3 things I wish I knew before starting my EdD

I am currently sitting on the sofa with my youngest son fast asleep on my lap. I have just finished watching some videos by Ali Abdaal, which inspired me to think a bit more about why I started my EdD, and what my current self in year 4 of a 6 year programme would tell my start-of-EdD self. It has been a long run already, and it has most definitely not been an easy journey so far. Since starting my EdD my wife and I have had two children, I have taken on a number of additional volunteer roles, suffered some health and mental health setbacks, and lived through a global pandemic. If only my start-of-EdD self would have known (but then again, would I have started the EdD if I would have known all these things?). Anyway, without further ado, 3 things I wish I knew before starting my EdD.

1 Comfort zones will be demolished.

As a bioscientist, I am now researching the experiences of other people. These experiences are not expressed in numbers and analysed with clever statistics and algorithms. Instead, I am submerged in the murky world of qualitative research. Qualitative research comes with plenty of -ologies: ontology, methodology (which surprise surprise is not the same as methods), etc. This is still a relatively alien concepts, and at first I was confused as to why doing research needs to be made so complicated. But then I realised somewhere during my third year that although having some understanding of ologies is useful, it is much more important to be pragmatic, and to simply choose the best tool for the problem, rather than adapt the problem to the tool. Since realising this my identity as a grounded theorist has shifted from pure Glaserian Grounded Theory to a more pragmatic variant of Glaserian GT (if this sounds like gobbledygook then don’t worry, I thought the same three years ago!).

2 Sometimes it is better to take a break, even if you don’t really want to.

Taking breaks during doctoral studies is something that divides supervisors and students. For some, it is an absolute no-no, for others is it accepted practice. As a full-time academic doing a part time doctoral programme, I have always tried to treat my EdD as a part-time job, rather than as a course of study. I see my supervisors as my peers and mentors, and my doctoral work as just work. I therefore had no problems at all with taking two periods of paternity leave when my sons were born. I did with in my day job, so why would my EdD be any different? Luckily I have very supportive supervisors who encouraged me to take plenty of leave.

In late 2020 I was forced to take leave for a different reason. I was struggling with my mental health due to various reasons. It took me a long time to seek help, and once I finally did, I felt relieved, mostly. I had no issues adapting my day job to my new situation, but I did not take time off (retrospectively this was a bad idea… listen to your GP folks!). However, my EdD was a different story. I struggled to let go for a bit, and it took some straight talking from my supervisors to get me to apply for some leave. I will be forever grateful to them for this. To this date I still don’t understand why I struggled with this, but I am glad I took some time to look after myself. I am slowly getting back on track. I am always worried I am behind and that I may not complete in time, but hopefully that will get better over time too. The key thing I want you to take home from this is that it is OK to not be OK, and that it is OK to take time for self care. Your research will only benefit from it. An EdD (or PhD etc) is hard enough as it is, so don’t make it harder by muddling through. For more on this topic have a look at the great work Dr Zoë Ayres does here.

Burnout – emotional or physical exhaustion brought about by overwork or stress – ultimately leads to reduced productivity and output.

Dr Zoë J Ayres

3. Stretching your brain is fun.

I thoroughly enjoy my research. It is hard, difficult, frustrating and sometimes feels like it will never end. However, it is also lots of fun, and allows me to pursue my passions of evidence-based practice and open research practice. I am actively contributing to my field, and have met lots of interesting people that I otherwise would have never met. I help organise a regular early career grounded theorist colloquium, and have presented at seminars about and chaired panel discussions on a methodology I had never heard of 5 years ago. I am currently preparing an invited talk to some Canadian researchers focused on a novel contribution to grounded theory as a methodology, and have two manuscripts on the go. I have now made all my EdD research open and transparent where possible (link), and have coauthored a new platform for non-health related systematic review protocols. All this stuff came about mostly through my EdD, either directly, or through transferable skills I picked up that were useful for my day job.

So my last message is this: Enjoy your EdD journey. You (normally) only get to do this once, and there is so much out there that will benefit you. Engage with everything, and don’t be afraid to show your passion!

Poster presentation

On 26 July I will be presenting the following poster at the 12th Anglia Ruskin Annual Research Student Conference. Click on the poster to get a copy of the corresponding abstract. Alternatively, click here.

2018 PGR Conference Poster NV

Letting go of my comfortable bioscience identity


It has been a while since posting, and this post has been brewing in the back of my mind for a while.

I have now entered the second year of my EdD at Anglia Ruskin University. I have passed two of four assessed papers, and have been lucky enough to have the first one published and the second one accepted for publication pending minor revisions. I’m still not quite sure how that happened.

I have now reached the stage where I have to “properly” start thinking about my research, the methodology and methods I plan to use, and offer some sort of justification for them. This is immensely daunting, and I am still on a very steep learning curve when it comes to social science research, paradigms, ontologies, axiologies and all the other “-ologies” associated with qualitative research. It is scary to think I am supposed to go into stage 2 at the end of September…

On the drive to work yesterday, and again today, I was mulling this position over. It is an odd realisation that I am experiencing feelings of accomplishment in my bioscience “day-job” while at the same time feel like a complete impostor when it comes to my EdD. Someone will soon find out I don’t know what I am talking about, right..? How do I reconcile these feelings, and how do I make sure they stay balanced?

I have been thinking about ways of conquering these feelings of inadequacy, and last night I woke up with a light-bulb moment: perhaps it is time to let go of the comfort-blanket offered by my professional identity as a bioscientist, and create a new blanket instead. I am supposed to transition to becoming this hybrid bioscience-education management practictioner-researcher with feet comfortably in two fields. There will probably always be tensions between the two identities, but they should be able to co-exist and each be called upon when required. Creating the new blanket is the process of doing the EdD, and the actual finished product will be the completion of this project in a few year time. I am ok with this.

This timeline also means it is ok to be insecure and uncomfortable for a while. I have been lucky enough that I have landed in a very supportive cohort of EdD students, and have met some great academic staff that are willing and able to advise where necessary. Last but not least, there is the brilliant Twitter EdD community for support. There are some excellent bloggers and tweeters out there doing EdDs who are struggling with similar issues to mine, and together we will get there! #EdD #ARUEdD to the rescue!

Upwards and onwards. Time to start writing about my research approach. Time to get my head around Grounded Theory. Time to keep up with #AcWriMo.