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Y is for… Your story too #AtoZChallenge

Y is for… Your story too

In this world we often feel alone and until we hear other people’s stories we might continue to feel that way.
I have spoken to a number of PhD students and soon began to realise that my sense of confusion in trying to determine my direction was not completely unique.

Today I attended the PGR conference (Post Graduate Researcher) at work and presented my poster – I shared the abstract for it in my B post and below is how it looks printed in the abstract booklet.

The graduate school offered to print the posters but for one reason or another I didn’t manage to get my poem ready on time. I decided to ask if I could be a little more creative with my poster – go old school and hand make it. I was a little anxious about doing so but thankfully I had positive feedback, including a mention by the keynote speaker who was talking about public engagement. So I’ve decided to share it here with you in the hopes that you might recognise aspects of the story and not feel so alone. Scroll down for a brief review of the process of making it  if you are interested (click on the image to zoom in).


The poster is made from four pieces of A3 watercolour paper hole-punched and knitted together with wool (with extra tape on the back). This symbolised the bringing together of lots of ideas into a whole. The title indicated the format, circles (in purple pastel mixed with water and lavender acrylic) with square 1 in the middle. Blackness shows the frustration. The fact that I used gold paint made me use the image of prospecting in the poem. The circles didn’t quite reach to the edge on the left hand side so I made a gold ‘book spine’ for my circular PhD story.
When I cut out the lines of the poem there were too many to fit in single lines so I grouped them. Most are in the top half of the circle symbolising the period of confusion start on the outer circle, read the top line and the line below – move round that circle and then back to the next circle).
I decided to spread the rest out at the bottom – as I started to see the light and find my direction.
Looking at the poem itself I had fun especially when talking about the different methodologies I’ve explored. I also used the bookish links because of my creative writing topic focus.
It’s not perfect but I think it reflects how I was feeling at the time – I also enjoyed playing with the glue gun and laminator.

Just one more post left to go on Zen and the Art of Writing.

So does any of this resonate as your story too?

C is for… Conferences #AtoZChallenge

C is for… Conferences

Academic conferences can be scary places but they can be hugely inspirational, both to attend and to present at. They can also be extremely tiring – you have been warned.

Advice when completing a PhD nowadays is to publish as you go along, the thought of this, to me, has been petrifying, but standing in front of people chatting about my ideas is less so (odd, yes?). I guess there is more of a permanence in the latter and because ideas mould and develop over time the idea of solidifying something in a journal seems too daunting. Not that I won’t challenge myself to go there – but I might need to take baby steps – blogging about my ideas is one of these.

I have already presented at conferences on my PhD and other subjects – I’ve also recorded myself presenting but not yet listened back, though it will be really helpful to, so that I can remember a) What I said and b) What questions I was asked and how I answered them.

One of my tasks for when I return to work is to add all the conference presentations/posters I have completed to  the work publications archive – but will I be brave enough to add the audio?

I’m going to tell you my secret stages of presenting at conferences now:

1. See a conference that looks really exciting – note the date that abstract submission closes.
2. Forget the date that abstract submission closes and panic write an abstract the night before (pull out your hair trying to get it under the minuscule word count whilst retaining a semblance of coherent thought – I think/hope I’m getting better at this).
3. Miraculously get abstract accepted (or not then maybe you can attend without fear).
4. Realise not too long before the conference that you need to write something, develop a poster, presentation etc.
5. Re-read abstract and try and remember what you were talking about when you wrote the abstract.
6. Possibly realise that in the interim months you have moved on with your ideas and try and write something which matches the original abstract but also expresses your new thoughts.
7. If you are like me continue working on said presentation up until the presentation (this is because I like to try and acknowledge what I’ve heard in the sessions I’ve heard before where relevant).
8. Go over time because you have added things last minute.
9. Think it has gone awfully and decide never to write an abstract again.
10. See a conference that looks really exciting…

Or is this just me?

Speaking of writing abstracts there is a deadline on Friday… hope this post doesn’t jeopardise my chances.

I am very excited to be attending and presenting at the auto/biography conference to be held in Barcelona in July. I was also lucky enough to be awarded PGR development funding to attend. I will be presenting the following (and a joint presentation that I’m really excited about):

Cover Stories: using books to tell the tales of a writing life

My PhD explores my need to engage in the occupation of creative writing. Books are the artefacts or tools of a writer’s trade. It is commonly suggested that we should not judge a book by its cover but in reality that’s exactly what we do. This paper will become a field text (Clandinin and Connelly 2000) examining my creative writing narrative and autobiography through the cover images of books that have been influential in my writing life. The literary concept of intertextuality will be discussed as an understanding that works of literature cannot be separated from other works that have come before, or from the general culture in which they are created (Allen 2000). This further supports my decision to utilise autoethnography as a methodological approach, where the self is always seen in connection with others (Chang 2008).
Finally, books have been a great source of comfort to me and even looking at a familiar book can induce a sense of calm. This will be linked to the core belief of occupational therapists and occupational scientists – that occupation links to wellbeing (Wilcock 1998).

Allen, G (2000) Intertextuality. London: Routledge.
Chang H (2008) Autoethnography as method. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Clandinin DJ and Connelly FM (2000) Narrative inquiry: experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wilcock AA (1998) An Occupational Perspective of Health. Thorofare, NJ: Slack.

What has your best conference experience been?
Does my ‘stages of presenting’ seem familiar to you? Please say I’m not alone?

B is for… Beginning #AtoZChallenge

B is for… Beginning

I have been “doing my PhD” for a good while now though I only registered in October 2011. I’m doing it part time and I seem to have been starting it FOR.EV.ER. I came to a realisation about why this is after supervision the other day. It is because whenever I have been pressed to come up with my research question it hasn’t felt right, it doesn’t seem to encompass what I want to explore.

At the moment I am toying with a new idea and it is one that is still sitting comfortably a week or so later and so I hope to move forward with it.

I submitted the abstract below to an internal Post Graduate Researchers’ Conference – it wasn’t accepted as an oral paper (so substitute the word reading for listening) but I will be making it into a poster and I will share on the blog when I’m done. This summarises how I have been feeling about the beginning of the process. It also links to my theme for tomorrow, C is for… Conferences.

Round and Round in Circles and Back to Square One

This autoethnographic account of my early PhD journey (inspired by Taylor 2008) will explore the confusion I have experienced from trying to narrow my research focus on a topic that is so meaningful to me. A PhD is not just about the one research project but is also about training in research (Marshall and Green 2010). It is therefore important to develop skills of analysis and to be able to rationalise decisions made. A sense of frustration can be created by exploring the ‘dark side of the moon’, only to come back to the ‘light side’ again. What is important though is returning from that journey with the acceptance that where I have settled is the right place for me. My account will be subjective, but by sharing, a dialogue will be opened with the experiences and emotions of those listening (Ellis 2004).

Ellis, C., 2004. The Ethnographic I: a methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Marshall, S. and Green, N., 2010. Your PhD Companion. 3rd ed. Oxford: How To Books.

Taylor, J., 2008. An Autoethnographic Exploration of an Occupation: Doing a PhD. British Journal of Occupational Therapy. 71 (5), 176-184.


For me though I think I will still feel as if I am beginning until I am in the data collection process…then, as they say in the vernacular, this shit is going to get real.

If you’ve completed a PhD or are further in the process than me – how did you find beginning? When did it feel real for you? Does the title of my poster-to-be fit with your experience?

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