What no-one can tell you about post PhD…

The run up to handing in was rather stressful: a week before I was due to submit I heard a horror story of a viva experience from a good friend and colleague that sent me into a mini-meltdown. I realised I had to ignore it to get on with the task at hand. I did. And I immediately got a cold! (I was warned this might happen!)

Afterwards I had a break for a few weeks and then started reading a few book chapters on the viva, getting tips from the fabulous #phdchat thread on Twitter and asking friends and colleagues who had been through the experience. When people say that you can’t prepare for a viva it really is true. Equally valid is that I don’t think you can prepare for post-viva also. This is how it went for me:

Two months ago I became a ‘viva survivor’ and  yet, to be truthful, my viva experience was extremely positive, I’m not sure I’ve the particular badge of ‘survivor’. My viva lasted an hour and a quarter, was largely stimulating discussion and debate around my thesis topic. I then waited 30 nervous minutes outside before being invited back into the room to hear the outcome: passed, correction needed, but congratulations! I was then guided through what they were asking me to re-look at, including a correction to -yes- make my thesis shorter (I had a feeling it was rather long before I went in!) From beginning to end I felt they were there to help me get to the other side of the PhD club.

My supervisor met me straight after and it was great to share this moment with her, an accumulation of 5 years hard work (for her as well as me!) in getting me to the end. We went for a cup of tea and it began to settle in. That afternoon I phoned my nearest and dearest with the news, told my colleagues and went out for a lovely meal that evening with my partner.

I had been warned that it might feel anti-climactic but for me this wasn’t the case. My PhD was hard won: self-funded, incredibly unwell half way through, and my attention divided between multiple part-time employments and tasks. For me, it felt like justification for battling through and getting to the end.

Even now, I still haven’t felt a wane in this feeling of achievement. I’ve started on my corrections after a short break and I really feel that the thesis will be a better document for undergoing this quite arduous and difficult task. But my examiners (I had two externals) feedback was clear and I can see now why they asked the questions they did in the viva and what they were looking to find out from that conversation, in order to structure the corrections.

So whilst I have told you the story of my PhD what this tells you about yours is… sadly not a lot! This is your journey with its own challenges, hiccups and pitfalls as well as support, life-story and personality. What I will say is that it was a comfort for me to hear that other people had made it through that made me feel that I could too. The biggest and best piece of advice came from my supervisor after I handed in: ‘the viva isn’t the end’, she said, ‘it’s a marker along a continuing journey’. I think this was the best take-away I had from the whole experience. But what I will say is this; that the next marker feels more enjoyable and gives me a sense of a journey that is opening up in front of me.

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Today my thesis makes me feel like this: ‘aaaaargh!’

My arguments are usually over within about five minutes of them starting, so trying to keep a clear argument across a thesis is proving tricky. I’ve always been a peace-keeper, perhaps that is why I am more used to being devils advocate than asserting my point of view.

Keeping focussed, and precise, narrowing the topic and staying on message. I have now stapled a post-it mantra to my desktop: ‘TELL THE STORY!’ it shouts at me. This seems common advice across disciplines in the write up phase of the research. I’ve had some small ‘wins’ in the last few days but also plenty of frustrations. But I’m going to keep plugging away at it, I feel I’m inching closer all the time…!

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A good conference = more train miles…

This week I went to my first British Society of Gerontology conference with the Dementia and Imagination team. I was presenting on my PhD to discuss how mixed methods research is possible (as a practice-led theatre student who dabbled in social science methods for my thesis) and the potential use of therapeutic immersive theatres in other settings such as health and social care.

I thought I might be the odd arts person at this conference, but there was a diverse range of papers and it was a really enjoyable experience, minus the hour I spent queuing for a key to my accommodation and an early morning wake up call from a fire alarm!

I find presenting is a good way to help focus my thoughts. I also enjoy thinking about the topic slightly differently depending on who you are speaking with and how you will communicate to each audience and their knowledge base. 

Since starting in February I have been to (in no particular order): Southampton, Epsom, Birmingham, Bakewell, Manchester, Rhyl (and several places in between) for various reasons. I feel a need to go and plant some seeds to counteract all this travel! 



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“The best laid plans…” and all that…

I’ve been a bad blogger and not written for ages. You might be thinking I’ve been celebrating but I have to break it to you: it isn’t handed in yet.

Yep, I’m not so chuffed about it either. I’d been hoping to bask in a summer of glory and relief, my first in years but things haven’t quite come together.

I’m doing some re-structuring that is desperately needed just to really shape it up. Sadly, it’s been painful, lots of throwing toys out the pram and the like. Not pretty.

But, slowly but surely it’s getting there, I just wish it would a little faster!


In the meantime, my new research post has taken me to some exciting places: Cardiff the week before last for the Connected Communities conference, several journeys for training courses on different aspects of the project and several jaunts to our observation site.

I’ve also met a few people who have had experience of balancing that first ‘proper’ job with finishing up, they’ve given me hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.


Now which way did that tunnel go?

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‘End of the line?’ Obsessed to perfection.

Inspired by this ‘prompt’ post at the Daily Touch on obsession and things getting stuck in our minds, made me think of my thesis (which I think easily demonstrates the obsession aspect!)

I’m close to the end now, so not much else matters at the moment. I wake up having been ‘sleep editing’ certain paragraphs in my dreams. I’ve attended two different talks on VIVA preparation and spoke with four different friends and collegues in depth about their experiences of the process. I have folders of re-drafts and edits, print off’s too. My study at home is becoming inpassable for stacks of paper and books. I’m panicking about the library being shut from today until the 23rd over Easter. (What if I NEED that ONE book I haven’t got out already?!) I keep finding new things to read, insert, analyse…

… it goes on. All in all, I think I can safely say I’m obsessed by and with it. I wonder what it will be like when it’s submitted?



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It’s finally getting to the ‘really scary’ phase…

On my computer I have a lovely folder titled ‘Chapters’ and within this folder is several sub-folders with each chapter title. Within each of these folders are several documents: my current ‘draft’ of the chapter and several documents of things to be ‘added in’ or notes from  particular sources. Each chapter document also holds all the reference data used for that particular chapter. 


For me, this has been a pretty solid way of keeping organised. But I now have to do the dreaded thing: merge it altogether into one document to print out and start marking out what’s missing and getting the formatting and referencing down. 


I think the end in sight panic may be rising…

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‘When Autumn Passed Me By’, the final performance

ImageMy final performance study has been keeping me pretty occupied for the last two months. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes before anyone even thinks about the stage side of it. Ethics reviews done; risk assessments at the ready; props gathered; participant calls, information sheets and questions designed…  In November, during several of my usual evening walks, I became distracted by piles of leaves, usually appearing half an hour later armed with brush and bin bag to collect them. My assistant in this (the other half) took it on board with good cheer. I think he still thinks half of things I do are more than slightly weird. Generally a multitude can be covered by the whispered utterance of ‘art students…’.  

So, this Sunday, shall be aiming to cast 15 people back into Autumn and hopefully, make them reconsider the doom and gloom often associated with the darker months of the year that aren’t Christmas. In the spirit of the bronze tinged season, I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite thoughts on autumn:


“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.” 
― John Donne


“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” 
― Jane AustenPersuasion

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