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As I mentioned in a previous post, at my last supervision meeting in December 2014, I have been told to focus on set small tasks rather than planning the future. Also I need to do one thing at a time, rather than doing everything all at once. The plan was to get three things done by March (I don’t know if I meant beginning or end of March… let’s say middle). One was a good draft of chapter 2 and 3 and also to merge my dataset and create my variable. One supervisor said she would be impressed if I achieved these things as they are all quite big tasks.

So how successful has this been since my last supervision meeting?

Well it has gone quite well.

First of all I designed my own motivational poster to keep me blinkered, can you spot it?:

Phew, I'm glad I tided up before taking this photo.

Phew, I’m glad I tided up before taking this photo.

Secondly I have been focussing only on one chapter and one topic – a historical look at the British education system.  A large part of the time has been spent working out the structure of it which involved quite a few revisions before I got it how I want it. So I have the structure, many of the sections started with some finished. However, it is turning into a big chapter with two parts, so actually I am only really one-third through it now, but that is OK as it is good that I know what is going in it.

Third I met with my one of my supervisors for a data merging training session and have finally created my own variable and merged some data, which is possibly one of the most important parts of the PhD process so far. So a big milestone.

So why is this post about to turn into a self-pitying session?

Well, some very negative behaviour has crept back in. When I am anxious or upset about anything I tend to stay up very late and either stare into space, or watch TV, mainly QVC. I have always done this (not always QVC, there are many other late night things to watch like infomercials for box sets of 1950s music, or one of my favourites, the magic bullet chopper) and think  it is an anxiety thing, not a PhD specific thing.  However, the terrible knock on effect is that either you get up very late the next day, or if you get up early, you are so tired all day that you cannot do as much work, so your anxiety gets worse as mentally you are not helping yourself by being sleep deprived.

I think what happened was that I realised as the deadline was approching, that I was a little overly ambitious about having a nice complete chapter to give to my supervisors by Thursday night, so I subconsciously decided to self-destruct. What I should have done is try to tidy up what I have, summarise for my supervisors what the rest of the chapter will look like and just keep on going. I know they will understand that it is still work in progress, but what I have done is quite big stuff in terms of structure etc.

So this paralysis lasts about 3 days and then I realise what I should do, but by then it is too late and I only have one full day now to tidy up this draft and then I worry that my supervisors will be disappointed in me. I also think it is disrespectful to give them something that is too drafty, so then I worry that they will read it, tutting throughout.

Now my paralysis has worn off, I remember that my friend once told me, that I should write a list of little tasks I can do when these symptoms set in. For example, perhaps tidy up Endnote, read a couple of articles from my reading pile or a chapter of a key book, maybe tidy up some files and so on. She said I should write these down because, as has happened, once one is in a state, one does not think clearly.

So I will do this now and add the list next to my motivational poster.

So tonight I will go to bed before midnight (ooh, that’s now!) and start afresh tomorrow. My motto ‘Focus’ may have to have a sub-motto: ‘It’s never to late to re-focus!’

 

 

 

 

(As it’s midnight, I wonder what Today’s Special Value is?….oh wow… it’s a Vax Vacumn cleaner…. I really need to watch it……)

 

 

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Last year before leaving to do this PhD, I worked in an office that had the biggest most industrial printer around. So when it came to writing my research proposal for the PhD I just did a quick literature search (just using search term ‘mature students’) and printed off around 50 articles on this magnificent machine. This big pile of journal articles had been hanging around on my desk ever since, for coming up to a year now, and since I started my PhD I have been lost as to where to start reading and what to read and getting terribly anxious about not doing any reading. But the answer has been staring me in the face all this time.

After reading Jessica Hayton’s blog where she discusses that people suggest a few articles and one book a week is what you should be aiming for, then I felt inspired to set myself a challenge, starting with these printed articles.

I decided to read 2 articles a day and try to get through a book a week for the whole of January.

I went to Sainsbury’s where they have quite a nice little stationery collection and got a jaunty red ring binder, some page dividers and some reduced priced Post-it notes. I also got a reduced priced rainbow trout and made a delightful experimental cous cous dish, but that’s another story.

I chose at random 14 papers and put them in the ring binder separating each batch of 14 by a page divider to indicate each week. Then when I read the papers I write a few notes throughout and also on the front page (just key points from the article and how it might be useful (or not) for my project) and put the date on it when I had read it. I also put a little green dot on it if the article is also in my Endnote account. I may also invest in some gold star stickers if the article was mind blowing and really relevant. Or perhaps a gold ring binder to put them in… we shall see. Here is a pic of my system, the blue post-it note on the top has my monthly target/plan written on it so I don’t forget.

Ring-binder reading regime  (p.s. curtain panel system from IKEA)

Ring-binder reading regime
(p.s. curtain panel system in background from IKEA)

I am reading the articles quickly as the aim of this exercise is to get an overall picture of what people are researching and writing about and to discover key words and themes. I will then do a proper literature search starting in Feb. In Feb I won’t print out every single article, probably just the front page of each (or first four pages, but double sided and two to a page so it is just one piece of paper) and read online instead (unless they get gold star status). But will still use the ring binder method as I think it is good to have something in print, even if just the first page just in case all the computer files go missing etc.

Regarding books, I will start with a book my second supervisor wrote (luckily it is nice and slim) and then move to other books that seem relevant from there…… in time the RRR (ring-binder reading regime) will evolve into something quite perfect I am sure.

(c) Annika Coughlin 2014

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