Thesis Writing: A Big Learning Opportunity
“Thesis” this word always had been a matter of mystery for me since I started master level because every senior I talked
said that the toughest part of the study was thesis writing. They shared their success, failure, complexities and challenges they faced in terms of writing a thesis. When I approached that level, I was at a loss because I could not find myself more confident. However, I have always been prepared and concerned about this matter and became curious from very beginning. More, I often remembered my sister who used to share her experiences of writing a master thesis and energized me as thesis is ‘something especial’ which requires a lot of patience and handwork. Before approaching this level, I might not be more serious about this matter meanwhile a kind of feeling came in my mind like, oh my god, “it is a tough writing”. Keeping those things in mind, I prepared for it .As a result, I reached at its final result. During this journey of writing a thesis I experienced most suffering and stressful time, I feel like that a woman suffered during in labour pain. It was in the sense that I had no option escaping from it because I spent about a year for preparing this thesis and face several problems, challenges, dilemmas and fear since the early days of preparing proposal to facing thesis viva. These several painful moments during the process however made me strong and leads towards its successful completion.
Early Preparation for Conducting Research
I could visualize my classmates and found the same inherent problem like me in terms of writing a master thesis. At that time our concern was on thesis ‘topic’. Though initially, I have no idea about thesis writing, yes! Of course, I have a desire to carryout out research quite differently than other (to be honest, till that time, I had no vision to carry out the research on totally new area and design, I don’t know why but it can from my inner heart my …..).Therefore, I have always been concerned about this matter with little knowledge about thesis writing since the very beginning of master level. Times flies very fast eventually, I approached to the first rehearsal stage of preparing research proposal for the partial fulfillment of assignment of research methodology subject. For preparing this proposal, like other friends of mine, I visited CRC and read out some theses and prepared proposal without knowing the real essence of writing well proposal. Actually, it was in third semester, without having proper knowledge on it I submitted to the Department. I was curious to know the feedback of my work. It is all because I was thinking that this work would be helpful for my further process of thesis writing. On the contrary, it did not happen to me. I neither got feedback from my teacher (initially he promised to return back with feedback) nor he returned checked copy. Feeling little depressed, immediately, after the completion of this project, I went to one of my senior teacher of our faculty and expressed my research interest. I shared my interest on doing research in new topic. Then, he advised me as, “sounds interesting! I wonder if you find the literature of that topic in our own ELT context.” He further added that he however might not be sure either I can …. Being confused, I remained silent because I had no more option instead of quitting it .Thus, I just quitted it and thinking on doing research in quite easier topic than earlier. Eventually, I appeared final exam and worried thinking about thesis topic. After the completion of exam, I immediately visited CRC and brought some theses and decided to carry out survey design research as others.
The Moment Somewhat I understood Area and Topic
The Department of English Education published the notice of thesis supervisor. I saw my name under the supervision of respected guru Dr. Prem Bahadur Phyak. I heard his name and his contribution in English language teaching. But, before that time, I had no formal visit to him. Some days later, he called a first meeting for a discussion. On that particular day, we gathered and discussed on general matters. My friends were sharing their ideas one by one after introducing themselves. When my turn came, I was really confused whether I could tell. Feeling little comforted I tried, but it went difficult for me to speak over there because before that time I never became serious about “area” and “topic”. Though I became nervous, I successed to speak something about topics, I brought. Meanwhile, he understood my intention, made me feel comforted. After discussing with him, somewhat I understood and got little idea on area and topic. I knew the area ‘gender’ but became confused how to carry out the research on it. I returned back home and laid down restlessly continuously thinking on it. But the question “how to carry” had drawn my attention. After a long debate within, I decided to do it and immediately requested to my supervisor for providing some materials related to gender. He immediately sent me a pile of reviewed works. Next day, I downloaded and printed out all, I had. Then, I started to read. I read and underlined the words which I considered most important. I read each article several times but became tired and frustrated when I understood nothing. However, I kept on reading.
Gradually, we were called for second and third meeting for a discussion. In those productive meeting, I learnt many things but felt little uneasy because I was still in dilemma and not sure how to start and what to do later? Meanwhile, I saw some of my friends were confidently sharing their ideas .On the other hand, I found some of them were in dilemma (still) like me. Although I was in dilemma, I observed them and I felt little comforted. But till that time, I could not dare to speak. To be frank, finally, I tried to express my inner intention with my facilitator, ‘Sir, I went through all but understood nothing’. He simply replied, Nabina, “You show your interest on gender. Your issue is great. So, don’t be afraid. Be positive and just spend some more time on it”. This time, probably I felt little more comforted than earlier meetings. In such way, our last group meeting before preparing proposal was end with the discussion of choosing area, population and selecting research design particularly.
Experience of Preparing the First Draft of Proposal
Once I decided my area typically gender, having little knowledge about that field, I started working on it. As I mentioned earlier section, ‘I read but understood nothing’ later appeared as a milestone for me as it motivated me to do the work quite impressively. Keeping the quotation ‘understood nothing’ in my mind, I started to read. I spent about two and half months for reading and generalizing the ideas in my proposal writing. I had done it with paying full attention. Meanwhile, I found, it was as tougher as I thought. At that time, I encountered with several challenges. So, I had frequent visit with my facilitator and getting constructive suggestions for further improvement.
Finally, I prepared the first draft of proposal and visited to my supervisor with little excitement. I handed this draft piece to him to observe my first attempt of writing a proposal. On the other hand, I noticed that my facilitator focus was on my writing ability than the particular topic (It is because, in our earlier meeting, he used to say that not to worry about topic. It may change according to the demand of the study during any of the phase of working). He spent sometimes observing it and commented on my writing skill. As I remembered his first question as, ‘why did you start with definition in your writing, Nabina….?” however, I did not have answer of it. I was really surprised and suddenly said to him, ‘Sir I found the same writing culture when I observed some theses and I did the same here’. (He laughs).Later, he had kindly awoken me. I got an exposure. During this discussion, I started getting more and more ideas related to language, content, related literature review, organization skill and methodology. It was the time he opened my eyes quite widely. On the other hand, I was embarrassed in front of him it is because I found myself in the very beginning stage of writing. As a result, I had to change my concept paper i.e. proposal for next time.
On that day, our discussion summarized with introducing new word ‘identity’. Though, I fascinated by the word became worried thinking on my investment in preparing earlier proposal. Again I returned back home and stayed restlessly. I was really in dilemma what to do again. I immediately emailed him. He provided pile of articles related to teacher identity. During that time, I faced the same problem as earlier (but not exactly it was) as I did not have many ideas on teacher identity because it was totally new area than earlier for me. Meanwhile, I tried to read quite widely. I spent some weeks, losing my sleep, hunger and ignoring many more. Then, after reading some complex articles (In the sense that, I have not such habit of reading such article by heart, instead I read some just for reading, assignment purpose) about teacher identity, I consulted several times with my facilitator as it was really hard for me to make even a general concept on it. Having discussion with facilitator about the issues related to female English teachers’ professional development and more importantly as being a female ELTpractioners, exposure to the difficulties other working female(teacher) have in their personal and professional life, I started fascinated more by the term “identity”. This time, reading turned out quite enjoyable. But on the way to working, I felt bored and became somewhat redundant as I could not frame my ideas properly. During this phase, I had a several visit with him and expressed my problems as, ‘Sir I went through all articles but could not organize my ideas properly? He kindly advised me ‘you can’ but please does it passionately.
I then determined and followed his suggestion, continuing my job of preparing proposal. Since that day, the word “identity” sounded in my mind (is still). After all, I spent another one and half month for preparing next proposal. During this phase, I worked hard despites the difficulties I faced. As a result, I successed to write all the parts except introduction. Again, I spent some more days for preparing the introduction part. During the whole proposal writing, I found that writing introduction was most challenging and time consuming in comparison to other parts. Finally, after a several draft, it was submitted to proposal defense. After the successful completion of proposal defense I did required correction by following the suggestion provided by the research proposal evaluation committee for further improvement. Since the days of submitting research proposal to the department even today I feel that starting writing had impacted in my several writing draft so it can be appeared as strong basis for writing present proposal for me furthermore, it extends my horizon of knowledge in the interested area and got the chance to be familiar with the recent practices and trends in researching and academic writing.
Journey of Data Collection and Interpretation
My journey of data collection started after the phase of facing proposal viva. Regarding data collection, I was worried thinking on how it would be going on and whether I could find the expected participants. During the phase of proposal writing, I talked with some female ELT teachers whom I knew but later I found them being confused and trying to escape by remarking time limitation. So, I became worried and went to Pokhara .In order to fulfill the requirement for my research, I visited several public schools of valley. I asked help from my family and head of visited school to provide information. After the several days’ attempt, I met participants who were willingly taken part in my study.
After a phase of planning. I provided them a written consent letter for getting ethical approval. Then after having agreement with them, I conducted my first interview in August 2017. I met with my participants individually for narrative session. The interview was conducted in different places, time and context according to their own comfort than mine. At the very beginning, I started the first interview session by asking more open ended questions, to make them feel free with me. So, I started the conversation with more general questions like what are you doing now? How do you feel right now? etc. I was inquiring in such a way for exploring their present experiences and more importantly, I did it for rapport building. Gradually, I entered into their personal and professional life. At the same time, I audio- recorded their each interviews.
A month later, to explore more about them, I again needed their help. So, I had a telephone call with each participant for our second meeting. We again fixed our meeting for follow- up interviews. Gradually, this happened in first week of September 2017. In this session, our visit was on different places like their own home, school’s premise, coffee station and so on. At that time, we largely discussed about their personal and professional life. I mainly focused on the hindering and supporting aspects of their personal and professional life as it was the major objective of this research study. This time, we became more close to each other. So, without hesitation, they openly shared their stories though I noticed, they repeated the past events and even shared the events which they remembered during our ongoing conversation. (Feeling more comforted) In the same way, they even added new stories which they never shared to others. Listening to their unique lived voices, I lost myself with their lived stories and became nervous. At the same time we laughed and cried together. In this way, they not only shared their lived experiences, I also shared my growing interest on carryout out research on this area and growing journey of becoming a teacher. We talked for hours as there were no certain boundaries and fixed time. So, after having the interviews, I provided the question for written narrative. Despite their interviews and written narrative, I have a frequent visit to them on social sites. Furthermore, I observed their activities, facial expression as they were significant factors to explore their hidden reality of becoming an English language teacher. In such way, I collected pile of raw data.
Data Interpretation Stage
Data analysis started after translating (Nepali interview into English) and transcribing lengthy narratives. After two months rigorous hard work, I had prepared myself for data analysis and interpretation. When I stared to analyze raw data, I faced the same problem whether I would go further or escaped from it. Finally, despite the difficulties, I determined and did it. I collected data without having sufficient ideas on how to analyze and interpret them. I again glanced my eyes into the pages of narrative researches which I already have. I turned the pages of these books but could not find anything I needed and again consulted with my supervisor. He suggested me to follow the framework for analyzing narrative data. (To be frank) I actually didn’t know what would be the framework. I consulted several researches and become frustrated. Later, I went through the work of Riesman (2008) for a discussion of thematic approach to narrative analysis and adopted her ideas which I thought more significant for my research study.
Few months later, I informed about my work to my supervisor. Until that time, I just completed fourth chapter of my thesis and visited with him. Few days later, he informed me about my work. On that day, he provided me more valuable suggestions as how to organize the narratives of participants effectively and how to put relevant literature in this part to make the research sound. Although I got the amount of exposure, while preparing this part, I encountered exactly the same condition as I faced during first proposal draft. I know, I am in the journey of research but I become really confused whether I would ‘go’ further or ‘leave’ it. Then, I remained silent for some days and looking for another simple way. However, I could not. I had no more option to quit it because I already spent half year working on it (faced proposal viva before 5 months). I tried numerous times and finally decided to continue. During this phase, I faced several challenges and lived through stressful time. Since interpretation to submission for thesis viva, I had numerous visits with him. Finally, through trial and error, I successed to arrive it’s completion and got its present shape.
Challenging Aspects of My Study in Terms of Preparing Thesis Writing
I discussed about my struggles, dilemmas and challenges I had been facing during this research project in the aforementioned section. More importantly, here I have presented these points as some consideration of my thesis journey. I decided to carry out this research entitled Identity Construction in Female English Language Teachers Professional Development: A Narrative Inquiry without having knowledge on this area, even I did not think that I might to carry out the research on this very topic. However whole thesis journey energized me and finally I arrived to my destination. Though I have no idea originally to this topic, later it went well. As a result, I found the work much more manageable than I thought it would be. However, throughout this thesis journey, I was spending most of my time working on this research project without having proper sleep, hunger, laugh and many more. It was therefore a very challenging (still is) stage and kept me going on and on.
First, I felt quite easy to carry out the research related to female teacher because this research project was partly inspired by my own personal experience as being ELT practioners however researching on female teacher identity construction particularly is challenging issue for me. It was because “identity” itself is a new area and has not been researched in the context of Nepalese ELT scenario. Furthermore, I did not find the large amount of researches on this matter around the world teacher education.Infact, there were comparatively less number of researches, have given due emphasis on female teacher identity construction. So, selecting the area and carrying out research related to identity construction is challenging task.
Second, we know reviewing literature play a significant role to make every research sound and fruitful. However, we did not pay due respect on it. People might say, ‘Once we prepared literature in proposal writing we might think that we need not to review it again’. Even, I heard such argument time and again from my friends and seniors. To be frank, not only them, I was not exceptional in this matter. Before approaching that stage, I have an ideology that it might be true. On the contrary, later, I know the value and its impact throughout whole writing. So, I realized that it is an ongoing process. Meanwhile, another concern of my study was related to proper organization of ideas. It was not only the problem I faced in thesis writing, I am still suffering, writing this reflection.
Third, challenge I faced when I simply could not find the respondents for my research Though I talked earlier( when I was writing proposal)with some female ELT teachers later trying to escape from this research project by pretending for not having time. Then, I became little frustrated and again was searching for required participant for my study. Finally, after my one week hard work, I met some female teachers who were searching a place for sharing their stories. Again, I need to consider other factors like rapport building, conducting interviews, time management, selection of language used for interview and so on.
Fourth idea which I considered is the relationship between researcher and participants throughout the whole thesis process. Throughout this journey, I noticed that in narrative research, the role of researcher is different from other such studies because of the relationship between researcher and participant. As I mentioned in third point, building rapport is the most difficult one in my early days and more concerned with whether I could build better relation to explore their hidden reality. So, I need to view myself both from insider and outsider perspectives. However, I did not forget my role in this thesis writing.
Last but not least, another concern of my study was accurate representation of meaning in terms of what was expressed in Nepali and what resulted from translation into English. Maintaining core meaning and ideas of participants was a central issue for me. Therefore, I was always afraid of possible effect of misleading the interpretation of gathered data. During the whole thesis process, transcribing (took more than 2 month) and translating were most difficult tasks.
In this way, despite the difficulties I encountered, my interactions with participants provided huge insights on exploring female teacher identity construction, their everyday experiences, contradiction, dilemmas, frustration they experienced in their personal and social life. More importantly, I understood the value of shared story in ELT teaching and learning and its impact in educational change throughout this thesis journey.
My Final Thought, Suggestions and Acknowledgement
After all, the final result made me more energetic as I had been working with ignoring many obstacles, challenges and complexities. To be honest, it was not my earlier goal to submit my thesis on this very topic. But, later due to my strong desire and more importantly the part of motivation which I had from my supervisor, I started my journey of the research in May 2017 within four female teachers who are teaching in basic level at different public school of Pokhara Lekhnath-Metropolitan city. Starting from first stage of selecting area, preparing first research proposal draft, facing proposal viva, conducting interviews, analyzing and interpreting data with finding out conclusion, I passed several joyful and painful moments which sometimes motivated and frustrated during the whole process of working. To be honest, most of the time, I experienced the painful situation and no doubt that I was writing from the level of ‘fear and dilemma’. In fact these dilemmas and fear later made me strong and confident. Most importantly, throughout my educational journey, this firsthand experience enabled me to understand the real value of study from school days to graduation.
Next, during my working days, I observed some of mine friends carried out their theses within limited time and even I heard the thesis, “selling and buying” culture. Yes! Honestly, I am not sure about this rumor but was afraid of it. Instead, I want to say to you all that definitely you have to tackle with many ups and down moments like me during thesis process and you may deserve the result of your hardworking. So, I advised to all prospective researchers not to scare about word “thesis”. You must understand the essence of writing thesis before started writing further. If you do that it will be easier for your further steps.
Further, people I met often told that everyone writes thesis but it does not matter how you write, the goal of writing a thesis is just for getting marks than nothing else. Instead, my stressful time provided me an insights on what is thesis writing in real sense, what is my role as a researcher? Somewhat I got the chance to be familiar with little about thesis writing. Thus, I would like to suggest to all fellow students, you must grab thesis writing as a learning opportunity as you will get the chance to enlighten you and your knowledge on your interested area.
Now, I am at the end of this reflection writing, at this journey I highly indebted to those generous souls whose collaboration makes this journey of knowing mine and others’ possible. Most importantly, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to my respected guru and thesis supervisor Dr.Prem Bahadur Phyak, for his sound professional guidance, full attention, timely advice, expertise and encouragement throughout the whole thesis process in spite of his busy schedules and over whelming responsibilities. I am really grateful to him for everything. More, I have a due respect to all research proposal evaluation and thesis approval evaluation committee for their support and encouragement in completing this research study. I have a due respect to Prof.Dr. Tara Datta Bhatta for his encouragement and enlightening ideas on language .Similarly,I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to Prof. Dr. Bal Mukunda Bhandari for his invaluable suggestion. I would equally offer my sincere gratitude to Mr. Laxmi. Pd Ojha for being there and provided suggestion for further improvement. Further, my entire research would not have been accomplished without the help and support of my participants. So, I have a due respect to them who believed me and enthusiastically taking part in this study.
Ms. Nabina Roka is a recent graduate from the Department of English, TU. Her master’s thesis explores identity construction of female EFL teachers in Nepal.