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4 years, 10 seconds and 8 steps (my PhD story)

8 steps and 10 seconds...

8 steps and 10 seconds…

I’m deviating slightly from my usual business-led Sunday blog to share a little of my story from the past 4-5 years – it will tell you a lot about me, but, more than that, you’ll find that the story is a little mad and that the real heroine is my wife.

Five years ago I found myself with a wealth of experience, but little to show for it in terms of qualifications.  I also wanted to go into independent consulting/training, but I felt I lacked credibility.  Sure, I had over 20 years of real world experience, but at 38 I didn’t believe that experience was enough, not for me anyway.  What came next was my version of punctuated equilibrium, I essentially threw away my career, moved to Edinburgh and enrolled on an MSc (Management of Training and Development) at the University of Edinburgh.  Within six months I had written a proposal for a PhD in Knowledge Management and signed up for a minimum of four years (I wanted to do it in three..everyone told me it would take four and they were right) of being a full time student (or so they thought).  In October 2008, my PhD journey began.

Every PhD student has a strategy.  For some it is about the title, others the journey (enlightenment), and for some a requirement (e.g. Higher Education lecturing) – one middle-aged female colleague declared over lunch one day that her motivation was to avoid being called, ‘Miss’.  For me, it was about the journey and the ability to develop hyper-specialisation in a field that I was genuinely passionate about.  At this point my story departs from pretty much any other PhD story I have heard.  First, hyper-specialisation has its pitfalls and I wanted to enjoy a more holistic view of soft systems, complexity and Knowledge Management.  Second, I had no intention of being a full-time student, but I also didn’t want to take eight years to complete the process (the part-time route) – I had a colleague at the University that has being doing an Ed.D for ten years, and is still going, can you imagine! Third, I wanted to get back to work; I couldn’t afford to have my experience decay in academia and I wanted to be constantly challenging my view of the world, which meant getting back to practice.

I was lucky.  My performance on the MSc brought me an invite to become an adjunct lecturer in my first year of the PhD, which quickly moved to a full time position from year 2 onward.  I threw myself into research, focusing on practice and devouring literature as if my life depended on it.  I was mentored by an incredible supervisor who saw potential in me to achieve something unique and found funding in my first year for me to travel to conferences as far afield as Hong Kong, in order for me to test my ideas.

4 years, 10 seconds, 8 steps and it's all over

4 years, 10 seconds, 8 steps and it’s all over

Then organisations started to take an interest in what I was doing, journal articles came next and then speaking engagements (apparently people loved my passion for the field as much as my new methods and toolkits for understanding KM).  As a result of my work, two years in to the PhD (October 2010), the University, via Edinburgh Research and Innovation, provided seed capital to start up K3-Cubed – some were starting to talk ‘burnout’ at this point, they didn’t realise that this is how I work best.  Oh yes, almost forgot, I also took a six-month part time Research Fellowship with another University in early 2010.  The company came on the back of advisory work I had been conducting in the Middle East and I suddenly found myself as a Director of my own consulting company, full time lecturer and PhD student – it’s not until I write things like this down that I understand how nuts this time really was (people kept telling me this, I just saw it as normal)!

To add a little more insight to this story, I got married in December 2009 and in March 2011 our daughter was born.  My wife, fiance at the time, who suffered through my obsessive approach to my MSc almost cried when I told her that I was going to apply for the PhD, but she has stuck with me through thick and thin – late nights/early mornings working (dinner served at 7, eaten at 10), weekends lost to research and/or the business, me spending more time on planes in any given month than I was spending with her and hundreds of cups of tea/coffee that were lovingly made, only to be left to turn cold.  I know I could not have done this alone.  Zoe, my wife, has seen me at my lowest during these last four years – a major project rocked by politics in the Middle East (our daughter was 9 months old and Zoe had just left her job, thinking that we had a secure 3-year contract with a Middle East government only to find that some contracts are not worth the paper they are written upon) – but she has been there to pick me up and remind me why I was doing this in the first place.

Back to my PhD story… I hit a bump in 2011, I had finished my research, published articles, was working, both at the University and with my business, and I had to start writing up the PhD – I found myself questioning whether the whole process was worth it; I had my enlightenment, I had achieved hyper-specialisation, what did I need those three letters for?

For all the times I was away...

For all the times I was away…

At the same time I launched a new industry engagement project with the University, K-Net, and developed the three-stage University of Edinburgh KM Professional Development Certificates (delivering one five-day course during the week of my viva – I did say it sounds nuts).  I have to thank all the people who reminded me how stupid it was to get so close and not finish, regardless of purpose (also, have to be honest, there was an element of feeling jaded towards academic life – there is more politic in your typical UK University than there is in Westminster).  So, I went through my Viva in April 2012, I passed (amendments needed), but it was brutal and I do not use the word lightly.  Three days later, feeling psychologically battered, I received an email, notifying me that my K-Core research had received an Emerald Literati Network Award – bruised, but not battered – feeling down, but not out.

Zoe, sometimes known as the woman to blame... (don't ask)

Zoe, sometimes known as the woman to blame… (don’t ask)

This brings me to my 10 seconds and 8 steps…

This long four year journey ended this week with 8 steps as I walked to be tapped by a giant hat, purportedly formed from the breaches of John Knox, four years recognised in 10 seconds.  Oh yes, and I have the degree, an innocuous looking piece of paper (seriously, A4 size and plain as you can imagine).

So, this was my PhD journey.  Thank you for indulging me and I hope it gives you a little insight into the last four years of my life.  I’ll never change.  I’m driven and I’m a grump if I am not working at high pace and under high pressure.  My wife, well she is a Saint (Rome will receive a petition in the near future).  My daughter, what can I say about my daughter… I realised a couple of months ago that I was in danger of missing something very special and so now I work to have my time with her.  The moment I will cherish for the rest of my life was the sound her voice shattering the silence of graduation as she shouted, “My daddy” during the Vice-Chancellor’s opening remarks.

I have now left the University of Edinburgh and I am focused on the K3-Cubed and our own spin-out,

Looking back, was it all worth it… My wife says this story makes me sound a bit crazy, but Yes.

K3-Cubed has recently turned two and we are giving away two free days of consulting time.  To those who have trusted us to solve their challenges over the last two years, a big thank you.  To those who read this blog and make us feel as if it is all worth it, thank you.  Finally, if you haven’t already, and if you like the content of this blog, please take the time to support us by following us on Twitter, ‘liking’ the K3 Facebook page or endorsing skills and expertise on LinkedIn

Check out our new courses:

Critical Decision Making course… for something just a little bit different!

and our Resilient KM Practice professional development courses

8 comments on “4 years, 10 seconds and 8 steps (my PhD story)

  1. Stephen Duffield
    December 2, 2012

    Hey David great post. Enjoyed reading the PhD story. I started my PhD (project management lessons learned) June 2012 after completing a research Masters of Project Management at University of Southern Queensland (Australia). Doing my PhD part-time with a completion date of 2016 🙂

    • David Griffiths
      December 2, 2012

      Hi Stephen — Thank you and glad you enjoyed it. It can be a struggle at times, but it really is worth it.

      Good luck with your PhD and let me know if I can help at any time – always happy to have a Skype coffee chat.

      Also, not sure if it will help you at all, but I’ve uploaded my thesis onto the ‘free recent resources’ page – great cure for insomnia, if nothing else 🙂



  2. Ros Smart
    December 3, 2012

    Hi David, Congratulations, not only a great story, but for you (and the Missus) it must be a wonderful feeling. Don’t mention the Rugby though!

    • David Griffiths
      December 3, 2012

      Hi Ros, thank you 🙂

      The rugby is a real sore point in our house, as Zoe is English (the press will dine on last Saturday’s win over NZ for years…beating the best team in the world etc. ad nauseam)! Then Wales capitulate in the last minute (again!) against Australia… we haven’t won since last year’s six nations, when we won the Grand Slam…please, make this nightmare end soon.

  3. Shona Morse
    December 3, 2012

    Congratulations, David! A real pleasure to see you finished, busy and happy.

    • David Griffiths
      December 3, 2012

      Hi Shona, thank you… Zoe is a little worried about what comes next, but it does feel good to have this behind me. Hope you are well and enjoying the time back at Edinburgh… hope we get a chance to meet up next time I am back – I’m still doing some work with Scottish Water and SG, and so I hope to be back in January

  4. Joe Scheidler
    December 5, 2012

    David, congratulations and what a great story…thanks for sharing and thank you for all of your work with the Indiana CPA Society. Without your passion and expertise our KM initiative would not be where it is today.

    • David Griffiths
      December 5, 2012

      Joe, thank you, really. I’m enjoying my time with INCPAS… lots of work next year, but looking forward to it.

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