I have just come to the end of the third year of my PhD - my data is all collected and kind-of analysed(!) and I'm well into the writing up phase. 6 months ago I was aiming to have submitted by now, but things have taken much longer than expected and I've struggled with the writing up much more than I anticipated so I am now aiming to submit before Xmas. I really don't think I've got it in me to carry on after Xmas as I'm really running out of steam and finding the whole thing extremely difficult, so if it's not done by Xmas I'll probably never finish it!
Anyway, my problem is that in the last few months, 5 papers have been published that have done more or less exactly what I have done in my thesis. When I started out, there was nothing out there on this topic and it made for a really interesting and new thesis, so off I went to work on it and now I feel like all my questions have been answered by other people. I know that this is the nature of things, particularly when you're working in a fairly rapidly advancing literature, and it's nice to see that I can't be that far off the mark if others are doing very similar projects, but it feels like it's taken the originality out of my argument and there's a sense of 'so what?' about my thesis now.
Basically, I conducted a systematic review at the start of the PhD and this is going to form my second chapter (the first chapter is a more general lit review of the wider issues, then the systematic review is designed to identify and discuss the studies that have looked at the particular question I'm asking). I have been updating this review as I have gone along and now that I am writing the final drafts of my thesis, I don't know what to do with the recently published studies that fill the same gaps that the studies in my thesis do.
So I was wondering what you lovely people think I should do:
a) Include the new studies in my systematic review, in order to be comprehensive and not selective about the studies included, but highlight they are recently published and that when the research in the thesis was conducted they weren't available
b) Date the systematic review as being conducted in Dec 2009 and therefore leave out the new studies, therefore giving a bit more justification and excitement to my work, but talk about them in the discussion and relate my findings to the new research in this area
I am inclined to go with the second option as I think this will make my arguments flow better and the thesis will show a gap in the research, a series of studies filling that gap, then a discussion of other new studies that support the findings of my thesis, BUT - I don't want my systematic review to be unsystematic and the examiners will probably know about the newly published studies so will wonder why they're not in there.
Any advice would be so so so gratefully received!
I'd go with (b), but with the proviso that your discussion towards the end of the thesis will have to be suitably detailed to cover the new studies in-depth, as if you'd covered them back in your literature review all those years ago. Compare/contrast your findings with theirs, and above all stress why your contribution is worthwhile and your study has been worth doing.
You definitely can't avoid facing up to these new papers, and you shouldn't try to rewrite your old literature review (which founded the basis for years of subsequent work).
So go with (b) :)
As I have been in biomedical science and my MSc dissertation was about Systematic Review MEthodology, I'd say there is no point is conducting a SR when you decide to exclude valid studies... it then becomes a narrative review, albeit a thorough one. However, I've been indoctrinated when it comes to SRs and therefore biased (hehe, sounds odd in context...).
I'd put them in the SR, but that's just me. :$
I would say put them in the discussion. IF they really are sayting the same thing as your studies, then putting them in BEFORE the studies, makes the studies superfluous i.e. if I were an examiner I would say "so why do them!?"
Putting them in the discussion highlights the fact that these were published AFTER you did your research too and it would give you a nice little discussion section where you could compare your findings (and perhaps highlight why your setting is better e.g. better participants, situation etc).
I'd put them in. They are valid, highly relevant and you have the opportunity to include them. I see your predicament and don't envy it one bit, but ultimately, although your work might *seem* better without them, it will, of course, be weaker if you exclude relevant studies. To consciously make your thesis less thorough than it could and should be, does not seem wise to me - even though I could understand your reasons for doing so. In fact, given that your examiners will likely know about the studies in question, their absence might detract considerably from the flow of your argument. Can't you find differences in the other studies and focus on them- preferably their flaws and ways in which your study is better? Otherwise, to sum up your post quite brutally (sorry), you're actually saying "my thesis doesn't advance my field".
You need to put them in, if you don't I expect your examiners will find them, and wil then ask you why they are not included. The point is that they have bee published before you submitted and to leave them out would suggest that there is a reason for the omission, such as you have nothing to add to what has already been published, which is bound not to be the case. How you do this may depend on the way you have written your review, you could add it at the end to show they arrived after you did your main search, and you could put something like, 'very recently the following papers have been published which complement my work, (put in names here). These are of great value in locating my work within the context of.... although they differ from my work as they discuss xyz and have used methods abc. The material they contain will be considered in chapter ... and critiqued with reference to my area of study so that the similarities and the differences may be revealed' or something like that.
Thanks everyone, I really appreciate your advice.
I still don't know what to do, because as much as I know it makes sense to include them at the start, I really feel like doing that will take something away from what I have done. Yes, my studies are slightly different from what they have done and add something new, but that difference is only small and not significantly new - not PhD worthy I don't think. I don't know if this dilemma is more about my lack of confidence, and I do think it is quite common for people to get toward the end of writing up and have a total crisis thinking they've got nothing new to say etc etc. But I just think part of the PhD is selling what you have done and framing it in the best light possible to maximise your contribution, and to me, putting them at the end would be a better way of doing that.
I really like your idea Joyce of mentioning them at the end of the literature review but then discussing them in more depth in later chapters. I guess this signals to the examiners that I haven't ignored them but hopefully it won't interrupt the flow of my argument. I'm going to try it that way today and see how it looks, see what the supervisors say, and go from there.
Thanks again for the feedback all of you, you've made a lonely and stressed out PhD-er feel much better this morning!
You could always add a coda at the end of the chapter that has the systematic review - briefly summarising the new work, pulling out key points that substantiate or add to your own work - not too pointedly - saying these are of relevance and perhaps indicating how your work foreshadows, compliments, goes beyond them.
Or you could provide a summary of newer work in this coda and deal with the issue of relation/value in a later discussion chapter?
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