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Reflections on Writing My PhD Dissertation
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- Reflections on Writing My PhD Dissertation by Michaiah Olaniyi — last modified 2006-01-30 16:23
- a. The preliminary stage: As I reflect over the years invested in doing this research work, I could simply say that every aspect of the study has taken me into different but challenging experiences. While parts of those experiences had been easygoing and exciting, others I have gone through with much difficulties and frustrations. The first challenge started towards the end of my MPhil programme with the task of coming up with an upgrade essay or proposal which included finding a researchable topic, identifying the problems and developing an appropriate research methodology. Over the years this foundation stage which has provided the blue print for the rest of the journey remained for me the most frightening but fascinating aspect. This is especially so because it forced me to rethink through the work and to follow the rules for rigorous, formal presentation of the arguments in such a way that brought major changes in the way I had initially planned to approach the study. b. Going into the field: Following my upgrade, I was invited by the Mission and Evangelism team of the WCC to attend a consultation on faith, health, healing and mission in Ghana. This consultation held from 5-8 December 2002 provided me the opportunity to proceed afterwards to Nigeria to commence my field work. I remained in Nigeria for three months and with the help of a research assistant travelled to various parts of the South-West (Yorubaland) administering questionnaire, and conducting interviews in various CAC Churches. Though often tiring because of the much travelling and much conversation involved, I found the field work to be a very interesting part of the research process. This was partly because I found the travelling fascinating and partly because I arrived home in December when the Church was having its annual General Council Meeting. Being a co-ordinator of one of the CAC Theological Colleges, and thus a participant at the 2002 Annual General Council Meeting, I found this to be a suitable opportunity to make the necessary initial contacts and to book appointments with those I had arranged to interview. On reflection, I found that it is most rewarding if the researcher already has a fairly good grasp of the subject area and is able to identify several research questions and hypotheses upon which he/she plans to design the research instrument. c. The writing task: In retrospect, the shaping of my thesis was a slow (and sometimes frustrating) process, but I was always encouraged by the people around me, particularly fellow postgraduates. Indeed, I found that it was important to have time to think alone and work alone, but also to have time to share thoughts and develop ideas with other people. It is not uncommon to feel that the PhD thesis is an insurmountable task that will never end. From my experience the key to completing such a big project is perseverance, hard work, good time management and prayer. In addition I realised the importance of keeping the main thesis and research questions in focus when writing the different chapters. This has helped me to avoid getting sidetracked. For most PhD project in theology at the University of Birmingham the tendency now is for students to blend their literature review into the main body of the thesis, rather than have separate section, so as to avoid repetition. I did this with the help of my supervisor by including a brief literature review in chapter 1 to set the work in context, identify the gap, and thus show how the study attempts to fill a void in that area of African theology. I also included literature reviews during the discussions of the main theoretical framework in chapter two and expanded this in latter chapters. During the writing process, I often encountered the difficulty of depending too much on other authorities rather than my own primary materials or ideas. The advice was that I should be careful to organise my materials in such a way that will allow much of my original data to stand relatively free, and to use secondary sources to support my arguments. Although putting this to practice was not always easy, I became conscious that unless this is done one may end up proving other peoples work rather than one’s own thesis. Having said this, it is important to consider the criterion of 'originality' in PhD research. There are various ways in which one can make 'an original contribution to knowledge' - such as by developing new theories, challenging or re-interpreting existing theories, or applying existing theories to new areas of knowledge. Generally my thesis tends towards the second approach, but invariably I found that during the writing process, some new thought also emerged. Looking back at my initial proposal, I am aware of the extent of improvement in my ability to do serious academic research. During the process of writing I have had to revise my thesis outline, and on occasions adjusted my statements of problem and research questions. This, no doubt came as a result of interaction with other peoples works, analysing data, and preparing several drafts of my thesis chapters. d. The final journey: Once I finished writing the thesis, I found it necessary to consider the final shape for submission. The Universities has detailed policy and procedures on thesis presentation which needs to be carefully studied and applied. Many practical decisions such as the standard of word processing expected, the preferred size and type of font, margins, the way of presenting photographs, how to cope with illustrative materials, binding specifications and procedures etc. needs to be considered as soon as the complete thesis is put together. Unless one is aware of these practical issues, it may be impossible to have the work done in the fashion required by the University. Because my time was running out, I found that this final journey took longer than I expected, partly due to the fact that I needed enough time to get the proof-reading done and also because I spent much time searching for missing footnotes and compiling my references. On the whole, the thesis has been submitted and I look forward to the viva which is the final hurdle at the end of a long and winding road. I am aware that the journey is not over until it is over. Further preparation involves returning to the thesis, making notes, careful reading and re-reading to get the details right.
- Research Project: Aladura Christianity by Michaiah Olaniyi — last modified 2006-06-27 00:39
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