My doctoral diary: the final year

About the author

Miriam Pelusi is an Italian ciitzen researching dialogue for her PhD at Leeds Beckett University.

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I believe that if you want to get a doctorate, you need to set your mind to it first, work hard and raise the level of your work day by day. The final year of a PhD is like running the last miles of a marathon: you are tired, but you need to keep up the hard work and boost morale.

By this stage, when the thesis submission deadline and the Viva are on sight, it is a matter of having a lot of willpower. In the last few months I shifted to a completion mindset: my focus needs to remain razor sharp to transform the thesis from a dynamic work in progress to a polished final document. The mental preparation for the Viva has started in the meantime, in terms of envisioning how I want to defend my work and work toward that goal.

There is a mixture of emotions in the final year. I have developed an emotional attachment to my thesis because it enthuses me but likewise there is thesis fatigue.

With a research project in public relations I have not only developed interpersonal skills in doing research, but also my intrapersonal intelligence. Getting to know myself as a researcher, identifying my research philosophy or worldview, has been an introspective journey in itself. I see a PhD as a tacit lesson in open-mindedness tempered with thorough analysis and methodological rigour. I loved all the stages of doing research, but the analysis is the quintessential moment for a researcher to make the work significant to some degree.

In ethnography the researcher is involved into an iterative process of data collection and analysis which is a process of discovery, sense-making, clarification aimed at getting robust answers to the research questions. I have improved my understanding of key concepts by identifying and exploring themes and sub-themes and by being aided by philosophical constructs. I have found moments of deep satisfaction in the process of data analysis and have taken pleasure in reaching epiphanies.

For me, the key learning has been to reflexively challenge my views on reflexivity.

From time to time, I take a step back to observe my reasoning and consider my assumptions or to question the decision-making. Initially, I was disheartened because working reflexively is difficult and I even thought that it was making me feel less confident because a reflexive researcher has to question how they do research. And yet with more guidance and practice I have improved my reflexive skills.

I now know that I could not do qualitative research without being reflexive, now I now see reflexivity as empowering for intellectual development and confidence building. It has helped me to have a sense of critical distance about my own knowledge production and research procedures as well as to find my own academic voice. Indeed, through reflexivity I was able to raise fundamental ethical issues about my positionality, ponder how my worldview influences my interpretation, question my approach to research, define better  research questions and decide how I wanted my experience and values to inform the piece of research. I have observed, and will continue to observe, the ways in which reflexivity can be used to shape the fieldworker’s thinking, emotions and research consciousness.

My point in the thesis is that there is an ethical reason for using reflexivity: it brings more transparency to the way the researcher conducts research. Working in a transparent way means that the research process, including its hidden aspects like the researcher’s reasoning, is traceable. In fact, I believe you see the researcher’s intelligence from the choices that they made throughout the research project.

It is through reflexivity that I started to be more conscious of my positionality regarding philosophy. My argument is that research cannot be separated by philosophy because doing research implies that the researcher takes a philosophical stance on their worldview and chooses a suitable research paradigm, and is mindful that this view influences data collection, analysis and discussion of findings.

My own interest in philosophy grew organically. I am intrigued by the ontological, epistemological and methodological aspects of research.

Although the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a philosophical degree by definition, unfortunately I have noticed that philosophy is becoming a side issue.

Miriam Pelusi

There seems to be less emphasis on philosophy despite its importance for the development of research conceptual skills. Philosophy is also important for the field of public relations.

Alongside subjects like management, the discipline of public relations needs to draw on philosophy, like epistemology, moral philosophy, and also social sciences disciplines such as sociology and anthropology. It became apparent that even management studies have a philosophical perspective.

Concepts like dialogue, which are key in public relations scholarship, derive from philosophy. However, my understanding of dialogue is also as an everyday concept. My approach to research dialogue is therefore to combine the sophistication of philosophical understanding with the everyday knowledge that I gained with ethnography. I study public relations from an anthropological perspective.

I am rare among PhD students and Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in studying an anthropology of public relations. I have adopted a European, socio-cultural approach to the study of public relations which enables researchers to acknowledge and explore the significance of public relations in the world we inhabit. Public relations anthropology is a niche field of inquiry, an applied social science discipline that draws upon anthropology to understand public relations. Anthropology helps understand the richness and complexity of human life within a specific micro culture or at an intersection of different cultures. There is not yet a handbook of public relations anthropology, but I am hoping one day there will be one and I would love to contribute to it.

Project management is a major challenge for PhD students and is linked to academic wellbeing, I find. Either you run the thesis, or the thesis runs you.

Managing and writing a doctoral thesis can be overwhelming mind-wise because it is an intense and complex project. Developing administration skills has been key for me as I deal with an ever-increasing number of references, large data sets, feedback from supervisors, records from my supervisory meetings, slides and notes from workshops and conferences, reports prepared for the Confirmation of Registration and the Annual Progression Meetings, and reports of my PhD presentations at seminars and congresses.

Only excellent organisation skills can beat that sense of overwhelm in managing so many items. Organisation is also key for writing, by which I mean mental order and clarity first of all. In a PhD you look at the structure at both macro level for the cohesion of chapters and their sections and at micro level for the construction of paragraphs and sentences; you look at the flow, and that you keep track of the focus of your research throughout the thesis. A major milestone of this final year has been to recently submit the first thesis draft to my supervisors, I tried to piece together the jigsaw of how the different parts of the thesis combine.

Yet writing a doctoral thesis in a second language has not been a daunting experience as I first thought.

Throughout my project I have had to develop different registers, from more formal academic writing to reflexive writing in the first person in my research diary or to report on the methodology, and colloquial English during fieldwork or in interviewing my research participants. On one hand, I now consider English to be my first language for my public relations studies, I can think directly in English when I write. On the other hand, to follow through on the fine detail of intellectual thought, I occasionally translate my work from English to Italian. Although first language interference is challenging to deal with, or even frustrating at times, I use my first language as supportive for comprehension and clarity of expression. A PhD is a journey of critical thinking, calm concentration and patient intellectual endeavour. These are qualities that I have naturally developed through second language acquisition. It is worth doing a PhD in a second language.

This article is by Miriam Pelusi. The AI image was generated using Bing Image Creator.