In theory, I’m now two and a half years into my DPhil journey, except the journey hasn’t been that straightforward. In October 2008, the plan was to do work around Second Life/Virtual Worlds and education. That continued to be the primary focus until the following May, when I had to rethink things somewhat as the initial plans had fallen through for reasons beyond my control. Initially, it was just a tweak, in that the focus stayed with virtual worlds/Second Life but instead of looking at formal learning, I began to look at informal learning and community building. That was a real option, until November 2009.
In November 2009, as I started exploring a different methodological approach, it became appropriate to look for some additional consultation on the way ahead. That consultation session proved a dramatic turning point, and although the previous 14 months was not completely irrelevant, my research moved away from virtual worlds to being located ‘in a domain that I knew well’. In some ways, that is the true start date of my DPhil, and one of the things I have had to do over the past few months is stop trying to incorporate stuff that is no longer relevant in my thesis – it’s not wasted, just not relevant to the subject in hand.
There is a sense of loss over changing direction and letting go of things. Two years ago I considered myself, and was considered by others, part of the virtual world research committee. I had co-authored a journal article and a book chapter and presented at several conferences and knew many of the people active in that research community. Sometimes, I think I was a fool not to stay with what I was doing, but most of the time, I know it was the only real option as I am involved and passionate about what I am now doing.
What have I achieved in since changing direction. If it is measured in terms of external outputs, very little so far, but then I have moved into a new discipline and it has taken time to get a sense of the academic and theoretical landscape that I now inhabit and to begin to form links with others working in the same area. I wouldn’t say I have a network that emulates that which I had previously, but I am getting there. I am also starting to feel more comfortable with the language and culture of the social sciences – somewhat different from informatics where I was previously located.
On the other hand, I have defined my research questions, gathered a lot of data, sorted out my theoretical frameworks and analysis methodology, written a thesis outline and can see how the completed work might look. The current task is to construct a complete first draft of my thesis, while continuing to collect and analyse data. What I do need to give serious thought to is how to get my head above the parapet in terms of conferences and publishing – but maybe some of that can wait for the moment.
So in brief, I’ve made a beginning, achieved a successful U-turn and am now proceeding in an orderly fashion towards my destination, needing to decide whether to take the scenic route, or whether to stick to the motorway and then turn off to explore the countryside.