Just when you think the hard part is over, an even more difficult task appears.  I know, I was warned, PhDs aren’t easy.  The truth is, however, that it’s not until you’re in the throws of the study that the difficulties really become apparent.

With my focus recently changed, from reading and writing about the existing literature in my field to participant recruitment and interview design, I knew challenging times were ahead.  What I hadn’t prepared myself for were the ‘extra’ problems that could arise, seemingly from nowhere.  Ok, perhaps not nowhere, but from an oversight quite some time ago.

Always keen to see everything as an opportunity to learn, I have recently learned a valuable, if hard, lesson.  I tell my students to check, double check, and check again, no matter what they’re doing.  It’s a pity I don’t always follow my own advice.  The lesson?  Quite a simple one.  When you receive an email telling you your ethical approval has been granted, don’t just read the email and then go out and celebrate.  Open the email attachment.  I opened mine…around a year after it arrived.  What did I find?  I discovered that, yes, I had been granted ethical approval.  The approval I’d been given, however, was for a project I’d completed around a year previously (don’t worry, I’d had approval for that project at the time).  Somehow, the paperwork had been muddled up, and my ethics application for the PhD project had been replaced on some internal system with the wrong paperwork.

Had I thought to open the attachment at the time, there would have been a swift change, and all would have gone smoothly.  Of course, only opening the attachment a year later had a rather more awkward outcome.  Changes, updates, and all manner of additional paperwork were requested before I could continue.  Thankfully, I’m not quite at the stage where this is a massive issue, but I’m not far away from that stage.

With this latest problem finally solved, I’m reminded just how much thought and care are needed during PhD study.  Gone are the days when I could submit essays and hope for the best.  Those days have been replaced with confusion, anxiety, and…hmmm…hoping for the best.  Maybe not so much has changed after all.

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