Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Submitting the thesis

After arranging for the printing and binding of the required number of thesis copies on 25 October 2007, these were duly submitted via the Registrar’s office at the ANU with the appropriate protocols in place. As anticipated, some final refinements to the content of the thesis—along with the inevitable dotting of Is and crossing of Ts—were completed earlier in the month.

I was surprised at the number of minor inconsistencies that kept emerging in subsequent and multiple re-readings of the thesis. A swag of these involved my Endnote referencing system. During the course of my candidature I managed to rack up just under 500 references—with most the finer details concerning publisher, location, URL, page numbers and so on—as well as my own notes for the majority of publications. Although there were a small number of gaps, the database was in reasonably good shape—or so I thought. However, comments from a couple of advisers identified the need to do some close checking, and when I did, began to discover a raft of inconsistencies in relation to the way in which my data had been recorded. For example, in some instances I had recorded the publisher as ‘Open University Press’, in others ‘OUP’; in some instances the location as ‘Chicago’ and in others ‘Chicago, Illinois’ and so on.

At last count my thesis reference list comprised around 200 citations. I probably spent two full days in order to achieve consistency in relation to my Endnote records—not to mention refining the referencing style for both the citations and the bibliography. Pedantic? Possibly. Necessary? Probably. I was stunned at the level of attention that some readers of my second draft devoted to correcting errors concerning the use of apostrophes, capitals, acronyms and the like. In their eyes, attention to this form of scholarship was obviously as important—if not more so—than the substance of the thesis. The clear message—confirmed in the literature—is that many examiners are easily riled by what they perceive to be sloppy work, particularly in relation to a lack of attention to detail.

Hopefully, most of the editorial gremlins have been removed and the thesis is now on its way to the examiners. However, a word of advice offered by the officer responsible for the administration of PhD examinations at the ANU provided a sobering outlook with regard to outcomes. She casually remarked, “while we request examiners to provide their assessment within two months, on average it is three or four”. It sounds like the best policy from this point is to forget about the thesis and get on with disseminating and publishing the major outcomes of my research.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Presenting another paper

Given that a considerable volume of water has passed under the bridge since my last post, a summary of recent events is in order. Earlier in the year I submitted a proposal to present a paper at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) annual conference in London in September. Although the proposal was accepted, my preoccupation with thesis writing resulted in conference participation being moved to the back burner. Completing the second draft of the thesis by the end of August provided the green light to proceed.

In contrast to AERA’s annual conference in Chicago which involved over 10,000 people, the BERA conference had about 1200 participants and was more collegial as a result. Both professional associations—like AARE here in Australia—are oriented primarily towards school education. Specific Interest Groups (SIGs), however, provide a very effective means of accessing a broader range of interests. While AERA has over 150, AARE has 35, and BERA 30.

My paper was included as part of BERA’s Higher Education SIG, and was entitled The Doctoral Experience in Science: Challenging the current orthodoxy. The paper begins by developing a theoretical framework in the form of a conventional model of the PhD student experience in the natural and physical sciences. This is followed by one of my case narratives about contemporary practices and arrangements in which the voices of a candidate and her co-supervisors are integrated. Drawing on a wider literature, I then provide an interpretation of the narrative, encouraging readers to construct their own meanings, before comparing and contrasting them with mine as researcher/narrator.

I was assigned the graveyard shift—9.00am Saturday morning on the last day of the conference—along with a team headed by Mark Sinclair from CQU and two other teams from the UK. Despite the timing, it was a stimulating session with about 30 people in attendance. Needless to say, established conference schedules—fifteen minutes to present a paper and five minutes for discussion—doesn’t allow much space for critical reflection or earnest contemplation. However, a follow up interaction over coffee, a hurriedly exchanged business card, or a scribbled email address on the program always holds the promise of a new insights, contacts or resources.

On returning to Australia, a batch of correspondence included anticipated responses to the second draft of my thesis. Fortunately, there was a common view among members of my supervisory panel that the document is in reasonable shape—with room for tightening in places, of course. Having completed my intention to submit the thesis a month ago, I’m now feel that I am entering the final lap which hopefully will be completed in a couple of weeks. As one panel member commented, a thesis should be seen ongoing rather than complete. “It is your responsibility to determine the point at which to stop”. I shall certainly be bearing that in mind as October marches on.