A post inspired by a Sunday batch of muffins

Here’s a thought: baking and doing a PhD couldn’t be more alike… It’s about following a path and taking it step by step. I made a batch of muffins yesterday and the process of making decisions what flavours to put in and how to mix the batter got me thinking. I started off with a basic recipe where I replaced some of the ingredients and added new ones. This does sound a bit like doing a PhD – there is a rough plan to do this in the first year and that in the second, but each and every student makes individual decisions and changes of the plan to fit to their own research.

So what would be the ingredients for doing a PhD then? An idea, interest in a topic, research question, research methods here and there, data analysis strategy, a spoonful of passion and a cup of motivation. And all that combined with words to make up a thesis. Well, it is a simplified view indeed, but there’s some truth. Now let’s look at the process…

Monday morning reflections on the process of baking doing a PhD:

  • Following a recipe but changing it on the go – just like my basic muffins recipe, working on a PhD requires you to do some adapting, changing and restructuring. The different stages are clear, but they are more of an outline and there’s a process of adding/removing/enhancing/combining involved. Thinking about a research project and reflecting on the process inevitably leads to making changes, I have done this countless times with my own project – changing the focus, research questions, fieldwork timings, writing strategies, working patterns. My motivation has been up and down and yes, this is part of the process, or part of the enhancement of the recipe to make it work for you.
  • Prep of ingredients or sorting out the detail if we talk PhD and thesis… I remember a fundamental question from one of my lectures when I stated off this journey – What you are going to do and how? Is it doable? Is it worth doing? I can’t emphasise enough the importance of this.  It’s all about the fine detail of the research – methods, sample, analysis, and some questions to spice it up: who, how many, where, how? This is a very practical stage which shapes the research and actually gives it a real breathing form.
  • Mixing it up – when making muffins, you would mix the dry and wet ingredients separately – does that sound a bit like the initial work on the literature review and the much more fun and meaty fieldwork? It sure does to me. It all starts separately, beginning the literature review in the first year, then moving onto the fieldwork, then going back, reviewing and rewriting (well, it is a continuous process, but let me not spoil the next point).
  • Put it all together and make it work – a next stage of analysing, editing and rewriting shall be taking place once fieldwork have been completed. And I’m sure it will all become more shaped and making sense to others than the researcher. This is just a thought or expectation, note that I’m no expert here as I’m currently at the fieldwork stage…
  • Separate the mixture into the muffin cases chapters – a PhD needs to be presented in a certain format. Ideas, thoughts and reflections on the literature, methodology, the data, analysis will get organised in chapters and the initial writings, drafts, mind-maps and notes will become more and more developed.
  • Now bake, let it grow – the target is 90 000 words… A big number indeed, and quite scary at the minute, but having all the pieces together will surely make a difference. I know from experience that after data generation and analysis the words flow easily…
  • Cooling rack – I always wonder if my muffins turned out ok, if I messed up the recipe by my additions and creative cooking ideas, if they are going to be delicious… as to the PhD process, I will put down just three words: reflections, edit, feedback. Having the thesis mature… I hope that when I am at this stage, I would have done all my work in advance and really have a chance to reflect. However, I do know that the process may end up being rushed by approaching submission deadlines. But hey, I have another couple of years to manage my procrastination habits and enhance my baking writing productivity.
  • Enjoy a treat, or a finished and polished piece of writing in the case of a completed thesis. Hold on, there is a ‘but’… Please, don’t forget that research is a process, not a product.

Voila! My delicious treats turned out just fine.

As I said, a post inspired by a Sunday batch of muffins. Now moving onto academic writing 🙂


One comment

  1. Fransua · · Reply

    Yup, its an adventure, like most things in life.
    The muffins look great! Shame I was not there to have one 🙂

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