Time spent over the last couple of days reviewing my thesis outline, plus a supervision session and reading a couple of Inger Mewburn’s thesiswhisperer blog posts (PhD Grief and 5 ways to kill your darlings) has got me thinking.
It must be a couple of years now since my supervisor suggested I draft an abstract for my thesis, written as though it was done and dusted and I had achieved what I wanted to achieve. Having a tendency to do as I’m told, I followed the advice and I found it a useful exercise, not only in enabling me to sort out my focus, but also as a document which I could review and revise as my ideas developed. While reviewing my thesis outline over the past couple of days, I realised that I needed to revise the abstract yet again. Having done so, I then looked back over the last year and realised that ideas which were central to the abstract a few months ago, are no longer there, but other ideas which either were not present, or were peripheral are taking centre stage. I am seriously beginning to wonder if rather than me owning my thesis, whether it actually has somehow acquired a life of its own.
In some ways, this follows on from my previous blog where I responded to Jeffrey Keefer’s question about there being no space for communities of practice in my research. It can only be 3 months ago that I was arguing that communities of practice were central to my research and my thesis. Where has all that thinking and work gone? It is clear my thesis is rejecting it as part of itself – I’m sure it wasn’t my decision to put that whole chunk on one side.
Not only does my thesis seem to have decided that things that are meaningful to me have no place in it, but it also seems to have replaced them with things which are more theoretically complex, though possibly ultimately more interesting. And I’m sure it has done this without any assistance on my part!
What I have realised is that the areas that getting chopped are not being chopped because they are not of interest, or are not important, but because they are not central to my research question. They are currently in suspended animation, waiting to be revived and acquire their own lives. The areas that remain and are taking over, are not triffids, but are emerging as I allow myself to look into some of the deeper reaches of the iceberg. They are challenging because they are forcing me to think in ways that don’t come naturally to me. I’m a pragmatist and problem-solver – what am I doing getting caught up in theoretical concepts and philosophy? Come to think of it, why on earth am I doing a DPhil – no let’s not go there today!
I think perhaps it is time for me to take thesis in hand and threaten it with the pruning sheers if it doesn’t stop growing and developing interesting side shoots. Hang it all surely I should be in charge of my thesis and not vice versa!