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I get told all the time that I am very organised and efficient. Once when I worked in a department store, my colleague squealed with excitement when she saw how I had folded a table of men’s t-shirts and jumpers.¬† I must admit, the corners were sharp and looked great. I have also had people gasp at all the little extra attention to detail I bring to organising events. I would think of every possible scenario and plan for it. At school people called me Mary Poppins as my bag was always full of useful things. I have never seen Mary Poppins so never quite got the reference, but I assumed that was what they meant – or was it because I wore a long, full skirt and liked to yodel?

But although I love this praise (who doesn’t) now as a PhD student I feel a little bit uncomfortable because I worry that I am using my organisational ability as a smokescreen for my lack of intellectual ability. Being able to organise a messy cupboard is not quite the same as organising a literature review or structure a thesis or plan a big project.

I do not feel very organised at the moment, so that is why I feel odd when people seem to think I am – it’s a lie, they do not know the truth. I can’t seem to properly plan my time. Or even organise my notebooks. I start one, then another and then another and they are just full of nonsensical scribbles. I don’t even use a pencil case or have a neat desk. Sometimes I don’t even have a pack of plasters in my bag. And today I forgot my railcard and was sweating and panicking that a ticket inspector would catch me.

I want to do a really excellent project. I want to contribute something exciting. I want to do the research in a really robust way. I want to pass my thesis with flying colours. I want to become intelligent and for people to marvel at my amazing insights and squeal at my work just as my colleague in the department store squealed at my folding ability.

Perhaps this will happen one day – if I can get my act together and go to bed that is – but I have unfinished chores to do, back to pack, papers to print for tomorrow and where is my railcard? Oh, what-a-mess!

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The real me

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

You know when you are trying to sort out your page numbering in Word and you get really frustrated¬† and you cry a little bit or sometimes a lot… well, fear no more. If you just want to have a couple of blank pages in your document, say for the chapter title but you don’t want a number ruining the nice clean page, don’t bother doing all those section breaks etc – just simply colour over the page number!

This will definitely come in handy for the thesis.

 

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