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A librarian from the University of Bedfordshire recommended a book to me called How to Read Journal Articles in the Social Sciences by Phillip Chong Ho Shon. I think it was probably the first time that a book had made explicit that reading is rarely taught. We all have these courses, blogs and books about how to write, the importance of writing and indeed in a paper I wrote with a colleague Petia Petrova, the best environment to cultivate a writing atmosphere, but what about reading? That is probably the most important bit. Writers block isn’t necessarily an actual thing – often it can be because one hasn’t actually read enough or the right things to have anything to write about.

I also think reading is the thing that makes you able to have something to say verbally. I didn’t know what to expect from a reading group, but yesterday I realised that those who could contribute tended to be able to do so because they had read other works and could make links to these authors, theories etc. I, who couldn’t contribute, wasn’t because I didn’t understand the topic of neo-liberalism as such, but I just had nothing to add because I wouldn’t be able to back anything I said up with literature or experience or examples. and then of course one gets the feeling that one is thick and everyone else is so articulate and clever and well read. Well I can be well read too and contribute something useful, I just need to read more relevant things and read them skillfully and deeply!

Last term, I did feel rather anxious that I hadn’t gotten into a proper reading routine, but having the reading group as well as a new term means that I will now get some sort of reading plan written out. But I don’t really know what a reading plan would look like? A few articles a day plus a book a week? What is achievable and what is the best amount to read? I am sure I read some blog posts on this…

By the way, another useful book on the topic of reading skills is: The Good Study Guide by Andrew Northedge especially chapter 5 (in the second edition) and chapter 2 in the first edition.

 

© Annika Coughlin 2014

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I  have never joined a book group or participated in a reading group. Indeed, I rarely participate in class discussions. I just don’t feel like I know enough about anything (apart from research methods) or can properly articulate myself. I feel my vocabulary is very limited and I am too shy to talk in big groups (i.e. groups bigger than 5!). I was discussing with a friend today about how she tends to have a different view to everyone else on a topic and therefore doesn’t speak out for fear of being too different.

However, this is one reason why I wanted to do a PhD. I wanted to force myself intellectually and to become confident and knowledgeable in sociological things. And to be confident to express a view even if it does get challenged and I end up changing my mind, or changing other people’s. That’s what learning is all about.

Last term, I attended a class called Theory in Research which had no defined structure and participation was mandatory (it said so in bold in the handbook). And I actually participated (although only when the huge class dropout rate meant there were only three of us left – I think people got scared off my the unusual lack of structure). We also had a class where we had to critique each others research proposals and I always joined in that. So I am getting into the swing of this sort of thing and decided that this term I would experiment with a reading group. It is facilitated by a third year PhD student and the topic is Education and Neo-Liberalism. I have no idea how it will be structured or what I can possibly contribute, plus the class size is 15. Gulp. All I know so far is that we have to read three academic papers about neo-liberalism.

I feel that the papers are quite advanced in their content – they seem to be unpacking and re-conceptualising what neo-liberalism is….. but to be honest I didn’t understand most of the words nor the references to history and economics….. So I got out my Oxford Dictionary of Sociology and looked it up, and then looked up liberalism (I think in order to understand the neo, you probably have to understand the old). I kind of feel like Homer Simpson when he studied Marketing:

homer_simpson_marketing_620

So I have no idea what to expect tomorrow and am nervous about what we can possibly talk about, but looking forward to it none-the-less.

So helpful tip for the day is: Keep a dictionary at hand at all times! (Sociology and regular type)

(By the way, Prof Les back wrote somewhere once advising those who want to do a PhD to start preparing by writing down words you don’t know and learning them – can’t remember where he wrote this (I also got this advice from a Priest), but interested readers may be interested in his other tips he gives via Sociological Research Online

© Annika Coughlin 2014

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