It’s hard, right? I think there’s a point in every PhD journey where you stop and go “wow, so … this is hard”. My most recent point came when I had to begin to analyse my data and really didn’t know where to begin. This isn’t because I didn’t know my subject (although the whispers of imposter syndrome always begin there…) but rather because it felt a little bit like I had a cake that I had to cut and all I had was a banana and a ladle. Torturous metaphors aside, this was – is – a question of tools and utilities. How does one cut the cake? Do you follow the patterns that other people have set (and if so which…) or do you slice transversally? haphazardly? Do you even slice the cake at all?
One of the things that helped me was looking at how other people have worked this. I thought Qualitative Text Analysis by Udo Kuckartz was immensely useful – not in the least, because it recognised how complex and messy this phase can be. It also recognised the kind of silence that exists about the step in this research. Analyse this! Yes, but how? What’s the way to cut the cake? And is it even a cake? Should I be scooping from the middle of it or putting more icing on top of it or what?
(I think the universe is telling me I need cake).
I also found Qualitative Data Analysis by Jamie Harding a very reassuring book, ditto: Interpreting Qualitative Data by David Silverman. There are of course others, but I think these worked for me because they reminded me of what I did know. I think that sometimes we forget the value of that for students – they are learning an immense amount of stuff at this point, and yet they already know a lot of stuff. The stuff that’s being learnt adds a new quality or dimension or texture to that which has come before. Everybody’s story – their personal journey, the things they’ve experienced or learnt or interacted with – influences their approach to that which is yet to come. Sometimes I think the PhD process can be a little bit like ‘well, you know nothing’ when in fact, it’s more of a ‘here’s how to look again at the stuff you do know’. Maybe. Sort of. And yet, here I am doubting even that assertion! Irony!
In between all of this, I have had my first book published. How To Be Brave came out in the US and UK this July, and it’s been very lovely seeing the girls find their feet in the world. How To Be True, a sequel featuring MYSTERIOUS THINGS I CANNOT YET TALK ABOUT BUT YOU WILL FIND A LITTLE CLUE AS TO THEIR CONTENTS IN THE BACK OF HOW TO BE BRAVE, is on its way and I am planning, plotting, dreaming the third book. It will be called How To Be ??? (the question marks are to indicate a kind of mysterious final word and not, as it might seem, a love of grammar). How To Be Brave has received lovely reviews from a lot of people including Kirkus and School Library Journal and I am so immensely grateful for that. How To Be True has been a lot of fun to put together and I can’t wait to tell you more about it.
And now, back to that data analysis. I am trying to pluck up courage to start formulating the chapter where I talk about it. Maybe writing this update will have helped. I think that sometimes writing is like that. You have to creep up on it and start before you’ve quite realised what you’ve done. When you’ve begun, the only option is to keep going. Let’s test that theory!