Now that I am sitting down to write and update my blog again, I cannot see any good reason not to have done it sooner! The year started off with a meeting with my supervisor Karen, having reminded my that as I am part-time, I don’t need to be in a rush and it is better to take things slowly, dig deep and conceptualize what I am looking at.
So since then I have cut down on the number of Research Development Programme meetings I have signed up for. Although they have been extremely useful and have been an opportunity to find out about something I know nothing about but for some I realised they would not help me, so have taken up time I could have used better elsewhere. Besides as they are repeated, as time goes on I will know better which will be of the most use to me. Two recent meetings were about ‘Grounded Theory’ and I immediately realised that this was applicable and could be helpful in working with my subject matter. These have since led to my reading as much as I can about it to see best how to use it in my work.
I have also been up to London for related events such as two Doctoral Open Days at the British Library. The second of these (which looked at the 20th century) repeated several of the sessions held at the first one (newspapers and media) so was not felt to be so valuable. However the sessions were extremely useful in providing links to online resources and providing information about the vast amount of information that is held within the library.
My most recent visit to London was to view some photographic prints and documents relating to focus of my research held at the Imperial War Museum. It was exciting to see the actual objects ‘in the flesh’ and it particularly enabled me to decide which images I could possibly include as illustrations in my thesis; especially as some were over exposed and of poor quality. The only drawback was that if I had wanted to take any images on the day I would have had to purchase a £10 day permit. So it may be that it is more cost-effective to pay for downloadable copies to be sent to me, when I have narrowed down the selection.
Apart from that I have been reading as much as possible and also started writing! Initially it was painful starting, but I soon realised that my previous practice of writing notes on paper rather than putting them on the computer was a very cumbersome way of working, and that it was much easier writing straight onto the computer. My supervisor had suggested that I sent some writing to her prior to the April meeting, so this was a big motivation to begin. However I realised that much was dependent on what was submitted. If it was good then I could progress without undue worry, if it needed attention then this could be addressed, but if it was not up to scratch then I would seriously have to rethink my future steps. So I ended up submitting around 8,000 words and spent an anxious few days waiting to hear from her. Her reply was so helpful and encouraging and generally came out as good and at that I was writing at the required post-grad level. She also provided feedback on areas that could be improved upon. So this is the best motivation for the future I could have received right now 🙂
A time goes on I have also become more engrossed in the subject matter when possibly one could have maybe lost some interest, but I seem to keep uprooting things that I know nothing about and which provide areas to be investigated further. So I feel a bit like a female ‘Poirot’ right now. Long may it continue.
Following the helpful advice given to me in the Supervisors’ Meeting, I have been attending several Research Development Programme sessions which have been most helpful generally. It has helped me to focus on areas that I personally feel need to be improved, such as my academic writing. The problem comes when we are told not to be too ‘academic’, and for our written work to be able to be read by a diverse audience. By the end of my undergraduate studies I felt as if I had established my own style of writing, and am sure that with some guidance I will reach the required standard – hopefully.
I have spent time since the meeting writing up the notes I had previously prepared for the initial PhD proposal and putting them on OneNote, which has been helpful as it also focussed on different related areas of investigation and in turn possible chapters for the final thesis; such as memory and gender.
Specific items Andrew suggested I addressed were the ‘timeline’ and ‘keywords’. So using a Word template and adding the expected dates to be taken into account, I was able to plot a potential timeline for the future. Once I have my next meeting with Karen and I can discuss this further I am sure there will be many adjustments made as time progresses. However at this stage it will be a good starting point. Andrew also suggested looking at my ‘Keywords’, so following on from this and a useful library RDP session, I set up RefWorks on the PC, and to also receive automatic prompts so that when a new article is published in my subject area I am notified; so that hopefully I will stay up to date with current thinking. During several visits to the library I also downloaded many articles which relate to my work which can now be filed into subject areas for close investigation at a later date.
I have also ordered several new books from Amazon covering such topics as Yasha Bacharova of the Women’s Death Battalion as this directly relates to my area of research and may throw up possible leads to be further investigated. I also decided to reread ‘Nurse at the Russian Front‘ again and more closely with the Literature Review and my Final Proposal Approval in mind. I also need to establish a regular working timetable at home, so that all books and articles can be read and notes made for future reference.
The RDP sessions have also been an opportunity to make some contacts with other members of the group, and fully engage with all the opportunities that the university has to offer. I did offer my services to help at one of the Open Days, but felt that this was something more for younger student representatives. I was in turn contacted by Kate from the Alumni Department, and asked if I would be prepared to give them an interview as they were interested in knowing how I had arrived at doing a PhD at my stage in life. The worst aspect was having a photograph taken, which as a photographer is not easy being on the other side of the lens. Hopefully the outcome will encourage older people to see the value of study in later life.
My first Supervisors’ Meeting was held with Karen and Andrew and set the foundations for our future working relationship.
They agreed to my recording the meeting which I found immensely helpful, as I was able to concentrate solely on the proceedings at the time; and by replaying later able to pick up and digest the main points of interest. It will also enable me to prepare minutes of the meeting as a record of the events to be forwarded to all members of the Supervisory Team.
It gave me the opportunity to give Karen and Andrew a progress report on the steps I have taken to date as regards organising initial items of interest for my research. We also discussed aspects of the Research Development Programme and was advised that I need to allow time to digest everything so far, and the fact that as I am a part-time student have five years to complete my work!
Andrew had also obviously thought further about my proposal and suggested several related articles I may not have already seen which was most helpful. We agreed on the date of the next meeting (1:1 with Karen) 7 December and we agreed on a couple of issues for me to address in time for that meeting.
I feel most fortunate to have the team that I had been allotted and also the fact that they feel that my research area is of value and worth pursuing. I know this will be at times a bumpy ride, but things do not bother me the same at this in my stage life as perhaps they would have when I was younger. I feel grateful that his opportunity has been given to me and hope that I will do their faith in me justice!!
It was suggested that students sign up for the five recommended sessions as a starting point, and in addition I went through and chose another six to attend between now and the end of the year. These have covered a wide variety of topics amongst the following:
- Literature search and review
- What is expected of disciplined researchers
- Developing good habits around your academic writing
- Introduction to critical thinking and argument
- The periodic reviews for research students
I would add that my initial impression of what help and assistance is available to new PhD students at the university is extremely impressive, although the undertaking is a little daunting and slightly overwhelming at the outset.
I envisage looking at the RDP sessions again later on as my studies progress to see which would be most beneficial but at the moment to let ‘the dust settle’.
With registration on 4 October, once the formalities had been undertaken, it was an opportunity to meet both MA and PhD students who had also registered.
Following this three Induction Days were held on 12th, 21st and 22nd October. They were very informative and endeavoured to cover all aspects of starting research together with an opportunity to see and speak to the main lecturers in various disciplines.
Some sessions were more informative than others such as academic writing and writing for research and the capabilities of the library system. The round table discussions were scheduled at the end of the day. I personally found them not so useful as I released I was out of the habit of sitting concentrating for long periods. However I am sure that I will soon become acclimatised back into student life.