Monthly Archives: December 2014

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

I have a little bit of a problem with time management and simultaneously over and under planning.

Sometimes I do very little planning and then just faff around aimlessly not really knowing what I should focus on, for example, I may want to plan my day’s work but for some reason get paralysed and can’t do it or make unrealistic plans.  Then at the other extreme I plan all details and well too far in advance. For example I have been planning my PhD graduation outfit and hairstyle that would suit a beret. Although now we have merged to UCL I will have to see what their gown colours are and re-adjust all my plans.

I love this hairstyle and dresses! A PhD beret would set it off perfectly! Photo by Cangaway on Flickr

I love this hairstyle and dresses! A PhD beret would set it off perfectly!
Photo by Cangaway on Flickr

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I passed the upgrade from MPhil to PhD (yay!) and this have given me the boost I need to really get down to serious PhD business.

So for the first supervisory meeting after the upgrade, I thought I’d make a plan or the next two years to see me through to the submission day. I have planned all my training for the year and all the conferences I want to go on and/or present at. Now, there is nothing wrong with this as such, but when I showed my supervisors, Alison and Sam, my time line, ghant chart and schedule, they looked at me a bit funny and suggested perhaps I have spent a little too much time planning (I’m so glad I did not present my 7ft 3D timeline landscape poster with milestones and stickers and glitter).

My supervisors are so kind and, Alison, hit the nail on the head when she explained why I keep leaping to the future. It is because I need security, stability and I like to do things robustly and make sure everything is perfect and thought through. There is nothing wrong with this of course, however, it does mean that perhaps because of this need to lay out everything perfectly I never get started or when I do I worry that it is not right. And this is causing me huge anxiety. It is over a year in, I have passed my Upgrade, I am doing OK, I just need to keep going but break it all down into chunks. Now, I know this. It is not the first time I have been told, but I don’t know why I keep slipping. Alison says it is perhaps because we all naturally revert back to type, so I just have to try to break the habit.

So they suggested I should put my blinkers on and just focus on the next three months as I can do all the planing in the world, but once I start analysing my data, these plans will have to be adjusted or even thrown out as I do not know what issues and problems I will come up against. That’s part of the PhD fun. So in these three months I will complete chapter 2 which is about the social context of cohort member’s schooling, and chapter 3 which is about lifelong learning and the changing nature of universities between the 1980s and 2008 (I have planned these using Murray’s outlining as mentioned in previous post. This level of planning is healthy).  I will also have completed some descriptive statistics on the new variable I have created (well, I need to re-do it as it went a bit wrong – will write another post on this). I will present this at a university seminar in May and perhaps make a poster out of it for a university conference in March. So nice, neat and manageable with planned dissemination activities and what not.

I like to summarise their nice well thought through advice to myself in a simple straight forward sentence which I will put on my wall: “Annika, stop planning your perfect graduation outfit and doing elaborate timelines and get on with this one task up until March, FFS!”

In May I wrote a blog post called “We all need a little bit of discipline (and punish) now and again” which was about the one day writing retreat I attended ran by Rowena Murray organised by the SRHE. In that post you can see how the ran according to Murray’s schedule.

I decided about a month ago, that I needed to run something like this myself on a more regular basis as I felt that working alone at home all day was making me feel a bit lonely and my productivity was sipping a bit with days and days going by and only scrappy bits of work being done. So I contacted a couple of former colleagues from the University of Bedfordshire who are on Twitter and I know are doing part-time PhDs and tend to work weekends on it.

So on Saturday, on the Bedford campus, we ran our first one day writing retreat.

A couple of participants surprised me by saying that their friends and colleagues were not keen to come because they were worried about the idea of working with others as they assumed there would be interruptions, or that the idea was for group feedback and group discussions which perhaps people sometimes do not want or want to avoid!

I found this strange as I deliberately called the writing group a ‘Shut up and write!’ but perhaps my ‘advert’ was not so clear and came across as too friendly but speaking to each other during writing time is strictly forbidden!  I wonder if this dread of working in groups comes from people’s experiences of working in open plan offices where the idea is that you are supposed to collaborate and share ideas whereas in reality open plan offices can often be the noisiest and least productive places to work.

However, by the end of the day, they were converted.

Feedback from participants fitted the feedback from every other writing group like this which were:

  • Realising how much you can get done
    Realising the importance of breaks
    The benefit of working in a different environment
    Benefit of avoiding social media/internet
    Benefit of working with others present to help motivate you to continue and avoid temptation.
After Shut up and Write! you will have avoided temptation and will feel virtuous. Photo from Patricksmercy on Flickr

After Shut up and Write! you will have avoided temptation and will feel virtuous. Photo from Patricksmercy on Flickr

Although we are not allowed to speak to each other during writing time, you can during breaks and I thought this was useful as I learnt about Jon Rainford’s work and realised we were reading some of the same books etc. So if you have similar subject and topic ideas, this chatting is good! However, you should not feel that you have to talk during breaks. I would hope that if people did not want to talk because they are in a thinking zone, then that is perfectly permissible.

So we are going to run a group once a month on a Saturday. The good thing about doing it on the Bedford campus with participants who are staff is that we have access to room booking as well as the staff kitchen and fridge.

If you want to run one, feel free to use this schedule as a template or refer to the original Rowena Murray schedule which involves a longer day than ours:

Five minute writing task:
Write down your short, medium and long term goals in full sentences for 5 minutes.
Short term means by the first break.
Medium term is by Lunch.
Long term is by the end of the day.

Share these goals with a person in the room (or whole room if group is very small).

Role of facilitator – to keep time and announce when it is five minutes before the end of each session. They also tell the group that in this five minutes everyone needs to write a sentence to themselves about what they are going to do after the break.

10am to 10:15 welcome and goal setting. Make cup of tea

10:15- 11:30 am Session 1 (1 ¼ hours)

11:30 – 11:45 Break [step away from the computer and stretch]

11:45 – 12:45: Session 2 (1 hour)

12:45-1:30 Lunch [go for a brisk walk after eating]

1:30-2:45 Session 3 (1 ¼ hours)

2:45-3:00 break [step away from the computer and stretch]

3:00 – 4:00 Session 4 (1 hour)

4:00 Did you meet your goal? Quick chat and feedback.

I also join in the Bi-monthly  Shut Up and Write group on Twitter and like that too. You can join on Twitter (see @SUWTUK for the UK group #SUWTUK , @SUWTues for the Australian one which I cannot work out the time zone difference, but I think it is something like 1am UK time, and finally there is the North American group @SUWTNA which is on at around 4pm UK time).

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