On the 4th February, I travelled to the University of Winchester to deliver a 10 minute presentation on my PhD proposal to a panel. The panel I was presenting to were my three supervisors and the Head of the Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Winchester, Pru Marriot.
I honestly had never been so nervous in my life, and this is coming from someone who has delivered presentation after presentation in front of my industry colleagues and peers for almost 4 years now. I knew that I had to be concise, succinct and clear about what I propose to do, how I propose to do it, and why. In 10 minutes and 20 slides, I had covered all the key points of my PhD proposal; the background (a literature review which highlighted how fully fledged games can be more engaging than gamification, the issues inherent in the way ‘gamified surveys’ have been designed to date, and how increased engagement through games can have greater benefits for online research), the impact on engagement to-date of game-based research, the main and sub aims of my PhD, and the outcomes.
I am sure I spent longer preparing this presentation than any other presentation I’ve ever delivered, and it was the shortest – 10 minutes. I made sure that I’d taken everything I know about public speaking to deliver PowerPoint slides that had impact. I made sure they were not too text heavy (if any text at all) and had gone as far as to print a ‘script’ of sorts which I could easily fold to be quite small in my hand. The most text-heavy slide was the first slide which had the PhD title on it.
I delivered my presentation in the Masters Lodge of the University, which kind of looked like Hagrids house from the outside – a beautiful and historic building. I set up the room and then my Supervisor came in to wish me luck and to re-assure me that I’ll be fine. Knowing my supervisors have such belief in me really did help the nerves but sadly did not stop the feeling of being short of breath the whole time!
Once I got going in the presentation though, I was fine. I had practiced at home so many times anyway that I ‘knew my lines’ and could engage with the panel as an audience. Practicing at home (to my dog, to my closest friends and husband) made me see that I talk far too fast, so during the presentation itself, I was consciously slowing down when I could feel myself talking too quickly.
In any case, once it was finished, I was asked to have a seat while each person in the panel asked me lots of interesting questions; the first one perhaps being one of the most important: “How will this PhD fit into your personal life?”. Great question, and as my supervisor put it “we all get so incredibly busy juggling so many things” so it is a good question to ask someone who is running their own business, writing papers, delivering conference talks and balancing a home life most of the time. My response was fairly simple: I’ve made certain arrangements, both regarding time and money, to ensure I have a stable income and a stable routine. This has actually meant being very choosy with the projects I take on for work, and am now working with two particular clients whose projects are long-term, and so working on my PhD and working with my long-term clients provides me with the routine and flexibility (and money! This PhD ain’t free!) I need. I think that was a satisfactory answer for my supervisor 🙂 My belief has always been that if you want something enough, you’ll work through it and for it, so knowing I wanted to do this PhD 13 months ago meant I had time to slowly but surely narrow my focus down on just four ‘projects’ in my life overall, and ensure there is flexibility in working on them.
The questions continued to be focused on the PhD itself; my decision to use Grounded Theory, the way I will manage the vast series of depth interviews and so on. Pru Marriot kept saying “this is so interesting”, which really made me feel like whatever the hell I was saying must have been on the right track! She asked to see some examples of my work so far, so I showed her one of my A3 hand-drawn storyboard books that I had originally made for a project for a beverage brand and then I showed Pru videos of game-play from three very different projects I’ve worked on. It was great to see that Pru totally ‘got it’ and that she could see the ‘game’ part is NOT separate to the ‘research’ part; she could see it all integrated together seamlessly, and that actually the game design was there BECAUSE of the research objectives. I explained to Pru the design decisions behind each component of game-play in each ResearchGame; why certain narratives where chosen, why I may have used certain music or sound effects for a particular level, what emotional context I had tried to create and why etc. Pru got it completely and after a few more questions and discussion, I was asked to leave the room while they discussed the PhD proposal.
I sat outside the room, to the other end of an office in the building where the next 15 minutes felt like a lifetime. The four people in the room have completely different accents, so at some points I could hear who was speaking but as nosy as I wanted to be, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, and it wouldn’t have been my place to know either.
I was called back in where Pru calmly told me that not only am I accepted, but together they feel I am absolutely capable to carry out the PhD and then proceeded to give me some details about the upcoming Induction Day. I couldn’t believe it and it took most of my self restraint not to jump over the table and hug them all! (And I am pretty sure I even said as much to them!). The nerves were there the whole time not just because this is something that means so much to me, but I am aware that PhD students should probably come in with a BA or MA at least, but preferably both, under their belts. I have neither. I know that my lead Supervisor, David, may have had to convince a person or two in the hierarchy at the University about taking me on, so I wanted to do them proud. Of course it was amazing that they could see how rearing to go I am with this as a long-term project and the impact it can have for all online research.
By the time I got back to London some hours later, my husband had a bunch of flowers and bottle of bubbly waiting, although I was so pooped I ended up having a cup of tea, we went out to eat at our local Turkish restaurant, and I came back home and slept like a baby. What a day! My friend Maria (who was one of the people I practised the presentation to) literally screeched down the phone when I told her the news! This kind of emotional support is so crucial when you’re on such a high!
I woke up the next morning, a Saturday, not quite believing it; over a years worth of work has gone into this application. My friend Maria and I spoke again on the phone and I joked “I’m so happy that I’ve been told I can do more of this for the next 5-7 years of my life!”
A few days later, I emailed a few people at ESOMAR (who were already aware of my PhD application and proposal) to deliver the good news, and I am massively pleased to report that ESOMAR have given their full support to this PhD!
This PhD is supported by ESOMAR in its role as a worldwide body that is keen to support areas of methodological research where there could be benefits to the wider industry. In supporting this particular PhD, ESOMAR is not endorsing any particular university or specific methodology or company – they’ve made this much very clear to me.
Their kind support is provided on the understanding that there will be a range of outputs and insights from the study on the subject of game-based research (including games and gamification, with a focus on games) that will in due course be shared publicly and with ESOMAR. So what are ESOMAR doing to provide support? Firstly, giving the time to read through my PhD proposal is great support in itself and discussing it at one of their council meetings in 2014. They’ve really shown interest in this PhD and have even provided me with a designated mentor/liason who is David Smith – a multiple award-winning researcher who has also been running his own company (for a fantastic 25 years!) and has also completed a PhD – so David is well-placed to be a mentor. AND he is of course, the ESOMAR Vice President! You can find out more about David Smith on his Linked In profile here.
ESOMAR will also be available to help me with the various experiments by introducing me to appropriate persons or organizations within their network. But the real support is the intangible support; the kind words exchanged over email and the clear enthusiasm to see how this PhD unfolds from David Smith, Finn Raben and other people within the ESOMAR team. I am told this is the first time ESOMAR are supporting a PhD in this way so that’s a real win! As one of the largest governing bodies in the Market Research industry, this was an additional reason to celebrate, as well as having the fantastic support of my supervisors and being part of the University of Winchester (which really is the best University I could possibly be doing this PhD at). My husband and I really did drink the bubbly that evening 🙂
So thank you to ESOMAR for your support and stamp of approval, and thank you to my Supervisors David, Martina and Anca – if it wasn’t for them I simply wouldn’t have been presenting my proposal on the 4th February in the first place I’m sure. Thanks to my friends and family, especially my friend Maria, my hubby and my mum, who is constantly telling me how proud she is of me. Here’s to the amazing journey ahead and I look forward to sharing my work with my industry peers who have also been massively supportive!