Overview of olivia

Recent Posts

Grounded Theory - analysing interviews

Hello and great choice of methodology! :D Grounded theory is a great methodology to use, and I think you will be amazed at the results you get from using it. That said, you are right to want to get the steps right on its use...otherwise, you are not really doing grounded theory, but some weak imitation. If you want to stick to the "classic" or "traditional" grounded theory then you should get the original texts on it by Glasser and Strauss-- also be aware that they later had a split themselves, and Strass and Corbin went on to develop further strands, as have other people. So be clear which strand of it you want to use, and stick close to the texts on that when designing your methods.

I think what you are asking about relates to the "constant comparative" part of the method, as well as theoretical sampling and theoretical saturation. These all have to do with data collection and data analysis as an ongoing part of your work, occuring simultaneously. You should have worked out what you are going to do with the data from the interview ( ie take notes, or do word for word transcription, and from there, what steps you are going to go through in your analysis of the data as you continue to collect it-- interviews being data).

One question comes about in knowing when you have theoretical saturation, have you done enough interviews? Does your data allow you to start to form a theory ( look in the original texts for the multi-level analysis that you do of your data to develop a theory) and if there are gaps in what you are putting together, do you need to do interviews on a specific part of your data, etc.

Be sure you have worked out the steps of your methodology BEFORE you start your data collection. Be very familiar not only with the steps of the strand of GT that you have chosen, but the philosophy and aims behind it. Only then, IMO, are you ready to start interview data collection.

How do I deal with this?

Structuring a chapter ( and a thesis!) can be a huge challenge. Its one of the biggest hurdles in managing large amounts of material. How do you put it altogether so it makes sense, connects to each other, and is readable? My recommendation on this is to get the Bryan Garner book, "Writing in Plain English"... while his book is aimed at a lawyer audience, his very easy to use editing steps make sense for any kind of writing. Certainly it fits within trying to edit a thesis and the various chapters. You can start using the steps as soon as you open the book-- its really that straightforward to use. And inexpensive used copies are usually available on Amazon for £5 or so.

Dr, Mrs or both?

I think there are as many solutions to this as there are people trying to sort out what to be called... whatever feels right to you is what you should go with. I don't exactly fit your scenario, as I am divorced with my maiden name ( which I never changed whilst married) so am I Mrs Maiden Name, Miss Maiden Name, Ms Maiden Name... I hated all of that, and the UK does not seem to have a Ms option much. Being Dr nicely solved it all for me, anyway, when I am asked for a title, I give Dr.

Some of my students call me Mrs rather than Dr... which I do not mind, I sometimes think they find the Dr title a very masculine one and are more comfortable with Mrs.

I know lots of people who use one last name at work, and another socially/at home.

How long to prepare for a viva?

to the extent you might be asked to do something from memory in the viva, remember your thesis... its like having an open book exam... ask the examiner to refer to the part of the thesis where x is located-- whatever they are asking you, if you need to prompt your memory, or you yourself can say, hang on, its in the thesis, one moment, and find it... then read to jog your memory. The viva is after all about the thesis and its not an exam per se where you have to memorise everything. The examiners should have read your thesis and no doubt will have it tabbed with areas they want to question you on, so fair game in my opinion to ask them to guide you to the part of the thesis that generated the question, when needed.

How long to prepare for a viva?

Yes, I think 3-4 weeks is optimal. Longer than that, and you can drive yourself to distraction by over-studying, with little effect, or starting to forget things.
Reading through the thesis, noting any new publications, having a practice viva ( where you can get helpful feedback) are all good ways to get started. Its impossible to anticipate what questions could be thrown at you, while there are some that are predictable, they might not get asked. Your best basis for preparation is to be very familiar with your work, and comfortable answering questions and having a conversation about it.

I'm back... and struggling with my introduction chapter and a loss of confidence.

I think the last post points out something important that is very little mentioned .. which is the right and wrong way for supervisors to deliver the supervision. Supervision should be confidence enhancing, not destroying, and if it does destroy confidence, the supervisor is not doing their job right. Yes, the supervisor must offer constructive critical commentary, but there is a skilled and an unskilled way to do this. Unskilled ways hurt student motivation, confidence and ultimately, PhD completion. If a supervisor does not know how to deliver their supervision competently, it is not competent supervision... and not the fault of the student for having too thin of a skin or whatever....

Supervisors should have excellent communication skills in order to be able to deliver adequate supervision. Well, IMO.

Unfortunately the strictures of academia do not lend themselves to students asking for better feedback, or to improve communication. Academia is hierarchical, with people little accountable to others for their work or how they deliver it. Academia is treated as some kind of exalted club, where if you get a job, you are now a privileged member. Upon my academic appointment I got some emails from people that said, "ooh welcome to the academy..."

eyes rolling


Its not some special club-- its about delivering teaching and information competently, being responsive and aware of student needs, communicating effectively, etc....

But given the way the entire structure is set up, nothing is likely to change. Those inside the "academy" are pretty darn happy with it the way it is.

I'm back... and struggling with my introduction chapter and a loss of confidence.

Quote From Natassia:

Olivia - I will have a look out for that book. The main problem with my writing that my supervisors comment on is that it is a bit jumpy and moves between areas in a way that is too quick for the reader, so I need to write in more detail. They said before that they are pleased that I have the confidence to do that, but I told them that it was probably more due to a lack of confidence, they seemed surprised at this and told me I should have more confidence, as they had confidence in me. They have said that I need to be more disciplined with my writing, which is why I think they're giving me shorter word limits. Overall they say that I have improved a lot, but obviously there is still a way to go. It is a little disheartening because during my BA and MSc my writing was always complimented and there were rarely any criticisms made of it, so I suppose I thought I was ok, although I knew that the PhD would be a big jump in terms of the expectations of my writing.


When I started back to post-grad work after a long long time out of education and a long long time in my profession, I was upset to have my writing criticised. I was always told I was a "good writer" and it was upsetting to think I was not... as well as the criticism being given without any suggestions on what would take my writing to a good and acceptable style and level.

I was lucky enough to go to a writing workshop put on by Garner and then bought his book. It turned my academic writing around and I was fortunate enough to get a distinction in my masters that I was working on! Styles in academic writing change, just like clothing styles--what was cool in the 1980s in clothes and writing style is not now--and what is OK now will no doubt look dated in 20-30 years. Styles and preferences in academic writing come and go. Partly its a challenge to sort out what is current NOW--which seems to be short sentences, among other things, and Garner helps you to get to grips with sentences that average 20 words...

That kind of writing is not my natural style--I cope with it by knowing I will have to do lots of rounds of editing when I work-- and its just part of the process. I write first in my own natural way ( the madman phase of writing) and then edit edit edit. You will find what works for you!


I'm back... and struggling with my introduction chapter and a loss of confidence.

Sorry to hear about your experiences... I think everyone struggles with this in some aspect, as academic writing is very different from other kinds of writing, and people do not always explain clearly to you what is needed... somehow you are supposed to muddle through and have it sort itself. That does not work well, and there are a lot of guides out there to help you not only with the writing process, but in how to receive criticism about your writing.

Remember-- you are not your writing. Try to find ways to not take it personally when criticism is made.... easier said than done I know, but its important to develop a thick skin when receiving comments on your writing. Given how subjective much of that feedback is ( and yes, it is very subjective!!!) ( how many people have had their supervisor contradict previous comments... just to show you how very very subjective the feedback you get is!) its important to read comments with a pinch of salt.

When my friends/colleagues ask me to review and comment on work, I warn them I do not sugar coat remarks, I will give honest feedback -- I work hard to be constructive in comments, but am told I can be counted on for a seemingly objective eye and frank comments. These people know that the comments are not about anything but the writing-- not a reflection on the person's friendship. moral worth, professional ability, etc. It is helpful to get fully frank feedback from people as you write no matter what stage of your career you are in-- but people are sometimes hestitant to give it. I take the position that I would rather get skewered before submission to a journal and fix it, then to be rejected and skewered then. As well, it is important to take what works for you in the comments and disregard the rest. I always preface any comments I make with this--remembering again, its all soooooooooooooooooo subjective.

The best writing guide out there-- for both process and content and editing--- is Writing in Plain English by Bryan Garner. You can get used copies cheap on Amazon for like five pounds. It is written for legal writing, but it works in any kind of discipline, or profession. Its easy to use, its straightforward, and improves your entire writing style and content and format immediately. I recommend it to my students, my professional and academic colleagues-- everyone says it has helped them, and it gets rave reviews. You won't go wrong for five pounds even if you don't think it works for you--but I am pretty confident it will be helpful.

Doing a PHD in underdeveloped country

My thought--to a large extent your PHd is what you make of it. pardon your research initiatives, your own self-motivation are what make the difference between a successful and not so successful phd far more than any input from supervisors, etc. as well you can reach out in the academic community to get feedback from leading academics, once you begin to read and publish and write... some if not all leading academics are amazingly humble, kind and generous with time and feedback. at some point in anyones phd you have to own your work and work independent of the judgment of your supervisor, learning to develop your own judgement and faith in your own ability. you might consider the option of a distance learning phd from a leading uni,, this might allow you to maximise your work with field leaders but not disrupt your family life

good luck

sorry for bad typing am typing with injured funger!

open letter to academics


Saw this posted on Twitter. Some food for thought to carry into the New Year!

First second third

Quote From sneaks:

Quote From olivia:

I think British English ( do not hang me for that term, not sure what else to call it)


But then how does one distinguish between the different kinds of English that are used? The language has definite regional and national variations between the United States, Canada, UK ( and let's not forget the myriad differences within the UK) and other parts of the world where English might be the unifying language in a state that has many other languages.

about to start and getting scared

Congrats on getting the funding and on the PhD opportunities. I think your concerns are natural in the run up to a huge chunk of research and if people are honest, most people have felt these things to varying degrees not only as they start the research but during it and writing it up.... its just part of the whole PhD experience.

Will you be doing experiments, empirical work and the like, or be doing "desk based" research?

Your supervisors should be able to give you an overview of what sort of progress they expect you to make as you go. It is not at all unusual to have only a vague sort of idea where your research is headed during the first few months or even year of the PHD, you learn as you go and you adjust your ideas as you go. That shows you are learning and your knowledge is deepening and broadening, which of course is what you want as you go through the PhD. :p

Its also true for all fields that there is a ton of research. And it can seem like there is nothing new to do. But there is.

Many people start off writing a literature review. You do not index and summarise the existing research so much as analyse and critique it, contrast findings and positions in the field, and find the gaps in existing knowledge and what further research needs to be done. You will find in many research articles that the authors indicate what future research can be done based on their findings. You may well find your original areas of research from reading what authors say about their own work. There is always more work that can be done in any piece of research, to deepen knowledge, apply techniques or questions in a different way, to address an anomoly produced in the work. You might start a lit review with the idea in mind that you will discover that thing you want to do as your own topic in the course of it--- the lit review is a voyage of discovery.

Whether you start to write immediately varies by field and by your sups approach. I was writing immediately, producing about 10,000 words a month from the first month. Needless to say the first things I wrote were.... not great... but you have to start somewhere!

No one would expect you to have expert knowledge in your field as you begin... that is what you gain through 3 years of research!

Stupid theoretical framework question? Maybe!

Yes, there is an easy way. And you should not feel stupid when your sups ask because the differfences between various paradigms can be subtle and some can seem to overlap. Not only that, but many people write from a less than clear statement of their paradigms, or might even be wholly unconcious of what paradigm they write from ( or that there is even such an academic concept as paradigm). If the writer is not clear about where they are coming from, or what their framework is, all the more difficult for the reader to discern.

I find the charts in the Lincoln and Guba book Sage Handbook on Qualitative Research very helpful. It gives a concise discussion of what each paradigm consists of and how they are the same in some respects and where they differ. Post modernism and SC are both non-positivist in orientation and so will share many features in some respects, but differ in others.

I do not have the Lincoln and Guba book handy so cannot make reference to the exact page numbers. Someone on here might be able to help; otherwise if you can get access to the book ( any library should have it) they are easy to find. I hope that helps.

PhD probation

I agree that it sounds like a back covering exercise. This is an unfortunate position for you to be in and I sympathise with how upsetting and frustrating this must be for you. It is bad form if supervisors can see what you ticked-- but in my own experience, my supervisor could see any remarks I made about supervision, and I was asked in his presence if I was happy with things. What other answer was there to give but "yes" whether it was true or not.

Have you considered challenging the decision to put you on probation?

Other than that you might ask for the particulars of what and where and how your progress was not satisfactory. If you do not understand what they view as to being up to the mark, how on earth can you fix it? I would ask to be presented with a detailed list of benchmarks or areas where your work has fallen short, so that you can be sure to addresss this in your future work. I would ask for frequent written feedback on the work you are developing and submitting during the course of this probationary period.

I am aware of similiar things happening to students. They are in the end, now Dr Whomever, having successfully submitted and passed their vivas.

Unfortunately academia is rife with bizarre and unbridled politics that have no bearing on the actual quality and merits of work being done. One can get the sense of being in a minefield, where any step taken is likely to result in an explosion, and yet, to take no step is to become utterly paralysed and unable to carry on.

You might think of taking the initiative and in a very constructive way, ask for a meeting with the supervisor(s) to review their decision to put you on probation, to ask for detailed benchmarks on where your previous work has fallen short and what they will expect ( in detail) for your chapters to meet their standards. And then ask for them to agree to intermittent comment and review along the way so that you know if you are on the right track. At a minimum, this is what supervision should supply in any event, probation or no.

Good luck.

What paradigm am I in?!

Stick with the paradigm that suits you and your research goals, is my advise. Otherwise you will struggle through your research. This is, after all, your work and not the work of your supervisors. They should be able to deal with work in different paradigms...

I find nothing better than Lincoln and Guba for sorting out which paradigm you are in ( Creswell is good as well)--and Lincoln and Guba have some cool handy charts that makes it all easy to locate your paradigm, your methodology, epistiemology ( why does that sound like something that is done to women in childbirth...) and ontology within the paradigm. I do not have the book handy, but someone might be able to post the page numbers that take you straight to the charts. Some people straddle paradigms, which L and G seem to think is OK.

Stick to what works for you, make sure you reference, reference, reference as you go to anchor the work, and enjoy! Hope that helps.