Day 59: The UK Student Visa Maze

Part of being an international student is keeping track of when your student visa ends. Pretty much my entire PhD schedule(s) are developed in relation to this date.  So, when calculating my 100 day countdown to having a full draft, I worked backward, from the exact date my visa ends, to the date that I had to submit this thesis, to when I needed hand in my notice of submission, to when I needed to have the full draft of my thesis written (in chapter format and not just notes).

egg cracking.jpegNow why would this matter?  Well, it’s more to do with my post-PhD plans, specifically where, which in turn dictates potential when(s).  I’d like to remain in the UK after I complete my PhD, which throws up a whole host of unique problems.  Currently, international students are given 4 months after their visa expires to attend the viva and complete any corrections.  Once those 4 months were up, you would have get hired by a company that will sponsor a work visa, or leave the country.  This meant that I had to complete my PhD and find a company (ideally a university) that could sponsor a work visa for me BEFORE my visa ends this September.

Pressure anyone?

As of April 2013 the UK Border Agency changed the rules (again) which allows sucessful PhD graduates to stay in the UK for another 12 months, essentially to contribute to society (i.e. work, join research projects, volunteer etc.).  This new development meant that I could just concentrate on finishing my thesis, which is enough pressure as it is.

However, having been on several different UK visas I am keenly aware that the devil is always in the details and the application process is NEVER straightforward.  Thankfully the Student Services Unit at the University of Manchester has a dedicated team that deals with international student matters and so I contacted them for some advice.  I was wondering if I could actually submit within the 3 year time frame and, as a precautionary measure, wanted to check what my options were if I needed to apply for submission pending (i.e. need more time to finish my thesis) since my visa would have ended if I went down this route.  Lo and behold, it looks like I have two options:

Option A: Submit on time (September 2013), attend the viva (between Oct-Dec) then leave the UK in January 2014.  I can only return to the UK if I was offered a job by a company that was able to apply for a work visa on my behalf.

Option B: Apply for submission pending period at my University to extend the thesis submission deadline. Get application approved (fingers crossed) and apply for student visa extension (thesis submission date + 3 months for viva/corrections + 4 months additional time for job hunting etc.) during which time apply for Doctoral Extension Scheme (+ 12 months for work experience).

The UK has been my home for several years now and the thought of leaving makes me ill. As much as I love Canada, my life nowadays is here the UK (as crazy as that sounds to some), so it’s a bit of a no brainer that “B” would be the next step. I would still be in the same position of having to find a work visa sponsor at the end of the Doctoral Extension Scheme but at least I’d have a bit more time to sort this out. So now I’ve got a whole new schedule to organise that needs to take into account all the paper work involved in applying for submission pending as well as getting the necessary documentation to apply for a student visa extension. Ironically my thesis has been the most straightforward matter in all this, which is strangely comforting, and the thought of having a bit more time to complete makes me feel a lot better!

On making writing progress: Day 81

This blog post was inspired by a twitter conversation with Studious Jen (@mystudiouslife), curator of #Acwri spreadsheets and Jackie Kirkham (@JackieKirkham) on achieving the monthly writing goals we set for ourselves. With all sort of pressures mounting in the run up to handing it the thesis it is so demotivating (e.g. that crawl under a duvet and weep sort of feeling) to see that you haven’t met your own deadlines/word counts/(insert goal here) to the point that panic really starts to settle in.  I’m not talking about the emotional freak out (e.g. wailing and gnashing of teeth) but that darker edge of despair threatening to paralyse you because you somehow have to prove that what you invested into this thesis must we worth it. It has to be, because the alternative is terrifying think about.

It’s a very real feeling that I try to manage through reminding myself that achieving the small steps is crucial to keeping a sense of progress.  When I haven’t made my daily word count but have edited a section of the thesis into something more coherent, I try to see that as an achievement.  Every effort counts because…it does. Fact.

Initially I had the idea that I would come to a point where I would be ready to write the thesis, where my ideas would be so clear that I could just transfer them onto the page. Like a transcription, just hammer it out! And then I could go back to the draft (singular), do some editing and BOOM: a thesis is born!

Photo by Julie_C from
Image by Julie_C from

Or not.  It quickly dawned on me that it is difficult to write a thesis in a linear fashion because it is a completely different product to anything I’ve written before and chipping away at it, bit by bit, for me is the only way forward.  Suzanne Ulm in her FastBleep blog post gives some great advice on “making small starts” through organising small blocks of time to keeping to small tasks.  It seems like common sense stuff that I should know about but then actually putting them into practice is making all the difference.  So I do a lot of my thinking through the act of writing where my ideas start to really coalesce. It’s frustrating because part of me wishes that I understood what I wanted to say before trying to write it down but, it just isn’t happening that way. So why agonise over that? At least that’s what I remind myself in order to snap out of the pity party and essentially just try to get on with it.  Line by line.

Working towards a full draft: Day 89

Photo by Ian Britton CC 3.0
Photo by Ian Britton by CC 3.0

Methodology chapter done…almost. ALMOST!!! I’ve divided this chapter into two main sections: the rationale for the methodological approach that I used and the research report, which is  a descriptive, transparent account of the data generation phase.  I originally set out to write my thesis in a linear fashion, beginning with the introduction and moving onto my literature review section.  However, in practice, I ended up writing this chapter first because it was the most conceptually concrete section of my thesis in that it’s presenting what I actually did to generate the data for this thesis.  In other disciplines the emphasis on methodology may be less pronounced but in my field, education, how I generated (as opposed to collected or gathered) the data is just as important as what I did with it.  The coherence between my method of data generation and the type of data I ended up with is vital.

So, in a very real sense, this was the easiest chapter to write because it is largely descriptive.  I managed to hammer this out and am now in the stage of editing the rationale I wrote a while back to make it more consistent with what I did.  It’s turning out to be more work than I expected.  I hope to have this last section done by the end of this week.