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Monday, 18 January 2016

The Doctor Will See You Now

So, the primary reason why this blog has been a little 'tumble-weedy' for the last year or so has finally been finished. I submitted my PhD thesis in September and had my viva examination in November and have now printed, bound, and delivered the final copy to the University. After 5 years, I can finally fill my spare time with spurious 'stuff' again without the constant nagging guilt of not spending every waking moment writing. Or reading. Or thinking about writing or reading.

The final title is Disruptive Game Design: A Commercial Design and Development Methodology for Supporting Player Cognitive Engagement in Digital Games. Yes, a little long (as the printer reminded me as I paid for him to use two type blocks on the cover rather than one), but it gets the point across!

Here's the hard evidence! Click here for the PDF version.
This has been one of the toughest things I think I have ever done but I enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn't have got to this stage without the outstanding support of everyone else involved though: my supervisors, my family, and especially my wife and son. Thanks to everyone!


Some Simple Advice for Other PhD Students

I thought it might be handy to have a little reflection here about the process and specifically, about the viva. I turned to the internet to calm my nerves before the viva exam and reading other PhD students' experiences really helped, so let me try and give a little something back for future students too...

Firstly, if you are finding this early in your PhD career, some long-term advice: write. Write early, write often. I cannot stress enough how useful this process is for 'cleaning' your thoughts and words up before you try and turn them into anything even slightly resembling academic prose. I have over 60,000 words of 'removed stuff' in a separate document to the thesis plus a whole load of other documents scattered around my PhD folder structure. Every single one of these helped me, even if it didn't go in to the thesis or indeed, even if it didn't actually even relate to the thesis in the end. Writing helps you to organise and make sense of your own thoughts.

Secondly, again for early career PhDs, get the balance right. This is tough. I don't think I ever quite mastered this. My wife can probably recount every single time my writing guilt got the better of me and led to anything from a minor tiff to a full on, two-day argument. This is not a good place to be. It isn't good for you, the people around you, nor your work. Now, every person is different of course but, my suggestion is to work out what you will sacrifice in order to fulfill all of your responsibilities properly. A PhD requires sacrificing something in order to have the time to dedicate to the process. That something should not be family, although that is always easier said than done. If you work better in the morning, get up at 5 or 6 and work. If you're a night person, than dedicate that time when the rest of the world is asleep to get down to some serious writing. If you're just a 'daytime' person, give yourself large blocks of time to write in. An hour here and an hour there is no use - you need time to get 'in the zone' - this can take anything from a few minutes to half a day, depending on the circumstances.

On that note, take every little bit of progress as a positive step forward. I once spent a fortnight writing a paragraph. It was horrific. But, every day was a little bit of progress in understanding and in formulating my argument. Words can sometimes be slow, but the cognitive process going on in the background is important too and easy to overlook or to not consider as proper progress.

Lastly, on the topic of the viva, a few tips.

One: You cannot ever feel ready for the viva. You will almost certainly be ready for the viva though - your supervisor would not recommend that you submit the thesis otherwise (if they're doing their job properly). 

Two: Therefore, the best preparation you can do for the viva is to talk about your research. Know it like a second language. Be fluent in your core argument and the main supporting structures of your writing. This will give you confidence (you will still not feel prepared though, probably!)

Three: Know your examiners. This is an obvious tip but again it will build your confidence and your ability to answer viva questions in a way that your examiners will 'get'. 

Four: Use the online resources and communities available to you - reading other people's experiences reminds you that you are not the only one doing this herculean task. This is a good thing to remember for your sanity.

That's about it. I could go into more depth but I would only be repeating what many other places online have already said, probably more eloquently. Plus, I need to get on with writing this semester's lectures. 

Shut up - that is an entirely different form of writing guilt...

You can download an electronic version of my thesis here.

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