Re-blog and reflect: Is your PhD stuck on Mars? Apply the Martian Method

via Is your PhD stuck on Mars? Apply the Martian Method

I read this blog post this morning, and it resonated with me. Much of what the author describes is what I went through last year. Below is my first blog post in a long time. I reflect on how I have moved my PhD forward, using the Martian Method as an analogy.

Firstly, the ‘Stay alive’ was the most important part. I sought support from student services and counselling as soon as I realised my PhD world was unravelling. Of course, I was also supported by my husband, family and friends- they knew there was a problem much earlier than I would admit, and were my first port of call. They made sure I was fed, encouraged me to take breaks, have a coffee (well- chamomile tea- caffeine was not good for my stress levels) and go for walks. Those in my workplace bought me little trinkets or flowers or left notes on my desk to let me know they were thinking of me. There were many hugs too.

As part of ‘stay alive’ I did cut off some of my contacts with the outside world, like this blog, which I just couldn’t write in for a multitude of reasons. For some reason, today, over twelve months since my PhD world unravelled,  the linked blog post from the thesis whisperer has prompted me to write again.

My “call earth” included the amazing people who supported me to ‘stay alive’ and who believed in me when I didn’t. I also extended my support crew by contacting some people I had lost touch with over the course of my studies, these people knew me when I was strong, and reminded me how to be that person again. It took a while, but this act of reaching out and extending my support crew helped me reconnect with who I used to be before I got lost in academia and my studies. It has led to me taking my life off the ‘hold pattern’ it had been in for almost seven years. Basically, I stopped holding my breath, waiting to be finished my thesis, and got on with life. I got a new job, changed my workplace, and became active in a professional association again. I am balancing my time differently to meet various deadlines and expectations. I am also saying ‘no’ to certain things, and ‘yes’ to others; like demonstrating at a local craft afternoon, entering my craft in an art show and making time for family fun too. These are the things which ground me, fill my soul and give me perspective. They had become a source of guilt during the time I put everything on hold. Now I let them be a joy and feel so much better for it.

The “just begin” I feel I need to add ‘again’ to. I have begun my thesis writing again and again. Each time the focus is sharper and the argument I am making is clearer. But it’s not just about beginning the writing: I read a range of other theses, I went to writing workhops, I re-visited my data sets and analysis, and I re-wrote my third and fourth full versions of my thesis over the last twelve months. My fifth version is being shaped now and I feel so much more in control and sure of my thesis this time. Part of my ‘begin’ was building a new supervisory team, and building the personal confidence to keep moving forward to finish my thesis.

So, here I am. Still determined to complete what I began. Stronger than I was twelve months ago. I am certain that post-PhD life will be great, but I am not waiting until then to live my best life. Learning to live my life alongside the PhD has been a revelation- thanks to all of my support crew for helping me find my joy again.

Until next time

Fiona T


Re-blog: The Happy PhD Zone: How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance In Academia – Next Scientist

I recently read this post over at Happy PhD zone, and it made me laugh, and think about my priorities at the moment too. I am trying to balance my time on weekends to make sure I recharge and spend time with my beautiful family. The PhD and a full time teaching load make for very busy week days. So, this blog is worth a look 🙂

The Happy PhD Zone: How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance In Academia – Next Scientist.

Until next time,

Fiona T

Paperless progress

A belated ‘Happy New Year’ to you all. Those who are regular followers will have noticed ‘My Paperless PhD’ has been very quiet since September least year. This is for a number of reasons, including actual progress in my PhD, working full time and working on conference papers too.

Today I had a ‘free’ half hour, so I thought it best used to give you a quick paperless update.

Since my confirmation of candidature in March last year, data gathering has been constant. I am using a range of data gathering tools, including interviews (recorded on my smartphone and backed up to a password protected cloud file) before being transcribed (using a program devised by Wonderful Husband- WH), and then also stored in a password protected file. Some parts of my data collection require paper, like the participants constructing Personal Meaning Making Maps (PMMM – based on Falk et al, 1997) which are drawn on A3 paper. These are then scanned and stored – you guessed it-  in a password protected file. I am finding it easier over time to correct my writing on the screen, though I do still print hard copies for final reading and editing. While not completely paperless I do feel like I am not using a forest to draft my work, and paper is used sparingly.

In terms of writing, I still find the ‘shut up and write’ pomodoro sessions very helpful, with our little group meeting on Friday morning for most of the year. These will start again soon, when semester gets back into swing.

In other news, 2 teacher friends of mine invited me to be a part of a review blog, aimed at Australian Parents  to find apps that will support their children in fun and learning too. Many apps reviewed so far are free, though the original idea was to assist parents in making informed choices in spending i-Tunes and similar cards. The blog is here:  and the facebook page has a healthy following for being active for just under 10 days now. If this interests you, please follow along and support us – you may also want to suggest apps or write a guest post – email contact is available through the apps for aussie kids blog (on the right of the page).

I hope to be more active on this blog this year. I have many posts in mind…I just need time to write them!

Until next time

Fiona T


Falk, J. H., Moussouri, T., & Coulson, D. (1997). The effect of Visotors’ agendas on Museum Learning. Curator, 41(2), 107–120.

New Traditional Games for Learning: A Case Book

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you this breaking news…..New Book Published 🙂 Enjoy

New Traditional Games for Learning: A Case Book Paperback – Taylor & Francis.

Edited by Alex Moseley and Nicola Whitton, this book presents a number of case studies of traditional game use in Educational settings across the world.

Chapter 3: Three boys and a chess set is a case study written by myself and Liz Hinds about a traditional game and the 18 month passion based learning project that developed for three boys in a primary school setting. We are very excited to have this story documented and published. I can’t wait to receive my copy of this book, and be able to review the other chapters also.

From the publisher:

“A growing interest in the use of games-based approaches for learning has been tempered in many sectors by budget or time constraints associated with the design and development of detailed digital simulations and other high-end approaches. However, a number of practitioners and small creative groups have used low-cost, traditional approaches to games in learning effectively – involving simple card, board or indoor/outdoor activity games. New Traditional Games for Learning brings together examples of this approach, which span continents (UK, western and eastern Europe, the US, and Australia), sectors (education, training, and business) and learner styles or ages (primary through to adult and work-based learning or training). Together, the chapters provide a wealth of evidence-based ideas for the teacher, tutor, or trainer interested in using games for learning, but turned off by visible high-end examples.

An editors’ introduction pulls the collection together, identifying shared themes and drawing on the editors’ own research in the use of games for learning. The book concludes with a chapter by a professional board game designer, incorporating themes prevalent in the preceding chapters and reflecting on game design, development and marketing in the commercial sector, providing valuable practical advice for those who want to take their own creations further.”

Considering Self and Identity in reading and writing

This year has started in a whirlwind of teaching, reading and writing.  Teaching has been rewarding , and planning for the next part of the teaching year has been progressing well, collaborating with old and new colleagues.  I have read a few blogs (that RSS feed to my email is working really well) and among them I have enjoyed thinking about action and starting tasks: Beginnings. I also liked Patter’s recent post on considering a blogging identity, it resonated with me mostly because I consider this blog as my professional/academic face, and also because I am constantly considering the ‘self’ in my students and studies…self and identity is proving very complex to pin down.

In my academic reading I have been re-reading Burkitt’s (2002) exploration of Foucault’s ‘Technologies of the Self’, which has lead me back to considering Foucault (1988). *For those not familiar with this work, the next few sentences outline the main ideas in this article, though I truly am skimming the surface.

  • Burkitt explains the idea of ‘technologies of self’ in terms of habitus, based on Aristotle’s interpretation of ‘self’ as our activity and dispositions. Burkitt continues to develop his ideas with reference to Aristotle and Heidegger to include in ‘technology’ the ‘machinery of production’ and ‘the knowledge and skills’ (pg 222) humans use to produce or create anything. It is challenging to the 2013, everyday, interpretation of ‘technology’, though it does highlight that the ‘new technologies’ we use in our day to day lives are merely tools to help us to express ourselves through interactions in social spaces. For example this blog: hard to do without the laptop and the internet, though I would probably be writing using the ‘technology’ of pen and paper in a private journal had this forum not  been available. The internet offers a more authentic audience than a private journal.  Burkitt then explores the idea of habitus being latent, until we are challenged in some way to reflect upon our actions and motives. The implications this has in social life, interactions and even education are explored in this article. (That’s a pretty quick skim….the article is referenced below should you wish to read further…)**

Considering these fundamental works in light of my own study and methodology has been exciting. I was reminded by Burkitt of many great names in the field and this has led me to ponder when I first encountered philosophy outside of a university lecture.  Nearly 20 years ago I read “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder, this book helped me to connect with philosophy (so much so I still remember the key philosophers). I would recommend this book to the ‘uninitiated’ as it gives a good overview of western philosophy, and is written in a creative fashion that gets you questioning reality itself.

In terms of writing, my literature review is starting to take shape, and with my confirmation on the horizon I feel I am making good progress in setting the foundations of my research identity.

Until next time

Fiona T

* to ** added in response to reader feedback, on 28/1/13


Burkitt, I. (2002). Technologies of the Self: Habitus and Capacities. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 32(2), 219–237. doi:10.1111/1468-5914.00184

Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the Self. (L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton, Eds.). USA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Gaarder, J. (1995). Sophie’s World (English.) London.

Happy New Year, time to get organised again!

Happy New Year to all of my followers. I have taken a little time out these holidays, and not looked at anything work or thesis related for just over a week. Now I am getting back into the swing of things and preparing for a year of full time work, PhD confirmation in March and then data collection. There are a number of considerations when planning for this year to run smoothly. These include making realistic timelines and goals. With this ‘realistic’ idea in mind, I will be changing my blogging to be fortnightly for this blog, and monthly for my other blog (One Mad Tatter). I have also gotten back into meal planning in a serious way, and have set up my calendar until the end of March with nutritious weekday dinners that either WH or I can prepare quickly. I have added a Sunday cooking list to the calendar too, so that some bulk cooking and preparation can be done for the week ahead. Today I am making some yoghurt, flat bread to freeze and a big batch of bolognaise sauce to freeze too.

Thinking about getting more organised with my writing and thesis, I was trawling through some draft posts I have on wordpress and found this link to Michael Hyatt’s post on organising Evernote for maximum efficiency. How to Organize Evernote for Maximum Efficiency | Michael Hyatt. Having over 1,000 notes now, I think it is a good time of year to sort and tag my notes to increase my ease of searching in the future. Another feature of Evernote is that you can sort the notes that contain checkboxes, which is great as I am a fan of check boxes, and use them to indicate my ‘to-do’ tasks.


Knowing that any plan is only going to work if it is actioned, I’d better get into the cooking 🙂

Fiona T.



Ideas coming together: neuroplasticity and learning!

As I read more widely around my PhD topic I am finding many connections forming in my mind as to how a range of ideas and theories can mesh together to make a supporting argument. My Son, LT (6yo) would be exclaiming “I made a connection to text!”, and sometimes, when these ideas mesh in my mind I feel like shouting that too. Instead I tuck away the idea for a blog post. Here is one of  the most recent connections I have made.

As a teacher I know that ‘practise makes perfect’ (and if it still isn’t perfect, if you have been practising you will be better at something than when you started!). As a Mum introducing food to a toddler, I had been told that you need to present a new food at least 10 times before a child may even taste it. In my reading about becoming a ‘master’ at any activity requires 10,000 hours of practise (McGonigal, 2011).  As a constructivist teacher I consistently use activity based learning to support students in exploring and making connections with science and math concepts. It is now that I am reading about Neuroscience that I am finding support as to why this practise and immersion does improve learning. Here is a link to an Edutopia blog: Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes the Brain | Edutopia.  This article states that the reason for this repetition working to improve learning is that the brain is ‘plastic’, through our lives our brains adapt to what we are doing, and makes new connections all the time. I recall reading about this in ‘The Brain that Changes itself’ (Doige, 2007), where people use physical therapy to help recover full mobility after strokes, by repeating the actions in physical therapy the body re-forms the neural connections needed to command movement.

By continuing to read, teach and think about learning I have linked my own experiences to emerging research on neuroplasticity. Learning needs to be an active process, for the learner as well as the teacher. Reading is only one form of experiencing information, but different people learn in different ways (not everyone enjoys reading either).  Thinking about how to support the diverse student needs in a classroom means that teachers need to consider the learners in their own class and how to assist each learner to make connections between themselves and the learning at hand. These connections will take time to discover and then need to be nurtured, teachers professional knowledge of pedagogy is central to identifying and then meeting the learning needs of students. Good teachers have known this for a long time, and I am pleased we now have research to support that activity based, cognitively challenging, real world tasks will help students to enjoy the experiences and see their learning more clearly. I can certainly see my learning more clearly!

Until next week

Fiona T.


Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. Viking Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken (2nd ed.). Penguin Books.

Paperless…it’s all the rage!

As the title of my blog suggests, I am a big fan of going paperless when I can. I suppose this stems from my earliest years of teaching, when our staff office was mostly destroyed by fire. I am a paper hoarder and stacker,  so my desk was one of the worst affected as it had the most paper on it. This was in 1997, and there was no laptops for teachers at this stage, and only a few computers around for teacher use. It was then that I began to really use the computers (and disks) available to transfer all my planning and work to disk. The following year I began a Post Grad Diploma in ICT, and this added much needed skills and a shift in my thinking in what was possible with ICT, inside and outside the classroom.

I doesn’t seem surprising to me (or my nearest and dearest) that when I started my PhD journey I would need a new laptop, and that this blog has eventuated. I store increasingly more and more in various cloud based archives. For the last 4 weeks of my teaching I have had all of my presentations and resources stored in the cloud and accessed via the internet connection from the computer in my classroom. It has been great. I have also been promoting and modelling the use of EDMODO and our institutions LMS system for my classes.

This week, Thesis Whisperer posted this guest post from Marek Martyniszyn Going paperless part one: your desk « The Thesis Whisperer.  I liked it (I have 2 monitors at work), and some of the ideas resonated with where I have been and where I hope to go with this journey. The comments on the blog are also great, giving some alternative ideas and solutions to ‘go paperless’. So do pop over and have a read.

Like Thesis Whisperer, I find I still print off a few pages each month, these are mostly for formal letters or final proof reading of papers I am writing. I am happy that the majority of my reading is now on Menedely, with my annotations and notes easy to access and share.  My ideas and drafts are now being written into Evernote, using ‘Pomodoro’s ‘ while at ‘Shut up and Write’ sessions. I have also used google docs to collaborate with people on documents. As you can see there are a lot of ideas and techniques coming together for me at the moment, and as I head towards the end of my first year of candidature I feel quite well prepared and supported.

There are lots of ways of going paperless, what do you do? What is your favourite idea for going paperless?

Until next week

Fiona T

Mendeley vs EndNote -Guest Blog Post

This week one of my PhD friends, Hardimah Said,  has written a guest blog post for me. She has recently shifted her reference database from EndNote to Mendeley and agreed to write a review on her experience with Mendeley:

“I had heard about Mendeley quite a few times from friends and from reading some academic blogs, but I never really gave it a thought as my EndNote was doing a fine job for me so far. Until, recently, I came across this blog (a link recommended by one of the phdchat twitters,
and I don’t know what ‘special’ effect this blog had, but it made me want to instantly give it a go. I surfed the Mendeley website and 30 minutes later I had a Mendeley account and all my references from EndNote were transferred to Mendeley too.

One feature of Mendeley that I love is that it allows the detailed notes on the right side of the same window. Whereas for EndNote, any specific reference that I want to look at in detail, will need to be opened as a new window. I also like the read and annotate feature which I can’t do in EndNote. And I found that whatever EndNote can do, Mendeley can do it too; such as the Microsoft Word Plug-in.

But overall, what I like the most about Mendeley is what EndNote can’t do*.  The backup feature which allows it to be synchronised to all other devices. This is a very convenient feature which is similar to Evernote (another great app that I rely on very much every day). So I now don’t have to worry anymore about updating & saving my Endnote from my office pc to my thumb-drive, and then do the same thing to my EndNote on my pc and mac at home. I have been ‘manually syncing’ EndNote this way for the last 2 years, so the auto sync feature in Mendeley is great. Another good feature which I love is that Mendeley can be opened on the iPhone or iPad, while EndNote can’t.  I usually use my iPhone in bed before going to sleep and so now I can check Mendeley or do some reading before I start dreaming.

For now, these are the reasons why I’m a happy convert to Mendeley although I know there are more great features of Mendeley that I know will be useful to me being in an academic profession such as; sharing papers, collaborating with friends and creating my own profile for own publication.

Hardimah Said.”

Thanks Hardimah! I have been enjoying the sync feature on Mendeley too, it does take the worry out of the backing up process.

I wonder what reference system you (my readers) are relying on? Is it EndNote, Mendeley or another program? As always, feel free to share in the comments below, or over on the facebook page.

Until next week,

Fiona T

*At this time ( October 2012) we don’t have access to the latest version of EndNote via our institution. Thanks to Tilla from EndNote for her comments about the increased functionality of EndNote6.  (Blog post updated 16th October 2012)

Defining my ‘blockers’ and acting to eliminate them.

A good portion of this blog is about sharing with you (and recording for myself) my journey in becoming a PhD student. It is a journey that I am less than 1/3 of the way through. Looking over previous blog posts on this blog, I can see that I am regularly looking at my time and goals and changing how I organise my time to ensure I meet my goals.

In the last month I have become increasingly aware of some long term goals that are approaching, and that I need to start to pull these together (lit review, anyone, LOL).  After several weeks of this task appearing on my Evernote weekly to do list I stopped myself the other day from the thought process of: “have to write the lit review…I have the outline somewhere (turns on laptop to look for file….gets distracted by facebook, twitter, reading new blogs, filing articles)…oh gee..out of time today, better plan my classes for next week” and began to really think about why I haven’t started…In other words: What are my Blockers?

This technique has been very helpful over the last few months for me. In daunting tasks, for example writing letters of invitation for my research and Ethics applications. I knew the sort of thing I wanted to write but was avoiding actually putting these ideas into a document. I decided I had no good reason to avoid this any more, and so devoted a ‘pomodoro’ to this task. In 25 minutes this letter was written. I put it aside and looked at it the next day in another pomodoro, when I focused just on editing it.  I could finally tick this task off my list, and there was no good reason for my previous avoidance. I had spent more time avoiding the task than it actually took to complete it! There are a few other tasks just like that on my list that I have been tackling, bit by bit, pomodoro by pomodoro. The process of realising that you are procrastinating, and questioning why, then actually taking action to ‘get on with it’ sounds pretty obvious, but, like every other process it takes a conscious effort to acknowledge and improve our own behaviours to meet these goals.

This thought process and journey have also been helped along by my ‘wider reading’ of academic and PhD blogs. These blogs range in topic, and one that resonated with me a couple of days ago was this one,from PhD2Published : Charlotte and Jesse suggest that when your mind wanders to other things, perhaps it is time to take a break, do that other thing, and then return to writing refreshed. This is something I know to already work for me, my vices range, but include gardening, tatting and reading (not articles). I like this post as it ‘gives’ permission for me to be flexible and allow myself to be my best when I am in ‘PhD’ mode. I have also been reading and acting on the tasks in the Patricia Goodson ‘Becoming an academic writer’ book.  These exercises are giving me more structure to refine and develop my skills.

My PhD reading this week was around neuroscience and learning, and in terms of my own learning this quote stood out:

“…short-term motivational processes may have a powerful influence on long-term outcomes.” Van Geert and Steenbeek (2008) cited in Howard-Jones, et al. (2011)

I instantly thought ‘pomodoro’, as a tool for setting short term goals and then giving a structure to focus wholly on one task and make significant progress, this technique is really helping me. It supports the approach I have taken over the last few years, with my craft and show entry, my other studies and work… I chip away a little at a time, in regular bursts of approx 20 minutes (for reading and craft). This chipping away is the ‘short term motivational process’, and it is also the divergent challenge I need to have a mental break from my study, and return to it refreshed.

So, here is my ‘overcoming blockers’ action plan:

  1. Identify the task that you are avoiding.
  2. Think about the reasons why. Is it a mental blocker eg: ‘this task is to hard’ (ask yourself ‘why’, chances are it isn’t too hard at all, and maybe you need to do some more reading, or seek more specific help),  or is it a physical blocker; eg: ‘need printer ink’ then go and buy some…NOW.
  3. Once physical blockers are removed, commit some time to just start that task (I like pomodoros, but you may have another technique). If it is a big task (I’m thinking Lit Review here) plan several small goals that will build this over a few weeks.
  4. Remember, the aim is not necessarily to finish the whole task in one sitting. Perhaps a plan is a great starting point, then in the next session do some more or begin developing sections of your plan.
  5. Be realistic with your goals, short term motivational goals are not ‘2000 words in 25 minutes’. They are more like ‘list key points for each area, tag references to support key points’, next time might be ‘expand one set of key points’, and then session 3 may be ‘expand another set of key points’, and session 4 ‘edit writing from session 2 and 3’.
  6. Over the long term (I see this task as taking 4-5 weeks) you will see your project developing. I know from my past experience that the end product is satisfying and the ‘reward’ in a job well done will motivate me to my next set of goals.

Thanks for ‘listening’ while I planned my approach to my lit review. Now this week, I WILL start the plan and the writing. Promise 🙂

I wonder what your ‘blockers’ are? How do you overcome them?

Until next week

Fiona T


Howard-Jones, P., Demetriou, S., Bogacz, R., Yoo, J. H., & Leonards, U. (2011). Toward a Science of Learning Games. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(1), 33-41.

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