Handing in

writing your thesis

So Friday is the big day – taking my soft-bound document to Durham to hand it in.  I thought I would share a few things that I have learnt at this stage of the process:

  1. Mirrored margins are really clever!  If you didn’t already know there’s a function in Word that knows you need a wider margin on the left hand side of odd numbered pages and on the right hand side of even numbered pages for double sides printing.  I haven’t yet worked out how to make page numbers move around but I’m sure there must be a way.  In the meantime, the best solution was centred page numbers.
  2. I can’t for the life of me get the formatting of tables of tables and tables of figures right.  So I have given up.  My mantra has become “Is this issue big enough for them to fail me?” and if the answer was “unlikely” – I left it.
  3. Ensuring all the sections were numbered correctly was also a nightmare and seemed to take on a life of its own.  It got to the point where I dreaded reopening the document for fear of what havoc Word had wreaked on it whilst I wasn’t looking.  It seems that as long as you confine changes to your numbered list whilst at the first numbered item you’ll be ok.  If you make any other changes further on you’ll be in trouble.
  4. Page breaks are a nightmare.  For added interest in Word, if you put a page break too close to where it might come naturally, it appears to move between when it is in the normal view of the document and where it actually ends up in the printed version.   I was trying to get all my chapters to start on odd numbered pages.  Three binned printouts taught me to move the artificially inserted page breaks further away from the natural ones.
  5. Beware of the Endnote travelling library function.  You think you have corrected a reference, but the wrong version keeps appearing in your document?  Most likely there is a travelling library causing the problem.  Thank goodness for Google and chatroom help – I had to delete all my travelling library references and then the problem was corrected.
  6. Binding feels like a big deal but really it’s the printing out that takes the time.  Your heart is racing, your body is acting like it’s about to jump out of an aeroplane or something – the computer and the software all feel like they are at the limit of their capacities…Make sure your printer is full of paper, full of ink and the waste toner cartridge is not about to say it’s full up…

All I need to do on Friday is get to the right place to hand it in with the appropriately completed forms and the requisite number of softbound copies…

And the small matter of the Viva.

Intention to Submit


Following a little bit of a hiatus over the summer what with it being summer and holidays and some other stuff, I last wrote I think with the intention of submitting a full draft to my supervisors for review end June.  I started calling it my final draft and then reflected that that was unlikely 🙂 and somewhat over optimistic.  So I completed a full draft and submitted it in the form of individual chapters via drop box to my supervisors mid-July (two weeks late).   I thought that I should leave it alone then until I got feedback, otherwise it would be tricky to respond to the feedback.  That transpired to be a pretty long break (two months) as I got the feedback I’d been waiting for mid-September.

The verdict was very promising. I had been wondering if feedback was delayed because there was so much of it (because my work was so bad) …so it was nice to find that that wasn’t the case.  Much of the work that is needed now is about splitting up chapters and reordering content, adding more explanation in places, putting raw data in appendices, making more of contributions to knowledge, stuff like that.

In my supervision meeting today, we went through the feedback chapter by chapter and agreed I would aim to submit mid-November.

We discussed external and internal examiners .

So I have another (maybe final!) pass to do incorporating feedback from both supervisors and will send them it chapter by chapter as I go.  I need to count the days I have available to dedicate to this work between now and mid November just to check this plan is feasible but it looks like I may be on my way.

Maybe the middle of the end


75th anniversary of the D Day landings today hence the WW2 propaganda poster!

I met Julie alone today as Nicola was away.  Since our last meeting I had sent Julie and Nicola drafts of my method and methodology chapters and managed to squeeze out a final chapter too.  I’d had email feedback and pencil notes on hard copies back.

I put all the chapters together in one document and then split them all up again.  Top tip – don’t put all your chapters together into one document until you have absolutely stopped fiddling with the text!  It feels so much more manageable and navigable in chapters, such a relief to have it back in bits again.  Plus the time it takes to save each document and the time taken by endnote to catch up with each reference change is massively reduced.

Julie suggested that I should leave the final chapter alone and revisit all the other ones getting my argument / story straight.  I am therefore now aiming to send Julie and Nicola all my chapters (separately) apart from the final one before my next supervision.  We can then discuss them and the final chapter.  Then I can have another better go at the final chapter.  Or I might find that comes along with the others ones too.  We’ll see.

I realised that having read Dunleavy’s “Authoring a PhD” and Murray’s “How to write a thesis” I had tried to summarise the whole thing in the final chapter, rather than drawing out the main points in each chapter.  Thus frustrating my reader by giving them stuff again that they already knew when all they really wanted to read was my findings.  Readers will want to get there quicker.  Julie suggested I could distill several paragraphs into one.

She said my method chapter was better now but my methodology needed tweaking once I’d got my central argument straight.  So what is my central argument you might ask?

Am I identifying the threshold concepts of entrepreneurship?


Am I using the threshold concept framework to demarcate entrepreneurship?

and the answer is…

I am using the threshold concept framework as a lens, or analytic tool to demarcate entrepreneurship.  So I am most interested in the integrative and bounded nature of  threshold concepts, and am using these characteristics to define the boundary of the subject.

The integrative and bounded nature of threshold concepts give cohesion to the subject of entrepreneurship.  This links to what I have been talking about in terms of episteme and identity in the thesis

So I am not so much interested in the threshold concepts of entrepreneurship (in fact there might be not such things definitively in any case), but I have identified some potential ones, or some candidate ones which help determining the distinctive nature of entrepreneurship.

Julie recommended “Education – the anatomy of the discipline” (Furlong ,2013) as a useful text in this context, as I will need to add a bit on the literature concerning what a discipline is.  Just to demonstrate I know that there is one, but not necessarily to cover it in any depth.

We talked about the relationship between entrepreneurship and skills and abilities.  Julie made the distinction that “entrepreneurship isn’t something you can turn off”. Unlike, say, team working skills.  You don’t do team working all the time, but you do do entrepreneurship all the time if it is interpreted as a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world.

We also talked about the key difference between PRACTICE (noun) and PRACTISE (verb).  Entrepreneurs practiSe entrepreneurship, but entrepreneurship is not a practiCe.  So when entrepreneurs practise entrepreneurship they do it in the sense that they repeatedly do it in order to get better.  They don’t do it as a member of a Community of Practice.

So entrepreneurship is not a skill or a set of skills, it’s a way of thinking and practiSing.  You can’t do the practise without the thinking, and you can’t do the thinking without the practise.  So the threshold concepts are not concerned with just the cognitive processes or just the activity, but both.  Attempting to practiSe entrepreneurship without getting the thinking bit is mimicry.

Julie mentioned Jean Lave’s work on Communities of Practice again , because of the point Lave makes about there being no learning outside the community, but I don’t think entrepreneurs are members of a community of entrepreneurs in that sense.  They practise entrepreneurship in social contexts but not in communities of other entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is not a profession either – neither is it a vocation either, the necessary elements of altruism and social citizenship are not foregrounded although they might be a very powerful drivers they’re not going to be the ones that characterise the endeavour in the same way that it does for doctors, teachers or lawyers.

Entrepreneurs share a way of thinking, but in isolation from each other, it is not explicitly shared or developed as part of a community of entrepreneurs in the sense of a community of practiCe.

The boundedness lies in their distinctive way of thinking.  An entrepreneurial way of thinking, and how they practiSe entrepreneurship – how they do entrepreneurship.

So in the research study:

Entrepreneurs are telling me what the boundary markers are for entrepreneurship

Educators are reinforcing those boundaries and telling me about troublesomeness and transformation

Student are demonstrating to me the presence or absence of understanding and the extent to which they have a sense of the boundaries (of entrepreneurship).  The maps show me where they are in terms of integration of their knowledge.

All the way through, the story is about INTEGRATIVENESS and BOUNDEDNESS.

Then the story can be in the final chapter about what can be expected of entrepreneurship education going from here and how the students might be taught best.

Using the Threshold Concept Framework as a lens to define what is distinctive about entrepreneurship means that entrepreneurship CANNOT become a generic skill set (because it is bounded conceptually).

It is bounded, but the boundaries are not rigid, because they are socially constructed, and as such dependent on many variables.  The ‘thresholdness’ of a concept (or the degree of transformation required to understand it) sits on 3 dimensions: the degree of ontological shift, the degree of epistemological shift and the context of the learner.  This would explain why some concepts are experienced as more troublesome by some people than others.  And also why the threshold-ness of some concepts changes too – for example when the world view changed to accept that the world was round when people had thought it was flat, a lot of people had a lot of transformation to do.  But not now because we never thought of the world being flat before we thought it was round.

See the source image

So the process of identification IS more important that the identification of the threshold concepts themselves because they are not static or fixed but situation and learner dependent and socially constructed.

My research questions have become something like:

What is distinctive about entrepreneurship? – To be answered by the entrepreneurs, and the educators

If that is how the subject can be bounded – then how can we teach it? – to be answered by the educators.  Remembering that I am not proposing THE best way – just some ways from the perspectives of this sample of people.

If that is how we can teach it – then how do students understand it? – to be answered by the students.

The study is bounded by the perspectives of my samples.  But I can talk about relatability – the perspectives of my samples might be shared by other entrepreneurs/educators in other circumstances – that would be reasonable.

It starts us thinking about things, entrepreneurship as an area of study, without attempting to put a definitive marker in the sand, or trying to ‘fix’ the concepts.

So I need to re-write my chapters – mainly the opening and closing sections, drawing out the key points in the context of this argument.  I need to move the literature on threshold concepts from the literature review to the methodology chapter.  I’m using the threshold concept framework as a methodological tool.

The focus needs to be maintained consistently throughout – it’s about finding the distinctiveness of entrepreneurship, setting its boundaries.  And if we see entrepreneurship like that, then what does that mean for teaching it?

It’s ok to re-use some headings repeatedly throughout – that helps create a thread through the thesis.

So a really useful session resulting in a clear thread which I can use to pull it all together into a coherent argument.




The final countdown

I have managed to work myself up a schedule that takes me right through to submission…it’s going to be very tight but I think if I don’t have a hard deadline I’ll keep fiddling ad infinitum.

This is where I am at the moment: chapters where I have the first draft written:

  • Chapter 1 Introduction and background to the research
  • Chapter 2 Literature review
  • Chapter 3 Research design (likely to turn into two or maybe three chapters – see later)
  • Chapter 4 Findings and Discussion Part 1 (Entrepreneurs and Educators)
  • Chapter 5 Findings and Discussion Part 2 (Students)
  • Chapter 6 Conclusions and Recommendations (very very rough draft – not there yet at all).

My supervisors have now given me feedback on all but the last chapter which is because I haven’t written it yet 🙂 .  So…my current plans is as follows:

  • Redraft the Research Design chapter/s and complete the Conclusions and Recommendations chapter by June 6th (next supervision)
  • Prepare the final draft for final supervisor comments  – End June
  • Receive final comments back  – End July
  • Make final amends and submit – End August/beginning September

During my supervision we discussed in detail their feedback on the Research Design chapter.  Julie and Nicola suggested I created a part 1 (epistemology) and part 2 (method – the practical considerations).  I might even split out the stuff on threshold concepts.  I need to include a general discussion about ethics in this kind of project and reference the specifics of the ethical approvals obtained for this work.  Emails confirming approval are required as appendices – many doctoral candidates  have accidentally revealed identities of participating organisations/individuals by including full ethical forms in their thesis submission.

Nicola suggested I look at a recent paper on Mick Flannagan’s website by Timmermans and Meyer  – published in the International Journal of Academic Development:

Julie A. Timmermans & Jan H. F. Meyer (2017) A framework for working with university teachers to create and embed ‘Integrated Threshold Concept Knowledge’ (ITCK) in their practice, International Journal for Academic Development, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2017.1388241

Other points raised that I need to address in my Research Design are:

  • over reliance on one author (Cohen et al (2011)
  • overall tone  – I become too text book-y – the text must relate to my research not research in general.  Julie suggested re-writing this whole chapter in the first person which I think will make the whole thing flow much more easily.  I will stick to what I did and use the literature to back up by choices and provide the rationale.  I don’t need to start from first principles – for example I don’t need to explain constructivism and social constructivism – just the one that’s relevant to me and it will be assumed that I understand how it came to be derived.
  • Remember I have adopted a social constructivist approach so it makes no sense to talk about the “truth” as if it existed objectively.  I’ve started to talk as a positivist scientist in approaching my method and analysis.  I need to explain how I have used my interviews to construct meaning.  Equally the term ‘bias’ is irrelevant in qualitative research.
  • I need to highlight what I have done a lot more – it’s currently partly obscured by a lot of irrelevant stuff.  It’s time to blow my own trumpet.

Some claims I might make:

– Highlight the staged design approach – how it builds on transactional curriculum inquiry (TCI) and addresses some of the criticism of this approach and the other benefits it achieves.  Make a bigger deal of using TCI as a starting point to develop my own approach. This is an important methodological contribution to knowledge.  I am building on Cousin and addressing criticism from Barradell.

– Acknowledge the problems of involving students in threshold concept research – citing Peter Felton’s chapter in the 2016 Threshold Concept book.  Acknowledge the problems and explain how I have addressed them.  How I’ve ensured the student voice is heard.  This is also a methodological contribution.

– I need to make the point that this is an innovative approach to the identification of threshold concepts, not just in entrepreneurship but in wider curriculum design – contribution to PRACTICE

– My approach allows us to counter the prevailing neo-liberal approach where employability has become the dominant voice.

In general, I need to talk through some of the challenges I faced and how I found a way through them.  I need to raise the level of the discussion and cite more specialist literature on research design.  For example – how I went about deciding who was an entrepreneur and where to source my sample.  How I managed a sample which consisted of powerful, time-poor people with whom I needed to maintain a constructive working relationship.  I should talk about the tensions associated with using an expert group (entrepreneurs and educators). I need to detail the complexities I found and the difficulties I had and the decisions I made.  I need to describe how I came to determine what consensus was.  I need to be more reflective.  I need to talk about access and buy-in, and the process of ‘selling’ participation.  I need to explain why I did it the way I did it.  I should not present contentious issues as uncontentious.  If they’re messy, show the messiness. Say “This is what I did, this is why I did it…”

Julie and Nicola also suggested a flow chart of my method repeated at intervals to help the reader navigate the process.  I will also include one for the Delphi study in more detail to show why and when the numbers of participants went down.

Going into the data coding and analysis process Nicola wanted to hear more about how I got from the data to the findings.  I need to be more explicit about what exactly I did – I need to own the stages I went through in getting from the data to the text.  For example – say how many codes were identified when – and include a list of these codes as an appendix.  Maybe take one Threshold Concept and look at it as an example in more detail.  Show rigour in the detail.

Julie again referred me to Linda Martindale’s thesis especially to look at the last chapter and how she has structured it.

When I look at the method for the concept mapping workshops I need to say more as this last section is considerably shorter than the other two and feels abrupt.  I need to give an overview of how the maps can be analysed in general and then what I did and why I did it.  I need to talk my reader through my thought process as well as my method.

Then we turned to more prosaic issues like numbering sections with which I was struggling.  I will seek help from the library with this.

I also need to get the APA guidelines on everything for example the rules on indentations for quotations.

When considering research limitations, don’t mention things I am not going to explore in detail. For example – why mention the gender split of the sample groups if my research is not concerned with gender difference?

When presenting threshold concepts as ways of thinking and practicing I should not introduce ‘ways of seeing’ as well. I think I will bring in this metaphor in the final discussion chapter and not before.  I must maintain the idea of an ontological shift in the student – Julie mentioned the idea of ‘partial transformation’ which I need to explore further.  Another paper in the 2016 threshold concept book “Ambivalence, hybridity and liminality: the case of the military” would also be relevant.  The transformation may not be complete but is still irreversible.

In setting out my final chapter I need to highlight the contributions I am making to method,  theory, and practice in education and entrepreneurship. BE BOLD.

Don’t reiterate the limitations of the research in the final chapter, preempt criticisms (which usually concern the method in any case).

In discussing future research, refer to methodological limitations that I have already mentioned and use them to move on to recommendations for future research.

Remind the reader of what they have read with regular summaries (without overdoing it).  Use research questions as subheadings – “Here’s the question I asked and here’s how I answered it”.  Refer back to the literature – and be clear how I have extended the literature.




March update

Had my supervision with Julie and Nicola today (Wednesday 27th March 2019).

Previously I had sent tidied up versions of the Introduction, Context and Literature chapters.  Since my last supervision I’d been analysing my educator data and just started analysing my student data.

I had read up on thematic analysis and so had diligently re-read all the transcripts again and made hand written notes on them.  Then I had created a word document for each interview with coding memos and the verbatim comments they referred to.   Then I coded all the interviews in NVivo. Then I had started to develop a document capturing all the themes emerging from the interviews but that started to feel all wrong.

Today’s main question was, “Should I start from the data and work back to the research questions?” or “Should I start from the research questions and answer them using the data?”.  By the time I’d realised I had this dilemma, I’d pretty much worked out the answer to it too.  I have to remember I am not using Grounded Theory – I need to use my research questions to keep me on track with the discussion of the research data.  I cannot explore every theme that is emerging from the data, I will have to save the really interesting bits that don’t directly relate to my research questions for another day.

Julie agreed – I’d answered my own question.  It was also really useful to realise that in interpretivist research, you can’t really distinguish between the findings and the analysis – and I had been trying to.  The findings are essentially the interview transcripts and I can’t put all them in the thesis!  So I just need the analysis supported with relevant pertinent quotations from the interviews.

I have three data sets and they don’t all have to be treated in the same way.  I will have a section (or chapter maybe) on the entrepreneur data setting out the themes emerging from the Delphi survey and discussion of those themes.  I will have a section (or chapter maybe) on the educator data setting out the themes emerging from the interviews and discussion of those themes, in their own right and also in light of the entrepreneur data.  Then I will have a section (or chapter maybe) on the student data, setting out the themes emerging from the concept maps and discussing those themes in their own right, and then a section discussing all the findings from the three data sets all together.  Entrepreneurship threshold concepts have emerged from the Entrepreneur and Educator data, and I can see evidence of students’ progress towards understanding them in the Student data (yeay!).

When I am labelling the threshold concepts I need to be aware of the baggage that comes with any term I choose – I need to make sure I am using uncomplicated terms that don’t mean very specific things in other contexts.

We talked about coding.   I have coded all my educator interviews and now I need to collate and tidy up the codes before going back and perhaps re-coding them again.  Julie advised me to keep a note of the themes that really jumped out at me that I wouldn’t be able to include in the thesis to come back to at a later date (for later papers).

Other comments about the chapters I’d sent previously were that I should take out the sub-headings (that I had in there to help me navigate the documents) and leave the chapters until I put everything back together again.

Now I will aim to write up the data analysis and send it to Julie and Nicola after Easter, so they have a chance to look at it before our next meeting on 10th May 2019.

Choosing which trees to bark up

Writing up my supervision from yesterday (27.02.2019) with a horrible cold – so brain not fully functioning.

Sent Nicola and Julie the first draft of my Introduction, Context and Literature chapters – was meant to be around 10,000 words per chapter, ended up being more like 60,000 all together.  Felt real sympathy for my supervisors and was torn between sending them something horrible with time to read it before we met, and trying to fix it and then not allowing them any time to read it.  So I went for the former.

I spent the morning before my meeting with them reading through what I had sent.  I concluded that although a few bits were ok, there was a lot that needed to go and most of it was in a mess.  I had included the kitchen sink and I need to now get a massive big red pen out.

That was also largely what Nicola and Julie had concluded too.  I need to flag my arguments and be clear about what I am focusing on and what I am not.  I have too many arguments which could present traps for me in a viva.

For each chapter it needs to be crystal clear –

WHAT are the key arguments? – (Choose the trees I am barking up – can’t bark up all the trees!)

(What does my reader really NEED to know? )

WHY has this been included?

We discussed a potential reordering of the material.  Should the research questions come right at the beginning or at the end of the beginning?  Should I present the reader with the research questions before I have explained where they have come from?

It depends if the introduction is an introduction or an overview/executive summary.  Julie suggested that an introduction should include at least the research aim if not the research questions.

When the area is entrepreneurship and education the entry point for the thesis is not clear.  It’s hard to decide where to start the story/ argument.  Often the research gap emerges from the literature review but that’s not where my story starts really because the context is important for me too.  It’s hard to see how to treat the context of the thesis when it’s working as both background and justification for the thesis.

I had included a lot about Team Academy and my own career trajectory which was interesting (they said – honest!) but unnecessary.  At times I am expressing opinion – it gets too personal. I need to present perspectives from different camps and signpost them as such – present view points from different schools of thought rather than personal opinion. I need to base every point I make on the perspectives of what others have said.  When I do express a view I need to own it and explain where it has come from.  It’s a difficult tight rope – I am expected to make a contribution to knowledge but I have to evidence and base the contributions I am making on the work of others.

I also mentioned my idea of using threshold concepts as “frames” in education.  Enabling students to see through various entrepreneurial  lenses or frames , so that they can see things in a an entrepreneurial way.  That’s what we need to try and teach them.  Once they can see things like this, they have understood the concepts.  Julie commented that it was interesting that the threshold concept framework approach had suggested the use of frames in education.  So the threshold concept framework is helpful in understanding what entrepreneurship education can do, as well as understanding how entrepreneurs think.

Nicola highlighted the importance of making the scope clear – am I talking regionally, nationally, internationally?  Julie suggested treating context as a range of contexts – I can explain that the work is UK focused but that it has a wider relevance and significance.

So we agreed the date for the next meeting (27th March 2019) .  Before then (in one week) I am to unravel what I have written, thin it down by choosing my arguments, order the arguments so they tell a coherent story and then re-send, together with a plan for approaching the data analysis.




Cleared for write up

I met with Julie and Nicola on 21st January 2019.  I had sent in advance a few pages setting out the central argument of my thesis – examining entrepreneurship education through the lens of the threshold concept framework permits a more conceptual approach, balancing the impact of the prevailing neo-liberal educational environment.

I also had sent through a draft outline structure, setting out what I would be covering in each chapter.

So overall we agreed that my premise holds water but some things need to be teased out more; for example my claim that an entrepreneurial skill set is a form of generic skill set.  I am taking a strong position, so I need to add in a strong position statement and explain how I came to that position, frame it.

I need to take the reader through my argument more slowly and expand the sections.  I can present it as a personal reflection so it will need less justification, arising from my situation as EBM programme leader.  I can signpost which reflections will be picked up and reflected on further (for example; see section 3.5…)

It also needs more signposting to the literature – what I think and what other people have said need to be more clearly differentiated.  I also need to make sure that I use less secondary sources – if I am relying heavily on the work of another person, particularly if I am relying on one particular paper, I need to be reading the original paper, not someone else’s take on it.

This applies particularly to Bernstein and Lyotard.  Big names are potentially contentious and could derail the viva, so it’s best to leave them out altogether if I am only mentioning them in passing.  Otherwise I really need to know what I am talking about.  I need to present the work of others properly – or not mention them at all.  Especially philosophers or theorists.

I also need to make sure I include a more factual section with numbers/data/dates on entrepreneurship education, policy stuff – key government actions that changed provision, what the drivers of change were, what were the drivers of growth in the availability of entrepreneurship education programmes?

I need to expand on the view that entrepreneurship is more like an art despite being right in the middle of business and directly linked to new venture creation and job creation.  There is little evidence of its conceptual development currently in the literature.

Entrepreneurial Skills can be regarded as an extension of employability and as such, applicable to all – a generic skill set, but Entrepreneurship can also mean venture creation very specifically, only relevant to a few.

I need to mention the evangelical side of entrepreneurship education and use it as one way of considering the educator data.

We moved on to practical issues.  Julie suggested I thought of a time line for the preparation of a working draft of the first three chapters:

  1. Introduction to the thesis
  2. Context of the thesis
  3. Literature

I will aim to have this done by the end of February.  By the end of the sabbatical at a minimum I aim to have completed my data analysis, and ideally will have drafted everything.  Julie and Nicola encouraged me to consider what it was that was essential to be completed in the sabbatical and what was desirable.  I need to map out the time available and then fit the work required into that time.  This means I might have to leave some sections unfinished, before I move on to the next ones to be done.

We agreed the date for the next supervision meeting.