Archive for the ‘Ph.D research’ Tag

Three letters, ten years, and a new red robe   Leave a comment

SmileWheeeeee-heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!    🙂

Yep, that’s right; I’m now officially Dr. Southall.  The letter from Liverpool University arrived last week.  My office door is already adorned with a new name plate, and I’ve changed my work e-mail signature to include the all-important extra three letters.  Well, OK, they aren’t really that important in the big scheme of things, but they represent a lot of work and a pretty big achievement for me, so I’m having fun doing the updates.

Part-time degrees always take a long time, and part-time Ph.Ds even more so; getting a Ph.D isn’t a quick process even when it’s done full-time.  Since I started working on mine, I’ve got married, moved house twice, moved office four times, and changed job (within the same institution) twice – all while working full-time on my ‘day job’.  Put that way, maybe it’s not so surprising that it’s taken the thick end of a decade, although it does sometimes feel as though I must have been slacking somewhere along the way to let it take that long.  Truth be told, I did continue to do some music and quite a lot of walking, but I doubt if I would have stayed sufficiently sane and healthy to keep going otherwise.

So, for anyone who’s thinking about setting out on the part-time Ph.D (plus full-time job) path, what’s it like?  What does it involve?

The first thing to say is that every Ph.D is unique, and so is every Ph.D student.  The things I found hard might be a doddle for someone else, and vice versa.  But in case it helps, here’s a rough chronology of how things went for me:-

  • 2005 : I realised that I had an idea for a research study, access to data, and a potential supervisor.  (Actually the last of these to fall into place was the supervisor; I’d had a bad experience, supervision-wise, with my M.Sc. dissertation, so I was very, very careful about finding a supervisor for my Ph.D.  Fortunately, I was also lucky, and that side of my Ph.D has worked out very well.)  I started to put together ideas for how the project would work, and find out about the application process operated.  I knew I was fortunate in that my employer was willing to pay my tuition fees.  What I didn’t know at the time was just how many years of tuition fees were going to be required!  Oh, and during 2005 I moved house, and also changed my job, moving temporarily from my academic department to a role organising short professional training courses.
  • 2006 : In 2006, I moved house again.  I also filled in a Ph.D application form, got the relevant signatures from managers and referees, and produced a 10,000-word proposal document.  This led to an interview in around September 2006.  I was accepted onto the course, to start in January 2007.
  • 2007 – 2010 : In a way, the background work for my research goes back years before I even started thinking about a Ph.D, but 2007 was the year when I started organising interviews, and trying to work out what literature I needed to review, in earnest.  2007 was also the year in which I got married, so it was a pretty busy and exciting time.  Over the next couple of years I collected 30 interviews, scanned in a couple of hundred photographs, arranged for recordings to be transcribed, and generally got on with the day job.  It was an enjoyable phase in many ways, but I was still very uncertain what angle I was going to take to discuss the large volume of data I was collecting.  Attending and presenting at several conferences did help with this process; there’s nothing like knowing you’re going to have to explain your work to other people to force you to decide what you think it means!
  • 2011-2012 : During this period, life got in the way quite substantially.  At the start of 2011 I was still seconded to the training unit outside my academic department, but half-way through the year it was announced that my home department was to be ‘downsized’.  Like everyone else involved, I had to go through a process of justifying my continued employment.  This took several months, and was very stressful.  Once the process was over, I moved back into the department permanently.  That first year back was also stressful, because of knock-on effects from the recent redundancies.  Perhaps not surprisingly, progress on my Ph.D slowed down a lot at this point.  However, I did complete the transcription and coding of interview data, and passed fairly smoothly through the process of upgrading from M.Phil to Ph.D study.  I also presented talks or posters at several more conferences.
  • 2013-2014 : There were a whole series of ‘false summits’ at this point, where I thought I was very close to being ready to submit my thesis, but it turned out that I wasn’t.  In the end there was a bit of a mad dash to get everything finished and handed in before my registration deadline at the end of December, 2013.  Everything went quiet for a while.  In March 2014 I had my first viva, which resulted in a long list of modifications and an extra year to do them in.  If life had been busy before, it now got very busy indeed…  Coincidentally, summer 2014 was also the year in which my department was transferred wholesale into a brand new faculty, on a brand new site.  By the end of 2014, I was a bit of a gibbering wreck.
  • Q1 to Q3 2015 : The gibbering continued well into 2015.  I handed in my modified thesis in March, and things went quiet again – on the thesis front, at least.  They were anything but quiet at work!  Then, just as teaching drew to a close, it was time for my second viva, which was a much more relaxed and happy affair than the first one.  The committee chair hummed and whistled all the way down the corridor to the meeting room, the viva started with the announcement that I had passed my Ph.D, and the rest of the viva was therefore more in the nature of a discussion than an examination.  Phew!    ….  However, that was not the end of the story.  Although no further ‘modifications’ were required, there were some ‘corrections’ to do.  Most were in the nature of ‘changing the line spacing from double to 1.5 lines’, and other such cosmetic issues, but somehow some actual extra work snuck in there as well.  I was beginning to despair of ever actually finishing the thing!  However, there was no time to dwell on the matter, because back in the day job there was a mountain of marking to do.  Once I’d done that, I got on with the thesis corrections.  Then I went on holiday, did a programming course, finished the corrections, and handed in yet another printed copy.
  • Q4 2015 : At last!!!!!  The internal examiner approved my corrections (plus a few corrections to the corrections), and in October I was instructed to get four hard bound copies made.  I must admit I hadn’t realised quite how expensive these were going to be; that’s £200 I’ll not be seeing again.  It was worth it though.  The final versions were satisfyingly heavy and really quite lovely to look at.  Or maybe they just look beautiful to me, because they’re mine?  Whatever – I like them!  Back I went to the graduate school office once again, to hand in the hard bound copies, and yet again, everything went quiet.  I had several more weeks to wait before the awards board at Liverpool sat to formally approve the award of my degree.  That board sat in late November, and I received my formal notification last week.  My certificate will apparently arrive some time later in December, and I’ll graduate at the Chester ceremony next spring.

 

So, that’s it, in a nutshell.  My journey to becoming a ‘Dr’, and earning the right to wear a scarlet robe instead of a black one.  There has certainly been a lot of hard intellectual work, a lot of writing, and a lot of editing, but the other thing that it’s required is a lot of persistence.  If there’s a single factor that’s necessary to succeed as a part-time Ph.D student, I’m guessing that might be it.  But that’s just my story.  Your mileage may very well differ…

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Posted December 6, 2015 by HVS in Chester, Liverpool, Thesis

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Hardbound and Heavy

Hardbound thesis

The hardbound version of my Ph.D thesis in all its 100,000+ words of glory.

It’s done; it’s finished; it’s been handed in for the very last time.  I’m simultaneously proud of it and pleased to see the back of it.  There will be no more re-writes, no more extra bits and no more final, final, final, really-the-last-one editing sessions.  Well, at least, not until the next big project comes along… (and I’ve got a few of those on the drawing board already).

But for now, this is it – job done.  All I’m waiting for now is the official letter from the University of Liverpool in a few weeks time.  As to-do list ‘ticks’ go, this is a pretty big one.

Posted October 17, 2015 by HVS in Chester, Live music, Liverpool, Thesis

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Of Science, Love, and the Boring Bits

Just gonna leave this here.. http://t.co/yBM40l3kOf pic.twitter.com/Ls1r9yPT7X

Tweeted by Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog) May 14, 2014

Original cartoon at http://explosm.net/db/files/Comics/Kris/same.png

Posted May 15, 2014 by HVS in Mathematics, Physics

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Dunnit!

20131221-011031.jpg

“Five copies for binding…”

It’s a funny thing, this thesis-writing business.  The hand-in deadline – 31st December 2013 – has been on my mind and on the horizon for ages. I have been ‘approaching submission’ for a couple of years at least, a bit like a tiny space probe heading for a very large but very distant planet. I travelled & travelled, but the planet never seemed to get any closer.  And then all of a sudden it was the only thing in sight, touchdown was frighteningly imminent, and there was an awful lot to do in a very short time. This was of course the point at which Word decided to have conniptions about the size of some of my files – thank you, Scrivener backups, for saving the day and my sanity!  Then there was the minor problem of getting long complicated documents to output to PDF format for printing. I have done this many times for shorter, simpler documents with no trouble at all, by using ‘print to pdf’ from within Word.  Suffice it to say that on this occasion I ended up printing all five lots of 380 pages myself from the Word documents, which was probably doing things the hard way, but it got the job done.

And then it was Tuesday afternoon, just after the end of the Autumn term.  Retro-rockets were firing and kicking up moon dust and the altitude figures were suddenly in feet rather than miles…  And meanwhile back on planet earth, four copies of my finished thesis – all 380 pages of prose, photos, quotes and references – were now bound and labelled and on their way to Senate House.  At Reception, a lady from the Graduate School appeared, disappeared, and reappeared again clutching a form, a pen and a clipboard.  I filled in the form and handed it back, at which point Ms Grad School smiled, said nice things like ‘well done’ and disappeared again with the cardboard box of thesis copies and the paperwork.

And that, for the time being, is that. I am not yet ‘Dr Southall’; in fact,  I’m in Ph.D limbo.  I know I’ll have a viva some time in the next three months or so, but apart from that, for the first time since I officially set out on this voyage almost eight years ago, I’m not in control of what happens next.  It’s a tiny bit disconcerting.  However, it’s a pleasant sort of disconcerting in many ways.  For a start, and unlike last year, I won’t be working through most of the Christmas ‘holiday’, trying to get a full draft of all chapters completed. This year I can take time off to go walking, watch Poirot and Time Team, and finish knitting that jumper at last with a relatively clear conscience. I might even get started on the knitted woodlouse I’ve been planning for several months now. On balance, this particular limbo is actually quite bearable!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Posted December 21, 2013 by HVS in Thesis

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Throwing Sheep in the Bandroom

First slide of conference presentation

Throwing Sheep in the Bandroom

The YouTube version of the presentation I gave at the Conference on the Arts in Society last month is now available:- ‘Throwing Sheep in the Bandroom’.

You can also find a brief introduction to the book which inspired the title on YouTube:- ‘Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom’ .

There’s a fleeting mention in my presentation of undergraduate studies on modern-day Chester music scenes.  This work was done by Michael Greaney, who was a dissertation student of mine in 2011-12.  You can find a taste of what he produced at YouTube – Chester Music Scenes

Conferring in Liverpool

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, reflected in the entrance to the conference venue at John Moores University

Liverpool John Moores University was the venue for an International Conference on the Arts in Society last month.  I went along to give a presentation on my Ph.D research work on live music in Chester.  My own research is interdisciplinary with a vengeance, so I found the wide range of presentation topics at the conference very interesting.  I learned all sorts of fascinating things about film editing conventions, tile design in Turkey, the creative industries in rural Australia and contemporary art networks in China, and met some interesting people in the process as well.  (You can download the full conference programme here.)

Part of the deal with this conference was an opportunity to upload the material I presented to the conference YouTube channel. This was excellent practice in reducing years of research and thousands of words of text to less than 15 minutes of speech, plus images.  It also gave me extra practice in remembering how to use GarageBand and iMovie to combine slides and narration.  This is something I do about once every 18 months, which is just long enough to forget the tricks and shortcuts and have to learn them all again from scratch.  I was also reminded (again) of the wisdom of the saying ‘If all else fails, read the instructions’; my first ‘finished’ presentation was slightly more than twice the prescribed length and in the wrong format!  The extremely concise and to the point fifteen-minute version is now ready instead.  (I’ll post a link to it here once it’s uploaded.)

Since the conference I’ve had a short holiday, and done a lot more writing-up for my thesis.  It’s been very pleasant to discover just how much material for my draft chapter on ‘The Chester Jazz and Dance Band Scene in Context’ I could extract straight from presentations I’ve given at conferences and seminars, including this one.  Lots more prodding and polishing will be needed before the chapters are up to thesis standard, but it’s definitely starting to look like it’s all been worth it.

We haven’t seen sky this colour round here recently!

A breath of fresh air outside the conference venue