What it means to undertake PhD research: Admin Stuff, writing, thinking and starting all over again.
In the previous post I have described how the thesis came about and how the topic evolved from the first idea to the point where the topic is set. Once this was done, i was ready to go.
Or so I thought. On paper I was now a student again and that meant also dealing with a lot of paperwork. Most of it involved repeatedly filling out forms to register with several different research bodies, the library and research networks. For this the necessity was clear, for other admin stuff less so. There were, or still are research offices, committees, sub-committees that needed to see my research title and plan how I was to approach what was lying in front of me. It was that which was incredibly tiresome as it was repetitive. At the same time it was helpful.
Yes, you may think, how is that possible, something considered unnecessary up to the point of being annoying, how could that be helpful?
It was supportive as it forced me to continuously think about the topic and the key issues to be addressed in the research process. This is a very helpful tool to clarify for oneself what needs to be done, how and when. It also highlighted areas that were bringing no rewards and those that needed addressing urgently as it became clear that knowledge was scarce to say the least. This was mostly about the press in England and (West-)Germany, the discussion about fears of British decline or the authoritative of the German government to revelations that West Germany’s army was only insufficiently prepared against an attack from the Soviet Union in one of the country’s most reputable magazines.
Writing reports for whatever reason sits in between the thought process and the writing process. It is the result of initial research about a topic and at the same time initiates the writing process as it inspires further reading and thorough reflection. Although some reports were indeed repetitive, completing them saw always minor changes that highlighted the thinking progress. A PhD is always a work in progress that much became clear. It has stayed that way throughout the duration of working on it.
The whole of March 2008 i’ve spent outlining and writing an application for the AHRC – the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This body offers funding to researchers at different stages in their career, i.e. PhD students who have just begun or those who have completed and are heading for their post-doc research. this meant that the competition was significant. Each university had a number of entries that would be put forward for the nationwide contest. It was some work that i’ve put in for this; in the end all it was missing was a statement and a signature from my second supervisor that the application was NOT put forward! It was frustrating. Yet, there was consolation as i now had a text that i could work with. There were just over 1500 words that gave me a basis to work on and extend. It was at least something to comfort me. Another positive was that it allowed me to apply for research funding for a trip to London in the British Library. This was to get an overview of sports coverage in general in the 1950s and 60s as well as a comparison with Germany. If i did not get full support for a year or more, at least there were ₤90 to help me deepen my knowledge on sports coverage in England and Germany.
This is only one episode. However, what was most important about it was that from this point on i wrote. I wrote and took notes about almost everything concerning this thesis. Sometimes it was just a phrase that came to my mind. I made a quick note somewhere, either in my log book or on a piece of paper. It helped in many ways.
It was supportive in putting together an application for funding from the German Historical Institute (GHI). Initially, it was difficult to get anything together in German; so far any academic writing has been in English. This needed to be precise and astute in its presentation. AND in German! It required a brief literature review pointing out gaps and what the thesis would contribute to the research. This was a relatively minor effort as this was one of the first things i undertook in the early stages anyway. It highlighted that there was an imbalance in research between England and Germany. This had to do with the academic neglect sports has experienced in Germany. Sports, and football in particular enjoyed great popularity but was looked down upon from any researcher taking him- or herself seriously. Thankfully, this has changed significantly. The part that was somewhat more difficult was a detailed action plan, i.e. what i intended to do with the support of the GHI and at what time. This was more predicting the future and required to divide the thesis and the research into smaller parts; this way the structure of the thesis developed and it stayed that way until i’ve changed it at the very end. For that, the report writing was helpful as it trained the mind to structure the research findings and thus improved the writing.
Mind you, most of my applications for funding were not successful and forced me to continue my research without much support from research bodies or even the Uni, except some minor amounts for short trips to London or Germany. However, the reports that i had to complete, the forms that were to be filled in were time consuming and at first i swore at the prospect of another piece of admin work awaiting me. In the long run it was one of the most helpful things that could have happened to me at the time. The purpose of a report or other paperwork is that there is a purpose: to get things rolling, to initiate or stimulate a thought process, to articulate a research project more clearly for others but more importantly for one self.
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