How NOT to write a masters dissertation.


How NOT to write a masters dissertation in 10 easy steps.

You have 15 months to complete your masters. Your goal is to write a 20, 000 word masters dissertation which in this case is a desk based dissertation. A literature review with systematic methodology.

Loadsa time….

Step 1

  •  15 months to go.
  • Spend the first 3months googling, reading about research methods, reading about homophobia in schools.
  • Decide you want to focus on improving teacher confidence in challenging homophobia.
  • Realise there is very little research evidence supporting teachers with strategies in how to improve their confidence with challenging homophobia.
  • Take a step back and refine question to exploring the evidence base to support schools and teachers to challenge homophobia.
  • Plot out a month by month timetable.
  • Decide that actually you will be able to submit in Aug (11months instead of 15months)

Step 2

  • 12months to go.
  • Spend next 2 months doing your pilot literature searches.
  • Download over 500 “relevant articles”, 437 linked policy practice docs,  buy 10 relevant books, borrow 40 books from library.
  • Write chapters 1-3.
  • Create the most incredible policy timeline from 2000-2013 that takes days and days to compile.
  • Refine month by month timetable.
  • Realise making the August deadline is optimistic so have two versions of the timetable. August 2013 versus Jan 2014

Step 3

  • 9 Months to go.
  • Panic that you are now half way through and have only written chapters 1-3.
  • Next two months Rewrite chapters 1-3   (As once perfect you feel you can move on.)
  • Realise you are going far to wide and need to focus on research evidence not grey lit or books, despite having spent weeks reading and annotating such docs.
  • Refine question further to: refine databases and inclusion exclusion criteria.
  • Get a new job. Realise that alongside completing this masters means an August deadline is laughable.
  • Rewrite month by month timetable.

Step 4

  • 7 months to go.
  • Over next two months, gather your research articles ready and start to analyse them.
  • Spend weeks making tables and cross referencing.
  • Tutor points out you haven’t started the analysis chapters yet and need to start.
  • Rewrite chapters 1-3.
  • Print calendar.
  • Write week by week plan.

Step 4

  • 5months to go.
  • Decide entire methodology was flawed as articles in dataset are rubbish and annoying and different search terms or inclusion critieria might have got better results. try and write the analysis chapters.
  • Ignore chapters 1-3.
  • Cry a lot.
  • Get in a big befuddle trying to synthesise the evidence.
  • Cry a lot more.
  • Swear you will never ever ever do a PhD and inform everyone that if you ever to suggest they must beat sense into you.
  • shout about #academicwankery on twitter.
  • Invent the concept of Procractivsim procrastination from something by activsm in same.
  • Fail to stick to week by week plan.
  • Each week rewrite week by week plan to adjust for the bits you failed to achieve in previous week.
  • Cry even more. An embarrassing amount on your tutor.

Step 5

  • 2 months to go.
  • Things start to fall into place (Finally)
  • Resolve to just go with it and do the best you can with what you have.
  • Wish you had more time as you know what you are doing now, but there isn’t time to start over.
  • Draw lots of very pretty diagrams.
  • Realise many of your documented rants and appendices including the Policy timeline, SRE guidance rants, and Pilot review protocol need to be culled. It hurts a lot you cut weeks and weeks of work out from the masters. So you add such usefulness to your blog for posterity instead.
  • Week by week plan is now a daily plan.

Step 6

  • 1 month to go.
  • Eat live breathe the masters.
  • Realise you have turned into an #academicwanker as you now confidently use terms like paradigm and praxis heteronormativity, hegemony.
  • Ponder when you might enrol on your doctorate (!)
  • Rewrite chapters 1-3.
  • Have hourly plans for what you will achieve in a day.
  • Generally only achieve half of targets.
  • Resolve to aim sights lower.

Step 7

  • 3 weeks to go.
  • realise that in hindsight you might have spent a bit long on chapters 1-3.
  • Realise as a result the analysis chapters (where most of the marks are) are a bit crap as a result.
  • Write a day by day hour by hour plan to correct this.

Step 8

  • 2 weeks to go.
  • Resolve to sort out analysis chapters.
  • Realise your “spare stuff maybe useful document” of words cut out of your masters is currently 22k words meaning you have written and cut out more words than you are going to submit.
  • Tutor points out you have basically done a PhD’s worth of work on this masters. something friends and family have been pointing out for a while.
  • Get a last minute reprieve as masters deadline moved from 2nd Jan (evilly mean to 8th jan).
  • Realise this reprieve messes up your beautful timetable…..

Step 9

  • (now 3 weeks to go with extra 6 days reprieve)
  • type type type type like the wind.
  • Cull all appendices.
  • Sort out the analysis.
  • Craft the hardest document you have ever written but also something you are most proud of in the world.
  • Give up on writing timetables and targets you consistently fail to stick to.

Step 10.

  • Days before hand in day.
  • Print
  • Print pretty colour diagrams over at your neighbours (Thanks Jo! x) and insert in.
  • Bind at home with the hand binder you borrowed from a pals school (Thanks Sally! x).
  • Swear a lot at how long the printing and binding of TWO copies is taking.
  • Hand it in. The masters baby is born.

(With hindsight. If I were to do it all again. “Stop faffing start writing and don’t write too much” would be my mantra! Also Chapters 1-3 definitely did not deserve so much time! oh and my diagrams might be pretty with rainbows and pink triangles but they don’t look very academic (stern and greyscale) ooops)

The concept of Procractivism (& Meta-Procractivism)


In August I coined the phrase “procractivism”  which is a combination of procrastination and activism.

(in this case procrastination from writing masters into homophobia in schools and activism into challenging homophobia in schools!)

The phrase arose during the completion of the masters in August 2013 when I had a significant role in exposing Sex and Relationships Education Policies that had language harking back to Section 28 alongside the British Humanist Association and other twitter activists. Despite the repeal of section 28 in the UK in 2003, more than 45 schools schools were identified as having Sex and Relationship Education policies that banned the “promotion of homosexuality

Days later I also exposed the DfE’s deliberate erasure of gender Identity from equalities statement in the Feb 2013 draft to the latest draft of the document. This lead to the DfE having a swift turnaround and putting it back in . Had it not been for this masters I would not have been eagle eyed enough to spot this omission, and thanks to the wonders of social media and my ace followers we were able to kick up sufficient stink to get the government to make the U-Turn. Of everything I ever achieved in my life this is in the top ten! I’m so proud!

I am now at the stage of writing my reflective chapter on the masters and talking about procractivism, but um somehow I now find myself on my blog sharing the concept of procractivism and how awesome it can be.

Seriously give it a go. Procrastination can make you achieve things you never thought possible- and heck you might as well use this as a force for good.

This blog post being an example of Meta-procractivism right!?

Ahem. *gets back to work, 42days to go…..*

 

 

 

 

A timeline of legislation, guidance & policy relating to challenging homophobia in schools since 1999


Today is 10 years to the day since Section 28 was repealed.

I made this huge timeline below because I wanted to track some of the key drivers for teachers and schools in challenging Homophobia since 1999 (to capture 2000 when SRE guidance was launched and is still in force to date despite mentioning “It it not about promotion of sexual orientation- that would be inappropriate teaching”.)  I decided to publish it for reference for others.

With thanks to John Lloyd for his helpful feedback and phenomenal knowledge on aspects of this timeline!
timeline A

The second part of the timeline goes into much more detail from 2009 to current date. Apologies that this second image is stupidly tiny, but if you click on it twice it should enlarge enough to be legible. There have been serious formatting headaches with the tables in the document from word into wordpress and had to convert to an image file which hasn’t really worked either! SorryTimeline image

References

 

DCFS (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (2007) Safe to Learn- homophobic bullying. Crown Copyright. ISBN 978-1-84775-029-7

DCFS (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (2007) Bullying around racism, religion and culture, Crown Copyright.

DCFS (Department for Children,Schools and Families) (2000) Safe to Learn-Sexist, Sexual and Transphobic bullying. Crown Copyright).

DfE (Department for Education) (2012) Preventing and tackling bullying Advice for head teachers, staff and governing bodies. Crown Copyright.

DfE (Department for Education) (2013) Consultation on PSHE Education Summary Report. Available from http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/p/pshe%20cons%20report.pdf [Last accessed 30/6/13]

DfE (Department for Education)   (2013?) The national curriculum in England Framework document –February 2013 Available from https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/National%20Curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document%20(2).docx [Last accessed 30/ 8/13]

DfE  (Department for Education)  (2013?) The national curriculum in England Framework document –July 2013 Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210969/NC_framework_document_-_FINAL.pdf [Last accessed 30/ 8/13]

DfE (Department for Education)   (2013?) Personal, Social and Economic Education Available from http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/b00223087/pshe [Last Accessed 11/11/13]

DFEE Guidance (Department for Education and Employment)  (2000) Curriculum and Standards. Sex and relationships education Crown copyright. Available from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DfES-0116-2000%20SRE.pdf [Last accessed 27/ 7/ 13]

DH Department for Health (2013) A Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England.Crown Copyright.

FAE, J. (2013a) Return of Section 28: Why some UK schools have banned ‘promoting’ gay issues. Gay Star News. 19.08.13. Available from  http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/return-section-28-why-some-uk-schools-have-banned-%E2%80%98promoting%E2%80%99-gay-issues190813 [Accessed 20/8/13]

FAE, J. (2013b) UK government removes protection for trans children in school 21.08.13 Available from http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/uk-government-removes-protection-trans-children-school210813 [Accessed 21/8/13]

FAE, J. (2013c) UK government: Protections for trans school kids were removed in ‘error’. Gay Star News. 22.08.13 Available from http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/uk-government-protections-trans-school-kids-were-removed-error220813 [Accessed 20/8/13]

GTC (2004) Code of conduct for Teachers http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8257/3/conduct_code_practice_for_teachers.pdf Last accessed 30/6/13]

HANNAH, A. and DOUGLAS-SCOTT, S. (2008) Challenging homophobia: Equality, diversity, inclusion. London: The FPA.

HOYLE, A. (2013d) “Dear Schools (Academies?) Having “SECTION 28″ in Your School Sex Ed Policy Is NOT Acceptable.” Web log post. SexEdUKation. WordPress, 17 Aug. 2013. Available from https://sexedukation.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/dear-schools-academies-having-section-28-in-your-school-policy-is-not-acceptable/ [Last accessed 17/8/13]

HOYLE, A. (2013e) “Promotion of Homosexuality” vs. “Promotion of Sexual Orientation” – Section 28 actually never went away. Web log post. SexEdUKation. WordPress, 17 Aug. 2013. Available from https://sexedukation.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/promotion-of-homosexuality-vs-promotion-of-sexual-orientation/ [Last accessed 31/8/13]

JENNETT, M. (2004)  Stand up for us – Challenging Homophobia in schools. National Healthy School Standard. Department of Health, Department for Education and skills. ISBN 1-84279-200-8

OFSTED (2010) Personal, social, health and economic education in schools. Available from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/personal-social-health-and-economic-education-schools [Accessed 13/12/13]

OFSTED (2012) No Place for Bullying. Available from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/no-place-for-bullying [Accessed 13/12/13]

OFSTED Framework for school inspection (2013a) Available from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/framework-for-school-inspection [Accessed 13/12/13]

OFSTED (2013b) Inspection Documents Archive Available from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/maintained-schools-inspection-documents-archive[Accessed 13/12/13]

OFSTED (2013) Not Yet Good Enough, Personal, social, health and economic education in schools. Available from http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/not-yet-good-enough-personal-social-health-and-economic-education-schools [Accessed 13/12/13]

Sex Education Forum (2011) The Current Status of Sex and Relationships Education. Available from http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/385195/current_status_of_sre.pdf [Last accessed 30/6/13]

STONEWALL Hunt, R., & Jensen, J. (2007).  The School Report: The Experiences of Young Gay People in Britain’s School. Stonewall. Available from http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school/education_for_all/quick_links/education_resources/4004.asp [Accessed 1/3/13]

STONEWALL Guasp, A. (2009). The teachers’ report: Homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools. London: Stonewall. Available from http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school/education_for_all/quick_links/education_resources/4003.asp [Accessed 1/3/13]

Stonewall Guasp. A. (2012) The School Report: The experiences of Young
Gay People in Britain’s schools in 2012. London, Available from http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school/education_resources/7957.asp [Accessed 1/3/13]

 

 

 

Reflecting on evidence based education during this masters journey.


Working on my reflection chapter for my masters but there isn’t space to put all the thoughts I wanted to so I wanted to explore some of them further here. The added bonus being my blog is an academic jargon free space (I hope although I might have mentioned hegemony once…) and I find it much easier to organise my thoughts in this fashion than backing up my points with pesky academic evidence! Ahem!).

Evidence based education is a big buzzword at the minute but it is a notion I have had to really grapple with during the course of this masters.

My starting point embarking on this Masters was as a “scientist” – I have A-levels in Biology and Chemistry, an honours degree in Zoology and a PGCE in Science (Biology), so I have the qualifications to justify this as an “identity”. However somehow I have never been challenged to question the theories underpinning the acquisition and advancement of scientific knowledge until this masters degree. That is not to say I took scientific knowledge at face value, I know how to critique scientific methods, but I had never been exposed to social science research methodologies before such as ethnography and at first to be quite honest I didn’t quite know what to make of them (*scratches head*).

Being a “scientist” I thought I needed randomised control trials and meta analyses to justify an evidence based approach in education as well as the sciences. However I am also aware of this approach not necessarily being useful for Sex & Relationships Education. For example the SHARE project (an RCT of Sex and Relationships Education) which found no impact on age of first intercourse, levels of sexual activity, or condom or contraceptive use, between enhanced SRE program (SHARE) and standard programs. However in comparison with conventional sex education, SHARE was evaluated more highly by both pupils and teachers, it increased practical sexual health knowledge, and it slightly improved the quality of sexual relationships, primarily through reduced regret. Some have interpreted SHARE results to mean that SRE doesn’t work and therefore should not be taught. Not an interpretation I share obviously and my rants on about value added and behavior change in SRE are beyond the scope of the post!) but I’m very wary of RCT’s for evidence based education, as they are often narrow in scope and conclusions risk dismissing some incredibly positive interventions just because they didn’t get the “right” results in an RCT. I’ve come to realise that adopting a “positivist” position for Sex & Relationships Education is flawed because humans operate in open conditions, we cannot control the variables, and if our intervention is still a positive one (like SHARE was), is it fair to deprive a control group of it?

I also became worried about how evidence is  interpreted both in the formation of conclusions and developing evidence based policy. For example interpretations of the quote “homosexuality exists in 1500 species, homophobia exists in just one”.   The Zoologist in me has to point out whilst we can categorise animals and humans by their behaviours to be “homosexual” or “homophobic” these categorisations maybe subjective and may differ between researchers.  Some researchers have stated that the observed “homosexual behaviour” in certain animals is a way of asserting sexual dominance. i.e. “ same sex rape or violence” whereas others have stated “animals solve conflict by same gender sex”, these interpretations caused me to ponder if the researchers own positionings around their own feelings around homosexuality and homophobia affect their interpretation of results.

I also have concerns about how evidence is interpreted  to adopt “evidence based policy”. For example hypothetically the evidence might state “adopting a zero tolerance approach to homophobic language is the most effective in reducing homophobia”. This might be interpreted as adoption such a zero tolerance policy immediately without engaging in a dialogue with the school community about why homophobic language is unacceptable.  This could then set up confrontations with stakeholders on their core values and beliefs, where confrontation creates a block, anger, resentment and no possibility for understanding and positive change. Therefore the zero tolerance strategy fails because people are still homophobic just silenced about it. In my experience the dialogue before adopting a zero tolerance policy is the most crucial aspect of the work.  Getting young people to understand why using gay as a pejorative is unacceptable is an incredibly powerful tool in fighting homophobia. At my own school we found once the young people understood they were policing their own language and challenging each other.   Therefore nuances such as “engage in dialogue THEN adopt a zero tolerance policy”, could be missed by sumarising the evidence into “best practice evidence points”.

Also I am not convinced by researcher “ethics”. I think the desire to get work published, finished, or shared can mean sometimes corners are cut, data is manipulated, evidence is tweaked and no-body admits to it. I know the data in my undergraduate dissertation on waterflea parasites (where I had to dissect over 1000 waterflea guts and examine them under the microscope) was probably not erm as academically robust as it should have been and I don’t think I would be a lone example. Ben Goldacre is clear on that in his Bad Science book. So why should we trust evidence when the people creating and interpreting it often have dubious morals!

I think I have come to the conclusion that objectivity doesn’t truly exist in science or social science, particularly when dealing with humans. Whilst initially I was incredibly skeptical about performance ethnography, or other less than “scientific” methods used in the social sciences, I have come to realise that actually some of the most interesting rich evidence lies in the lived experience of individuals, that defies distillation into a meta-analysis or a plot point on a graph.

*takes off my scientist hat*

During my research into homophobia in schools I have tried to synthesise a very diverse dataset to capture the emergent themes that schools and teachers need to consider when challenging homophobia. What has been most interesting about this process for me is that:

a) the diverse evidence is actually synthesisable (although at times the process has left me weeping!)- the themes are replicated across the dataset, admittedly through my subjective interpretive lens but there are commanlities therefore the weight of evidence leans towards some successful evidence based strategies schools and teachers can use (with all the above caveats about evidence based education!)

b) The three years I spent challenging homophobia in my previous school, without a shred of evidence to go on but a gut feeling of strategies to try and develop, was not wasted! Virtually everything I did and experienced within that three years has emerged as a theme from my research! (admittedly this could entirely be because my research is a subjective piece of rubbish, and I sort of wish I had chosen a topic that I wasn’t quite so deeply engaged with – ahem!) but even if no-one else believes me, my lived experience as a practitioner has been validated post hoc by the evidence! Which cheers me greatly! Practitioners RULE!

In conclusion having been quite pro “evidence based education”, I am now sat very firmly on the fence about “evidence based education” as I can’t see how it can ever be objective and free from bias. I can see it provides benefits for justifying positions (after all I want to present this research as an “evidence base” for challenging homophobia in schools) but I think potentially it is too subject to biased interpretation that could lead to unintentional negative effects, and I think we need to think much more carefully about our notions of evidence based policy and practice before we try and adopt such strategies as standard.

What do you think?

The language of oppression- schizophrenia should not be used as an adjective for “split or conflicting”


As part of my masters I am trying to write about the language of oppression. I’m exploring the use of “Gay” as a synonym for rubbish being perceived as “not homophobic” by many because “language evolves”, ignoring the effect the use of such language may have on people who are LGBT.

During my masters research I found that De Palma & Atkinson (2010) p1670 chose to use the phrase “conceptual schizophrenia” to describe situations where there are inconsistencies in the legislation so that on the one hand they support people who are LGBT on the other hand they support homophobia. My wider reading also found Renold & Ringrose (2011) using the phrase “Schizoid subjectivities” to describe how girls negotiate discourses of knowingness and innocence. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples in academic and other literature, I don’t mean to single these two out other than they are two recent academic examples I have come across, I also have seen it lately used in a few blogposts or newspaper articles too.

Using schizophrenia as an adjective for something that is split or “or characterized by the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic elements.” (as one of the dictionary definitions is) only serves to oppress another group of people, those with schizophrenia. It serves to reinforce notions of split or antagonistic elements or the idea that schizophrenics have split personalities etc. It is harmful, unthinking and upsetting particularly when such things are written by people actively engaged in challenging other forms of oppression. Yes there maybe another dictionary definition that isn’t about “people” just like there is for “Gay” but that doesn’t make it okay to use it as an adjective to describe anything other than the person with that identity (and that you mean it as a descriptor not pejoratively!)

I’m mindful that this is written due to my own lived experience as a sibling of someone who is and always will be schizophrenic, and the stigma/misunderstandings that they/we have faced as a result of that. However I would argue that it is not so hard to try and think about the language you use and how it might affect groups of people you may only have very limited experience of. There are loads of other combinations of clever sounding academic words that could be used instead, juxtaposition, dicotomy, discord, conflicting,  non-concordance etc. which could be used to make your point equally well and make you sound just as clever.  All it takes is a little thought and care about the language you use and a willingness to think and change if you get it wrong (like I did when I initially spoke about “tolerance” of people who are LGBT).

Just some food for thought.

Happy Educating.