Although challenging at times (as you’d expect!), I have found writing up my final thesis hugely rewarding and generally a good experience. My thesis is a culmination of the work I have undertaken during my 8 years at SPECIFIC, combined with my previous 10 years’ experience in architectural practice. It documents how I have used my background as an architect to influence the direction of an organisation and contribute to changing architectural practice, through development of the project outputs described below.
I have found determining a clear way to describe my project to someone unfamiliar with my work to be one of the biggest challenges in writing up my thesis. But, doing so, has helped provide clarity to my project and resulted in a better piece of work. For me, this was a particular challenge due to the fact that my main project output – the Active Building Toolkit – is just part of another main output – the Active Building Protocol, as this diagram attempts to explain:
Some of the work described in the Protocol was developed before starting this research project, some has taken place during the project, and some is proposed as post-doctoral work, as highlighted in the diagram.
Then the Toolkit itself has evolved from earlier iterations – first called a Code of Practice, then a Design Guide, before finally being refined into a Toolkit of several documents:
So when writing up, I have had to be very careful that when talking about the ABDG or AB Code of Practice, these could be linked to the AB Toolkit. Otherwise, I risk confusing my examiners, which will in turn make it very difficult for them to assess my work.
In addition, I have developed two further outputs: this blog, which is intended to explain my research work to a non-scientific audience (like myself); and an Active Buildings in Practice CPD seminar, which I used as a format for my focus group sessions.
One of the main benefits in undertaking my doctoral research project is that it has allowed me to document my journey from architectural practice to a research organisation; and to summarise the impact I have had on both an organisation and in some way, architectural practice. If it wasn’t for this project, I may not have realised that developing an AB Toolkit would provide an ideal platform for SPECIFIC to share their work with the wider construction industry and to enable the development of more AB projects. This diagram illustrates how my project addressed both organisational and professional practice:
The culmination of my work in the AB Toolkit illustrates how I have met the aim of influencing both organisational and professional practice:
- Organisational practice, as it provides a way for SPECIFIC to share their work with the construction industry and to help achieve their aim to facilitate the design of ABs across the UK;
- Professional practice, as it provides information for use by design teams in their own low energy, low carbon building projects, hopefully reducing their research time too, by providing all the information they need in one place.
As a Professional Doctorate is split into four modules, by the time it came to documenting my Main Study, in the fourth and final module, I had already passed the first three modules, which described the context to my project, the research methods I proposed using to achieve my aim and objectives and the results of a Pilot Study undertaken to aid the design of the Main Study. The Main Study involved testing the developing design guidance with architectural practitioners, evaluating the results of the testing process and using this analysis to inform my main project output – the AB Toolkit. In the process of completing my project, I also produced the AB Protocol (summarising the work I have done to link the research work at SPECIFIC to the construction industry), an Active Buildings in Practice CPD seminar (used for my focus groups), and this blog, which I have used as a way to talk about my research to a non-scientific audience.
When documenting the methods I used to develop the design guidance, I also created an 8-step plan for others to follow in developing their own design guidance:
I have thoroughly enjoyed this research project. I have learnt so much along the way and the process has encouraged me to challenge myself. It has been a good way to capture my work and the career path I have ended up taking. I never set out to leave architectural practice and I certainly never intended on undertaking a doctoral research project. It wasn’t on my radar, I didn’t even think I was capable. I now realise, at the end of my four year experience, that with hard work and the right support, it is possible to achieve whatever we set our minds to.
My tips for anyone embarking on a similar journey:
- be willing to challenge yourself and work hard;
- listen to advice, learn how to take criticism positively and use to improve your work;
- be ready to defend your work;
- ensure you can evidence what you are saying;
- and if you find something difficult to put into words, draw a diagram!