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Poppy Gibson is originally from Hereford. She joined Oxford Brookes in 2012 and her thesis title is ‘Her, Herself and She: Girls’ Constructions of Identity through Online Communications’ .
I originally found out about the Doctorate in Education (EdD) programme at Oxford Brookes through hours of online searching and exploring the online programme guidelines from a wide array of institutions. At the time, the EdD programme at Brookes was in its very first year!
The main attraction was the attendance of one Saturday a month, which fit in with my full time work (I was a primary school teacher at the time), and having a young family. The timetabling was ideal, as was the beautiful location of Oxford, which I envisaged as an escape for some ‘me time’ and perfect for immersion in doctoral study. From the moment I stepped over the Harcourt Hill threshold to attend interview for the EdD programme, Brookes just felt like the right place for me to study.
I started my career as a primary school teacher in 2006 after receiving my BA (Hons) in Primary Education at Edge Hill University. I then studied my Master’s in Education, specialising in Educational Leadership and Management, through the Open University as the distance learning again was the ideal parallel to work and family life. My studying has always run alongside full time employment and a professional doctorate, which requires practical, real-world experience in order to put theory into practice, was the logical next step.
I cannot fault Oxford Brookes. From the very first EdD residential weekend in my first year on the programme, the tutors were welcoming, approachable and fair. The other doctoral students on the programme have become like an extended family; people I can share my research woes, worries and joys with along the way. The close and friendly relationship in a small cohort is what helped the research environment feel very safe and secure, and a place in which I was able to learn and grow.
Although I live in London, the email support and online resources have enabled me to successfully study without needing to live nearby.
At the start of my third year on the EdD programme, I also had my second son! The tutors were fantastic, and despite my missing a few seminars and workshops due to a new-born baby, the tutors kept me up to date by emailing me PowerPoints and articles that I had missed. This helped me stay engaged with the programme without the need to even take time out from my study. The encouragement and support from the tutors show they really care about you and your life, and your doctoral journey.
This project essentially explores the issues and influences of social media and social communications on young girls’ identities.
The purpose of this study is to investigate how ‘social’ internet usage, in this case ‘blogging’, influences identity formation and notions of self in young girls. This study gathers the feelings of 34 children around using the internet and the role that online communication has in their lives, culminating in eight narratives from girls aged between 8 and 11 years old at a London school.
Two key research gaps were acknowledged that this project aims to address: firstly, there is a significant lack of data generated in the UK around children’s emotional experiences of online interaction and the impact that this is having on the way they are choosing to live, and the complex decisions that they are making daily. Secondly, this project highlights the lack of scholarly works that intersect existentialism with qualitative research. Therefore, it will add further knowledge to the realm of educational literature into how existentialism can be used as a philosophical framework for understanding our everyday struggle for meaning as we interact with our world around us (Feldman, 2003), developing our understanding through ‘interpreting the meanings that people attribute to the world’ (Duemer, 2012: 172).
The three research questions identified are:
RQ1. How do notions of ‘self’ and ‘identity’ evolve due to the use of cultural tools and on-line spaces such as blogs?
RQ2. How does online interaction impact upon girls’ social identity constructions and feeling of community?
RQ3. Are young girls engaging in impression management online and, if so, how and for what purposes?
To answer these questions, the research takes a qualitative, multiple methods approach. Using an existentialist view, supported with threads of interpretivism, this study explores how individuals ‘seek understanding of the world’ by developing subjective meanings of their experiences (Creswell, 2009, p.8).
The best part about being a research student is the chance to push yourself to your limits. You will test your self-discipline to stay committed and determined to your project, without the helpful safety net of deadlines that you get with ordinary assignments on undergraduate or postgraduate programmes. Your academic rigour and prowess will be tested as you read, write, read and then have to re-write around your topic. You need to build resilience. You have to be proactive, and productive, and although the tutors are there to support you, you have to support yourself and push on through what can sometimes be an isolating and overwhelming experience. You need to set yourself deadlines, and stick to them (and sometimes you need to reward yourself with your favourite takeaway when you do!)
The main thing I have enjoyed is the network of people you will meet along the way - academics and fellow research students alike. I would recommend you attend the conferences, go to the research days, and participate in the cross-cohort workshops; you never know how someone you meet today could end up co-writing a journal article with you tomorrow!
The programme itself helped me evolve from a master’s student into a doctoral student, and this worked through the structured modules and increase of independence you are given as the terms progress. The tutors model doctoral research and writing in practice so you can understand the high-level of output that is needed.
The confidence that Brookes has given me in myself as an academic led to my first journal article being published at the end of 2017! This felt like an incredible milestone, and again, was down to the support of my supervisors along the past five years and their faith in me.
My career path also took a little twist as the result of my doctoral studies, and I am no longer a primary school teacher, but a lecturer in Primary Education at the University of Greenwich! My new role involves teaching students, but also an ongoing commitment to research, and I have Brookes to thank for helping me land my new dream job in Higher Education.
The future from here I hope will involve lots of published papers, UK conferences, international conferences, and one day, who knows, maybe a TED talk… (the other thing being a research student teaches you is to never give up the dream!)