My thesis and I: attempting analysis

After I came back being 6 months away from my thesis, academia and all things University related, I felt refreshed and ready to go. I had gained momentum from working in an incredibly fast-paced and high pressure environment and I longed to bring an adaptation of this way of working to my PhD. Funny how things never work out the way one expects… In all fairness, I did use the momentum and tried to whizz through being on track with the PhD and plan completion on an ambitions timescale. Quickly, though, reality started dawning on me. Doing PhD work requires time, concentration, brain-strain as I like to call it.  My supervisory team was kind to contribute to that strain scheduling very regular supervisions and making sure I move in the right direction.

In the first supervision back in January, my supervisor asked me supposedly a simple question:  ‘Do you remember what your thesis is about? Write a page long summary of it as it is in your head at this moment.’

I was eager to start answering the question without hearing the rest of the task: ‘Of course I know what my thesis is about. It’s looking at the transition experiences of children with English as an additional language…. (pause)… Or is it?… (confusion)… I should know that!’

Turns out not only was I not expected to remember, but this was a strategy to give me a kick-start with a proper thesis pin down and writing-up. Up to that point I had written bits, sections and chapters to various degrees. I went back to my office with the intention to clear my head and write the one page summary. Boy, was that hard! I kept digging in old notes and sections, proposals and all sorts to try find ‘the answer’, ‘I must have written about this‘, I thought. It was frustrating when I realised I had to start with an empty page and nothing seemed to make sense. And this is where the momentum from the civil service came in – I have struggled with procrastinating and getting to write, rambled and complained about it. This time only, I didn’t feel like wasting time with the blank screen staring at me. I pasted my research questions and started writing:

At this point of time, my thesis seems to be about… the transition… (delete) I don’t know what exactly it is about but these are the things I would like to talk about…’

The page filled up quickly – not my best writing but an attempt to rework and overcome previous writing that seemed to emerge in circles around the main problem without pinning it down. The next month rolled quickly and I moved on to writing-up the analysis. With this hat on, I had to figure out a number of practicalities and make some difficult decisions about data, sampling and inclusion of case studies, use of theory and literature. I had to look critically at my old writing and point out ruthlessly all that was wrong with it accepting that only the truth will move me forward. And of course, a substantial amount of new writing.

I spent days hating my thesis, my data and myself for being a lousy writer, a slow thinker and generally unable to get things straight.

Little by little , thought, structure, themes, sections, analysis strategies, and theoretical language started to crystalise in my head. I felt I was making sense again! By analysing my thesis, writing, data and myself, I began building a realistic picture of what my thesis is going to be like. In the past I always thought it will come up together when I have read enough, written enough, learned enough. No, this is not how it worked. I had to detach myself, then gently throw myself back in and let it develop all together. Officially, now I am really on the final run, final year, thesis writing-up, getting a PhD. It just became real!

How did you come to terms with the fact that your thesis will have to be completed one day? Did it all come together unexpectedly?

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