Literature Review and Confirmation: Preparing for Milestones

Over the last few weeks I have been busily writing and preparing for PhD Milestones, as well as starting back at work. It has been very busy! It is times like this when my PhD is clearly not just ‘my’ study, it is something my whole family and extended network are supporting, and in a very real way, working towards too. Thank you to everyone on my ‘team’!

When writing both the lit review and confirmation paperwork I found it difficult at first to hone all the ideas and supporting reading I have done in the last year, into one document. This troubled me, as I knew the ideas I was putting forward had come from great books, papers and sources. I went through my folder (with only a handful of printed articles) and combed through my far more extensive Mendeley data base. I went decidedly ‘non-paperless’ and bought post-it notes to help make sense of key ideas, references and quotes (thanks BB for this strategy), sticking them on a wall into a huge concept map. This concept map helped to form the first of what will be a continual editing process for the next few years of my (soon to be part time) PhD study.  Below is a panorama of the ‘wall’ in progress. I was able to take each key idea and write the sections far more comprehensively than the first attempt. panorama phd wall 2I am more determined to keep clearer notes to organise my reading and references. Mendeley will allow this, I just need to be more consistent. The ‘import to mendeley’ plugin for my browser often doesn’t transfer the authors of blogs/websites, and I now know I need to put these in straight away, as it is too time consuming to amend these records while writing. As I write more and more of my thesis, I am sure I will get more streamlined in the process of storing my references in a style that works for me.

This week I am continuing to prepare for my Confirmation Presentation, and at this stage I am more excited than nervous. Writing the confirmation paperwork has further consolidated my study focus, and what I hope to contribute from the research. Again, planning for and working towards these milestones can’t be easily done in a short space of time. My advice to those starting on the journey is to be aware from the beginning where these milestones fall and plan towards them, don’t avoid them. Even though I have been writing outlines towards this since November last year, I still feel like I could have developed the paperwork further if I had ‘more time’. Perhaps this is the lesson…working within a time frame is in itself a discipline that we need to embrace instead of lament. What do you think? How do you work to deadlines?

Until next week

Fiona T

 

 

 

 

Plodding along…learning isn’t always lightning fast!

This week I have had a few ‘lightbulb’ moments. Thinking about my study and position as a Learner in this PhD journey has been hinted at in previous posts: like here, and here. I have been reading other blogs, attending #PhD chat when I can (this week the time and day changed so I used the wiki and twitter feed to read over later that evening), and actively talking with those around me about their study, techniques and journey.

I have also made definite strides in claiming back time to read and write, including attending a ‘shut up and write’ session run by my uni and trying ‘pomodoro’ time sessions for different tasks at different times. I found the ‘shut up and write’ session amazingly productive and one of my fellow PhD students, Violet, is planning on returning each week. I hope to go at least once a month at this stage. There is also talk of starting one in our graduate school (Ok, I started talking about it…but you will help too, won’t you Violet? LOL), to allow some other students and academic staff to reclaim space for writing.

The arrival of Patricia Goodson’s book, and my reading of the first two chapters helped to consolidate much of what my BB has been saying (probably for the last 18 months).  Patricia talks about protecting your writing time and making it a habit. BB has been sending me links and papers regularly and asking for my thoughts, encouraging the use of email and Evernote to communicate and push my articulation of ideas to a new level. My BB has been carefully, skillfully crafting my thinking of myself as a writer and academic for a long time now. She has been so supportive as a friend, generous with her time and in sharing her knowledge and expertise, and not just about conference packing! I have only just begun the PhD journey officially, BB and my second supervisor,  have given me the greatest gift: their confidence in me that I can learn this craft (of being an academic) and the support to be able to pick up and carry on when I do stumble. I hope they are not too disappointed that it has taken me this long to finally see myself in this light, sometimes I plod along slowly but I do get there!

I am writing this blog today with a new confidence, afforded by this new view of my identity as a ‘learner’ in this space. I am seeing my PhD for what it is, an apprenticeship in Academia, the space to practice, make mistakes and practice again. A sounding ground for my ideas as I move from being a Teacher to being an Academic. It is not a reality show where I have to ‘outdo’ the competition on a weekly basis or get voted out. It is a place I have earned a right to be, and a right and responsibility to learn all I can and try, try again until I produce my Thesis. I can see very clearly now the Thesis (while important) is another step in what will be a career in which I will never stop learning.

So what have I learned this week? That pomodoro writing and reading blocks work best for me to tackle tasks I need to begin, but that I see as too hard and so have been avoiding them. The pomodoro makes me focus; I don’t check my email, my phone or do any other tasks that pop into my head. I am always surprised at how much I get done and how ‘easy’ it is once I block the distractions for just one pomodoro. In the last two weeks I have used this method to free flow write approx 1,000 words (2 sessions), and then another session to edit my writing and tighten up the wording (1 session), by the end of this block of just 3 sessions I have written approx 1,500 words.  I write that not to gloat, but to remind myself what is possible if I stick to these methods. I may not do pomodoros all day, but using a few each week helps me feel like I am making great strides on multiple projects, and this is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment in itself.

So as I plod along this week and hope to write a more structured lit review, I wonder what light bulb moments have spurred you on in your own life, and even what stage of learning you see yourself at?

Until next week,

Fiona T

Learning the Craft: Academic Writing

Last week I posted about finding time to increase my reading.  This week we had a research group meeting and it started me thinking about writing again.

Pat Thomson has been writing posts over the last few weeks that have gently scaffolded my thinking and action towards the inevitable ‘elephant’ I will have to tackle…my skills as an academic writer.  I have always loved writing, I have completed units within a professional writing and editing course and can “spin a good yarn”. As a teacher I feel confident in writing tasks pitched at different audiences. I am also becoming active in writing conference papers and of course, this blog. My BB is very patiently building my exposure to the world of academic writing by guiding me through reading, discussion and response tasks almost everyday. We use email and twitter to share links and articles, and this is proving quite valuable in keeping the ideas  and conversations flowing 24/7.

My method for writing so far is to plan an outline with key points I want to make and then come back to it over time to fill in the details. This means everytime I sit down I am re-drafting and building on what I have written, adding references and clarifying ideas. While I am away (usually a few days to a week between writing opportunities) I have ideas brewing in my head which helps find relevant further reading and produces discussions that lead me to refine or expand ideas. The next time I sit down to write my head is a richer space. My style seems to be slow and steady, and this works for me. However, one blocker to my confidence remains. While I know I can write, and feedback from BB, peers, editors and publishers is that my work is well written and easy to read, in my mind I am not writing ‘academically’.  It doesn’t help that I don’t really have a clear definition of what ‘academic writing’ entails, and this is the problem. Enter Pat and her timely blog posts (and tweets)!

Pat’s recent post  has helped me to identify this stumbling block, and in a twitter conversation where she linked to another blog Practice or Flawless? | TheUniversityBlog,  where writing was compared to other skills, like music, and it made it clear to me that I am at the beginning of a learning journey. Pat also signposted 2 books that may help develop these skills: Helping Doctoral Students Write and Becoming an Academic Writer by Patricia Goodson. Pat’s book I am sourcing from my  library.  Patricia’s book I have ordered and it is on it’s way to me now. From the description of Patricia’s book, it sounds like it is set up as ‘a little writing, often’ and I know that I will be able to work it in to my study time easily. I feel a great sense of relief. I now have peers (in the faculty, on twitter and in the blogo-sphere) who are on this journey too. I have a clearer idea of what my short comings are and how to tackle them. And, perhaps most importantly, I have given myself permission not to be ‘perfect’ first time, to allow myself opportunities to learn, knowing that I WILL stumble, and that it is OK. This is a journey that will span 3 years, it will have highs and lows, but it is an ‘apprenticeship’ where I have the opportunity to grow and learn this craft.

This week I am attending a ‘shut up and write’ session at my Uni, with one of my fellow PhD students. I am really looking forward to writing in this social environment and connecting with others at my university too. I have also tried working again this week with the Pomodoro method, and managed to shift between 3 tasks more easily. Another sign that I am shifting my focus is that I have removed ‘smurf village’ from the home screen on my phone (I have not played it for nearly 4 weeks), and replaced it with a ‘simple pomodoro timer’ (free),  a sure sign of focused time management 🙂

So, thanks BB, Patter and ‘the university blog’ for helping me see and appreciate this process for what it is, a true learning journey.

Until next week

Fiona T

Making room to study: creating space and time

This semester I have taken on some part time work. It has, once again, made me look at the time I have and how to balance it best. Over the last 5 weeks I feel like I have been in a whirlwind, and while I have been meeting most of my targets for each week, some have been sliding. For example, menu planning has saved my sanity and allowed me a little snippet of time while dinner is cooking/heating to get food and clothes organised for the next day. However, this brief time in the evening is where I used to check emails and sort my reading for the next day of study. I found in the first 3 weeks that my reading time was not as productive, and it took a while to realise that my pattern that had worked for last Semester had been lost.

So this week, as my work slowed down a little, I took the time to stop and reflect on my study priorities and how I can best work the time I do have, to get my reading done. I had a meeting with BB and, once again, she was a wonderful support and has given me practical advice to shape my thinking and action on this.  I have come up with two seemingly small changes: 1. My reading in the evening before bed is now an article (20 mins x 6 days = 2hrs extra reading time), and 2. I am walking to the school to pick up LT on at least 3 days of the week, which means I get an extra 10 minutes to work on something at home, eg: setting up my reading list, as I am not driving and fighting for a park at the school (10 mins x 3 days = 30minutes).  Looking over previous entries on this blog, I can see my routine ‘evolves’ and morphs every few months, as the demands of study and life change.  I need to make sure I am periodically reviewing my time and goals to make sure I am using time effectively.  With the couple of small changes above I have ‘found’ an ‘extra’ 2.5 hours, and I no longer feel like I am in a whirlwind, I feel in control again.

As these times are smaller blocks, with a clear focus I think they will work well for me. I also tried to use ‘pomodoro’ time blocks last week for my writing time, but did find it hard to shift tasks at the end of the block. It is something I will have to work on, before judging if it works well for me.

What suggestions do you have for squeezing the most out of your study time?

Until next week

Fiona T

 

Conference travel preparation.

The countdown is on! In less than 2 weeks I will be jetting off to the UK for my first International Conference.

I have been pondering and planning for this trip for a while now, and here is a link to my previous post on this topic.

After reading other blogs on conference travel I am under no illusion of getting a stack of reading done on the plane. In fact I am looking forward to the quiet (well relative quiet LOL) of not having to rush anywhere or do anything for quite a few hours.

I have found my case to be a little big for the carry on allowance the airline allows, so have sourced another case. I still did a trial pack though, into a smaller case, and think it will work out fine. I have 4 outfits that work with one pair of shoes and can cross co-ordinate these easily (yes, I’m only taking one pair of shoes!) :thinking in a minimalist way is getting easier. I am really proud that my toiletries bag is packed with the bare essentials, and have decanted creams and lotions into the teeny-tiny jars my BB found for us. Today I bought a bag that is between a handbag and a tote bag to be practical enough for plane and train travel and take to the conference. Of course there is always the option of shopping for something if I have really forgotten an essential item, but I don’t anticipate this as being necessary 🙂 .

Packing is only part of the logistics. The presentation will be fine and will be backed up on Prezi and Evernote. Insurance is sorted and tickets and accommodation. This week is busy with final bits and pieces as we get ready to jet off to this great opportunity.

The blog will be quiet for a couple of weeks while I am on this adventure, as I will be saving precious global data for skype calls home. I will post as soon as I can after I return.

See you all on the flip side!

Fiona T

Sampling the PhD blogging world

This week, as I am waiting for confirmation of my candidature in the PhD program (and am stalling writing the ethics paperwork) I have had a bit of a look on the web for other PhD blogs. One of the first ones that kept my interest was this one: http://malenel.wordpress.com/
from a  student in Denmark. She was investigating Children’s use of Social Networking Sites. This will link in to my own work…I will try and find an English translation 🙂 She has also linked papers etc. Very exciting find!

Another paper popped up which is an Australian PhD study:  Blogging PhD Candidature: Revealing the Pedagogy, I have just send the PDF to my evernote to read tomorrow while my Son (LT) is at Taekwondo class (yes, a bonus 30 mins of study time for Mum). Perhaps my own blogging about learning caould become a valid part of my thesis? Who knows how the academic world will change in the next few years? A girl can hope!

Of course there was a ‘top 50’ blog that popped up, so I am linking it here purely for future procrastination purposes!   your reading enjoyment: http://www.phdprogramsonline.org/top-50-blogs-every-graduate-student-should-read.html

Do you have a blog? Please link it in the comments below and give yourself a plug!

Happy Blogging

Fiona

Video Conferencing: miles don’t matter

This week you are lucky enough to get a second post, albeit a short one.

Skype is amazing! My BB (Beautiful/ brilliant Boss) is traveling to conferences in the UK and Europe at the moment. This, years ago, would have meant that she would be out of touch with me except via email. Today it means she has been able to use email, twitter and facebook to send links to the interesting things she is involved in right now. Yes, keeping me working and thinking.

The other brilliant thing is that last night (8.30pm Melb time, and approx mid morning UK time) we did our first video conference across the seas (we have used before for evening meetings from our respective Melbourne homes) using Skype. We talked for almost an hour and a half. And yes, we did remember to talk about the writing I had posted on googledocs! So, this aspect of ‘remote supervision’ is promising. Now, off to do some of the work we discussed last night!

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