Category Archives: research process

Turn of the Year Musings – Part 1

The turn of the year is often a time for reflection and making plans for the future. As a second year Phd, working toward a minimum time completion, in the next twelve months I’ll need to be making decisions about where to go next. Forward to new fields, back to old haunts. But the question really is – where is the best place to stand to do the work I want to do, and preceding that, what is the work I really want to do.

Change the world, is a given, but how to do that. The career I’ve already had has given me opportunities to work with individuals, institutions and entire national systems, in both the public and community sectors, alternatively focusing on education or gender – but how do I think change really happens and where do I believe I can make my most effective contribution?

How big a risk am I prepared to take to get to where I think I could make the most difference? I’ve been reading Bourdieu, and the idea that you unknowingly trim your goals to fit your chances resonates with me. But my interest is in changing chances, creating opportunities for young women who weren’t brought up to challenge the status quo to recognise, and then demonstrate and develop their capacity to lead social change. So, I should try and start with me. Without hedging my bets what is the work I really want to do, and where do I believe that work can best be done?

No answers today, and one of the critiques of Bourdieu’s work is that despite his engagement with practical politics, social change is not central to his model, so I wonder what critical theory might offer me, and how to blend it all with feminism? Clearly, to be continued…..

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An ode to the wordprocessor and ‘cite-while-you-write’

Like many Phd students I’ve spent my summer writing, discarding, recovering, and re-writing – and right now I have to say – I just don’t know how anyone did this before the word processor and ‘cite-while-you-write’.

I know it was done and I’m sure that with trial and error, students who had to handwrite, or type their manuscripts must have come up with strategies for coping, but I just can’t imagine what they were. Although, one of my sister students is currently rewriting a chapter by cutting it into strips and using sticky tape to put it back together – so maybe I have a hint.

photo courtesy of Lula Męcińska

photo courtesy of Lula Męcińska

A fortnight ago, I had a couple of thousand words that I really didn’t like, but today I’ve read them again and they’re not so bad. And they’re definitely better than looking at a blank space headed ‘methodology’ where they used to be. Of course, they still need work, but they probably don’t need discarding. So, I cut and paste them out of the old document, and into the current version. Then moments later, the document refreshes, the references do their thing, and the bibliography magically expands still in alphabetical order.

Even with the best of handwritten/typed strategies, I’m guessing the word processor and ‘cite-while-you-write’ make the process a whole lot easier.

Everyone who wrote out their Phd longhand and had it typed, or typed it up themselves – I’m impressed.

Building Summer Writing Habits

While the undergraduates have gone home for the summer – to holidays and summer jobs – it seems research students see the summer as an opportunity to make new habits and meet ambitious writing goals.

In the same week as Phdforum launched its virtual writing retreat, the sociologists on campus went on a physical retreat and although I didn’t participate in either it’s been interesting to see the ripples from both activities.

According to their website, the Phdforum virtual retreat was so successful they are going to open the virtual doors in the first week of each month.

It also seems like the sociologists had a very productive two-day retreat. I’ve bumped into folk around town who are still writing for three sessions a day and another has set up a facebook group to keep up the momentum.

The facebook group is an interesting space: through the day people announce their writing intentions, invite others to join them, and report their progress. I wasn’t on the original retreat, but having been invited to join the facebook group and feeling that my summer writing goals were somewhat ambitious I found myself responding to a call for a 5:30am writing partner.

Now, it may seem odd to write at such an early hour, but for my writing partner it is the time before her children awake, and for me it harks back to earlier days as a part-time law student with a busy job and passionate volunteer commitments. Then getting up to study for a couple of hours each morning before leaving for work, meant it didn’t matter what craziness happened in either my paid or volunteer activities, or how exhausted or busy they kept me – I had done my study for the day.

For me life is simpler these days, I’m still a passionate volunteer, but I’m in the lucky position where being a Phd student is my job. However, I’ve still found writing without a hard deadline difficult to do.

Therefore, I’m writing for an hour at 5:30am each weekday morning. Knowing the first thing I’ll do each morning is write. It will very rarely clash with anything else, and I’ll start each day having put words on the page. And it is surely easier to edit a page, than to look at a blank one.

Plus if I can make this early morning writing a habit over summer, then 5:30am is early enough that even after term resumes it’s early enough that it will still fit before teaching or meetings and should be able to become a long-term habit.

Even after just a few sessions, the mix of repeated action, and accountability to my partner meant that even though the alarm clock failed to go off this morning, I still woke up and was ready to write at 5:30am.

Plus I’m excited about writing each morning!

What strategies are you using to write over summer?

From a grateful student – following the note taking advice of the blogosphere

As I start to hand in the first essays for the coursework in my Phd, I wanted to acknowledge the incredible wealth of advice and support that there is for Phd students on twitter and the internet.

There is a lot of discussion about how Phd students should engage with social media to build networks and promote their research. There is also a ready recognition that social media can help ease what we keep being told can be a lonely and difficult road. It’s the discussion on #phdchat that has really encouraged me to start this blog, and the internet/twitter are also amazing sources for advice on how to do the nuts and blots of Phd work.

I’m particularly grateful for two tweets: the first a guest post by Dr Katherine Firth on the ThesisWhisperer website Turn Your Notes into Writing Using the Cornell Method and the second a post by Pat Thomson on the Patter website Beginning the Literature Review – taking notes.

Somewhere between the two posts I’ve ended up with a really useful template for structuring my notes, and realised that if, rather than just noting individual thoughts and quotes, I write paragraphs in my own voice that reflect on and engage with the text, I have draft words for my literature review, or my current essay project.

This may not sound particularly revolutionary, but imagine my pleasure when I opened up the word doc for my first essay and discovered nearly 4000 words, significantly more than the 2500 needed. As I’d been pasting the words from my notes, into the word doc under the headings of my essay outline, it already had a rough structure. What I now had to do was re-write, edit and fill in gaps. A much easier task than starting with a blank page, trying to remember where everything I’d read was.

It is probably not a perfect system. Re-reading what I’d written I noticed that there were several ideas that kept being triggered by the writing that I’d captured several times. But the repetition probably demonstrates questions or issues that are important for me to note or resolve, and it was good to see how later work picked up earlier readings and had become more integrated text.

Anyway I’ve nearly 10 000 words due between January 21 and February 15, and while I’ve still got a lot to read and write, I’m at least temporarily happy with my process around note taking and turning that into writing.