golden thread”. At this point I’ll let you know that I didn’t enjoy doing the first review, so the prospect of a reviewing it in a short timescale wasn’t entirely welcome but I could see the need and had the drive to make it work.

The previous work did not go to waste much of it has been kept but reworked. There were the additional literatures from the discussion chapter also to consider. In my discipline the literature in the discussion should also reflect what is in the review chapter.

I re-ran my literature searches and updated my evidence tables. This time I had made the move to using Mendeley which is a referencing management system which is cloud based and free. Its value in helping to short circuit the laborious process of compiling the literatures was invaluable. I was able to search the articles from my search that I had saved in Mendeley in the themes of the review. Then very quickly and easily use flip charts with coloured pens to code and organise the literature so when it came to writing I could simply writ the review with the relevant literatures referred so feeling confident I had not missed a paper left in my office or elsewhere.

This time, knowing the findings felt more confident in approaching the review as I could construct the story of my thesis, and clearly identify the gaps my thesis intended to address. I was also more confident about the role the theory has played in my research so felt better informed to critique the relevant theories justifying why I had adopted a particular theoretical lens.

So re-visiting the literature has been a valuable experience. My literature review now clearly relates to my study and highlights why the research was needed. So the message from this blog, if you haven’t got it yet, it that the literature plays an important part in the development of your thesis and serves different purposes at different times. It also helps you grow as a researcher.

What is your experience? Have you tamed your literature yet, scared any ghosts or are you still gazing through misty lenses, looking for clarity?

Introduction to philosophy

I decided to sign up for the Introduction to Philosophy MOOC (that’s massive open online course) being run by the University of Edinburgh. The course starts on Monday 28th January and runs for 7 weeks and during that time about 30,000+ students will be engaging in learning and discussing philosophy.

The main focus is on the following areas:

  • Epistemology, our knowledge of the world and ourselves consists in, and how we come to have it;
  • Philosophy of science, conceptual issues in scientific research and practice;
  • Philosophy of Mind, what it means for something to have a mind, and how minds should be understood and explained;
  • Moral Philosophy,  the nature of our moral judgements and reactions – whether they aim at some objective moral truth, or are mere personal or cultural preferences, and;
  • Metaphysics,  fundamental conceptual questions about the nature of reality.

(Edinburgh University, 2013, https://www.coursera.org/course/introphil)

What’s my motivation?

Well I am in the final six months of writing and due to submit my thesis for a viva in July this year. Therefore I thought a brush up of my knowledge of philosophy might come in useful as well as allowing me to practice articulating my own philosophical way of being.

How do MOOCs work?

Basically, anyone can sign up for a MOOC. There are plenty on offer these days and they seem to the the biggest revolution in education in the past few years. I am a bit concerned about interacting with so many people. There the course platform hosted on coursera, but participants are often encouraged to use social media also, so you can find people discussion their MOOC on blogs, twitter, google, facebook etc. For me, I will likely stick to the course platform, twitter and my blog. I just can’t get to grips with google+ yet and facebook, I keep for non-work social stuff.

I hope to blog about my experiences of the MOOC on this blog, but if you are reading this and think, “that sounds interesting” why not join in, it’s free. https://www.coursera.org/course/introphil 

Guest blog on PhD2Published

As part of #AcWriMo I was invited to write a blog focused on collaborative writing. Having been involved in a few collaborative writing set ups this ended up being two blogs! The first of which has been published today. You can read my blog at http://www.phd2published.com/2012/11/13/collaborative-writing-groups-part-one-by-karen-strickland/ The second blog will be published on Wednesday and focusses on a collaborative writing group I am currently involved in.

What helps spur you on? do you have any writing buddies or groups you find help motivate you or do you prefer to write individually?

Here is a photo of some of the writers from the writing retreat.

Academic Writing Month: My pledge

It’s the 1st of November and the start of academic writing month. Academic writing month or #AcWriMo was started last year as #AcBoWriMo and based on the Novel writing month. The idea is to make public declarations of writing targets for the month of November on the PhDtoPublished and “call in” with your progress at regular intervals via twitter using the #AcWriMo hastag or on the PhDtoPublished blog site.

I have made my declaration. I aim to write around 30,000 words, that’s 1000 per day (yes a qualitative researcher can do maths). It seems crazy but the camaraderie will keep me going I think. I plan to complete my findings chapter and draft up the discussion chapter of my thesis. I have lots of notes so my target should be achievable  But as I work full time it is a challenge so I have some annual leave planned to help.

There is also support available from Literature Review HQ in the form of some free webinars, but there will be peer support on twitter through using the hashtag. I know some of my #phdchat colleagues have also signed up for #AcWriMo so it should be a collegiate affair.

I guess I could do this writing myself in the usual way of a PhD student but I am looking forward to the experience of writing alongside others in the month of November. I will update my progress in this blog also (I wonder if that counts towards my word target?)

Fancy joining in? Why not have look at the PhDtoPublished blog?

Are we nearly there yet?

The inspiration for this post came from a tweet by @evalantsoght who tweeted that being asked when you are likely to finish the PhD is like kids in the back of the car asking “are we nearly there yet?” A slightly irritating reminder that the journey still has some way to go!

I am in my final year of a part-time PhD and hoping to have my viva in early summer next year so I do feel as though I’m nearly there but keep getting a little panicky at what has yet to be done. So on thinking about preparing for the viva whilst still writing up I also reflected if it was too early to be thinking about this. Here is what I have been doing over the past couple of months and what I plan to do over the next few months…

I started to discuss with my supervisors who my external examiners might be around May time this year. As a member of staff in my institution need to have two external examiners. With the REF approaching I was also conscious that the demand for examiners might be high around the time I want to have my viva so thinking about this early and approaching potential examiners seemed prudent.

Who to choose?

I am fortunate in that I have had a say in who my examiners might be. I drew up a list of a few people based on discussions with colleagues who had recently been examined and thinking about key authors who are already referenced within my thesis. I hope to have selected examiners who are knowledgeable about my subject and methodology. Obviously I cannot name them here, but time will tell if I have chosen wisely.

Preparing for the viva

I attended a recent workshop held at my institution by Professor Gordon Joughin from the University of Queensland. This was a useful opportunity to explore the viva, our ideas of what the viva might be like along with some tips such as practicing questions before hand. Gordon also highly recommended Rowena Murrays book on How to survive your viva so of course  have purchased the book and hope by some miracle it will help me survive but I wonder if he means I ought to read the book or use it to as a shield to fend off any bullets that come my way?

What is really exciting though, is the prospect of joining with #AcWriMo. During the month of November a twitter community are coming together through the PhD2Published  blogsite and make public declarations of writing targets, and support each other through twitter and the blog. I’ve made my declaration, and hope to complete my findings and discussion chapter which should be a total of just over 30000 words and will get me well on the way be being “nearly there” in terms of completing the PhD.

I hope to blog during November about my progress on #AcWriMo (I wonder if this counts in my word count), so you can keep tabs on me and see if I keep my pledge.

Handle with Care

I haven’t blogged for a while as I have been immersed in the process of analysing my qualitative data, and trying into pull this together into something that might just be clever enough to call “findings”. However, I thought the process of dealing with qualitative data would be a useful topic to blog about.

I have quite a large data set, 25 interview transcripts in all, each about one hour in length so the logistics of handling such a data set required some consideration. The first decision to make was around transcription of the data itself. Now, many authors suggest that transcribing interview data yourself help “immerse” oneself in the data. I did do this for my masters research which only had seven interviews but studying for a doctorate part-time whilst working full-time and having a young family meant that for me, this was not an option. You see, I was a bit is a tomboy at school, preferring to spend my time drawing side elevations of houses to scale and making a garden trowel in the technology department rather than learning to type with all my girlie peers who aspired to be secretaries. Oh, how I now lament my lack of typing skills. I know that to type out 25 hours (plus) worth of interview data would have taken up an enormous amount of my time and that I would only be able to concentrate on accuracy of the data rather than the content. So I chose to pay a transcription company to do the transcription for me. Having someone do the transcription does not negate listening to the audio along with the files. This still meant I have to listen to each transcript again, going through the transcript making changes for accuracy, but I found it was much more time efficient and a  more productive way of immersing myself in my data.

Once I had the transcripts, I had to analyse the data. Here came another decision point, and one which has raised quite a bit of discussion during my supervision sessions. Should I use a computer assisted analysis product such as NVivo, or process my data manually. As someone who teaches technology enhanced learning, you might assume this is a no brainer; NVivo all the way! I did use NVivo but didn’t like working with my data in this. I found I was jumping ahead and not quite getting the depth of analysis I felt I wanted or needed and felt I could not easily visualise my data. So, instead I reverted to MS word and developed my own system. I even used highlighter pens, paper and flip charts!!!

I am challenged by my supervisors to justify my position in choosing not to use NVivo, yet try as I might, I have found no PhD regulation that states I must show that I have used it, equally in the theses I have read, unless the author specifically states they have used it I would not know if they had used crayons or not. It was good to be challenged in this way though, as it did make me think through exactly what the issues were and why I chose to do something in a certain way. I am happy working with my system and feel confident I can defend my decisions around my analysis yet I do feel as though I have failed slightly in not using NVivo.

My data is organised into theme tables for each participant, detailing the invivo codes from each, interim themes then master themes. They are then brought together in superordinate themes that provide overarching themes for the entire data set. It is detailed, perhaps a little laborious but, for me it works. I consider the analytical process more of a priority and I have used interpretative phenomenological analysis as the approach. The authors of this approach encourage a more manual approach to analysis like the process I have followed, so I am reasonably happy I have been true to the theory.

I would be interested to hear from readers of this blog what challenges they have faced when working with qualitative data, and if they have come across any requirement to use computer aided analysis. Equally, I would be keen to hear of those who have used it successfully.