Reflections on my doctoral study: A midpoint review

By | March 31, 2022

Earlier this week, I submitted reports and work plans to the doctoral committee, a compulsory requirement – it is a Go/No Go stage where one’s progress on the journey to the PhD is evaluated from the perspective of viability and feasibility of my candidacy, as it stands now. If asked to prepare this work plan earlier, I doubt I would have positioned the empirical findings from my dissertation research in the manner I found myself doing so, when requested to craft the document within two weeks. This is not a bad thing when one finds oneself overly immersed in far too broad and wide ranging literatures and crystallizing thoughts towards clarity of purpose seems far away.

I had to develop tunnel vision in order to demarcate the bulls eye on the target, and it was time pressure that allowed me to do so. Now, I am very clear on what my goals are, having clearly defined them and the development path to reach them. After a very long time, it seems, I can see the future again. And can only underscore the fact that Damien’s Squiggle – shown below – best captures this process, albeit in a far longer time span than that usually allotted to commercial design projects. One can say that what I delivered to the doctoral committee were the concept notes for the manuscripts that comprise my compilation dissertation together with the introduction to provide clarity and focus for the journey between concept and design.

At first glance, it seems as though my entire doctoral research plan was completely transformed by the global pandemic and its systemic shock. Methodology for research design and implementation was deliberately changed in response to the pandemic related shocks and restrictions. Wholly new project plans, partners, and funding had to be established overnight. The acute and intense systemic shock transformed my research perspective in an influential manner. That is, I do not believe I would have been able to contribute at the same level – with the original research plan – as I am able to do so now.

For example, my motivation letter accompanying my application for PhD study emphasized the empirical context of my research – the informal economy prevalent in developing countries, such as Kenya in the East African Community, and my years of work in this environment for clients and partnering organizations. Back in 2019, I deemed this domain knowledge expertise as very relevant to my dissertation work, and emphasized this in my original work plan. Today, 2 years after the announcement of the global pandemic, as I complete my 3rd year of doctoral study, this has become almost irrelevant except to provide an example of expert knowledge reconfigured into boundary objects for knowledge delivery across socio-cognitive boundaries in an actionable manner.

I am not yet prepared to put my dissertation topic out here, at least not until the committee has completed its review. However, I can say that the seeds for reinventing and reincarnating Emerging Futures Lab are as embedded within its structure and data analysis plans as for the manuscripts and publications. This is why I returned to university in my 50s, knowing not where I needed to go or how I must change; only knowing that both journey and destination needed clarity and focus which this path has allowed me to research and discover. The design squiggle best reflects the evolution of my doctoral education.

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