Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

When your doctoral thesis has a life of it’s own

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , , ,

Yes, I think this title says it all. My thesis just seems to motor along. I’m not sure anymore if I’m the one controlling it, or if it is whispering paths I should take. As I look upon my schedule and my proposal, however, it is pretty much going as planned with a few minor hiccups along the way.

Although I had planned to do much of the writing in 2012, it turns out that I did large portions of the methodology chapter and literature review at the end of 2011. Analysis, which I had planned for the beginning of 2012 is on target. As I look back, why did I do so much writing when I did? Two reasons: 1) conferences, and 2) it intuitively made sense. And, having already put much thought into my proposal, I was able to take some liberties.

A mossy street in SOS de los Reyes Catolicos, Spain

One of the speakers at a PhD student workshop at the Networked Learning Conference in Aalborg, Denmark back in 2010 had suggested that many doctoral students leave data collection too late. I heeded this advice. Collecting data early allows some analysis and consideration earlier in the process. Hopefully, if the project was untenable, I could shift gears before becoming too invested in one particular path. To prepare for an early data-collection, I decided to focus on the methodology chapter. In retrospect, I found this to be very helpful. A solid grounding in the methodology and methods along with consideration of issues of trustworthiness and philosophical commensurability guided the structure and performance on the interviews. I was also able to pull-together a symposium on phenomenography for the up-coming Networked Learning Conference in Maastrict, 2012.

After interviewing the participants and transcribing their comments, I shifted my attention to the literature review. At first, I considered doing some analysis prior to the literature review in hopes that the literature review would not influence my observations. But, as my supervisor pointed out, I am not doing grounded theory. In any case, I have found that the transcripts speak to me very separately from the ideas collated in the literature review. In some ways, the literature review helped to open my mind to new possibilities. It also helped me to consider my philosophical position and theoretical framework in much greater detail. And, again, I was able to submit an abstract to another conference, this one on threshold concepts in Dublin.

What I have found surprising is how many ideas have fallen into place. In my spare time—that is, when I take breaks from coding—I read some of the seminal works that I have earmarked as requiring attention. My latest discovery is Bakhtin. I can see how his work might be affiliated with social constructionist philosophy. His work resonates with me and is helping fill in some gaps in my framework. Slowly, I hope to work my way through the stack of books and journal article piled high around me.

Although this process seems in control, I do not entirely feel like I am controlling it. It’s as if something is guiding me along and presenting options–interspersed with moments of inspiration that change the course of my work subtly and continuously.