Home > Identity, Sustainability, Uncategorized > Got what it takes soldier?

Got what it takes soldier?

To be truthful, it has been tough not to write a blog this past month, however it was partly due to time constraints, and partly due to being lost for words in what to say, but I’ll explain that comment in a bit…

I went to Glasgow at the end of November full of excitement to attend the mandatory Research Methods course.  This was though without an assigned supervisor.  Naturally the course passed quickly, with a healthy amount of winter snow which was fun for the first 15 mins at least.  Frankly, I found myself dipping in and dipping out of the materials based on how the topics interested me (I seem drawn to the qualitative approaches like interviews and ethnography, and shy away from quantitative sampling and surveys).   The course was well done braking the sessions into various vignettes of numerous research methods available undertaken by people already with their PhDs.  I found in the end quite that the vignettes were a curious mixture of concepts at different layers e.g. a case study within a case study within which there could be various methods.  I also started to sense a serious difference between research ‘as planned’ verse research ‘as practiced’ by many of the professors who shared their own research experiences.  Without a doubt, instrumental case study, ethnography (observation), interview, and artifact analysis of some kind will be in the mix of my research preferences.  I like to understand something in depth – the survey although quick and efficient just seems to lack for me.  In the spirit of qualitative studies there is a sense surpassing the concept of triangulation and looking at reality from as many points as possible.


During the visit, I felt the need to respond one night to some criticism directed at a paradigm table (I created) from one of the Critical Realist Professors on the Research Philosophy course site.  This person felt that the PhD students’ who were  obsessed about thinking in ‘paradigms’ was not the right way to be heading i.e. getting hung up on paradigms.   I responded equally as I received – but this was like me entering into the ring with a heavy weight boxer in philosophy and I knew there was only going to be one result – to be knocked out :o)


The next evening after eating his knuckle duster – I did make the final comment that summed up my perspective – “What seems to be emerging is a quite complex dialectic between philosophy, history and trends in the field, the phenomena under research, choice of methods, supervisor, and the researcher….and this is where the focus of the new researcher should be i.e. no single aspect dominating the conversation.”  Sometimes my being an experienced practitioner I can forget that these professors have been around academia a long time to read and understand philosophy, and research to such a level of detail that will be almost impossible for me to play on a level playing field.


Anyhow, getting through the week seemed to me to be really quite difficult.  I was waiting for a meeting at the end of the week with a potential supervisor I greatly admire, and after being dropped so cruelly by the last advisor I knew this meeting would be important.  Even on the last day when we were split into teams to work on the research methods presentations I found I was sometimes absent in mind, half participating, and getting ready for the 430pm meeting.  Well, the time arrived and I nervously went over to the department to meet this advisor – hoping for a positive result – I mean surely, I am a great catch – intelligent, studious, creative, and not to forget a full fee paying student etc…


Oh what a shock that was before me.  After some niceties… I was hit repeatedly with comments like: “I don’t think you have what it takes to be a PhD student – you may not even have what it takes to do the MRes”, “you are not focused, you have too many ideas to research – and your writing is all over the place”, “you don’t listen – and I’m worried you won’t follow my instruction”, “you are too revelational and not critical”, “you seem more interested in a contribution to practice not theory”, and “I don’t like advising part-time PhD students”, etc etc etc.  Oh my god – what a meeting, not at all what I had expected.  Tough – truthful? – devastating!

I left the meeting quiet, I walked quickly to Waterstones to buy some books for Leo, and I smoked along the way – the smoking was more important than keeping my fingers warm.  I felt emotional to be honest, I wanted to scream and throw in the towel.   What just went on there?  Was I so out of touch with reality?  After picking up the books I went back to a coffee shop and sat down to the laptop defeated – and skyped the love of my life.  At once she calmed me.  Eating the scottish pie and mash, and seeing her beautiful face put me in a better frame of mind.

But what to do?  I knew I needed to sleep on this for a few days.  So with tail between my legs, and still no supervisor – I flew back to a warm welcoming Abu Dhabi.

A few days afterwards I spoke to some of my PhD friends and discovered from one of the them that this is probably a just tactic – one that was played on her when she did her PhD.  The idea is that from the advisor’s perspective they will be investing a lot of time over many years so the interest, confidence etc that it will be done must be assessed thoroughly i.e. it is not actually about me but about the research, about being successful, and about adding to a field.  Other friends disagreed telling me that this is not the way to treat a part-time full fee paying customer (Phd student) and I should look else where.  What to do?

Thankfully, after about three days I realized that it was not important for me to analyze to death everything the potential supervisor had said was right nor wrong, but I had to respond, and learn to play by the rules of the institution – it simply doesn’t matter my status, my age, my history, my fee paying etc.  If I want in at this university – I have to succumb or look elsewhere.   So I decided to give it one last try.  I would choose a new topic aligned to this person’s interests, re-write a solid proposal, and submit it for approval to become an advanced graduate programme in the MRes to be followed by the PhD.

The big news is that this means I have finally dropped “Sustainability” and replaced it with “Identity Construction” within the Project construct.  So, this past Monday 13th December – 10 days after the disastrous meeting – my proposal was re-submitted to the University for consideration.  So here’s hoping.  For therapy last week, I moved from student to local counselor and marked students’ strategy assignments!   :o)

This past weekend, I looked for the first time since being back from Glasgow at the Research Methods assignment, and I studiously started to download and investigate the methods used in other such organisational studies of identity construction, and began the start of preparing a bibliography of articles and research in the area of Identity studies in Organisations.  I believe I have found my equilibrium.

How do I respond to the original criticisms?

  1. “I don’t think you have what it takes to be a PhD student – you may not even have what it takes to do the MRes: Not true – I definitely have what it takes.  It will be tough, but my resolve is unshakable!
  2. “You are not focused, your have too many ideas to research – and your writing is all over the place” – This is true, I might say I have been too easy with it, and I am ok for things to get tighter.
  3. “You don’t listen – and I’m worried you won’t follow my instruction” – partly true!  Sometimes I am not sure, sometimes I want to follow my own way, and sometimes I might misunderstand something.  I pledge to do better.
  4. “You are too revelational and not critical” – true, and something I will grow out of – hopefully!
  5. “You seem more interested in a contribution to practice not theory” – not true – I just want the contribution to theory to emerge from field research, from practice.  Arguably it is what theory needs – a credible, empirical, and practice base.

So what’s next?

Well, I’ll wait for the decision and respond in turn.  I’m not going to give up.

THIS SOLDIER HAS GOT WHAT IT TAKES – this university or the next :o)

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