PhD and lucky me

My application story – first time lucky 🍀

A blog summary of what the PhD application process looked like for me.

I promised a little more detail on the application process. So here it is. Just a little.

Firstly, if you are here to read about how to approach a PhD: try here instead. Thanks go to my new PhD supervisor for highlighting this resource.

The remainder of this blog is my application story. 10th May I was unofficially told, a few days later it was official. My application to begin a fully funded PhD enquiry had been selected. University of Leeds, School of Civil Engineering. As of October 2022 this part of my journey truly begins.

If you think you’re too old, or too career committed, just like me, you too may have thought of one day reaching higher into academic rigour, but let the passing of years latterly take the blame. Au contraire, says I, for our brains do not grow old until long after our hearts. So here are a few heartfelt pointers that worked for me.

Network, network, network

This is my most keenly offered advice. It is what we oldies still know how to do better than most. And what is true in industry, is also true in academia. We humans are social animals, and we connect to good luck more easily when we increase the number of times circumstance crosses happenstance. That requires activity in the social arena – even if one cannot leave the house.

My LinkedIn friends at the Major Project Association first prompted me towards this particular PhD possibility. The application deadline had been extended a month – so said their post. Not that I was looking to apply for this PhD or any other. At least not this year. But in bringing to my attention this advertised placement, combining sustainability with project need, I was drawn towards a speculative enquiry just to see what this might be.

Prepare long, to act fast

All of this happened quickly. Most PhD application processes are months in the making. I had no more than days to make my case. Timeline as follows:-

2nd April

The Major Projects Association post was 2nd April 2022. I know that because I tagged my soon to be supervisor on that LinkedIn post. I sent an invite to connect with a few details of myself, my research, and this blog. I thought no more of it for several weeks. Candidly, a network connection with a like-minded academic was all the prize I dared hope achieve.

14th April

14th April was the Thursday of the Easter weekend. “Thanks for your LinkedIn message, can you email me and we can chat early next week?”, said a LinkedIn DM in response to mine. I immediately obeyed and we agreed to chat on the Tuesday, i.e., post the Easter long weekend.

19th April

Tuesday 13:00. A very convivial chat. “Even if this goes no further“, I said with transparent intent, “lets find reason to talk again.” The discussion had indeed confirmed some alignment of research interests and I was keen to keep the dialogue going.

Having established a little common ground the bigger question was would I be prepared to move to Leeds? As a fully funded PhD this opportunity was in-situ and full-time. So if I was prepared for that then yes, an application by the imminent deadline would be well received.

Woohoo, to the first hurdle passed. Approval to apply. However, with the deadline so close and with my needing to prepare a proposal from scratch, I was under no illusions to the scale of that application task – at least I thought. Realistically, I was still only thinking as far as making my case and learning how to make it better. Learning and refining.

24th April 2022, written application deadline day.

There is simply no way a full blooded PhD research proposal can be written in just a few days. Several months is recommended – at least.

Prior research experience

But I had a little luck I had been storing up for a moment like this, which I can breakdown as follows:

  • a ready-made personalised blended template of key features to include and a framework to build upon in a PhD application – mind-maps I had made of 12 guide books on writing to a PhD proposal from my 2020 MSc dissertation which I had successfully self nominated using these same guides
  • this same 2020 MSc dissertation directing me toward a further research area, one I had been working with since that graduation, and which I hoped one day to be able to return to
  • from that same dissertation interest, a prior body of research notes offering a swollen literature review of over 120,000 words. Just 3,000 words of that chronology of project management theory had made it into my MSc dissertation – much to the amusement of my peers at the time
  • my decision to start writing this blog (back in September 2021) which holds a few of my strands of connection I hope to now build upon
  • detailed notes and mind-maps from my second MSc (psychology conversion course) where much of the behavioural science I hope to bring into what I think a project metric could reflect
  • a bonus of that ongoing second MSc was continued access to a library of peer journal articles written by those I was seeking to at least converse with in academically acceptable terms

Once the application forms were completed, a further 50 hours in three days turned that prior luck of preparation into the 18 page (5,500 word) proposal I submitted.

9th May 2022, 11:15. PhD Interview.

Maybe I was just managing my expectations, but I had not expected to be invited to interview. When I was invited, I took it as a job well done. First application attempt, first interview: affirmation that I was on the right track. But once that interview invite came in I reset. My reading and reflection of the research by this supervisory team was talking my language. I now really wanted this placement. The right university, the right people, the right research interests. All just coming sooner than planned (or dared believe). Other academics I know were saying the same. So I realised I now had more preparations to make.

Preparing for a PhD interview is well documented in 21st century ways. Podcasts and YouTube video have some great posts on what to expect in a PhD interview. All came to pass as those guides suggested. Each question designed to ensure aptitude and attitude aligned. No trick questions, or stock answers… I also had other academic contacts (all from discussions started on LinkedIn), all very generous in their encouragement and time which all helped me prepare.

More to share. More to say. More to learn.

That is not the full account. Not by far. Some of my research ideas may become blogs in due course. Mindful from hereon however that self-plagiarism is a risk if blog and attempted publication overlap.

For now, what I really wanted to volunteer in this post is what makes me think myself lucky. And to some degree, how such luck can be made.

Luck 🍀 based upon networking effectively – meaning modestly and sincerely, and with no agenda beyond a want to learn and contribute to the learning. In this regard I have so many people to thank and so many kindnesses to reciprocate. Each offering guidance, perspective, challenge, and learning.

Luck 🍀 derived from passion in this craft, desire to be more, and pleasure therein making work and play combine in my own time.

Luck 🍀 in discovering I work best in conjunction with others. Best of all via engagement in discourse. As I think in the end, most of us do.

PhD and me – and mine

We are all migrants of somewhere

This insight arrived this morning in my inbox 📨. An insightful opinion piece from Sarah Haider, entitled “poor by choice is not poor” {here}.

We are living their legacy

Sarah focus’ on the freedom of choice presented to third generation immigrants derived from the graft of their forebears. And the mistake made in thinking their plight equates to that of those who came before. A mistaken comparison, she argues, because this latter generation get to choose a meaningful life over a well-paid trajectory. Migrant forebears just made much of what met them from their leap.

We all came from somewhere

I think many can relate to this. I certainly can. And I think many others should, but do not. Living off of the effort of our forebears – there hides a duty to make that count. A gratitude missed.

Analogously, I am that same third generation immigrant. Not that my grandparents or theirs travelled far. Nor anyone I have traced in lineage dating as far back as 1750. The era of George II and the last Jacobite chapter with Bonnie Prince Charlie. My lineage sits squarely around Hucknall, Nottinghamshire; and Church Gresley, Derbyshire. We did not move far.

Economic migrants from past ages

Yet, this era of 1750 onwards was a period of European wide mass-migration. Labourers driven towards urbanisation, farmland upheaval, power struggles of state, Parliament and faith. Plenty of reasons to escape. Many found different paths to today. My forebears migrations were from presumed serfdom towards pottery and coal. Plenty of muck, but little brass. Plenty of blisters, but few miles in-between.

Class migration

The common theme is that all survived the hardship of those times, and made do. My father joined the Royal Navy to escape that option poor cycle. He worked hard too. Sacrificing much so that I had more. And working himself slowly upward to an officer from the ranks. Living by his wits, his intelligence, and steely determination – determination like few others I know. From Junior Seaman to Commander. From missed 11+ to earning an MA in Military Strategy. Emerging from a sea of God fearing labourers, my father was the migrant of class who took to the sea, to provide for my brother and me.

So I too am that third generation immigrant. My father migrated class whilst maintaining all the class of working hard. Enabling me to get a degree. Enabling me to find meaningful well paid work in the City. Enabling me to eventually be free, as I near age 50 to be born anew and begin a life less bound to tomorrow’s debt. My third generation immigrant status, as a migrant from the harder working class, to that of working more leisurely toward what most interests me.

So I am mindful of all that, as I prepare for life 2.0. That’s my relationship to my past, and my preparations to begin my PhD. That’s my third generation migration journey. My PhD aspirations, founded upon my migrant forebears, my ever present enabling father, and me.


Follow the below link to comment:

This post began on LinkedIn {here}. A few have shared their related story on that thread. I have enjoyed reading them too.

Coming up

My next blog will give a little insight into the happenstance that accompanied my successful PhD application. A first peak into what that new chapter may be, but mostly a story of being at that academic border crossing, and being let through.

To be continued…


Examining the wood from the trees

Odd to think that in a few hours my attention will change so profoundly. As regular as this change is, I doubt I’ve ever really considered the knowing of its impending impact upon my experience of the now. It is exam day again. My last for quite a while. It therefore represents a final push in one direction, before I am compelled to look another way.

This is a personal reflection upon those influences which I am coming to believe direct us all. Both individually, and in coordination or conflict; in cooperation or competition; and for better or for worse, compel us all.

As with anyone or any team, my focus is occasional drawn to other things. Other things that at the time become my focus. We may have many focus’, or a few. Beyond my study focus I have my research. My work. My wife. My engagements with the wider world. My imminent changes to where I live, my finances, my everything. But right now, beyond this reflection, my focus quickly funnels back into a space of learning. My gaze the leading edge of my thoughts. Drawing me toward the window of my laptop. And from there inside another world, where all the unknown knowledge waits for me. This siren lures me in. The answers to my questions shared here with me. The demands of an exam deadline keeps me from distractions. And in a few hours it will be gone.

What then will have my focus? My work. My wife. My engagement with the wider world. My imminent changes to where I live, my finances, my everything. Odd to think that in a few hours my attention will change so profoundly. Once again.

Seeing the wood for the trees. Is that the wood 🪵 in trees 🌲 🌳 🌳 or trees in the wood? Either way I think the need for perspectival adaptability and focus is well made.

A Gray Day – can we Sue?

What SMART change to the control environment is being made?

I am sure we have all read the report. It does not take long. Once the blame game subsides, what has changed or will change now? That is my question.

Whilst SMART objectives are a little cliché these days, they do still serve purpose when seeking visibility of behavioural change, and thereby regaining trust in systemic failure.

SMART move to avoid committed change…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

Not that much of this report is intended to be anything more than presentation of facts. My concern here is that we have sixty pages that simply gift the tabloid tickertape and headlines a few more inches – but none of that will lead us anywhere meaningfully forward.

This report is a pretty disappointing an output by volume. By quality, the analysis and conclusions are so very weak and devoid on any tangible opportunity to act. And I see nothing coming to challenge that fact.

Painting over the cracks

In the end we are being offered a report that describes a clear dereliction of duty. The greater dereliction here is what is happening beyond this report. The failure to offer SMART actionable change should concern us all.

I present the key wording that foreshadows this coming apathy to change. In essence what this reads is “mistakes were made, but changes are afoot, and you just need to trust us not to do it again“.

All of these quotes are from pages 36 and 37 of the Sue Gray report.

Mistakes were made:

“…attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with the guidance…”

“…failures of leadership and judgement in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office…senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear the responsibility for this culture…”

“…lack of respect and poor treatment of security and clearing staff. This was unacceptable…”

unquantifiable actions taken, thus enabling leadership to once again escape:

“…fragmented and complicated leadership structures in No. 10. I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns…embed a culture that welcomes…challenge and speaking up…”

“…changes to the organisation and management of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office with the aim of creating clearer lines of leadership and accountability…”

More time being gifted to avoid measurable improvement:

“…I am pleased progress is being made in addressing issues I have raised…”

“…since then guidance has been issued to all Government Departments…”

“…now these need the time and chance to bed in…”

visibility | behaviour | trust

If this is the direction of change, then we will be no closer to increasing visibility and addressing inadequate behaviours (as intent, belief, action). There can be no expectation of increased trust.

In any other context, this would not stand. Yet here, we all seem powerless to intervene. Let’s at least start with asking the better questions. What SMART change to the control environment is being made, to which you (PM) stand personally accountable for?

PhD and me – I got in!!!

Leeds University, Civil Engineering Department, PhD Student (Oct 2022…)

I am delighted, stunned, giggling like a child, as I confirm to this blog that I have now been formally selected to start a full-time, fully funded, PhD programme in October. Leeds University, Civil Engineering department, currently ranked second in the whole of the UK.

Offer received and signed by return ten minutes ago…

My seemingly unreachable ambition to sit in both academic and industry camps remains fired-up and on track. Researching in the name of one, but serving both. Hoping to learn to write and research with academic precision and add a small piece to the sustainability puzzle that now challenges us all.

How this came to be I will digest and reflect upon. A blog for another day. For now I feel humbled, daunted, and thrilled to be given new means to be.

PhD and me, is alive. My journey will continue to be shared here; on LinkedIn; and in everything I still have to do.

To be continued …

Friday 13th

Superstitious cognition, not sense


The human brain is wired to predict future events based upon experience, and short-cut complexity with modelled approximations. It should be no surprise therefore that we read more into happenstance than we should.

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re sceptical

Arthur C Clarke (maybe)

Not that I am superstitious. I am an INFJ, Type 9, DISC yellow, Sagittarius. That makes me far too sceptical to be categorising coincidence, or be convinced by correlations masquerading as cause and effect.

Change control

…review structures and processes that could make a difference…

Lindsay Hoyle – Speaker of the House

This is a quote from today’s news. In my project world this kind of review is about matching the framework to the range of influence it intends to control. From the world of insuring construction projects I observe this matching of control to need is not done well. In project management academia I think we miss this point when considered holistically. In psychology this assessment of behaviour to aid control is understood in part, but typically only observed in simple settings and in a lab.

Sir Lindsay wrote: “In my opinion, it is time to consider radical action, and review structures and processes that could make a difference…”

“…serious allegations have been made, and we must address them as a matter of urgency. It is imperative we do the right thing by staff and MPs as well.”

BBC “Westminster reform: Lindsay Hoyle and Andrea Leadsom call for urgent changes” 1st May 2022

How control, influence, and intended change interact is what my research is all about. I am researching this in projects of construction. It is what I do in my consulting work. It is how I now orientate my own life.

At its heart, my research is directed toward a simple explanation that enables us all to ask more…

v | b | t

Here are some simple metrics of in applying this to the question of Parliament:

v | b | trust

We are directed toward lost trust. Where there is failed intent, we trust less. Establishing better frameworks for the intended change seems to me the sensible first assumed move to make. It is how to enable the electorate and the stewardship that serves us to regain some shared trust.

v | behaviour | t

We are addressing self-serving behaviour being empowered to serve itself. We are required to challenge innate motivations and compare what is happening to what is required. It instils the accountability of decision-makers and removes the defensive-decision making they hide behind. But more than that it so considers the suitability of their agendas, their capacity and capability, their judgement and the support systems they need. So that leaders can be what they intended to be, as servants to us all; not have what they intended to have, as servants to themselves.

visibility | b | t

We are seeking better visible to us all. An electorate that currently just has visibility of the indifference shown by the power-base. Visibility of deceit, misinformation, and calculations of what needs to said rather than what needs to be done. Legislation passed to protect past error in response to the questions we ask. Repeating evidence of leadership being the opposite of integrity and in not leading by example. What is needed is greater clarity on what is being intended. What vision is being worked towards. And what independent governance from independent source, ensures accountability of all.

Three possible latent origins of failure

Across each of these metrics we appear to have a failing framework of control in government. Beyond the personalities and party colours of the day, it is to our Administration that we should expect permeant control. I see three likely sources of failure that allow the wrong influences to reign:

1. the control of the internal system is failing

2. failure in the policing, the governance, or assurance of appropriate control

3. the clarity of intended change and to whom benefit is the primary goal

Either way the framework needs to have measure of all. Able to have account of all influences redirecting intended change. Thereby protecting the collectively agreed goals and/or the means to adapt such goal to the novelty of new or that which was previously unknown.

Projects | Within Projects

Whether in politics, or in charges of failure by the United Nations or World Health Organisation. Whether we are considering major projects like HS2 or Crossrail. If we are focused on decisions of priority to feed the hungry, or house the homeless, prevent needless bloodshed; or empower the entrepreneur, realign relationships with Europe, intervene in Ukraine, tackle climate change; or ensure our own growth upon a polluted home. Or, if we are addressing our personal purpose and how best to get there. All such intended change requires the appropriate selection of control, and account for all actor interests that may influence this goal for better or worse.

At its core, that is what is being called for here. At its heart, I contend that this is what we are all really asking for.

PhD and me

Learning by doing

I had to give this one a try. It came to my attention too late but I tried anyway. My first PhD proposal has now been submitted. Let the learning begin.

Written in three days is not the ideal preparation. But as a forced period of solid focus and serious questioning of what I’m trying to contribute as research and how it fits to wider academic research overall, was useful reminders of what it’s all for. My passion lives here. I just hope that shines through.

18 pages of my heart and soul. A baseline reset that serves as a useful confirmation that my research, my study, my consulting, and my life choices, all still sit well upon long-term goals.

That’s a good weekend, come what may. Learnt much by learning how much more I have yet to do.

Death and rebirth : know thyself

Remembering this guy and reflecting upon what we each rebuild

A family guy

I never grow tired of bringing one of these old photos out.

Peter Griffin doppelgänger

2010. All bought and paid for. Even the suit.

At 100kg, clients could be assured the full weight of the London market was in their corner

Good Friday

Acknowledging the significance of the day, I make serious commentary within the light-hearted tone offered here. Without the Christian faith I once had, this day of reflection upon sacrifice sits no less heavily for me.

This blog presents a brief revisit of where my journey was ten years ago, and upon the folly of some ideas I was generating back then. I hope these messages resonate with a few.

As I approach 50 years of age, my reflective mood is starting to take account of past milestones again. Much has changed since I was taking stock in the build up to my 40th birthday. That man, now ten years my junior, was undergoing redress of a different kind. One much more directed toward an imagined future, but steeped in fear of regret. This time around, reflecting again as 50 years approach, I feel reconnected to that last cycle of resetting a baseline, and also toward those resets yet to come. I am perhaps more psychologically informed this time around.

By the April of 2012 I had made decent progress toward a new goal. A snoring husband was a selfish husband. Whilst my wife was still teaching, her medical condition was our growing focus. Sleep for her was an increasingly premium commodity for health. My snoring therefore had to be stopped. I had been losing weight at a rate of about 1 kilogram per week since the turn of the year. By April 2012 that was really starting to show. New clothes to account for a waist that had diminished from 44 inches to 36. An interim wardrobe replaced the fat-boy clothes. They too were later replaced as more stored energy was being burnt away. By the end of May 2012, I had lost 25 kilograms ~ 4 stone ~ 55lb. Motivation is a curious thing.

That weight fell off via a daily routine of diet and an obsessional interest in rowing. Dropping to 75kg enabled me to classify into the lightweight category of a newly discovered indoor rowing scene. I had found a new talent. My old one was being able to drink more, sleep less, and still get more done than most. My new one was not so much a talent for competitive rowing, I am too short to really excel at that, but I could lose weight as easily as I could pile it on. Rowing also encouraged me to return to lifting reasonably heavy weights. I wanted to see how far I could go. Another boundary edge to find, another type of learning to occupy my mind. A new era had arrived for me – Warren: home of the gym bunny.

Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs)

Losing weight vs finding self : confessions of a (c)aged MAMIL

Soon I was convincingly wearing rugby shirts again – much as I had in my twenties – and with much the same old belonging to a sport I never really played. My father’s sportier resolve secretly lives within me. A few genes that surface for a while but never for long. This time however, they sat central for much of the decade. I was soon aiming at goal after goal in ever more outlandish charitable endurance challenge. Outlandish because I think I needed to keep doing things others thought unpleasant or out of reach. For example, a marathon on a concept2-ergo is 42,195 meters, and my 3 hours 30 minute time was about average for my age. But how many would ever want to know if they could be that average? I rewarded my lightweight self with a mountain bike (MTB), a sport I did once know a thing or two about.

I was delighted to discover you can cycle from London to Brighton, “off-road”, over 75 glorious miles of riverside trails, forestry tracks, lung-busting South Downs hill climbs; and concluding with a suspension justifying long and dusty descent to sea level and the Brighton sea shore.

London to Eastbourne is more a cyclocross route than MTB, but I was pleased with finishing 3rd🥉 – a satisfying last minute decision to enter an event starting near to where I live.

I also jokingly claim to hold the record for the fastest Prudential London 100 on a “single gear and single pedal” bike. My one and only experience of this event was undertaken on the single speed commuter bike I bought and rode 40 miles daily, the year Southern Rail seemed permanently to be on strike.

One pedal one gear keep moving

The one gear was my choice, the single pedal however, was not my decision. It sheered off 20 miles into the Pru100 ride. The pedal cage was gracious enough to leave behind the spindle though. And I had remembered to pack my raw bloody-mindedness, so British Lung Foundation got to keep a few grand in generous sponsorship raised.

6 km for this photo plus the 100 km we were promised

As endurance events go however, the most brutal award goes to walking London to Brighton (60 miles or 100 km) – which took four cheery friends 27 blister-filled hours.

That was a blistering pace

MAMIL – Middle-aged man in limbo

Plenty of fond memories there. And plenty of achievement. There is much to be said for the self-confidence to do more and be more. The 100kg me needed to be tamed, and I do wonder what health issues I dodged thanks to my wife’s need of me to be healthier, plus the hubris I found new ways to feed. But, as I now know – there is no health, without mental health.

Hiding in plain sight

That story I do not need to revisit – you can find it here. But there is a bigger point I wish to make. Being in physical shape certainly offered me a new sense of Self, at least for a while. However, Carl Jung would perhaps agree that this is appeasement to persona, not Self. Given my mental health decline through this decade – despite this rebirth of a more physical, less hedonistic, but no less erudite interest – I look back on those many events as delusional, or at best a misplaced escape.

That is probably too harsh, and my pride is none diminished at what I achieved in this domain. There are no doubt many a MAMIL who will present compelling case of the boost to health that exercise offers us all. But my challenge back to you is to consider the manner of the escape. And what it is one is escaping from.

I have no doubt I will sit in a saddle again too. But for me these last ten years represent a gruelling part of a different type of endurance journey, one that more than physical belligerence alone could have ultimately pulled me through. The lesson learnt here is give time to all manner of health, not just that part to which you are seen to be well.

Truth and sacrifice

I recall an insightful discussion late into 2019. Maybe it was November, but even that late it was still before the Sars-Covid19 era was a thing. I was sharing weight loss tales with a dear acquaintance of old. He too had lost weight as his thirties became his forties. He too had still lost heart in what it was he was supposed to do. We both concluded the same thing – no one else really gives a damn how you look – not from the vantage point of being in a stable marriage, and living through middle age. Any interest in look or physical health is really just comparison, favourable or not.

As we both reflected upon his ultimate need to change his life by moving to the country; plus my candid and openly discussed latter-day attempts to not have to face life at all; we concluded that weight loss was worthwhile for personal health, persona or ego, but less relevant than finding your soul. We both smiled knowingly as our discussion landed upon that truth. Two atheists reflecting upon what is still core.

I smile again now recalling that discussion. A tiny bit wiser towards my truth. A little closer to my whole. A little more connected to my sense of purpose. Acknowledging ongoing need to strip away habits, beliefs, wants, and needs. Each of which no doubt served a purpose, but one by one they each just become the obstacle, or the location of the next hole.

Needing less, but being more. That’s the owned meaning of sacrifice. At least to me.

Safe seats

Letting sleeping dawgs lie

13th March 2020. 760 days of lockdown in our house today.

2nd May 2024. 751 days from today. The date of the next general election.

So I guess we’re past halfway…

😤 😡 😠