PhD and me – i level

The “i” in your PhD team: it is within

This blog is aimed at post-graduate level students (like me) who are wrestling with their research positioning or procedures, and facing the unknown. Moments when becoming self-reliant lives best within your wider team.

We are all potentially on the same team, yet we are each alone with others in shared pursuit of what is unknown. Shine a light on the “i” in team if you are to survive your PhD.

You are your PhD, and this is the “i” in team I am pointing to in this blog post. Depicted above to infer a spotlight behind the team that reveals that “i”. I am lucky to be able to say my supervisors are fantastic, as that core of my wider team. Without them I would have no hope of successfully navigating this PhD journey. However, being alone is a key part of the PhD research process. It is this sense of isolation which I am now seeing more clearly – revelling in this aloneness as a fearful empowerment – once the navigational unknowns are those we all share.

This prompts another spotlight metaphor. That of a map of knowledge one is navigating by, but at that moment it starts to run out of roads. A PhD is required to contribute something new. It is inevitable therefore that if one chooses exploration (rather than confirmation) as a basis of research, then eventually the maps are not so well drawn. The conceptual, methodological, or assumed correct dimensions of the map will have blank spaces or false ends. And as with all approximations in early maps, the tendency is to draw a dragon or a compass on what is not known.

Eyes wide open therefore to new means to see; new cartography, or necessary changes to the maps now outgrown. A few personal demons to overcome perhaps; and a readiness to vanquish mapped dragons by shinning a new light upon the unknown. It will be here that the “i” in team is shown.

…to be continued

PhD and me – the transfer

Five key aspects of a PhD first year you will need to know

I passed my transfer examination this week (yay!). In this blog post, I summarise the five aspects of developing a research proposal that defines most of my first year as a fulltime PhD student. If you’re curious about what to expect during this initial year, keep reading.

Time to read:

13 minutes

A readers guide. The five aspect I focus upon are listed next. Each aspect is then addressed sequentially -i.e., one section each – structured: [i] a descriptive paragraph; [ii] a Quick tip! ; [iii] what this meant for me; and [iv] a summary of my research within that aspect, in italics. Happy reading.

The five aspects are:

  1. the problem – what your research is directed toward
  2. the research gap – how the research serves a gap in the literature
  3. the research question – one factor that helps frame the aim, purpose, and point toward the expected contribution to the field
  4. the proposed methodology – justification, philosophical underpinning, pros and cons, and the basis to direct the intended plan
  5. the literature – the clarity of positioning research within the wider academic discourse being engaged.

[1] The problem

[i] Any academic research (including the research that builds towards a PhD) starts with the outline of the problem to be addressed by that research. This is the means to demonstrate, with evidence, that there is something to be concerned about. One possible outcome is a succinct note as a “problem statement” and a series of propositions backed by literature evidence.

[ii] Quick tip! Defining the problem is a harder task than may first be thought. “The problem is the problem” is the mantra I recall most from the guidebooks. However, this addressing of the problem eventually becomes the clear articulation of why something is valid for research and of interest to an academic audience. As the first aspect of learning to engage academically this might be a rude awakening – academic writing is uniquely challenging.

[iii] At a personal level, my supervisors and I spent months kicking “the problem” around. I was also metaphorically kicked around, too – because as clear as I thoughts I was, I really was not. First off, get straight to the point. Make it crystal clear how theory relates to the main issues. Second, know your audience and take their side. Third, win over the audience by strength of argument, not strength of conviction or controversy raised. It’s all about effective communication and knowing how, why, and when to change that tone. Defining the problem with the necessary academic clarity, was devilishly hard. For me at least, the changes in me might have been the hardest part.

[iv] In summary, the problem I am addressing is the regularity and pervasive nature of conflict in interorganisational projects (IOPs). Conflict is largely acknowledged as being a factor of one party’s intentions (needs or goals) being denied by another. Yet diverse intentions of different parties are rarely a factor of the upfront governance that is relating all parties together. Peculiar to construction, the literature is also obsessed with governance by contract. The result is that construction scholars deem the contract as both cause and solution to conflict. Conversely, and more broadly, governance is both a matter of formality and informality; or contracts and relationships; matters of trade and of trust; in the wider interorganisational governance literature. However, even here relationships and behaviours are understood sociologically or economically, and not psychologically (e.g., relating behaviour to intent). My research is therefore connecting those three aspects (conflict, governance, and diverse intentions) to try and understand what governance may be able to do (or enable us to be) differently.

[2] The research gap

[i] The research gap is addressed by arguing (with evidence) that the identified problem is not already understood. In other words, showing the reader that there is a gap to fill. This evidence based address also shows how the wider literature currently interfaces from the perspective of the identified problem.

[ii] Quick tip! My advice is find the journals in your academic field that are orientated towards literature reviews. They typically conclude with express statements about where research gaps emerge. In management scholarship for example, the International Journal of Management Reviews (IJMR) is a must read. All of the papers in this one journal are literature reviews – and generally written by accomplished scholars who are pointing to problems with or gaps in the literature.

[iii] On a personal level, I have learned how to read scholarly materials with more critical perspective. Unusually, that includes the philosophical positioning that often underpins theory and assumed norms. That has enabled some lesser travelled paths to be pointed towards in reviewing where gaps are potentially interesting. However, it has also made the clear definition of contribution to knowledge more difficult to place in one set of literature or another. Luckily for me my examiners agreed, because the “so what?” question (which becomes the contribution to knowledge) is one I am yet to really nail.

[iv] In summary, my research focuses on conflict and how it relates to governance theory. Evidencing the two-fold origin of theory is supported by the literature. I argue that this gap can be explored through psychological and philosophical perspectives, and my cross-over into notions of conflict and intentions support this claim.

[3] The research question

[i] Aim, purpose, and contribution may not be immediately obvious, or easily separated. However, when looked at in reverse – i.e., retrospectively, and informed by each of the other five aspects – these distinctions might suddenly seem obvious. All research will vary, however there will be an aim of any research that is distinct from the purpose. The research question(s) will relate to that aim, and the objectives will build toward that purpose (and develop intended outcomes toward that end). A research title will bring all of this together (or be the start of what each of these aspects become). The contribution is distinct from all of these aspects but will link the research to the research gap and problem.

[ii] Quick tip! Have your individual priority clearly in mind first -i.e., your why for doing a PhD. As I explain next, that factor sits outside of these five aspects but it can profoundly change the basis of what is then asked in the research itself.

[iii] At a personal level, my entire research focus changed once I corrected my declared personal priority. Most people I know are going for PhD by publication, and initially that was my priority, too. Three reasons: [1] future academic careers are dependant upon citation count and publication productivity; [2] the more time spent learning how to navigate those difficult publication hurdles the better; [3] there is increased credibility in the final viva exam if able to point to a portfolio of peer reviewed work. For me however, the monograph thesis emerged as the more appropriate approach. I could spend longer with a development paper outlining the problem – submitted to my first conference. A single research question emerged from that extended time, and thereafter I had more time examining methodology to support that one question. For context, a student going for PhD for publication is likely to have developed three research questions that each support a publication e.g., developing a first question as the literature review [guide here]. This change of personal priority profoundly altered where most time has been spent in the second-half of my first year – and ultimately my research is much changed in response.

[iv] In summary, I am asking a single research question “how can differences in intentions inform governance approaches and reduce threat of conflict in interorganisational projects?“. That single research question unpacks into three phrases, and each phrase has two objectives identified to answer this one question overall. The six objectives relate to defined outputs. Those outputs collectively provide the empirical evidence to support my final claims in answering that research question. The extra time I have had (i.e., not preparing the three necessary plans for separate publications) was spent with aspects of methodology towards that one question.

[4] Methodology

[i] At post-graduate level methodology should be noted as being distinct from method. Method is specifically the manner by which data is collected (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, case-study, field work etc), and analysed (e.g., coding of transcripts or the chosen numerical evaluation). Methodology is more generally the wider appeal to how empirical method will be related to the grounding of the research and the adopted philosophical worldview that sits within. Put another way, the methodology is what invites philosophical assumptions to be made clear. This clarity then connects to the methods of data gathering and analysis to be applied to the research. By this under-pinning the procedural elements of research can then be critically examined and assessed accordingly. This is what then informs the research plan, sampling strategy, level of analysis, unit of analysis, and the strengths and weaknesses of that positioning in what advanced with evidence at the end.

[ii] Quick tip! There is an easy road and there is a hard road that may be taken when approaching methodology. The less philosophically demanding route is to work backwards from method [Google, YouTube, postgrad blogs, ChatGPT all offer “hacks” to short-cut this way]. An alternative (i.e., more respectable) shorter path might be taking Saunders research onion approach {here}. The hardest road is seeking to understand the philosophical perspective more concretely.

[iii] At a personal level, I took the hardest road here, and I am pleased I did. *By positioning the research needs first and foremost, I was rewarded with insight and justification in rejecting many of the more conventional philosophical approaches in my field. This meant positivist epistemology making way for better means to support exploration. I prioritised human reasoning for action (not a thickening of explanations to support causation) which meant post-positivist perspectives -i.e., critical realism and most forms of pragmatism – each became less appealing. Constructivism also eventually yielding to philosophical positions borrowing more fundamentally from hermeneutics*. Several months of finding deep-seated problems with conventional wisdom changed my research methodology and redefined my entire research priority and plan.

*[practical user tip! – if all of these philosophy terms above are gobbledegook, I have placed two *asterisks* in paragraph 4 [iii] to flag a section of text to cut and paste Have ChatGPT expand that paragraph -i.e., by asking it to explain the key philosophical concepts and justification I have stated between those two asterisks. ChatGPT is fundamentally flawed in many ways but I tested it with this text and it offers reasonable rudimentary paragraphs of explanation. In my opinion that is how to use such tools -i.e., to give basic level explanations to enable you to dig in specific directions it signposts you towards].

[iv] In summary, Martin Heidegger’s philosophical hermeneutics is the unusual choice of grounding selected for my research. I am also persuaded to utilise the interpretive power (albeit philosophically demanding) methodology of phenomenology. Phenomenology can be a powerful interpretative methodology when complimenting Heideggerian ontology, so the pairing is well chosen. Both invite different perspectives and challenge to what is otherwise assumed in project management discourse. Notwithstanding that novelty, my empirical evidence is to be gathered via well-understood methods of semi-structured interview. However, because of this philosophical positioning I will use factors such as author and participant pre-understanding as a key aspect of how I conduct interview and analyse my interview data. The justification for this novelty is therefore supporting exploratory priority and possibility of a fundamentally different way of seeing human interaction in a complex project space.

[5] The literature

[i] The literature review places the key arguments of your proposed research into the context of what is already known -i.e., it is a mistake to this just a regurgitation of existing theory and scholarship. The literature review ends up as an appendix in the year end transfer report, it is also likely to be a chapter of your final PhD thesis. Indeed, if going for a PhD by publication, this may also be the first publication proposed (and likely needing to be ready to submit to a journal soon after that end of the first year).

[ii] Quick tip! Check your field of scholarships journal ranking norms. In management scholarship, for example, the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) provides broad guidance. CABS Academic Journal Guide (AJG) is a means to check quality scholarship by starting with 4* journals. Another example is aforementioned International Journal of Management Reviews (IJMR), as a good place to start literature review grounding; both as a guide towards what a literature reviews looks like, and offering guidance on types of methodology available to conduct a literature review.

[iii] At a personal level, a detailed positioning of research into the wider discourse going on in several fields (i.e., the discussions in the literature one article to the next) became a constant changing perspective. The source of many draft and rewrites – and it will continue to be.

[iv] In summary, the socio-economic division of governance literature and conflict literature are now better understood by finding the origins of theory shared by most scholarship. Furthermore, much of the theory underpinning these positions in these two distinct areas of scholarship (conflict and governance) both trace back to comparable sociological or economic origins. Conflict literature can claim some level of sophisticated when posing questions of psychology or factors prior to action (which variously forms from goals, motivations, and intentions). Governance, however is reliant on economic or sociological theory. This forms a central theme of the arguments and examples presented in my research proposal, the feeds into the gap and the contribution to knowledge I have proposed.

What next?

For me, this first year is at an end. My whole demeanour is changed having been told I can transfer. More general information on transfer exams can be found {here}. This “go / no go” decision is one to have in mind from the start of your PhD. It is a nervous moment, so I hope writing this blog whilst living with that anxiety reveals what is important in the end; and what this transfer hurdle might mean to you.

…to be continued

About Me

“PhD and me” is a blog-series about my later life move into academic research. One mask, among many.

Find my professional mask here:

PhD and me – in conference

A peer into the academic conference

I attended and presented at my first academic conference last week – The British Academy of Management annual conference {BAM2023}. This blog offers you a comparison between the “professional” conference and the “academic” conference format.

This blog will highlight the importance of peers as exemplified by the peer role in academic conference. To peer in: “to glance, look, or stare in (to something), especially in an intent, inquisitive, or searching manner”. To be a peer: “a person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background, and social status”. Peer is meant here in that second definition, but both notions apply.

I have attended many conferences in a professional (i.e., business) capacity over 25 years. That has involved me presenting to rooms full of people; I have been interviewed as panel guest, and played host. The professional conference can be a place to prioritise many things: aimed at selling; a networking focal point; places of debate, political persuasion, or commercial positioning; or a glorified meeting place where familiar people meet to chat in some far from home bar. On company time and expense, I have accumulated a toolbox of skills for all those formats…

a group of friends drinking beer
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on
people on a video call
Photo by Anna Shvets on

My first academic conference was unlike anything I had attended before. Firstly, it was all online (at least for me). More fundamentally however, an academic conference is a place where new ideas are presented and given critical scrutiny. It is expected that presenters will face challenging questions aimed at the validity and significance of their work. Questions like “So what? Why is that interesting?” are common. Participants engage in critical discussions about methodology, the strength of findings, and the understanding of theories being compared.

Three distinctions – preparation, participation, and expertise in the audience – are now expanded upon to offer some insight into what academic conferences do differently. Firstly, the preparations are different because to be academically interesting, requires something to be new. Unlike other conferences where sometimes the speakers have nothing new to say – and may have paid sponsorship fees to say it (again!) – academics come prepared and ready to share their latest research. Preparation will have begun well before the conference. For example, the BAM2023 call for papers was made in the Autumn of 2022 to be submitted in early spring 2023.

Secondly, academic conferences are different from professional conferences because participation is a two-fold process with all authors of papers additionally acting as reviewers. Participants have the opportunity (and the obligation) to review other submitted papers and provide feedback. The selection of papers for the conference is influenced by these reviews. This is the peer-to-peer process in action. At BAM, the membership is roughly one third PhD students, so both paper development and the review of papers are perpetually a mix of experience and new researchers learning the peer-to-peer craft. The process is anonymous (double-blind of both author and reviewer). Not all submissions are accepted. However, that review process is also observed to ensure quality. The goal of this process is to improve each paper based on feedback from peers.

Thirdly, when presenting at academic conferences, you are sharing your research with other experts in your field. This includes PhD students, but also accomplished and established researchers, professors, and journal editors, who will all ask questions and engage in discussions to better understand your work. This can help improve the quality and impact of your research. It is also quite possible that in citing someone’s scholarship in support of your argument, that same someone is listening in the audience to fire comment back at you. Ultimately, this process aids in enhancing the quality and impact of the research being conducted. The collective advancement of knowledge is dependent on that community of peers all playing their part.

Those are three aspects of the academic conference that can be intimidating, even for experienced speakers like myself. In an academic domain where the audience is so well informed, and your work so fully exposed, that self-doubt is potentially magnified. However, it is ultimately a great opportunity to improve your research and get valuable feedback from the audience. Academic conferences are especially helpful because of that audience expertise. You can engage with peers who are likely to be your target readership. The discussions, different perspectives, and feedback you receive can really enhance your work. The key message of this blog, and this comparison, is that unlike other types of conferences, the relationship between presenters and the audience in academic conferences is special. It is a close and symbiotic connection, with both sides aiming to enhance and share their ongoing research. It is right to be a little daunted, but take a moment to revel in that peer privilege as well.

Postscript: The icing on the cake for my first conference was later being told I had won an award – “best reviewer” in the project expertise conference track. My university have told that story, and I will just leave that link {here}. Given all I have observed above, being acknowledge as a good peer by my peers is the highlight of my first year.

Next blog: My end of year viva voce examination is almost upon me. Preparing for that transfer exam is a time of stress and unease. As such it reveals what is most significant from that first year – i.e., retrospectively as factors being examined upon. The next blog will summarise what research has been for me, looking backwards over this first year.

To be continued…

About Me

“PhD and me” is a blog-series about my later life move in academic research. One mask, among many.

Find my professional mask here:

PhD and me – timed luxury

Diversify the thinking

Two weeks until my Transfer report is handed in. I am feeling the pressure, but I think in a good way. I am thinking clearly, or at least finding my voice. So, when I read the attached at 6am {here} – a story of Rishi Sunak seemingly wanting his positivist mathematical brain to become a population of the same – my writing awoke before I did. Some “unquantifiable” part of me was awake – and I think it offers a reasonable rant. I will park it here. I will be back in August…

Wrongheaded “having or showing bad judgement” is a term that springs to mind. My journey back into academia has been via the scientific and quantitatively orientated project world. But it’s philosophy and the social sciences I now seek to apply.

If I pass my first year of my PhD (it’s definitely an if not a when) I will have achieved something different. I’m attempting to introduce a different perspective into a space. Heidegger and social psychology in a project management place. Built from what industry thought project management should be: an industrial complex that saw answers from the industrial military complex, to turn all that was innovative into optimisation of cost. Well, maybe that was wrongheaded, too.

I certainly came about this all wrongheaded. I took my degree (a pass but a failed attempt towards the sea) and went into industry. I learnt to insure projects. Sat with those managing and enabling projects. Learnt enough over thirty years to realise what I saw is broken. So I came back to academia for other perspectives: “Wrongheaded me perhaps needs a new head”

But academia seems broken, too. Another place serving an industrial complex that saw answers from the industrial military complex (and turned all that was innovative into optimisation of cost). And most all of what is broken is the standardised metrics and positivist positioning that underscores that same optimisation. If you want new ideas, don’t expect the automatons to find them. Wrongheaded.

So all is wrongheaded here. A non-sense:

— Optimising. Maximising profit. Minimising cost. That includes turning university into a sausage machine, to then wonder why sausages don’t sizzle on their own. Wrongheaded.

— Nonsense and nonsensical thinking that includes:

  1. society level claims to be scientific, yet blind to the evidence of all going wrong.
  2. a politics advocating free choice and then cutting off both the funding and possibility of different thought.
  3. industry scaling back to zero its part in building the space. Train young people into those industrious automaton needed; alongside not instead of means to be creative.

Wrongheaded x3

I am reading all there is available about project management; and how it connects to the wider academic discourse. Now I read all the practical applications it connects to. I see the contemporary academic is being encouraged to think differently, apply methodology anew, or find alternative perspective. Yet, most-all quantitative learning (positivist positioning) seems now out there in the world. Why are we so sure mathematically derived answers will find different reasoning? Or are we so very sure mathematically driven answers is all there is? Wrongheaded.

Maybe it’s time to let university experiment differently. Humanity 2.0 needs more than one head. That’s rightheaded

…to be continued

PhD and me – foolhardy

I doubt my doubt is more doubtful than yours

This is a blog for anyone suffering a moment of doubt with their PhD.

Firstly, I am fine. Slowly making progress. Quickly approaching a deadline. These two factors are on track to converge.

Secondly, it is also fine to not be fine. And if in doubt about that, the network you are part of within the PhD community is a good place to straighten yourself out.

The foolhardy measure

As a pretty outwardly relaxed person, and exceptional at masking whatever is going on within (especially to myself) I regularly consider my foolhardiness based on those above two possibilities. This is important for my mental well-being. In essence, it goes something like this.


#1 Be hardy: reading, writing, and revisiting.

#2 Don’t be the fool: know when to reach out.

A practical example

This is fresh in mind – because this week I had a few doubts to unravel. It is normal, but this one was big enough to prompt this reflection – my way of writing my way clear – until the next.

My latest example

The big doubt mid-week ended well. So I thought perhaps an example will help you work out your current flavour of doubt – i.e., whether it is one that is fine, or the one where you need to reach out. This is my foolhardy – always partly hardy, and partly fool – this is reflecting upon which better had my measure.


No two PhD journeys are the same. I suspect no two transfer processes are either. Indeed, if you are not in the UK – this whole process may be alien to your own PhD journey.

The PhD status: The first draft of my Transfer Report will be with my supervisors by the end of this month (June 2023). This is a big deal – because the Transfer Report feeds into the transfer decision. The transfer decision is a go / no go. If you are “no go” – you go no further.

My PhD status: I am now deeply invested in my specific research focus. Three key examples of how that starts to look.

[1] My research problem is clearly outlined, researched and supported robustly with literature evidence. Robust enough to have been accepted as a development paper at the British Academy of Management conference in September.

[2] My research question is most clear. “How can differences in intentions inform governance frameworks and reduce threat of conflict in inter-organisational projects?” – supported by six objective which each link tightly to aspects of this one research question. These are hard won over several months of iterative challenge and reworking. My supervisors pushed me really hard on this – thanks to them for that. Both question and objectives have also now been aired with my peers within the Leeds Centre for Projects – and faced their friendly critique.

[3] A significant review of literature; a focus of methodology and supporting worldview; and an outline of a research plan are well researched, extensively written (a vast text – vast) but a long way from being written succinctly (a long way). The literature review, methodology, and plan form the backbone of the transfer report.

Hardy or fool?

There is nothing in that last paragraph to indicate excessive doubt. So far, so normal. But I can assure you that there is lingering doubt living still through every stage up to and including this point – even now it still does. Never prolonged. Never unduly critical. Just a constant edging towards more progress, and new doubt – all of that is more hardy than fool.

Last week’s doubt was a little deeper than most I have had in this first year of my PhD. The hard stop deadline adding a little more bite. This too, I concluded to be more hardy than fool. Situationally, that extra bite would have been stoking up my inner chemistry to make my brain’s amygdala pump out more angst (and with it more self-doubt); and with that more inner chemistry comes a repeating spiral that adds a little more. My advice (and all advice others have given me) is just keep reading, writing, and revisiting. Still more hardy than fool.

However, I think there is a point where that self-diagnosis and the safe return may not so easily be read towards. And if that is you, it really does pay to talk it through. Supervisors do this for a living. Peers go through it, too. Do not allow yourself to sit and stew. Don’t be the fool, being hardy.

I repeat the following to ensure it is noted. Situationally, that extra bite would have been stoking up my inner chemistry to make my brain’s amygdala pump out more angst (and with it more self-doubt); and with that more inner chemistry comes a repeating spiral that adds a little more. This is situational, it is not the normal. If this is the normal, you are spiralling the wrong way. I am not at the deadline yet for my transfer. But I am past that block to clarity that was building my doubt. I just kept reading, writing, and revisiting.

Know thyself

It also pays to know yourself well. That was a lesson I found out the hard way. I doubt very much I would have had the means to do this most hard thing I now do (this hard PhD thing), if I had not. Much like PhD journeys however, I think the individual path to know oneself is uniquely ones own. I will offer a glimpse here of each, as they relate to me. Firstly, it was therapy, a deeper understanding of psychology, repositioning my empathy that helped me. My wider blog deals with aspects of that.

Secondly, and more easily, I can expand on the exit of my doubt this week. For me, I wrote myself out of the trough I was in a few days ago. Others may talk their way through. Or find a way to redraw a diagram. Or perhaps have a plan they just need to stick to. Me, I need to let my brain free to be. That may be a rewriting, or redefining, rework a few smaller parts. That might lead: [i] revealing something new, [ii] reflecting and reshaping what I thought I knew; [iii] or just reclaiming my understanding, the justification, [iv] or reveal the weakness of a claim. It is a plunge into detail, then remove myself from that detail and plunge into something else. From that repositioning I will rewrite some more. And if that fails, I will write to myself. Those notes can be emergently revealing – if that sounds exceptionally odd, I provide an example in the footnote below*.

No doubt: there will be more doubt

That’s all for now. I very nearly did not write this blog. My doubt is still too near. Doubt enough to wonder what this will read like if my go / no go has me the wrong side of that nagging fear. That’s why I also write in reflection. Writing to my future self – whilst I still know last weeks self here. That may help you. It will help my next foolhardy moment – of that I have no doubt.

to be continued…



* I woke up and felt this note waiting to be written. That will sound weird, but after a decent sleep my ideas are sometimes clearer before I start thinking of them again. This note turned into an industrious 72 hours: “It’s not about doubt at this point. It’s about refocusing upon the priority. And thereby clearing the fog, to rediscover the clarity. It is horizons that I am seeking to expand. But am I thinking about that too literally? Horizons but not looking out, instead revealing other mountains to look back upon. Or key items on the landscape to descend upon, and if necessary dig a little or ascend and look straight down. I am not describing other mountains that can be seen the same way. I am describing the view of my focal interest, from that found vantage point. My [Hermeneutic] circling claims that vantage point from which to see. To see the same focal point. Just seen differently. That is the object subject, but existentially one in the same. This is asking what we are being, in this PPP World [DN: my object of enquiry is Public Private Partnerships, the World probably Heideggerian – i.e., being-in-the-world]. How we are behaving. Reasoning behaviour based upon the active goal, as understood from that perspective. How these various perspectives relate us: to that world; to each other; and how governing all that is relatable differently. How that is us being in this seen world.”

The Knave’s had it…

Happy Boris-bashing day!

I read the report straight away. I will keep this brief, and cite from the report with good humour. Much as whoever wrote from page 62, titled “Mr Johnson’s resignation as an MP and his attack upon the Committee”. Nothing spared there – well worth a read {here}

In a full blooded reply to Boris’ resignation low blow, the Committee state, “Mr Johnson’s incorrect assertion that the Committee’s powers are new, and its procedures unfair, is a continuation of a pattern of statements which are bald expressions of opinion without justification” [para. 221]. The claimed lacking integrity inviting the strongest response, “Mr Johnson does not merely criticise the fairness of the Committee’s procedures; he also attacks in very strong, indeed vitriolic, terms the integrity, honesty and honour of its members“, a few lines on concluding such remarks, “...amounts to an attack on our democratic institutions. We consider that these statements are completely unacceptable” [para. 222].

Nothing Churchillian to see here

“…I owe my advancement entirely to the House of Commons, whose servant I am…”

Winston Churchill

If ever a Prime Minister has failed so miserably to acknowledge the weight of commitment of that role – it is the now “contemptable” Boris Johnson. Churchill he was not.

In Boris, we instead got a cad – now a knave. Belligerent to due process right the end, “we conclude that either Mr Johnson was being deliberately evasive with the Committee or that he has deliberately failed to abide by his undertaking to be candid” [para. 175]. Kicking the bin by way of resignation, he “broke the confidentiality of the process by revealing the contents of the warning letter and linked material, and attacked the Committee” [para. 215] – later confirmed as “a serious further contempt” [para. 222].

“He ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions”

Niccolò Machiavelli “The Prince”

From this report we also have the means to know Boris as the defensive decision-maker, extraordinaire. This is useful to see tell-tale behaviours. e.g., not asking the tougher questions, and asking only those people we know will say what is easiest to hear. In this instance “…from his then Director of Communications, Mr Doyle, and his previous Director of Communications, James Slack” [para. 176]. Further evidenced by those he did not seek out, “Mr Johnson himself told us that he does not claim Mr Case gave him an assurance” [para. 174]. And selectively ignoring the harder but better advice, e.g., when Boris “reiterated this assertion [of following all guidance] despite having been advised by his Principal Private Secretary not to make this claim” [para. 181].

“It is necessary for a prince to have the people friendly”

Niccolò Machiavelli “The Prince”

His friendlies have come to his defence of course, but these seem lame in the face of what is reported – and what is plain to see. Three examples. [1] Nadine Dorries (MP…?)- taking time out from her oddly extended resignation process – warning backers of this report will be “held to account by members and the public”. And adding starker warning to Tories still in post, “deselections may follow. It’s serious”; [2] The pro-Boris, anti-much else, Brendan Clarke-Smith MP reading all as “spiteful, vindictive and overreaching conclusions of the report”; [3] Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, offering his ‘voice of the people’ perspective from his seat at GB noise, “this report is in danger of making the House of Commons look foolish…”. All as reported in The Independent

Will this make the House of Commons look foolish, Sir JRM? Some may say from what baseline do we measure such remarks? Reclining from the front-benches, I suppose.

From The Independent Sept 2019

As to the attempts to discredit the process and the committee, the report addresses the resignation attack head-on. It makes explicit the processes in place, the extra measures taken to ensure the full disclosure and rights of reply provided throughout. The report also demonstrates an early anticipation of just such a rebuttal:

the Committee took the additional step of appointing Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder, former Senior President of Tribunals and former Lord Justice of Appeal, to advise on the fairness of the process

paragraph 218

Boris the Knave

The first modern era UK Prime Minister to be found so contemptibly short – and so personally far from his Churchillian idol. He is perhaps also the second to claim that undignified King-of-the-World fall (if we count the post-resignation contempt too). We will soon find out if the House agrees. His actions last Friday a legacy low-point perhaps. Lowest of this most indignant of dignitary.

Machiavelli – or another way

5 Machiavellian lessons for King-of-the-World

The self-serving leader. Low in morals, toxic, taking all down with them as they go. Well, Silvio Berlusconi is warming new fires today. That downward journey is a one person show.

💭😈 Such a wicked thought: naughty me. It brought Machiavelli’s “The Prince” to mind (written in 1532 CE). This blog is aimed at more fitting, self declared, “King-of-the-World” archetypes: Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. Both now finding rule of law not to their taste. As to other judgement: a just world is but one belief. I believe that around five hundred years ago , Machiavelli had both of them pegged. [Perhaps he pegged we Europeans one and all. 1532 CE is also the year Henry VIII defied Rome. And the year Francisco Pizarro killed a living God and stole all of Inca’s gold]. Here are five Machiavellian lessons that circle back around.

#1 invite the conflict that reveals the better way

This Machiavellian reading begins with a tell-tale sign that the wrong people are in the tallest chairs. Namely, those that surround themselves with the less threatening and agreeable.

“There is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you”

Machiavelli (The Prince)

#2 live with dissonance

This is a futile bind that must eventually invite conflict

On the one hand, inviting that free opinion. And in doing so making friendly those that count

“It is necessary for a prince to have the people friendly”

But on the other hand retaining the steadfastness of leadership

“He ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions”

What is revealed by this conflict and dissonance is a constant weighing up. But weighing up based on the best of information, not the easiest. This is firstly, prudence of judgement

“Prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and for choice to take the lesser evil”

Such choices are not always picked from more fruitful, but the less sour. This is therefore secondly, the capability to making better choices as a result. Even if that choice is harder but more coherent to the bigger goal.

“He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt”

This balancing then leads to the more diligent Machiavellian Prince retaining more difficult felt angst. This remains that same notion of dissonance, but one that is held not passed on (as the defensive decision-maker would do). But with clarity, not deceit (to oneself)

This leads to a second double-edged impossible reality (#3 and #4).

#3 Tyranny

Firstly, when to dictate

“pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions”

… or liberty?

or when to give way, but not too far

“And there is nothing wastes so rapidly as liberality, for even whilst you exercise it you lose the power to do so”

Machiavelli (The Prince)

#4 tomorrow

Secondly, making room for what is important (not urgent). This is the impossible planning toward a vision but having access to means to adapt constantly. Covid-19 proved neither were in place. Nor would they be today.

… or today

Quentin Skinner offers access to other Machiavellian writing. This next citation originates from private letters – where an indignant dignitary (Pandolfo) is defending how he conducted his affairs of state – a remark that applies well to the need to situationally adapt

“wishing to make as few mistakes as possibile…I conduct my government day by day, and arrange my affairs hour by hour; because the times are more powerful than our brains”

Machiavelli (Legation L912)

If Pandolfo is right (that situational response is all), this begs the question who then is planning for the long-term? Perhaps we only think long-term when the short-term is not demanding our time:

. . . never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase his resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to him in adversity.”

Which is to bring us back to a final lesson that returns us about – back to surrounding ourselves with those capable of offering that more difficult truth. Or making the executive decisions in our stead. In the long-term the capability to build is building the capability to be replaced. Nonetheless, if we are capable enough then surely that is what we invite – if we are capable.

#5 Nurture capability

Related to the first therefore- i.e., #1 invite the conflict that reveals the better way – note the capability of those being rewarded. In other words the servant steward is a capable person; capable enough to both admire and enable capability in others. Honouring peers with peerage as a service to debt, does not count…

“A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honour the proficient in every art”

Machiavelli (The Prince)

There is much to learn from the King-of-the-World dilettante – i.e., those with a care for the prize but not the serving in the role. Machiavelli saw plenty like that, and rated very few. We now see them, too. We know what they crave, and see how they behave. All too well, we know how they fail when real crisis demands leadership. Even the better Machiavellian fights to keep the better peace. The capable leader has power enough to empower more. Machiavelli, “The Prince”, the more principled diplomat.


That was a little fun, written in a moment between my research write-ups and reading. My PhD relates conflict to governance, and both to wider notions of shared intentions (collaboration, cooperation, competition). Machiavelli “The Prince” formed part of reading that did not make it to my philosophical worldview (i.e., the support to my methodology). Quentin Skinner introduces Niccolò Machiavelli exceptionally well. Both are well worth a read.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

PhD and me – community

A PhD journey involves plugging into a unique type of community. One worth fighting for

Ruth Winden and I speak about collaboration: “researcher culture uncovered” podcast s4ep5
If research community perspective interests you, perhaps also listen in to this recent podcast discussion I had with Ruth Winden – Careers Research Consultant at the University of Leeds. This blog intentionally contrast those podcast sentiments with the competitive challenge in a modern academic marketplace. I conclude that academics are, by-and-large, collaborators anyway.

scholarship is about advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems

These are wise words, offered early in my PhD by my supervisors. It nicely frames the priority of the research community, too. This is a community that I am beginning to feel more connected to, and relating more coherently with. If you are considering a PhD; or are curious to know what academic life feels; or if are also early in a PhD and are yet to connect more fully with your community, this blog is for you. I hope to convince you it is a worthy battle to enter – because of (and not despite) the conflicting nature of this world

The fog of war

I use the word “battle” provocatively. Primarily because there is an element of conflict that lives well in academic place. In the above flagged podcast I speak of the productivity of conflict, as a tool or communication device that has potential for positive ends.

The primary reason for using the word “battle” therefore, is to make plain this active engagement with debate. Get used to receiving criticism, because it is never short in supply. Harder still, is learning how to offer it back. Giving it back with all the same good intentions, and appropriate tone toward better outcomes both sides seek to collectively find.

I use the word “battle” also because it also points to an active role of conflict. Active, meaning that a vibrant research community is actively engaged in these productive challenges one writer/reader to the next writer/reader.

This positive battle is described as the “conversation” in academic journals. Each researcher is required to arrive with a paper that contributes to this conversation. The author therefore needs to know what has already been said, and be clear on which discussion they are placing their embattled position within. We are required to progress that conversation, or if we can be appropriately controversial, within that context, all the better. However, as was delightfully said by Dr. Tim Brady this week, “but only place your head in one guillotine at a time”. To extend the “battle” metaphor, this is to say, invite conflict from just one frontier at a time.

Next, I wish to highlight a second battle. One less wholesome, and I think one that is ultimately counter-productive to that first priority. This is the battle for attention, relevance, and (like most all public arenas) a tendency towards singular notoriety. I will first characterise a little more the first battle (i.e., referenced above). This offers a more concrete comparison to this less wholesome second battle. The first battle – that of a community in active constructive conflict – is paramount, and lives to the “scholarship is about advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems”. That means scholarship is about a clarity, or a revealing. Clear in research focus; clear in positioning toward betterment by a constant refinement, debate, or empirical accord. It implies that actions are directed toward something bigger than oneself. Therefore, for us wannabe scholars, before I can contribute to that bigger purpose I must arrive with capability – not just willingness to be involved. That means a hefty amount of groundwork I must commit to (mostly on my own). It is then a privilege to be invited to add to the discussions that are already going on. This is to the heart of peer review, and the difficulty and time needed to (perhaps and only eventually) add to what has come before. It is also the barrier to entry of this discourse.

“Battle” I now use in a sense more akin to the zero-sum game competition notions it more usually relates to (i.e., if I win, it means you must lose). This is the second priority, the business of academia.

This second battle, is the enabler of the first. That is to say, the academic institution is itself supporting that means to keep going. The business of academia is on the one hand an income, to finance all else; and on the other it is an output, being rated by standardised metrics of value. In this first hand, students pay to be taught; funding councils pay research grants – and both are matters of competition in finite pools. In this respect, all is standardised towards comparable metric. And as an academic, attracting funding and elevating the prestige of the school add self-evident value.

The relationship to incoming means is not new, nor a surprise. My 30 years in industry can be regarded in much the same measure. But revenue is but one metric; other metrics are also equally important as a means to keep going. This is the rating of universities, fields of study and research quality. It is student feedback; it is academic results; and, most markedly, it is now citation counts – the modern make or break of academic careers and institutions alike. These latter day metrics, are the more recent attempts to make the future user-comparison less arduous. The consumer metric, as if buying a commodity. These metrics have exploded into a binary of meaning in perhaps the last 20 years. And there is now plenty that is made plain to compare. This relates year-on-year, peer-to-peer; with a number attaching to most all scales and every career. The metric rated better universities, the metric rated better journals, the higher the ground from which to stand. The louder the voice in the debate. These factors now matter. They attract the incoming attention. If wishing to make meaningful the notion of “advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems”, it seems now that this is how the research community must more realistically relate.

There is of course nothing wrong with competition to keep matters effective and optimised. If value for money is the goal, then such metrics are all. However, is this really what we want research enquiry to be? Cheap and rated based on popularity? That’s not me. For me, I want to learn to make the harder more discerning choices. I am just about anti-establishment enough to see quantity over quality as something to be rebuked. To see institutional conformity to both be rules to learn, to more mindfully test to see if they break. I am also playground bruised enough to know popular is not always right, but more typically just an easier means to have less fights. Thankfully, that gives me grounding in confrontation and moments of diplomacy. I am however, now back at school and learning to fight more collaboratively. What excites me most in that regard is the realisation that once hubris is overcome, we can be so much more.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?

CC Bloom in “Beaches” 1988

Nine months into my PhD now, and I am beginning to feel like I belong. I am quietly going about my business, and seeing a glimpse of academic business, too. Academia, more than ever, is now a business. And this blog briefly outlines what that means. In my opinion it is an uneasy marriage of priorities: individual relevance; alongside knowledge creation. That is however a reality of a conflict that is unlikely to change any time soon. Any change is going to be in facing up to new emergent problems that are building from this unsteady foundations. We (you and I as wannabe scholars) are required to be known for our personal contribution and be unique; but we are most productive as a collective of conflict making the better ends meet. This is a contemporary source of many pressures and realities facing all in the academic community – a community who are first and foremost required to be knowledge seekers (not owners). This business end of academia seems to me a most distracting second priority. I think perhaps, it will nonetheless be a defining aspect the resulting pressure upon that community.

If you are therefore on the fringes of academia – if you have read this far, I suspect you are – and are thinking about diving in, this offers you a naïve perspective on what awaits – i.e., naïve as a perspective from a first year PhD (not a seasoned academic career pro). But if one thing is taken from this observation, make it this. In the modern era of landgrabs, and silos (and in most all walks of life) this academic community is one space where the people are not just here for the money, but are “advancing knowledge, not merely solving problems“. By-and-large therefore, this is a community that are all too willing to work collaboratively – and increasingly this means as cross-disciplinary and globally integrative ways. Very much the language I choose to speak. If you want more evidence of that community, just listen to what many have to say from within. Accessible here

The University of Leeds, Centre for Projects

I consider myself very fortunate to have landed in the Leeds Centre for Projects, part of the School of Civil Engineering. Both live within the natural sciences faculty at the University of Leeds. This centre for projects has only just launched, but it is filled with the sorts of people I like most. Highly collaborative, generous with their time, and clear in setting an agenda that relates to real world concern. There is no bigger concern than sustainability in projects (in my opinion). My research is motivated by that. The department I have joined lives by it, and populated by academic professionals driven by that same sentiment. My supervisors are also first rate – and as is their critique. The wider business of academia is one I am only just starting to see. I am minded to conclude that it is one of those places worth fighting for. You can find out more about Leeds Centre for Projects, here.

…to be continued

PhD and me – methodology

Taking in the worldview

A blog about the hard slog in the face of reality – in the philosophical sense as the underpinning of decisions of method.

I can now kill at will. Two months of reading little else but philosophical and methodological literature, and I can now identify positivist positions; consider the empirical merit of perhaps supporting naïve observation by critical realism; or, I can reflect upon taking a classical pragmatic perspective and similarly seek to better underpin an empirical research approach. I can also therefore kill a dinner party conversation, just as quickly as attention has just been killed in this blog.

Suffice to say therefore, that in beginning to consider anything more detailed than quantitative or qualitative method of data collection or analysis – much more is to be considered. Every PhD student probably deals with this learning differently, but it is individually won learning, and not something won overnight. If you want to know why a PhD can be a lonely place, or at least a quiet place, this perhaps offers some clues.

The last two months have been quite eventful – I have chalked off a few PhD milestones all students must pass through. Having past through my six month formal progress review unscathed, all focus turned immediately to my transfer preparations. The transfer is a big deal, because it is pass / fail in deciding if the combination of me as a student, and my research as a contribution to knowledge, both have merit enough to be continued. Most student pass – so do not let that put your off – but enough do not pass to reveal the reality of threat offered by this key event. It is a right of passage all PhD students much endure. My own deadline for that submission is the end of July.

I can also report two more major milestones have been successfully met in the last six weeks. A conference poster has been prepared and placed in public viewing of my civil engineering school peers. My first conference development paper was also submitted – and to my delight accepted for presentation in a few months time. Having moved into a tentative place of conference attendance I have also been permitted (indeed required) to offer peer review to other academic conference paper submission hopefuls. A separate blog will be offered on that conference experience, once a little further progressed. For now however – and with conversation killing intent – all has become very real (or relative), and appropriately filled with existential angst (or possibility of deconstruction). But all in a good way.

…to be continued

1,095 days of lockdown

3 years of Covid-19 shielding (the clinically severely vulnerable)

In our house, lockdown moves into year 4 today. Covid-19 remains a clear and present threat to those people who remain clinically severely vulnerable (CSV). After so long forgotten, it’s now just life as we know it. My wife remains safe and well. Thanks to caution: plus a large amount of good fortune, good family, and lucky timing.

We are not being overcautious. Government priority was never about saving the vulnerable {here}, nor is there any suggestion this has changed. Vaccines do not work on most people with underlying auto-immune-suppression. We are therefore not alone in this concern: [1] 500,000 people are directly affected {here}; [2] HMGov’s own scientific advisers estimate 1.2 million people (including family) are still shielding from Covid19. We are being appropriately cautious, like 1.2 million other people in the UK.

“frantic talks were held between Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the prime minister, the Bank of England governor, HSBC bosses and civil servants”

BBC – Silicon Valley Bank

…on the plus side, government found means to save the collapse of another bank over the weekend just gone. So, we can be sure there is capability to do what is needed – its just a question of priority. That’s something – I suppose. HMGov just cannot find reason to buy the Evusheld drugs or reach out to give support to those that might need it. All 1.2 million of us.

If you see HMGov, or their pocketed media loan-merchants, tell them it is okay to forget us again for a few months more. It is not like we are going anywhere.