Archive for April, 2011

Insecurities and Progress

Sometimes when I write my blog there is only a couple of things that dominate my thinking, and I focus on those things.  Normally from the outside everything appears to be in order.  However, there are other times like today when I just seem inundated with confusing, contradicting, and worrying thoughts swirling around in my brain.  I have never written in one of these states before, but that ends today.


Sometimes (perhaps more often than I’ll admit) being a part-time PhD researcher is messy and full of insecurities.  In the spirit of this messiness, I will attempt in this blog to share with you a single brain dump of what’s going on.  It will be a disorganized but that’s the point.   Ok, so what’s on my mind today!


  1. How should I take feedback….and am I good enough?
  2. Getting the access/time to do the research, and how to gain access if coming from a critical perspective?
  3. What is critical realism?
  4. What is critical discourse but what do I mean by critical?


Taking Feedback

I had a feedback session on my preliminary lit. review chapter with a supervisor.  The feedback was not surprising and importantly it felt pretty spot on.  I had hoped for at least some positive spin or some recognition on where I had reached perhaps, but I knew deep down where I was at and where I needed to go next before this meeting.


Given this intuition, I will say that even if you ‘kind of’ know what’s coming, its still not easy to take.   Constructive or not it feels like an attack on one’s ego – and I find myself on occasion asking – am I good enough?  Sometimes, I really worry that there is not enough in the tank intellectually and emotionally.  I am learning not to do anything after feedback for at least 3-4 days and just reflect on what has been said.  Any reaction beforehand normally has a high emotional taint to it…. And not overly helpful.


The next thing on my mind today is the nagging worry that at some point I’m actually going to have to do some research.

Doing some research

As a part-time student with full-time job and family responsibilities, with a research project that is evolving into a set of research questions that warrant participant observation and a critical perspective – just how am I going to navigate all this?

  • Do I have to take some leave and sit on a project manager and his/her team?
  • Can I perform some form of self-/auto- ethnography and follow myself?
  • Will the project team not yet even identified be willing to sign informed consent?
  • Can I take a critical perspective when living in the context of the UAE and the middle east?
  • Why would anyone sign up for research that intends to take a critical emancipatory perspective?


And the doing research questions just keep piling up, and I’m currently at a loss as how to answer them.  I can hear people saying ‘well ask your supervisor’, but the truth is I’m trying to pluck up the courage to do this at our next scheduled meeting.

Critical Realism

One thing that is great is how the PhD process is proving to be structured around a gradual laddering process gradually adding new skills and gaining knowledge in your area of interest.  But half the time I do wonder if I can ever possibly know anything – it seems even Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (“I think therefore I am”) – is debatable!  Even the translation is debatable i.e. some say it is “I doubt therefore I am”.   Put simply, there is so much written, researched, conceptualized from a whole spectrum of philosophical paradigms that the ground no longer feels secure from anywhere I stand.

I thought I had found something in the philosophy of Pragmatism, but as many regard this as ontologically moot (I think, including my supervisor) – it looks like I’m going to have to at least explore Critical Realism (CR).  CR looks in some ways a lot like Pragmatism but with a few very contrasting ideas e.g. it takes ontology as very important; it has a bent towards the real/consequential effects of social systems and their agents i.e. understand the real cause of particular outcomes; and it is essentialist/dualist perspectives.  More reading!

Critical Discourse

One recent idea that has emerged in recent reading is the possible use of critical discourse analysis.  This has come from inside the overlapping areas of identity studies, discourse as a identity resource, project communication as discourse, and a need to take a critical perspective.   I don’t know if this is useful – but it seems like an important next step to go and find out if it will be useful.  Another rabbit hole?  This is anybody’s guess.  Given all this, I realized today that I am a bit confused about my critical perspective that I keep mentioning.  Project management literature calls for a critical perspective on itself as a practice, critical management studies call for the micro-emancipation of the subject, and critical studies in general might simply question critically what people say in interviews matches observation.  So which critical am I really talking about?  I’m not sure yet.


So, as you can see there are more areas to investigate and questions that need to be answered – and plenty of insecurities and worries.  Some helpful advice, repeatedly said to me by a good friend (“thank you Rula, it is sticking”) to help deal with these issues is “the PhD is not about intelligence, its not about being clever or a knowledge contribution – but instead it is more about stamina and guts – its about whether you can go the distance!” (not a quote verbatim)

So there you have it – my messy brain dump for today – just for you (sorry).

I do want to add a little balance to my blog by saying that there is absolutely no doubt that with my first six ‘part-time’ months under my belt, that I know a hell a lot more than I did when I started.  While I feel I still know very little, I can see the signs that this PhD process is working.  I’m learning and I’m un-learning; I’m growing yet I’m being stripped down;  I’m making little progress in some areas but much progress in others; I feel engaged and other time lonely and demotivated; I love it at times and hate it at others!  Its fair to say that underneath all of these surface concerns I feel really positive about the future.

Love to hear from any others who share similar or dissimilar experiences.

Categories: Identity, Uncategorized