Freestyle – using any swimming style or method in a competition.
This post is dedicated to my incredible friend Gemma Dorer, the best swimmer I know. Your continued enthusiasm for my studies means everything; thank you.
It’s 2020. With a good wind and plain sailing in 9 months’ time I will submit my PhD. I hope so, because I’m running out of swimming/sea related metaphors. I expect you are sick of them too.
I’ve been wondering what to write in this blog, because all of the others have had a very clear purpose. Mostly it’s been me speaking out loud to whoever is bored enough to listen about what my PhD journey has consisted of. From research plans to ethics panels, attending conferences and struggling with methodology. To getting so much spectacularly wrong yet never being happier. What it feels like to teach, present, get published, and how lonely and frustrating it can seem when you just can’t dig your way out of a writing hole. Looking behind me it’s hard to believe that I’ve done so much, when I just hoped I could hold it together, on the surface at least. Never have I appreciated more the support of friends and family, and have so much respect for the students I have been lucky enough to teach. I have a thank you list so long I’ll need to write an extra long dedication at the front of my PhD. Not for the first time am I thinking about Kristin and Gemma when I say this.
So here’s a mini update, because even though things feel quite calm at the moment, it won’t be like that for long, and suddenly it will be July and my son will be off school, and I’ll be having a meltdown about the amount I still have to do. There is no getting away from the sheer slog ahead as this final year progresses. As liberating as free styling is, there’s no escaping the coal face, or as my friend Kristin calls it, writing jail.
My last post talked about how excited I was to start writing the first draft of my findings chapter, and this is what I have been doing since October (as well as teaching, conferencing, and co-authoring a book chapter). I am so incredibly lucky to have the amount of data that I have (around 100,000 words), but it’s been a bittersweet task working out exactly what I want to include. Because you can’t include it all (that’s what all the constant shifting through the data and the coding/analysis stage is for), though of course you want to. But what I was able to do was make a start at getting the words into one place, and making what Braun and Clarke call ‘theme piles’, finding a structure for the chapter and working out the key themes. Giving it a wobbly, fuzzy body.
Listening back to the voices of the people I spoke with I was reminded of how important and necessary it is to centre their voices. I still find it very emotional to hear some of their stories, but often for unexpected reasons. The joy expressed by many when talking about participation in sport is incredibly moving. The importance of community and teammates and the sheer pleasure of just moving one’s body. Of occupying a space with carefree abandon. Stories common for everybody, yes, but especially for trans and non-binary folk who often need to negotiate bodies, spaces and communities differently. These are the stories which need to be shouted about when we talk about participation, as well as the topics of inclusion, and barriers.
In many ways this chapter has written itself, and being able to freestyle along with it has been exhilarating. But like all of life’s pleasures, you have to work before you can party. Feedback on my chapter was fair and solid – it’s as good a start as any when it’s 25,000 words long, most of which is data – but there is much to be done. I need to go back to my analysis and explain it more clearly. I need to think carefully about why I’ve chosen to write about a particular thing. As always, does it answer the research question? In my enthusiasm for getting going on this chapter I have discovered that I haven’t actually written a proper account of my data coding and analysis processes – and this explanation is key if I want to justify my choice of themes. So back to reading and filling in the gaps. I need to dismantle the little wobbly, fuzzy body and sharpen it up. My methods chapter needs a spring clean.
I also realised whilst writing the findings chapter some of the theory I’m using isn’t quite cutting it, so I need to rethink my literature review. A year ago, that sentence would make me cry, because of the work involved, not to mention the intellectual stretch. At this stage I feel excited that I spotted it, and that I can do something about it, and that it’s going to make things so much clearer – more spring cleaning. Who knows, maybe I’ll even finally understand what epistemology and ontology are.
As always, a tip. I have always found looking at other people’s PhD’s as road maps really helpful. Even a contents page can reveal the order you were looking for when trying to structure your own chapters. So, use the resources you have, and look for clues, to help make the fuzzy clear.
I’ll be back in May with an update on the first full draft, as well as what it feels like to co-author a book chapter with your supervisors.