By Shireen Mukadam

I had one formal coaching session with Caroline in December 2020. We were neighbours and she’s a thesis coach. I’m doing my Masters. It felt like fate!

Caroline helped me to see the bigger picture and to break down what I needed to do into practical steps. She also helped me figure out what information I needed to get, to adequately plan. After this session, my thesis changed from something I felt overwhelmed by, to excitement.

In February we walked. I felt a bit stuck.  Caroline asked me why I am doing this. When I answered, my answer was about the stories of migrants, and my passion for documenting migrants’ lived experiences. She advised me to focus on the interviews and to enjoy it! That’s exactly what I did. After taking a break, I took a different approach to the interviews. The space I was in (excited) impacted on how the interviews panned out. The data I collected was richer!

In the end I interviewed 13 people, instead of 3-5 people as initially planned. I wanted to finish my thesis research and writing within three months (the perfectionist in me) and tried to push complete a data analysis and write up findings within two weeks. It wasn’t possible. I realized the data was so rich- I needed more time to do justice to the migrants’ stories.

I had an informal call with Caroline at the start of April. She told me how she did her thematic analysis, and suggested I choose themes based on the data. She advised me to keep track of which quotes comes from what transcription- this piece of advice helped a lot! I then did my thematic analysis, which took a couple of weeks. I documented this process visually through photos.

I submitted the first draft of my thesis to my supervisor in June. The thematic analysis took much longer than I initially anticipated. I literally immersed myself in the data, from the time of completing the interviews in mid-March, until June. I’ve learnt that we need much more time to analyze the data than it takes to do the interviews.

Being able to check in with Caroline and update her, albeit informally over the last few months has helped me tremendously. I would not be here without her firm, yet kind advise. At times Caroline told me, “You’re procrastinating!” I did not like it, but she was right. I was! I was looking for any excuse not to write. A turning point was when Caroline asked me why I’m doing this. When I responded and remembered the reasons, I felt happy and motivated. This shifted my energy. I took Caroline’s advice and focused on what I loved doing- connecting with people, listening to their stories, and documenting their voices and lived experiences.

I collected much more data than I anticipated. It’s rich data. I would not change how things happened- it is a process. I had to learn to trust the process. Recently I started enjoying writing again. My thesis is not perfect- my supervisor will give me feedback and I’ll revise it on that basis. Nothing is perfect, in the end. It’s more about the journey than the end point.

Thank you, Caroline for your invaluable advice and for walking this journey with me-literally and figuratively!

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