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Writing a doctoral dissertation and running a marathon: personal reflections on similar experiences PART II


0 – 20 km: start slowly, find your pace.
The first step of the writing process has been the preparation of the dissertation outline with number of chapters, an estimated number of pages, and the main references to be used in the different sections. I found this initial step easy since the articles and project reports I had already written helped to think the dissertation structure. I have to admit that I started with too much optimism and though that the dissertation would be over in six months.
I decided to begin with the theoretical part, Chapter Two, since this was the section where I had less references and material. I started by reviewing literature on three main topics: development and the role of the state, rationale of decentralisation reforms and the decentralisation of education with specific focus on school governance / school based management, and social capital theory. Following my supervisors, Prof. Tuomas Takala, suggestion to include experiences from other parts of the developing world, I also review some literature on community participation in schools from Africa and Latin America, and other Asian countries.
While I definitely enjoyed reading new material, I had also to struggle not to get pulled too far from the research topic or drawn under the amount of information at my disposal here at the University. In other words, I had to put my initial optimism under control and find the right pace between writing, literature review, and time constraints. Nevertheless, this has been the part I enjoyed the most because of the many new things I learned which made me realise how much more there is to explore on this topic.
Chapter Three, on the history of Cambodia and its human development, gave me the chance to take my mind off the theory and travel back to Cambodia. For this section I used information included in my previous publications, particularly on the history of the country. I used two or three weeks to collect the most updated human development data from internet databases and drawing the charts and figures that would help to reduce the amount of text of the chapter. In the end I had to rush to meet the deadline for submission and to limit the historical information as well as data on the decentralisation reform and human development of Cambodia. I also struggled with the structure of the chapter. The final version that you can see at the end of this paper is quite different from the early drafts. For example, initially I wanted to link the history with the section on community, but in the end I decided to separate them and move the description of community to the end of the chapter by including more specific descriptions of kinship, patronage and Buddhism. I felt, in fact, that I had not explained sufficiently basic things such as how pagodas look like, who is working in them, the role of elderly people, what kind of links exist between people in the villages, etc.

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