I submitted my Ph.D thesis at the end of September 2013 in time for what was believed to be the AHRC deadline. It was a rather slim submission at around 44,000 words and rejoiced under the title of Understanding Information Technology Adoption in Musicology. Here's the abstract:
Since the mid 1990s, innovations and technologies have emerged which, to varying extents, allow content-based search of music corpora. These technologies and their applications are known commonly as music information retrieval (MIR). While there are a variety of stakeholders in such technologies, the academic discipline of musicology has always played an important motivating and directional role in the development of these technologies. However, despite this involvement of a small representation of the discipline in MIR, the technologies have so far failed to make any significant impact on mainstream musicology. The present thesis, carried out under a project aiming to examine just such an impact, attempts to address the question of why this has been the case by examining the histories of musicology and MIR to find their common roots and by studying musicologists themselves to gauge their level of technological sophistication. We find that some significant changes need to be made in both music information retrieval and musicology before the benefits of technology can really make themselves felt in music scholarship.
(Incidentally, the whole thing was written using
org-mode, including some graphs that get
automatically generated each time the text is compiled. Unfortunately
I did have to cheat a little bit and typed in LaTeX
rather than using proper
org-mode links for the references.)
So the thing was then examined in January 2014 by an information science, user studies expert and a musicologist. As far as it went, the defence was actually not too bad, but after defending the defensible it eventually became clear that significant portions of the thesis were just not up to scratch; not, in fact, defensible. They weren't prepared to pass it and have asked that I revise and then re-submit it.
Two things seem necessary to address: 1) why did this happen? And 2) what do I do next?
I started work on this Ph.D with only quite a vague notion of what it was going to be about. The Purcell Plus project left open the possibility of the Ph.D student doing some e-Science-enabled musicological study. But I think I'd come out of undergraduate and masters study with a view of academic research that was very much text-based; the process of research---according to the me of ca. 2008---was to read lots of things and synthesise them, and the more obscure and dense the stuff read the better. The process is one of noticing generalisations amongst all these sources that haven't been remarked on before and remarking on them, preferably with a good balance of academic rigour and barefaced rhetoric. And I brought this pre-conception into a computing department. My first year was intended to be a training year, but I was actually already highly computer literate with considerable programming experience and quite a bit of knowledge of at least symbolic work in computational musicology. Consequently, I didn't fully engage with learning new stuff during that first year and instead embarked on a project of attempting to be rhetorical. It wasn't until later on that I really started to understand that those around had a completely different idea as to how research can be carried out. While I was busy reading, most of my colleagues were doing experiments; they were actually finding out new stuff (or at least were attempting to) and had the potential to make an original contribution to knowledge. At this point I started to look for research methods that could be applicable to my subject matter and eventually hit upon a couple of actually quite standard social science methods. So I think that's the first thing that went wrong: I failed to take on board soon enough the new research culture that I had (or, I suppose, should have) entered.
I think I've always been someone who thrives on the acknowledgement of things I've done; I always looked forwarded to receiving my marks at school and as an undergraduate; and I liked finding opportunities to do clever jobs for people, especially little software development projects where there's someone to say, "that's great! Thanks for doing that." I think I quickly found that doctoral research didn't offer me this at all. My experience was very much a solitary one where no one was really aware of what I was working on. Consequently two things happened: first, I tended not to pursue things very far through lack of motivation; and second (and this was the really dangerous one), I kept finding other things to do that did give me that feedback. I always found ways to justify these--lets face it---procrastination activities; mainly that they were all Goldsmiths work, including quite a lot of undergraduate and masters level teaching (the latter actually including designing a course from scratch), some Computing Department admin work, and some development projects. Doing these kinds of activities is actually generally considered very good for doctoral students, but they're normally deliberately constrained to ensure that the student has plenty of research time still. Through my own choice, I let them take over far too much of my research time.
The final causal point to mention is the one that any experienced academic will immediately point to: supervision. I failed to take advantage of the possibilities of supervision. As my supervisor was both involved in the project of which the Ph.D was part and also worked in the same office as me, we never had the right kind of relationship to foster good progress and working habits from me. I spoke to my supervisor every day and so I didn't really push for formal supervision often enough. I can now see that it would have been better to have someone with whom I had a less familiar relationship and who had less of an interest in my work and who, as a result, would just operate and enforce the procedures of doctoral project progress. It's also possible that a more formal supervision relationship would have addressed the points above: I may have been forced to solidify ideas and to identify proper methods much sooner; I may have had more of the feedback that I needed; and I may have been more strongly discouraged from engaging in so much extra-research activity.
The purpose of all this is not to apportion blame (I have a strong sense of being responsible for everything that I do), but to state publicly something that I've been finding very hard to say: I failed my Ph.D. And (and this is the important bit) to make sure that I get on with what I need to do to pass it.
- I need disinterested supervision; I've requested assistance from the Sociology Department which should fit well with the research methods I used;
- I need to improve the reporting of the studies I carried out; this involves correcting and expanding the methods sections and also doing more analysis work;
- I need to either extend the samples of the existing studies, or carry out credible follow up studies to improve my evidence base;
- I need to focus the research questions better and (having done so) make the conclusions directly address them.
I'm going to blog this work as it goes along. So if I stop blogging, please send me harassing emails telling me to get the f*** on with it!