Learnings from a Literature Review

I am knee-deep in production of a fairly extensive literature review and accompanying methodology for my PhD research.  It’s been quite a journey to say the least.  I thought it might be cathartic, helpful to others, or otherwise appropriate to share some of my ruminations around the process of writing a literature review (or at least trying to).

I think that for a lot of PhD researchers this is perhaps one of the most annoying/tiresome/interesting/why me (delete adjectives as appropriate) of the project.  I’ve certainly gone through quite a range of emotions.  But, now that I’m coming towards the end and looking back I’ve decided to share some processes  that might be useful to others.  Some of these might be blindingly obvious and basic, others may shed some insight into my own approach…who knows.

The field in which I am working is constantly evolving because it is current.  The theory around it has not been settled on.  And, heaven knows that Northern Ireland haven’t solved all their issues of dealing with the past, governance reform, or general reconciliation.  Therefore, one of my main aims with the literature review was to distinguish what has been done in the field from what still remains.  This will help identify not only my own specific area of research as an area of development and exploration, but it will highlight other areas that need to be researched and mined.

The literature review can be a bit daunting at times because you are often going to read views that differ from (or mock) your own work.  This is a little frightening.  Conversely, of course, you are encouraged by reading supporting arguments.  Therefore a good literature review, in my opinion, should seek support for your own theory and be aware of counter arguments.

Whilst my field is evolving daily (I read BBC News Northern Ireland everyday with trepidation) a good literature review should also deal with the historic context of the field to show progression and differentiation with contemporary developments.

I hear from colleagues who are further along the academic journey than me that the literature review is one of the most consistently scrutinised areas of a PhD thesis.  This is because there is commonality in this area amongst supervisory team and examiners.  Therefore, my literature review attempts to lay the ground work for the development of my own thought throughout the thesis.  Without a thorough literature review you cannot robustly argue your own theories and cannot establish how your research advances previous thought.

I am also aware that my field is particular contentious given the immediacy and contextual implications of the research therefore in my literature review I have attempted to resolve conflicts in my own theory and the theory of others.  This is the fun part.  Saying why you agree or disagree with the thoughts of others and providing a defence for it.

Anyway – that’s all I have now.  Feel free to jump in, in the comments section and add your tuppence worth or disagree entirely!



PhD ramblings…

I’ve been ruminating tonight on the fact that I am now 9 months into the PhD process.  Time truly does fly when you’re having fun.  And, for the most part I would say it’s been a fun journey.

It’s been a journey of highs and lows, successes and failures.  The lows and failures, I must admit, are mostly me being hard on myself.  There are times when I feel like I am making incredible progress in terms of formulating my thinking on a certain topic only to realise I am having difficulty in translating those thoughts onto the page.  Let me explain…

About 2 months ago I got myself all worked up.  So much so that I pretty much stopped writing.  I kept reading, making notes, annotating, jotting down ideas etc, but in terms of actual, tangible, submittable thesis words…nothing.  I realised I needed to get out of the slump but didn’t really know how to go about it.  The enormity of the task that lay before me was starting to build.  I arranged a meeting with my supervisory team.  During this meeting I was able to update them on progress to date so far.  Tell them some of the practical and theoretical implications of my research.  Explain, (somewhat) coherently my methodology, and articulate a plan for the future.  My supervisors, as is their way, gave excellent personal insight into breaking through some of the barriers that PhD students face, as well as giving some expert guidance on the future shape of the thesis.  I also heard the advice ‘write everyday’. This was not new advice.  But after my supervisory meeting it had new meaning.  Gaining the clarity and wisdom from an outside perspective was just the boot in the backside I needed to begin, once again, writing everyday.

I met up with a colleague and friend from QUB about a week ago and we sat and chatted about their project.  They also were having some problems breaking through the barriers of what to include, what to cut, what direction to take and how to justify it.  It has since dawned on me that this PhD life can become pretty solitary very quickly.  I need to be actively, proactively, engaging in communities and conversations with people who are going through the same thing or have been through the same thing.  This is crucial. Outside perspective is key.

The PhD is, no doubt, an enormous undertaking.  But, the enormity of the task is not in the amount of words that one must produce.  Rather, it is in navigating how to cogently and diligently formulate those words into something of worth and value to the academic community at large.  How to use the words that you are given economically so that you can maximise your contribution.

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • There has been a pretty powerful Social Media campaign launched to bring awareness to, and an end to, the exploitation of child Soldier by the LRA and in particular by their leader Joseph Kony.  Watch the video on Youtube here.  It was uploaded Match 5th, one week ago.  At the time of writing this is has 74.1M views.  In a week.
  • There has been some controversy around the issue of #Kony2012.  I have my own opinions.  I’ll try and weigh in with a post during the week.
  • John Saddington of TentBlogger.com suggests that teaching others actually increases your own expertise exponentially also.  I am inclined to agree with him.
  • Is our MO to control or to facilitate?  This is a great and challenging post from Marko of the Youth Cartel that asks us create learning opportunities and let go of the harness a little bit.  This is probably one of the best articles I have read this week.
  • @CassieMcCormick was gone this weekend.  Now, this is bad enough in and of itself.  But, we have had to share a laptop charger for the past week or so because one broke.  So, Cassie took the charger this weekend because she was off doing important things at The College of Law.  Therefore, this week I was stuck with no MBP and instead got by with just the iPad.
  • He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.  -Harold Wilson
  • I don’t know if you’ve heard or not…but the new iPad is out and it’s called…iPad 3 iPad HD…iPad.  It has some amazing features, not to mention the resolution, but I’m happy with my 2nd gen iPad.
  • I just bought a new pair of Sony ZX300 on ear headphones and I love them.  They cost me less than £10.  BOOM
  • PandoDaily didn’t disappoint this week with their latest episode of WITN with @PaulCarr and @SarahCuda.  Give it a shot.
  • Are we friends on facebook?
  • Or are you following me on twitter?
  • I’m thinking of joining the ToastMasters.  Are any of you involved?  Or do you have an opinion?  I’ve been thinking about it for a while.
  • As someone who appreciate carefully constructed writing (this blog excepted) I am loving this blog on Business Writing.  I often find myself directed here if I have any grammatical or syntactic questions.
  • I’m currently putting together an abstract for a presentation and subsequent journal publication.  Here goes nothin’.
  • I’m also working on a book review for a journal.

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • Well, my first shot at automated posting with WordPress didn’t go exactly as planned.  I had promised to give an update on what apps I use on MBP, iPad and iPhone as a follow up to my Toolbox Essentials Redux.  It didn’t work.  Therefore, I’ll schedule it to post again tomorrow and see what happens.
  • Rev. Dr. Lesley Carroll has launched her very own blog.  You can visit it at RevLesley – Brewed in Belfast.  So far it is an interesting and eclectic read.  Please visit often and subscribe.  Lesley is an important voice in the Northern Ireland Peace Process and a champion for reconciliation and ecumenism.
  • I love this Lego Countertop/workstation.  So cool and I want one.  SimpleDesks has some awesome ideas.
  • Maurilio Amorim begs buisness’ to ask some crucial questions in relation to their marketing/PR strategy.  He frames his question in relation to QR codes .  But, it’s a good idea to ask what value it adds to your consumers and what barriers it removes in connecting with them.
  • Apple is now worth over half a trillion dollars.  That is ridiculous.  However, analysts suggests that they have yet to hit their market peak.  All indictions suggest things will continue going up.  I would guess that the looming iPad 3 release will further bolster their position.
  • The past few weeks my work with FMPCI has been focussed on relaunching our site on the Duncairn Gardens, the Macrory Halls.  This happened on Saturday and went swimmingly well.  The halls looked great.  A great crowd showed up.  We listened to traditional music, ate food and shared hopes for a shared future in North Belfast.
  • Just as music is noise that makes sense, a painting is colour that makes sense, so a story is life that makes sense.―Yann Martel, Beatrice & Virgil
  • I want to get back to reading for pure enjoyment.  Although, I do love all the work for my PhD it can be all consuming at times.  And, it’s not down time.  Not at all.
  • Do you have a growth oriented or a fixed mindset?

That’s it for this week.  Tune in next week for more.  Oh, and, what’s going on with you?

Toolbox Essentials Redux

I posted my original Toolbox Essentials post last March – almost a year ago now!  I thought it was time to a little bit of an update.  So, here we go.

Macbook Pro 13″

This one still headlines and dominates the top spot.  Unsurprising really.  This is still, very much, the Apple of my eye.  See what I did there?  I am currently running the most recent version of OS X Lion, and I will update as soon as Mountain Lion is released.  The MBP I am currently using is a different machine to the one I posted about a year ago.  I got a newer model with slightly more RAM, bigger hard drive, faster processor, etc., and Cassie, my long-suffering wife got the hand-me-down.  I would suggest that the situation isn’t too bad for her either.  Same information on this as last time really.  I love the machine.  I love how multi-functional it is whilst being so light and transportable.  I take it everywhere with me.  Work, study, and home.  It is rarely further than 10 paces away from me.  Same complaint/jealously: I’d like a little more screen real-estate at times.  Those times when i’m working on what feels like 563 different documents and PDF’s it would be lovely to not have to be constantly scrolling through endless windows.  However, this is not a major complaint.  Indeed, I chose to stick with the 13″ model because I like the portability of it more than the larger models.  I have 4GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

iPhone 4S

I think really this one should be first on the list.  I love my iPhone.  It’s probably the only phone where I have yet to have a serious and almost irrepressible urge to embed it into the wall.  I could probably run the world from an iPhone if I had to.  One thing, and one thing only, is the battery life.  I think I probably use mine a little bit more than the average person in the course of a regular day, but I need to put my phone on charge during the day for an hour or so if possible, and sometimes again in the evenings – and that is with the brightness at half!  My carrier is Three and I must say they have more than impressed me time and time again.  Apart from the fact that I get unlimited data (thank-you!!) the customer service is great, the reception is better than I have ever experienced and they genuinely value your custom.  I have been with all the major carriers in the UK (Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, O2) and each one of them, with the exception of Vodafone has managed a screw-up of monumental proportions at some stage.  The long and short of it is, if Three continue with the levels of service I am currently experiencing they will continue to have my business.  I have 7 email accounts linked to my iPhone, 4 twitter accounts and multiple Facebook pages and the iPhone allows me to manage them on the go.

iPhone’s native calendar app could use a little bit of work in my opinion, but there are numerous workarounds, as Apple say ‘There’s an app for that’.  I won’t go into detail about apps etc at the moment.  In fact, I’ll do a separate post on that tomorrow.  But, suffice to say, the iPhone allows me to work, play, conduct business, email, consume media, listen to music and even makes phone-calls.  I have the 16GB Black iPhone 4s.  The camera on this little bad boy is amazing.  Like truly stunning.  Check out my Flickr, all the photos there were taken on either the iPhone 4 (pre-upgrade) or the iPhone 4S (post-upgrade) camera.

iPad 2

My trusty companion.  When I first got an iPad I was in awe, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I would use/need it for, now I can’t imagine not having one.  It truly is a beautiful piece of machinery.  It compensates for the lack of real estate on the MBP as I can use this as a supplement and bring docs/news/papers etc. up and read them off of this.  I consume a lot of news through the iPad and use the Twitter app quite regularly.  It is very useful for when you’re rushing out the door to a meeting or conference and don’t want to bring your laptop, or your not sure if having a laptop would be overkill.  I use my iPad everyday.  Without fail.  I have the 16GB, wi-fi only model and it serves me well.


I bought this briefcase on eBay for not a lot of money – less than £20 and I love it.  I wanted something vintage, old-school and badass and this fits the bill.  Again, like all the items in this list, I use it everyday.  It’s incredibly durable, incredibly spacious and a real lifesaver.  I’ve managed to fit in my laptop and charger, my iPad, 2 notebooks and 10 library books that took it to capacity.  So it’s incredibly helpful for transporting a lot of stuff.  This is necessary for a PhD student.


Yep.  I am a convert.  I’ve been hearing people rant and rave about Moleskins for years now, but I’ve never owned one.  I do love notebooks, I have about 4/5 different ones that I carry around with me at all times for different things/project right now.  However, someone bought me a Moleskin this Christmas and I fell in love.  It truly is a remarkably beautiful notebooks, well crafted, simple and a pleasure to use.  I think I’ll always have at least one of these in active use from now on.  I own a plain-jane, bog standard black one.


I use the standard Apple earphones that came with my iPhone.  Working in an open plan office these are a must.  Riding public transport these are a must.  Sitting in a library these are a must.  You get the picture.  I would like to get some on-ear headphones an upgrade as I don’t really like in-ear earphones.  But, they’re great for now.

Now that I have  all of my Apple devices as you can imagine Apps are a big part of my life.  Tune in tomorrow for a look at what apps I use most, what apps I recommend, and what apps I couldn’t live without.

What can you not live without?  What’s in your toolbox?

A Decade of Centenaries

I doubt this will be the only time this is addressed not only because it is a contentious issue, but also because it is an issue that relates to my PhD studies and to my work with FMPCI.  I had been thinking of posting something about this since about November last year when I started giving the subject some critical attention after attending the Inter-Irish Church Meeting in Edgehill Theological College.  However, credit where credit is due – the reason I am writing about this today is because it was brought to my mind by Peter Stitt (writer at Liberal Meritocracy) after he wrote a very nonchalant piece that mentioned the issue.

First off, let’s not be too trite.  This is a big issue.  It will be a source of contention in Northern Irish politics for the coming decade – of that there is no doubt.  What is up for grabs however is how the contention is managed.  Historically, the Northern Ireland assembly have not been too great at dealing with these sorts of things.

There are a number of issues to consider:

The Political Ramifications

The Alliance party seem to be the only ones dealing with the issue from a holistic perspective at the moment – at least realistically.  Unsurprisingly, and correctly, they want to use the coming decade as an opportunity to bolster economic and cultural development throughout Northern Ireland.  However, Alliance are not coy – they are acutely aware of how tenuous talk of this can be, and with their holding of the Justice ministry being called into question of late, their ability to affect change in a decade such as the one we are in is questionable and hangs in the balance.

There has ben posturing from Sinn Fein and the DUP, and they are making the right sorts of noises, but when push comes to shove are they really angling for a shared future, and a dignified look at the past?  If we are to look in any detail at their publication of Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document (PDF) there seems to be no inherenet plans, or agenda for how exactly they are going to achieve cohesion, sharing or integration.  It’s disappointing that this document, which could have been a signpost to a brighter future has been usurped by niceties, banalities and frivolity.

Everything for the coming decade rests on Politics.  It needs to be right here before it can be right elsewhere.  If there is a lack of clarity about the contentious celebrations (most obviously the Signing of the Ulster Covenant 1912 and the Easter Rising 1916) it could have disastrous social, cultural and future ramifications from which an emerging government like Northern Ireland could find it hard to recover.

Now, am I saying that this will make or break the devolution agreement?  Am I saying this will lead to the resuspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly?  No.  But, what I am saying is, it could add unnecessary weight and strain to a still young government.

The Social Ramifications

This decade has the potential to be commandered by extremists on both sides if it is mismanaged at the political level and it has serious ramifications for the future peace agenda in Northern Ireland if this is the case.  For this not to be the case it will require shrewd political management and innovative grassroots execution.  The Assembly must rely on ground level, community services to deliver these programs contextually and sensitively.

As a community worker myself, I have some cards in play here.  It’s important for the communities in which I work, and indeed, communities across Northern Ireland that this is done right.  An improper celebration of these events could be catastrophic on the ground where most of the tension still exists.

There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has come on leaps and bounds in the last number of years, and I for one hope to see that continue.  However, there is still a lot of ‘unknowing’ and fear on the ground.  No matter how much the Assembly and political parties have come on they simply must take the people with them, otherwise they are not leaders, they are merely innovators.  In 1971  an official Working Group on Peace Walls expressed its concern at the erection of interface barriers, that if they remained then the “abnormal becomes the normal”.  Unfortunately, this has happened.  Peace walls are normal.  Division is normal.  This is a problem for communities in Northern Ireland.  I would like to signpost at this point to a post on Slugger O’Toole highlighting the work of Dr Jonny Byrne who has written extensively and researched peace walls. He notes that division runs deeper than peace walls, indeed, from my own observations I would suggest that there is a bit of an identity crisis brewing beneath the surface in Northern Ireland.

In short, this decade needs to be managed properly at the community level.

The Futurist Ramifications

There seems to be a bit of snowball effect here.  Proper political management cascades into proper community management which will trickle down to a sense of hope and expectancy for the future.  This decade has the opportunity to secure a shared future and I hope it does.

Do you have any thoughts or opinions?

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • First and foremost.  I want to give a massive plug to PandoDaily (@PandoDaily) – this is a new tech/start-up site launched by @SarahCuda (Sarah Lacy previously of TechCrunch).  It gives a fresh and innovative approach to the tech industry.  An immediate hit, I love it!  Subscribe to it, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Diggnation is over.  Sad times.  The last few episodes (heck, all episodes) are worth watching.
  • Hippie Glenn from Diggnation is now offering a new web series called Toasted Donut. It’s been pretty good so far.  It’s short format.  Never any longer than 15 minutes and it fills my Wednesday podcast fix pretty nicely.
  • My next find is an offering of PandoDaily.  Why Isn’t This News?  This is a new podcast from Sarah Lacy (@SarahCuda founder of @PandoDaily) and Paul Carr (@PaulCarr founder of NSFW Corp @NSFWHQ) and they talk about their past week as new founders of burgeoning new media behemoths!  I love it.  It’s raw, honest, and witty.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to view all the WITN videos on the PandoDaily website through categorising, but you can view the latest episode here.
  • Seth Godin offers his new manifesto on the meaning of education.  I’ve just had a glance so far, but I look forward to seriously engaging with it.  It seems provocative and thoughtful.
  • I’m still waist deep in the throes of PhD research.  I’m currently trying to arrange interviews for my qualitative research.  I’m hoping to interview some MLA’s and Executive members in Northern Ireland about how the Program for Government advances, if it does at all, an agenda for reconciliation and integration.  Any thoughts?
  • I’m also trying to put together a few abstracts for submission to various conferences.  This is proving challenging at present.  I’ve got a pretty busy schedule at the moment and I’m trying to consider when I can even get time to write the full papers if the abstract is accepted. I guess I’ll just have to make time.
  • It is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language. – Brian Friel
  • I went to see the play Uncle Vanya in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in the past week.  It was truly excellent.  I haven’t been to the theatre in quite some time and I forgot how enjoyable it was.  Need to go more often.
  • New app that I am toying around with lately: Smartr Contacts.  I don’t know if I’ll ever fully switch from Apple’s native contacts client, but I kind of like it for now.
  • I love this website.  DesireToInspire has so any great pictures of houses I drool over.

That’s it for this week.  Tune in next week for more.  Oh, and, what’s going on with you?

The Monday Retrospect

What is ‘The Monday Retrospect’?

This is a weekly collection of things that have caught my attention and imagination over the last week.  It is a chance to put into words what I have been doing, thoughts I have been processing, things that are happening.  It’s a bit of a mind dump really.

  • The Monday Retrospect makes a glorious return.
  • I would like this blog to become a bit more ‘unedited, unscripted and less perfect’.  But, part of me just won’t allow it.  I like to be quite meticulous and sure of things before hitting the ‘Publish’ button.  And, event when I do, the ‘Edit’ button looms over me.
  • I love this series of ‘The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011‘.  It’s incredible to think that this was our year…
  • A Saudi Royal has ploughed $300M in to Twitter.  This has bought him a 3% stake valuing the company circa $10Bn.
  • Facebook have finally rolled out their new timeline for everyone.  I have had access to it for a few months now because I cheated the system and registered as a developer.  But, it’s nice to see it on everyone else’s profile.  Personally, I love it.
  • No man is rich enough to buy back his past. -Oscar Wilde
  • The Toward Consulting Blog publish thought provoking material on a semi-regular basis.  I really liked their piece on the Quaker practice of ‘Clearness Committees’.
  • Diggnation is coming to an end.  Sad times.
  • David Cameron has caused a bit of a kerfuffle this week with his speech that suggested Britain was a Christian country.  This, in my opinion, is being blown out of all proportion by Christians who are falling hopelessly in love with him, and non-Christians who are pushing back – hard!  I like this approach.  It seems balanced and fairly in line with my own feelings.  It questions the validity of his assertions whilst also calling into questions some other important ramifications of Cameron’s religion and polity agenda.
  • I had my 3 month review for my PhD program this week.  It went well, really well in fact.  My supervisors seem happy with the direction my research is going and happy with my progress so far.
  • I only have one short piece of work left that is due before Christmas.  It’s a nice feeling.

That’s it for today.  What’s going on with you?

Where to begin…

Well.  We’re almost at the end of 2011 – which seems ridiculous!

I guess I’ll give a quick run down of things since I last posted…

    • I finished my Master’s dissertation.  It came in at 13,030 words altogether and I think it was a pretty decent piece of work.
    • Of course, the above bar which says 97% is now redundant as I am, in fact, 100% done.
    • I finished up my contract with Muskoka Woods as Director of Senior High Programming.  I worked their from May – September.  It was my 4th year in the Muskoka region and I can honestly say that I leave a piece of my heart their every time I leave.  Moreso, however, I leave a piece of my heart with my colleagues.
    • Cassie and I are now settled in Northern Ireland.  We’re living in Newtownabbey which is a town right on the edge of Belfast and loving life.
    • I am working for FMPCI.  A church in North Belfast.  I’m currently working as their Youth and Community Development Worker and having a blast doing so.  It’s a fairly multi-faceted job and I am really enjoying it.
    • I am officially a PhD student…Well, not officially I guess.  Really I am an undifferentiated postgraduate research student but it’s the same thing really.  I just need to pass a differentiation which is one of the many hurdles doctoral students must overcome.
    • I am researching consociationalism in Northern Ireland with Prof. Rick Wilford, a world expert in the field, so I am delighted on all accounts.
    • I am slowly beginning some consultancy work which is taking on various guises at present.  I am mostly consulting around skills development and change management but this, undoubtedly will morph over time.
    • I will have a few exciting projects/partnerships to announce in 2012 hopefully. Stay tuned for more information.

Progress Update

It’s been quite some time since I have posted on here which is a little disappointing to me.

However, a lot has been going on and a lot has changed.

First and foremost I celebrated my 1 year wedding anniversary!!

I am currently working as Director of  Senior High Programs at Muskoka Woods in Canada. I have been doing that since the beginning of May and my contract will end mid-September. Alongside this demanding, but super cool job, I have been ploughing away at my MA dissertation which is due in September and a number of other personal projects.

After this, I will begin the process of relocating (from Birmingham – where we have lived, studied and worked the past year) back to Northern Ireland. I will once again be beginning the hunt for jobs, a car, a house, etc..

There are a few reasons behind this move, but one of the overwhelming reasons is that I will be beginning doctoral studies in Queen’s University Belfast in the school of Politics and International Studies. I am really excited to begin PhD studies and even more excited after have been accepted to be be supervised by Prof. Richard Wilford.

All in all, it’s a very exciting but very busy time and I love every minute of it. This blog will be revived. I will make it happen.

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