Introducing the Thesis 

Don’t be Boring

Good news: the Introduction is written.  Bad news? I know it’s already out of date –  but that’s okay!

20181212_174123I have already reflected on the difficulty of finishing a work.  But how about starting it?  In many ways that’s even harder.  Advice abounds on what to include or omit, the right length, the scene-setting.  What exactly am I introducing?  I had many doubts about whether I should have written it at all at this stage, especially as some advisors recommend leaving the introduction to the end.  I have no doubt that I will rewrite the chapter many times over.  But having a marker feels well worthwhile.  Some advice likens the Introduction as a ‘taster’ to make the reader want to read on. In that sense, the doctoral craft is little different from any piece of writing.  Don’t be boring!  I keep saying to myself.

Everyone tells you that reading is the easy, pleasurable part of a thesis and writing the difficult part.  How true.  Some academics write quickly and well; they have a gift which manifests itself in multiple journal articles and even books.  I am too much of a perfectionist really and although I write reasonably well, I spend too much time honing and refining.  But it is indeed the writing, and also presenting, of the thesis where the leaps in thinking occur.  I have got into better habits of writing regularly, even if it’s just a paragraph or two on what I have just been reading.  So writing that introductory chapter has been really important in clarifying my thinking and getting to a point where the rationale, scope, theoretical underpinning and objectives seem to hang together in a much more satisfactory way.

Putting myself into the thesis

What are the ethical implications of researching one’s own organisation, let alone one’s own field?  How will I manage to find sufficient distance from my subject matter, from people who I might know, from my knowledge base in professional practice?  In my heart of hearts, I am confident that I have the right perspective but I know that it’s something I’ll need to write into the thesis in depth and be prepared to address at Viva.

My practitioner identify is something which I also realised I would need to write into the Introduction itself.  So the rationale for a practitioner-academic in a doctoral thesis isn’t only about literature gaps, or researching problems in the professional field, but personal reasons surrounding career and life journey.  It is this that creates the passion and perseverance needed to sustain the project.

What’s the Bullseye?

The foundations of my thesis haven’t really changed but perhaps the best thing now, three years in (can it be that long?) is that I have been able to nail my focus – or ‘bullseye’ – ‘inclusive growth’.  After much mind mapping complete with the rainbow of pens; after endless doodles, notes and diagrams; after more reading (always more reading); and after a (regrettably somewhat incoherent and later retracted) draft transcript which I sent to my supervisors (well haven’t we all?!) –  I saw that ‘inclusive growth’ needed to be my bullseye.  The task to develop the introduction and literature review to the next stage still feels huge – but manageable.

Conferences Rule!


I have to credit the 2018 Public Administration Conference (PAC) in Northumbria University in September this year for getting me to the point of even producing my Introduction.  Conferences are brilliant for forcing some half-decent writing!  But these events also yield feedback from fellow academics and students, prompt reflection and usually result in some new reading sources.  PAC is an informal and friendly environment, offering excellent support to doctoral students – I recommend it highly for anyone researching in the very broad field of public admin.  It was also notable in introducing me to organisational ethnography.  Although I love observing and analysing group dialogues, I thought that I wouldn’t have nearly enough time and resources for this kind of endeavour.  It turns out that ‘ethno-lite’ may indeed be feasible.

This brings me to research methods – the elephant which lies straight ahead of me; the gateway to the intimidating business of data collection. I’ve never recorded an interview and the whole business feels pretty scary.  But before I forge ahead, I need to engage in some reflection of my doctoral year.

Next: Reflecting on the Academic-Practitioner Identity

A new life journey

Why Blog?

This blog is to help and inspire others who may be considering a life change like mine – to develop myself as an ‘academic practitioner’.

Why am I doing this doctorate, what is it like, how is it connecting with my professional life, and where is it taking me?  These and other questions exercise me all the time and reflecting on them is all part of the journey.

The blog isn’t meant to be a ‘how to’ guide for doctoral students. So it’s not about, for example, the mechanics of literature reviews – there’s plenty of material out there on that already.  But where relevant I will include my own tips for overcoming writer’s block, procrastination, reading and data overload, and all the other challenges which can affect the doctoral student.

Where am I now?

At the start of 2018 I am now two years into the course and about to embark on the Phase 2 doctoral thesis stage, with 25,000 words and a Professional Masters under my belt.   The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is a common pathway to a Professional Doctorate and the first stages are rather like an MBA in microcosym.  Once Masters is achieved after two years, it’s into the thesis stage which should be achieved in 2-3 years.

What is a Professional Doctorate?

But what is a Professional Doctorate?  Well, the ProfD is equivalent to a PhD but: it’s intended to be combined with work – therefore more rooted in professional practice; it’s more structured; involves more teaching and assessed assignments; and in this particular course, involves studying with a cohort of other scholars.  This last is a major attraction to many potential students – not least myself; I didn’t fancy the ‘loneliness of the long distance PhD student’ type scenario. The cohort learning approach is also of great research interest to universities because evidence indicates that the support of peers is nearly if not more important than the supervisory team.

Life changes from chance events

Why study for a Professional Doctorate?  At the stage I’d reached in my local government management career it was a pertinent question then in early 2015.  So often life changes emerge from chance events – in my case an informal conversation over a pre-conference dinner with an academic.  “I love doing research but not sure I want to be an academic” summarised my end whereupon he said quick as a flash, “what you want is a professional doctorate”.  What’s that?  Definitely my reaction –  as this route to a doctorate is still relatively unknown and unpractised – though growing steadily.  Some clueing up on the internet, a lot of thinking, and many conversations with husband, friends and my manager during 2015, and then – I was on my way to becoming a student third time round!

A chance too good to pass up

What I didn’t anticipate in early 2015 when the process began, was the seismic shifts that would affect my employer that year – severe budget cuts which resulted in encouragement to staff to take voluntary early release, enhanced packages, and the possibility of redundancies down the line.

Earlier reorganisation had already resulted in the break-up of my team and reduced my role to something akin to an internal consultant.  That creative and autonomous role was not without its benefits, I still loved the work, and was an expert in my field.  But, my head told me that a return to my previous managerial role was, realistically, just not going to happen.  It dawned on me that I could set up as a consultant, combine this with the part-time doctorate AND have more time for voluntary work and promoting causes I care about – in a freer environment; it seemed like a chance too good to pass up.

It wasn’t easy. I felt I was leaving my local government ‘family’, having worked there so long.  Moreover, being used to the security of employeeship, it also felt a little scary. But now, two years down the line, I am loving it and feel incredibly fulfilled, motivated and indeed privileged.

Top 6 reasons to study for a ProfD?

There are many reasons to study for a professional doctorate but if I had to settle on the top six for me, these would be my pick:

  1. Challenge and intellectual development
  2. Lending a sense of purpose and structure at a time of major life change
  3. Credibility in my professional and academic fields
  4. Leaving a legacy
  5. Developing new networks
  6. Broadening career options

What’s Next?

Presenting my research outline to peers and getting stuck into ever more reading, writing and data gathering – look out for future posts!

Lesley book.bench crop