I’m six weeks into my PhD and with the mid-term break approaching, now is as good a time as any to stop and reflect.
I’ve passed through several rites of passage as I’ve settled into life as a PhD student:
- Feathering the nest, the time honoured tradition of setting up a study space and buying copious amounts of stationery
- Acculturation, progressively feeling part of the faculty as I’ve attended seminars and inductions, hung out in the shared lounge and chatted to staff and other students.
- And, acclimatising to the working week. In my undergraduate studies I worked all sorts of weird and wonderful hours, weekends, nights, you name it. I treat my PhD as a 9-5 job, only working on a weekend or after hours when my working week is disrupted by an appointment or work commitment. It’s a nice change. (*The caveat being that even though it’s Good Friday I’m working today to finish off an assignment and an ethics application due Tuesday…)
- Citation managers – After experimenting with Mendeley (which I do like) I’ve opted for EndNote because it’s used throughout my uni. My new Library is currently sporting 50 odd journals and books and I’ve discovered how to back everything up using EndNote online.
- SPSS – Despite three months of holidays it didn’t take too long to remember where all the commands were found. I’ve even learnt a pain free way to re-arrange my data and which analyses are easier to run in Excel.
- Database searching – I used Google Scholar Alert last year but now I’m also saving search queries and getting these and table of contents alerts emailed to me. This approach is useful most of the time but for some reason I get sent a lot of notifications about journals completely irrelevant to my search query too…
I’ve devised systems to save me time in the long run for:
- Backing things up – My work is saved on-campus, at home, on a USB flash drive and DropBox. Think this sounds excessive? Imagine losing a chapter or some data….
- Monitoring my progress – At the end of each week I write a summary of what I’ve read, what it means and what I plan to do in the next week. It’s really handy for supervisor meetings and to quickly clarify which study found what.
- Making sense of the literature – I’ve taken to writing notes directly into EndNote and using tables to compare studies about similar themes.
- I’ve formulated a research question
- Drafted the ethics application for my first study
- And written an outline
- Developing my journal reading muscles – I got into a nice rhythm reading and interpreting articles until I switched over to data analysis, my ethics application and coursework. I’m not quite back to square one with my reading stamina, but it’s more effortful than it has been. I realise now that I need to read something for my thesis every day, regardless of whether I have a full day of classes. I will read for at least 15 minutes a day, Monday to Friday from now on.
- Reading for depth – reading things once just doesn’t work any more. I’ve come to the conclusion that for a good understanding, I need to read things multiple times; once for an overview and at least twice to critically evaluate methodology, limitations and implications.
- Getting words on the page – I spend too much time editing my expression as I go instead of getting my ideas on paper. I need to write first and edit later. I’m going to disable the backspace key.
- I’m anticipating ethics approval to take longer than I’d like so I’m making sure to get that ball rolling early
- I’m using an outline and referring to my research question to help prevent me from losing sight of the big picture
- I’m making sure I have a life outside my PhD too!
- I’m learning to administer tests I’ll be using in my studies
- When I need to clear my head I can ‘productively procrastinate’ switching over to coursework
- My coursework is useful for my PhD. I’ve learned about new analyses, am better able to critique clinical measures and evaluate journal articles
- I also think I’m less isolated than the typical PhD student. I have regular contact with all the people from the clinical program and being in “The Nerve Centre” (the shared office) with all the other PhD students helps too.
So to butcher the words of Jane Austen, I am afraid that this post has been about a topic that “no one but myself will much like.” Let’s face it, you probably didn’t find my progress report of where I am six weeks in particularly scintillating, but it’s good for me to see where I’m at and what I’d like to be doing.