About Me

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PhD Candidate at Griffith University, mummy, wife, teacher, social media enthusiast, avid reader

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Is a PhD worth missing summer?

I haven’t written a blog in a very long time. I've been writing other stuff. A big fat thing called a PhD thesis. However, the past couple of days have been like walking through sand. I can actually see my thesis as a finished product but realising it has become gruelling. I want to write but for some reason my brain stops working simultaneously with walking out my front door. So why do I feel this way? Is it because I lie awake too long excited about what I want to say and then cannot function the next day from lack of sleep? Is it the heat (it’s pretty damn hot here right now)? Is it the air-conditioned windowless room I write in? Is it that I am afraid to *put it out there*?

I think  all of the above play a role but you know what I reckon the main factor is? I miss my kids. I’m sitting here in my air-conditioned, windowless room and playing with strategies for untangling my thoughts and weaving them back together trying to meet a self-imposed deadline wrapped up in a much needed living allowance. I’m taking advantage of my husband’s leave and holiday visits from Gran and Gramps to distract Christmas lolly fuelled limbs and needy little sticky faces and from my absence. God, I miss those faces (tearing up a bit).

I’m missing summer days in the pool, smelling like sunscreen, chlorine and salt. I’m missing dripping mango down my arms, smearing frozen blueberries across my face and spitting watermelon seeds across the lawn. Sucking on ice-blocks. I’m missing breathing in the stillness and humidity and the anticipation of a storm. I’m missing the green. God, Brisbane is green at the moment. I am missing having an active role ingraining summer into my children’s DNA. All for a bloody PhD.

Still, it’s only one summer. My children are young. There are plenty of summers left and I still have weekends. Next summer you’ll be able to call me Dr.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Expressing my relationship with my blog

Today I had a good day. I am satisfied with my output and I am feeling more confident. I am again at the meta-cognitive end of my day. The time of day where I feel exhausted from the day of writing up my dissertation, needing to spend my last hour reflecting on the day that was.

Today was spent reflecting on my relationship with the participants, context and data. Thus, pipe in mouth (;-D @thesiswhisperer and @dr_know), I began thinking about my relationship with my blog and that I haven't declared my position in quite some time.

I am a teacher that likes to know how to teach stuff. I tend to absorb any information about the cognitive processes associated with any of my activities. I think about what I am learning and what techniques I could use to teach the learning. There is a lot to be said for the teacher that is not an expert in their field. Staying one step ahead of the students is an adrenaline rush and can be very rewarding, especially when both teacher and student experience a mutual light bulb moment. I had one of those moments yesterday and am still tingling from the experience of learning something new from my students. I yearn for those times and they become rarer and rarer as I re-teach a subject. 

My blogs are about my process of coming to grips with the complexity of writing a dissertation. I do not claim to be an expert or believe my way is the correct approach. Processes I thought were enlightened a month ago, I have discarded or regard with nostalgia. Processes I dismissed have now made a resurgence and again I swear by them. But the reality is, I am still a novice. I am still learning. I need to be flexible.

Many of the changes to my plans and processes have come about because I am a mother. My day is not as straight forward as leaving the house for campus and coming home for dinner and TV with my husband. Two days per week that I write involve feeding and dressing a 2.5 year old (who would hang from the ceiling if it was humanly possible) and a 6 month old baby. I herd them into the car, hopefully dropping them at their day-care Mum's house by 8:30am (on a good day). I am lucky if I can get start work by 9:30am. I am sure other mums can relate. My day is further complicated by my love hate relationship with my breast pump. I hate expressing milk (but love breast feeding my baby) and my day revolves around the timing of pumping. 

The timing of pumping is what has made some writing techniques (like pomodoro) difficult to rigorously maintain. 

Today (and I should caveat this through the emphasis on TODAY), I found an approach that flowed like mother's milk (sorry but it is National Breastfeeding Week). I started my day with 90 minutes of free writing, into my methodology outline, using Tony Schwartz's plan for personal effectiveness (http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/01/the-most-important-practice-i.html). This brought me up to my first express. The second session, I chose a book from my field and read chapter by chapter adding ideas, phrases and quotes into my outline. Each time I finished a chapter, I went and fixed a cup of tea. The four hour session then fell into a natural pomodoro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique). By my second express my brain was telling me that the day was done and I needed to spend some time reflecting on my practice. 

So we come full circle. I wonder how I will feel about this plan next week? I may love it or hate it. What do you think about it?

PS: Twitter and Facebook have been awash with tips and encouragement to help me with my writer's block (which, thankfully, has gone for now) and I will Storify all the advice in due course as my way of saying thanks to the "great good place" that is my social media reality.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Writing to an outline and #tweetingmythesis

Where I road test outlining a chapter and writing the paragraphs. The following is a little bit auto-ethnographic and a little bit meta-cognitive.

  1. Last week I wrote my methodology outline by deconstructing the methodology chapter of a completed dissertation. I don't know why the methodology chapter made more sense to me at this stage in my thesis but golly I'm glad it did.
  2. I had a bit of trouble getting going this week so decided to do some reading to find inspiration.
  3. Looking at the language of methodology in the literature over brekky. Getting in the head space. #tweetingmythesis
  4. No matter how many times I read an article, there is always something new to be found. At the moment I am focusing on completing my draft by Christmas. How researchers in my field phrase their findings and ideas has been of particular interest of late.
  5. It's amazing the different things you notice each time you read the literature. This time efficiency in language #tweetingmythesis
  6. I like working with tables.  The outline style I developed is broken down into single paragraphs. I extracted the content of each paragraph from the theses I have read. I also noted the literature referenced in each paragraph.

    My lifestyle dictates I rarely have long periods of time to write. This outline style allows me to approach the methodology chapter piecemeal. I can write a paragraph (any paragraph) whenever I get a moment. I start by re-reading the literature to get a gist of the paragraph and go from there. 
  7. I am committed to just writing the paragraphs at the moment. When they are all written, I'll extract them from the outline and re-order to suit the needs of my methodology. Too often I get distracted by linking sentences. I'm usually so desperate to make the flow work that the process becomes counter-productive. Writing any old paragraph at any time is a bit more like free writing. It frees my mind from overall structure so I can just concentrate on the meaning of each individual paragraph.
  8. Can see a change needed in my outline but its a distraction. Need to write paragraphs. Order comes later #tweetingmythesis #PhDchat#socphd
  9. I quite like using the pomodoro techinique (road tested in a previous #tweetingmythesis). It is not quite working with the outline method so I have made some modifications. Instead of sticking to the strict 25 minutes writing and 3-5 minute break, I write a paragraph and then have a break. 
  10. #Pomodoro isn't working today. Having a rest after every paragraph inserted into my outline. 5 paragraphs down#tweetingmythesis #PhDchat
  11. I haven't finished my methodology chapter. I envisage it will be the star of #tweetingmythesis for a couple more weeks. I feel this technique, recommended by Studious Jenn (@mystudiouslife) will be a stalwart addition to my academic writing (#acwri) repertoire.

    If you have any feedback, comments, recommendations, corrections, I am all ears and thank you in advance. 

    I am also keen to road test some more #acwri techniques. Make a recommendation. I still have a long way to go and less and less time to get there so willing to try anything.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Outlining a methodology and #tweetingmythesis

Where I road test outlining a chapter before writing the paragraphs. The following is a little bit auto-ethnographic and a little bit meta-cognitive.

  1. On 3 July, I began writing the first draft of my thesis. My aim is to complete the draft by Christmas. This gives me a very tight schedule so I need to micro manage my time. To see how I use my time, I decided to embrace my addiction to Twitter rather than turn off my smart phone. My writing first day, I used the hash tag #tweetingmythesis to see how I used my time. Since then I have embraced the hash tag and have decided to road test some other academic writing techniques #acwri, as requested in the comments of my previous post. 
  2. Outlining is an age old approach to beginning writing. I have been teaching the technique for many years in my job as a Modern History teacher.  
  3. #Tweetingmythesis again today. Trying some outlining to get started on my methodology section #phdchat #acwri #groundwork
  4. I Googled around for some methodology outlining techniques. I watched some YouTube lectures and read some blogs. Nothing was really making sense. I decided to reach back into my long gone English teaching career and try deconstructing a methodology from a thesis that used my research approach, phenomenography.
  5. Found a thesis that used phenomenography. Deconstructing the chapter to write my outline #phdchat #acwri #Tweetingmythesis
  6. On my first reading, I wrote down paragraph by paragraph the content I thought the methodology chapter was trying to communicate. I didn't worry that my method was different. I just wanted to develop a basic outline.
  7. Finished deconstructing the chapter. Thesis does not use same method. Reread and take notes #Tweetingmythesis #phdchat#acwri
  8. On the second reading, I recorded the literature referenced in the model thesis. The process of connecting my outline back to the model to extract the references, highlighted how lazy I had been in the initial deconstruction.  
  9. Found that my first reading and deconstruction of the methodology chapter was lazy. Reread means tidying up #Tweetingmythesis
  10. As I was tidying up my first attempt at a methodology outline, I began to make connection to my own study. I created a table. I work better with tables.
  11. Have constructed a table now in reread of my outline. Column 1: outline, column 2: notes, column 3: lit #tweetingmythesis #acwri#phdchat
  12. Just added another column. Separation of sections eg. Intro, justification of meth-ogy etc #tweetingmythesis #acwri #phdchat#nowinlandscape
  13. Day two, the "How to write a methodology" jigsaw began to fall into place. I began to see the model I was reading had an argument. realise the methodology is not just a description but also a justification and these two aspects need to be linked. There are some things I KNOW in my head from all the textbooks but until I saw it in practice I did not UNDERSTAND. I think this is the most important reason to read several theses before and while you are writing your own.
  14. Beginning to click. Outlining my methodology. Reading a thesis#tweetingmythesis #acwri #phdchat
  15. In the end, I read the model methodology chapter four times with four different intentions: first, to acquire an overview; second, to connect the literature; third, to connect to my study; and fourth, to observe how the justification developed. Of course, the whole process was symbiotic but the above four readings show how my understanding of a methodology deepened with each reading. Very phenomenographic!
  16. Outline of methodology chapter written. Phew #bigtask. 3 readings of a thesis. Each read adding depth #tweetingmythesis#timeforparagraphs
  17. Before writing my paragraphs there were a few more tasks. I compared my library to that I extracted from the model methodology. I created a new, better organised EndNote library so I can cite while I write.
  18. I mentioned earlier that I like working in tables. I have taken this to the extreme and added a merged row beneath each point on my outline. 
  19. Inserting rows to my outline table. Writing a paragraph after each point. Easier to insert piecemeal as I read #tweetingmythesis#phdchat
  20. I know my outline won't exactly match that in the model but there are many elements which are comparable -- the methodologies match for one. Now, as I revisit the literature, I know basically what needs to be covered, how brief is acceptable and an idea of where in the chapter something could be located. 
  21. The ideas! Need to develop a system for keeping the discussion out of the methodology #tweetingmythesis #phdchat #acwri
  22. This week was a good one for road testing the outlining process because I didn't have two whole days I could dedicate to writing prose. I could dip in and out of my PhD. Each time I returned to my thesis I had to reread what I had completed previously. I think, while frustrating, this can be valuable, especially when trying to get to the real depth of meaning behind the model being deconstructed.
  23. The deafening silence from #tweetingmythesis is because I was teaching. Be back tomorrow.
  24. The next step in working towards my Christmas deadline is to revisit the methodological literature, read two or three more models and draft the methodology chapter. 
  25. @nomynjb “@OfficialSanta: ONLY 151 SLEEPS TO CHRISTMAS#ChristmasCountdown ” Our gifts are delivered by the Christkind. ;/
  26. If you would like me to road test another #acwri process. Please tweet or comment me. I like experimenting with techniques and processes.