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So I started this thesis nine months ago and as I mentioned in my previous post I had been struggling with the focus in order to tackle the literature review and one of my supervisors said I was actually making the whole literature review harder for myself by not having my aim sorted out.

So since this post I have been using the technique she mentioned and it is all becoming clearer and this in turn means that the literature has suddenly taken on a bright new light. I am now actually reading in a more focused way. I am reading exactly the same stuff as before from my ring-binder reading regime but as that song goes “I can see clearly now the rain has gone”. Before it was “raining in my heart” and I did not feel quite right. Although it is literally raining outside (well the clouds are heavy and I have to go to Sainsbury’s in a minute, so therefore it will rain) my heart feels sunny.

Nine months seems like an awfully long time and actually, I did know what to do all along but because of the lack of aim, I was struggling, well, aimlessly. As I mentioned in a post 6 months ago, reading is a neglected skill but the author had a solution! If only I had actually followed by own advice 6 months ago I may have been nearly finished by now.

So what I did was copy out the grid he uses to read article with and take notes from each paper. I have adapted it a bit to include more on the methods, underlying theory, analysis techniques used but it is a good way of summarising the literature. I’m not quite sure yet how to synthesise it all together, but I will tackle that when I have done a few more of these grids. I can do about 2 or 3 an hour I think – some papers are more complex and dense than others, but since I have read them all before they require just a bit of speed reading.

 

grid

Literature reviewing grid: Adapted from ‘How to read journal articles in the social sciences’ by Phillip Chong Ho Shon

 

My second method is mind-mapping. I have bought some mind-mapping software, but I never enjoyed it so much, not for the brainstorming phase. Rather I have a 30 metre roll of paper from IKEA and have mapped out some thoughts on one tiny section of the literature review

1.5 meters of thesis done

1.5 meters of thesis done

At this rate, I hope to have enough work done to upgrade to the PhD in October. I just have to work fast and efficiently. Which brings me onto my final ‘tool’. A massive executive planner where each 15 minutes of the day can be planned.

Yes, I feel a bit stupid and slow off the mark admitting this as well as anxious about the time running away so fast but I also know it is all part of the learning process.

Now to go out in the rain.

 

 

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In 1996 I was a school girl studying for my GCSEs. My older sister who was two years older had left school with below a C grade in Maths. She had to retake at sixth-form college but ended up with a lower grade than her first attempt and on her final retake scored ‘Ungraded’. The reason for this decline in motivation and increased boredom I witnessed with each retake was a bit of a worry for me as I didn’t want to go through this.

So I set myself up a little revision room in the watertank cupboard at home (it was the only ‘spare room’ we had). I had a desk, a chair, a radio/cassette player and made a detailed colour coded GCSE revision timetable. As you tend to do about 10 GCSE exams at the same time I had to prioritise time spent on subjects. So maths got top priority, marked in yellow. I worked hard revising for a couple of months and despite the watertank being hot and noisy, especially at bath times, my revision schedule worked a treat and I got a C!

Now that I have elected to do Advanced Quantitative Methods as part of my PhD I have to revisit some GCSE maths as I feel that I have lept right into a whole advanced world before I have mastered the basics. This became very obvious to me last week when in our statistics class, the lecturer said ‘now here is a quick recap on logit which you would have done at school’. There is NO WAY I did this at school.   This logit business is just for the people in the advanced sets who used scientific calculators and not something we lower sets would have been burdened with. But the fact that the lecturer assumed that we had all done this before made me realise that it must be quite unusual for someone from the lower sets to even think about trying out Advanced Quantitative Methods in their future lives.

However, I am a firm believer that your GCSE grades don’t really reflect much – they reflect how good your teacher was, whether or not an annoying boy pulled at your hair all lesson, as well as how much you revised in the watertank cupboard in the summer of 1996, but they don’t reflect current and future potential to learn.

So in the spirit of my PhD topic which is about lifelong learning, I would say do not let your past experiences of school maths stop you from learning now – start off by using the marvellous online tutorials which of course did not exist back in 1996, such as the Khan Academy (especially the algebra stuff which is essential for regression statistics). And if you quite liked the old maths book you used in the past, you might be lucky to find it in the IOE library which has a collection of ‘retro’ GCSE textbooks. I found my old watertank cupboard friends:

Image

Retro maths books: Let’s convert those francs to pounds!

(c) 2014 Annika Coughlin

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