Ode to the little things

I have been really busy in the last two weeks. I was in charge of organising the Careers Week at my school, which was a very rewarding experience, but also a very tiresome one. In the past two weeks, an event that occurs every year has also taken place, and as every other person living in Glasgow, I am still trying to adapt: no, it’s not frozen over yet, but British Summer Time is a goner. It would be fair to say that it was barely every here (summer, uncapitalised, that is), but long evenings and early mornings are better than nighttime at 4pm and darkness into mid-morning. Going back to GMT, the timings against AEDT, which is the ‘Summer Time’ equivalent in New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, meant that I was doomed to miss the How to Survive your PhD MOOC as it starts just as I am walking to work. Having so much to do meant that I also missed the main topic of discussion this week, which was love.

The Thesis Whisperer asked to show some love to an inanimate object that is really helping with your PhD. I find it hard to nominate just one. But I have a ‘band’ of helpers that are totally pulling me through some difficult moments, and I thought they deserved some recognition. So, in the same way as a lead singer would ‘sing’ praise for his/her band, there are some unusual suspects that need to be told ‘good job and thanks for sticking by’. In a non-patronising way, of course, something more poetic than “well, you cost a fortune”, “I own you”, or “thanks for not getting lost”.

The old farts

The notebook – or the concept of a ‘lab book’. I do not work in a lab, but at the very beginning of my PhD I heard the line “keep a lab book, and at some point in your res
earch, the lab book will keep you”. I completely understand that statement. From my very first year’s Pukka pad, to the recycled A4 jottas I kept returning to, to the nowadays more portable and ‘greener’ Leuchtturm 1917, which make me feel slightly more mature at times (must be the size and the type of notebook), all lab books have “kept me”. In all of them, I have not only written ideas that I had, plans, structures, and drawings of some sort, but I have also spoken to my former and future research self, in things as random yet as useful as my mood when coming up with these ideas. I feel there is a correlation between my mood (or the weather) and how productive I can be, and when trying to figure out where I am in my PhD, the notebooks have always saved the day.

notebook

The netbook. An old fella at the age of four (which seems ridiculously old for a piece of technological equipment), I purchased my netbook as I was writing my masters dissertation and my laptop had started failing. It was always a slow mover, and it still is, even though in recent times, I have given it Windows 10 and it seems to be going slightly faster. These days, I use my netbook for Shut Up and Write; it is easy enough to carry and to set up. I even use it around the house, when I can’t be bothered turning on the big computer. I also use it in the library, which is also a recent discovery. It has Scrivener and EndNote installed on it, and I am a proud owner. Many chapter chunks have been written thanks to its continued service.

netbook

Tablet and keyboard. It alternates with the netbook when I need to take long trips. It is great for note taking and thought generation. It is also great for watching stuff in bed, of course. It has every app and programme under the sun that I could need to sit down and write a little bit. Some great ideas have been generated through it.

tablet

Evernote. My literature review wouldn’t be written without it. Take a massive bow.

The new kids on the block

Write-o-meter. I love it, I freaking love it. And I have only been using it for less than a month. It is like it was made for me – daily word count and timer (pomodoro-style) included, plus you can keep track of your rewards. Every day I get to the office and I get a reminder that I need to write some words. And when I wake up in the morning and my brain is ready to rumble, it also helps me get going. Keeps me accountable without having to think too much. Love it, thanks.

writeometer1 writeometer2

The library. I have always been a library lover, but since I gave up my office space due to lack of use, level 5 (the postgrad level) in the library is my new hub. All it has really is wide desks, and power points, and as a person who goes there to write, that is really all you need. Whilst it is inconvenient because you can’t really check many books (logistics are complex), it is a great place to write. It is better than my work office, and it is nicer than most levels in the library. A recent finding, I hope it carries me home through the next few months.

postgrad study

And that is my band. My PhD wouldn’t be where it is today without my inanimate friends.

So, thank you!

Confidence boost

Originally published on July 3rd, 2013

You may be studying for hours, days, weeks, writing up, reading and analysing until your eyes give up. Apparently, your body should be telling you to stop. But there it is another video, another lecture, another paragraph that keeps you going.

It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels great.

For me, this boost in productivity has been provided by confidence. And this confidence, in its turn, has been provided by an amazing post-exam feeling. Similar to the need to drink beer after an examination, I have been drunk on productivity following my Annual Progress Review. For those who are not too familiar with the concept, it is roughly an oral examination of what you have done in an year. Everything. From the first day to the last. And the problem is that there is normally so many things that have happened (and not all of them good) that it is hard to start speaking and make it look like it was a good year and you have reached your goals.

My concern about what to talk about lasted for a week. Then I met my supervisors and they advised me it was going to be a friendly conversation, not an execution panel. So I decided not to worry, and just summarise what I had achieved, and be ready to answer questions that might be a bit outside the research field. I was very chilled out, through and through. Since I have not had a lot of participation in this year’s group, I did not know how my colleagues felt, so it was surprising to see two of them (the person before me and the person after me) shaking with nerves and worried about what the panel might decide. Funnily enough, I did not have that horrifying cool chill that breaks in after realising you have missed out something very important in an exam. I just did not understand what they were worried about, because I was not.

My APR went well. There was indeed a friendly, yet of course academic conversation, of what I am doing and what I have done, and a small list with my achievements. They are not particularly amazing achievements, but for me, everything counts. I have to say that having made it through the year is probably my biggest achievement. Getting to the stage when I am up to speed with my first year colleagues despite having spent 50% of the time working in hospitality and not on my research is just unbelievable. That, for me, is the key that opens that confidence boost. The fact that after that I was praised for having mentally survived such a year, and having triumphed over pressure rather than succumbing under it, is just a little extra to make me feel smug and proud of my own achievement. I was even in the mood to make a joke about it. I said that if I can survive standing on a court with 100 spectators watching and booing me, I think I can probably survive any sort of criticism and pressure. Sounds hilarious, but it is true.

The overall impression is that I am doing fine, but of course work does not end here. I am expected to perform just as well or even better next year. It is all good – after all, this review is just a review, not a final examination. It’s meant to orient you and point you in a direction if you do not have one, but you are the one who is meant to keep pushing to get there. And that’s what I am doing at the moment.

I shall be taking the next two weeks off work, and I’m back to my project afterwards. I will be starting the writing up of the first two ‘chapters’. Note the flying quotes. I am ready. I got a confidence boost powered rucksack behind.