Reflecting from the half way point – the PhD journey so far

Coming up to the half way point into my PhD so I thought it was a good time to write a reflective post about the journey so far. Writing this before my upgrade tomorrow. The upgrade is essentially a defense of your thesis so far with academics who have not supervised or even have any expertise in your field of study. Most UK PhD programs have this at either 12 months or 18 months. I produced the good quality drafts of the sections of my thesis that they wanted and I should be adequately able to defend my work so far. It should be interesting to receive feedback from other academics in the politics department.

Still a rather stressful experience, but I have some wonderful meme examples to hand if any of the academics ask anything about memes. Just the thought of explaining memes to senior academics does make me laugh. On reflection its funny how I got to this point.I have heard it said that PhD are never a straight forward process and looking back my PhD has changed so much since the beginning.

How has my research focus changed? 

When I applied for PhD funding I proposed researching into the impact of triggering events in newspaper coverage of climate change (I wrote my masters thesis focusing on one triggering event). A trigger event is just an event that causes large amounts of news coverage of climate change. For example you would expect coverage to increase for a Climate Change conference. Newspaper framing of climate change was originally what I started my PhD researching, but the PhD is not a straight forward journey.

Within the first few weeks my work shifted focus to public understanding of climate change and what impact information formats (newspapers, Television, and the Internet) had on a persons understanding. A major reason for this was that newspapers are pretty much the main focus of the vast majority of academics examining climate change communication. The Internet became a much more interesting area of study.

Image from: (How am I only finding this image now? I will be using this at the start of all my future talks on my research!)

Image from: (How am I only finding this image now? I will be using this at the start of all my future talks on my research!)

Within the first couple of months of my research the focus changed to just the Internet and the exploring the consequences that this has had to public understanding. As a result quite early on a lot of the starting literature I read was no longer within my area of interest. I still have a folder full of media framing articles from the first couple of months. However, I did fall into my area of research quite early on and it is still communication of climate change. Just a very different environment from Newspapers and engaging in a range of differing theories.

Even with the focus pinned down its still a bumpy road: 

With this focus my research slowly took shape. The focus meant that I engaged with a range of research from a variety of subjects. For example I found that researchers working in medical research had done interesting work into online communities thanks to the emergence of online patient support groups. I also engage with a lot of work in psychology research on the impact on the Internet. My first year was predominately reading and writing literature reviews. At the start I had a mind map of key areas of interest, but during the writing process its amazing how something that seemed important enough to read 10 articles on became one sentence in a literature review.

Through this long process of forming my literature reviews I did find key areas of interest such as memes, online communities, online political activism. This then informed my research design. My mixed method approach meant that I used focus groups to provide contextual information on how people engage with climate change information online. This analysis has meant that my research design for my experiments has changed again just after submitting everything for the required upgrade document, as my presumptions where challenged by my focus group findings.

I have greatly enjoyed my PhD so far. I have been lucky to have lots of opportunities to teach alongside my PhD, but that has meant balancing teaching responsibilities while also carrying out my research and taking breaks from my work to avoid burnout. Its not been a smooth ride, but I am happy where this has taken me and the research area is particularly interesting. Even if I sound totally mental to those around me when I talk about creepypasta (horror stories shared on the Internet) or popular Internet memes.

The final 18 months: 

Hopefully, the last 18 months will go smoothly. I still have a lot of work to do with the running of experiments in October. As well as having to worry about finding a post doc position/applying for grant funding and working on the draft academic articles for journal publication.

With a bit of luck the upgrade process will be a painless experience. One thing is for sure I am enjoying my PhD and it has been a wonderful experience.


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