The buck stops here

Note: This post was originally shared on my personal blog. So please forgive me if it’s a bit more touchy-feeling than you would expect. But, as I am researching online information and personal reputation, I suppose it’s a good example of how information is shared differently for different audiences for the building and protection of personal reputation!

2016-10-27-the-buck-stops-hereThat’s it folks: the buck stops here. Actually, I suppose I should say the pound stops here. Why? Because my last PhD stipend payment was today, and that means I have no more money coming into my bank accounts—bucksbobsquids, or otherwise—until I am finished with my PhD and I get a job.

Am I worried about not having an income? Yes, I am. A little bit, anyhow. After all, I am looking at another 8–12 months before I graduate. Which means it will be about 8–12 months before I am in a position to get a job (and therefore, and income!).

But I knew this day was coming and so I have planned for it. I have saved back a little bit of money from each of my monthly stipend payments over the past three years. And that means that I will have enough money to see me through to graduation.

I am also quite blessed in that I have a rent-free place to live for the duration of my studies. That’s because at the start of my studies a friend offered up the guest room in his home, knowing that a PhD would be unaffordable if I had to pay Edinburgh rents. Whilst I’ve given him a (small) chunk of money, I have not really paid towards my lodgings. Which is the main reason I was able to save enough of my stipend payment each month to cover me through the next few income-less months!

Or at least I will have enough money if there are not major catastrophes that require me spending my savings—or that mean it takes me more than 12 months to finish. But as long as I manage to buckle down and write, write, write, I should be OK. And I have a plan for how I will manage to get those 80,000 written up, so that should help to keep me on track.

If I have done the sums correctly (and if I find a job by the slightly extended time frame I gave myself) I should be able to manage without further financial help. And I should be able to do it all without too many financial sacrifices on my quality of life. Of course, this is largely because my lifestyle is already one of (voluntary) frugality: I find great pleasure in saving money and reducing my spending!

And despite my income ending today, I should have a bit of money left in savings by the time I get a job—if I get a job—which means I won’t go further into debt. (I still have a small personal loan that helped me to bridge the gap between starting my PhD and getting my first stipend payment. And then there are those pesky American student loans from my undergraduate days that will follow me to my deathbed! But I digress…)

Anyhow, this post isn’t a plea for help or a poor-me tale hoping for pity. Instead, it is another illustration to show that I am moving a little bit closer to achieving my PhD Dreams. After all, the end of the stipend means I am officially in writing up mode. And writing up is the key to completing the thesis and graduating!

So the buck stops here and it stops with me. And that means the responsibility for completing my PhD is mine and mine alone. (Though I know I will have the support of my PhD supervisors, family, and friends along the way, too!)

Wish me luck!

A broken summer

2016.08.17.a-broken-summerIt’s been more than six weeks since I declared this to be my Thesis Summer. And honestly, I had great plans to be extremely productive, and I was actually on track to succeed. I was getting things done. I was accomplishing goals. My to-do list was getting to-done so well that I thought I might actually exceed my Thesis Summer goals.

And then, a little over three weeks ago, I went out to buy a pack of crisps and broke my ankle. (The crisps survived, if you wondered.)

I was upset that the broken ankle would mean my 2016 running goals needed to be abandoned. But I remember thinking that it would be great for my Thesis Summer goals. After all, my leg was in a walking cast/boot and I was told to rest and keep my injured appendage elevated. It’s just an ankle… it won’t impact my ability to work on my PhD.

Right?

Wrong!

I was in so much pain and discomfort in that first week that I probably didn’t even hit the 25% productivity mark. And in the second week, I was struggling to hit the 50% productivity mark. But week three was a bit better, averaging 50%(ish) productivity.

I’m now half-way through week four and have been back in the office since Monday. And thankfully, I am a little over that 50% productivity mark for the week (so far).

Working at my desk—with a proper desktop computer, rather than a laptop—is certainly helping my productivity. However, I am finding it impossible to comfortably elevate my leg without my back and neck becoming uncomfortable. And that means I am constantly re-situating myself, which isn’t helping me to increase productivity.

In the next day or two, someone from the university’s occupational health team will come to evaluate my work space. At that time, we will try to find a good temporary adjustment for me whilst I continue to heal. And with luck, that will mean that I am able to return to full (or near-full) productivity levels whilst I continue to heal.

Frustratingly, it means that I have
fallen behind again. (And that I can’t run. But I’ll try not to whinge about that here.) I know that people understand, but that doesn’t help me feel less bad; less upset. It’s just that I’ve had so many little set-backs over the course of this PhD and it’s really wearing me down!

So, I am sorry that I’ve not shared weekly blog posts with you over my Thesis Summer (as I promised to do). But hopefully an increase in productivity will mean an increase in blogging, too. Because I do have some positive things to share, too! (But not today… I’ll save them to help me increase my post count!)

As for the broken ankle, I have to wear a walking cast/boot for another 2.5 weeks solid. Then I’ll alternate between the boot and a regular shoe for another 2-6 weeks, until I’m strong enough to walk completely on my own.  Happily, I am allowed to run again (slowly and for short distances) sometime in October—but I’ll be away at an academic conference so I’ll wait a few extra days for that exciting milestone.

You can read a two-week update on my personal blog here. (A four-week update will follow soon.) And if you have any clever ideas for how I might make myself a bit more comfortable whilst working at my desk, please do feel free to share!

Thesis summer

2016.07.01.thesis-summer1This summer is Thesis Summer for me. It’s the summer when I must, without excuses, get my head down and write, write, write! Luckily, July and August are two months devoid of conferences, training events, seminars, and other activities that take me away from my focus. So I’ve decided that I will devote them to my thesis; I will devote them to my PhD dreams.

I began preparing for Thesis Summer in the middle of June. I knew that I needed to be caught up on all of my administrative tasks beforehand, lest I use chores like cleaning up my in-box as a method of procrastination. I also knew that I needed a clear (well, clear-ish) plan for how I would spend my time, and what my end-of-summer outcomes would be.

And now that I’ve properly prepared, I am ready to dive straight into my Thesis Summer plans. Today. One the first day of July. And it’s going to be great!

Great, but not easy. After all, Thesis Summer is all about putting in the hours; putting in the hard work. And by the end of Thesis Summer, I intend to have completed drafts of all of my findings chapters as well as my literature review. Now, I realise that doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but there is a lot of work to do before I’m ready to start writing those chapters.

A big chunk of time will be devoted to completing the coding and analysis of my data. And then there will be the act of thinking about my data, and trying to make sense of it all in relation to the literature. Oh yeah, and I’ll need to re-visit my literature, too. And that’s more than just a weekend task!

I will be breaking everything down into manageable pieces that I can build upon. The overall idea is a pyramid with data-based tasks at the bottom (preparing files, coding data, running queries and reports, and analysing data). Once I’ve built up my strong base, I will start adding to the pyramid by creating smaller reports from my data subsets, which should help me to determine the overall structure of my thesis. From there, I should be in a better position to write up my final findings chapters, which will also help me with my final literature review.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of hard work!

I am also going to try to keep up with my blogging by attempting (at least) one Just a PhD post every week. And I’m going to do it all without tears! (OK, that might be an exaggeration.)

Of course, Thesis Summer won’t be a success if I just lock myself away in my office. After all, I am merely human. And therefore, I need to address my human needs, too.

So for my personal Thesis Summer goals, I will aim to spend at least one day a week not doing my PhD. That might mean a day away to the beach or maybe a weekend away to see friends around Scotland or to visit my in-laws in England. I will also aim to run at least three days a week—even if I only have time for a wee 5K. My other personal aims for the summer are general self-care measures: Eating healthily, sleeping enough (and not too much), and keeping up with my relaxation hobbies such as drawing and writing. (Yes, writing. Which means I will also be aiming to write at least one Just Frances blog post every week.)

Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of hard work!

And I’ll need to stay motivated; I’ll need to be productive; I’ll need to be determined and inspired and devoted. But I can do it. I’m awesome like that!

2016.07.01.thesis-summer2

Please feel free to help keep me motivated along the way. And if you’re on Twitter, you can follow my progress with my Thesis Summer hashtag, #ThesisSummer!

Write now!

2016.01.21.write-nowYesterday was the official Write Now! launch at Edinburgh Napier University, organised by me and my colleague, Iris Buunk. Write Now! was inspired by the successful Shut Up and Write! meet-ups organised by creative writing groups in San Francisco, something which Iris and I tried to replicate for ourselves by working in area coffee shops.

[In a hurry? Go straight to the “Why is it important?” part.]

However, we believed that—with the right support—we could create and maintain a successful writing group on the Merchiston Campus. But human support wouldn’t be enough—we wanted a small bit of financial support, too, so that we could offer tea and biscuits to our fellow writers. So we applied for a small research development grant from Edinburgh Napier University to help get us started—and thankfully, the university thought we had a good idea, too!

Importantly, other academics seem to think Write Now! is a good idea, too.

Yesterday’s launch saw 15 participants eagerly working on their academic tasks. There was work done on PhD theses and journal articles. Some people used the time to edit papers they were hoping to submit for publications. And some people used the time to fine-tune abstracts or create tables and figures for their documents.

Did they show up for the free biscuits? Maybe. But they stayed to work and the feedback indicates that they will return!

We now have enough money to fund writing sessions through to the end of the semester and are hoping that we might find further support for next year—if we can show that the investment in writing is a good investment for the university.

If you missed yesterday’s session: Don’t worry! We’ll be back next week and you’re welcome to join us!

But why is it important?
Easy: Because committing yourself to a dedicated writing time can help to prioritise the importance of writing whilst facilitating the process.

We figure that, at the most basic level, Write now! will benefit research students and academic staff who participate in the sessions. However, we also believe that this dedicated writing time will encourage participants to work on journal or conference submissions, research grants, and other academic work to help increase the university’s reach and impact within the greater academic research community.

Write now! addresses three of the four domains of the Vitae’s Research Development Framework, as dedication to the writing processes is key to the act of academic research. The primary domain to be addressed is ‘Engagement, influence, and impactin the subdomain ‘communication and dissemination’. As a key component of research is the dissemination of clearly communicated texts, it is vital to show within the university that engaging with the writing process is of great importance. To that, Write now! offers individuals the ability to spend time actively working on effective, written communications—whether in the form of writing abstracts for conference submissions, writing up the findings of an on-going research project, or disseminating findings through articles written for the press or academic blogs and other social media tools.

Additional areas being addressed are: knowledge and intellectual abilities as related to creating a stronger knowledge base and developing a higher level of academic literacy and personal effectiveness as it relates to issues of personal time management and the prioritisation of workloads and related tasks.

Join us next Wednesday—and every Wednesday through June:
Triangle Restaurant
2-4 pm
Free drinks and snacks
And don’t forget your laptop (or pen and paper if you’re Old Skool like that!)

How not to write a literature review: Part 2

2015.06.20.not-lit-reviewAs many PhD students will tell you, doing a literature review can be a daunting task. And for students in social sciences, that task begins when your studies begin… and it would seem that it never ends! Well, at least that’s my personal experience with the things. After all, I’m half-way through my PhD* and the thing still isn’t done. It just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.

Of course, hindsight being what it is, I know where I went wrong. And if I had it all to do over again, I would be in a place of happiness right now. Or at least I wouldn’t be quite this frustrated with the process. (Well, that’s my working theory at least.)

Part of the problem I’ve run into is that I am studying outside of my comfort zone. I am doing a PhD in information science, but my background is communications and media and culture. And I thought (incorrectly!) that my background in social media would have set me up for this experience. But I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Only I didn’t realise how wrong I was until after I’d compiled a fairly lengthy (and decent, if I can say so) literature review. It was a comprehensive review of literature about social media and reputation. And it really covered a wide breadth of disciplines—all helping to substantiate my research.

And then someone mentioned a few researchers from within the field of information science that I’d not really looked at before. After all, the papers weren’t about social media and had (I thought!) a very tenuous link to my work.

But I was encouraged to keep reading. So I read. And I read. And I read. And all of the sudden, I found myself understanding the connections—and understanding so much more about the domain of information science.

Now, I find myself reading even more—and growing my review even further. But I’m also realising that I’ve made a massive mountain out of a mid-sized molehill.

So, knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently? (Other than the “write early; write often” lesson I wrote about before.)

The truth is, I don’t know. I think that maybe I needed to ask different questions at the start of my literature searching. Or, importantly, I should have recognised earlier on that I was in a discipline that was unfamiliar to me so that I could have started to read some of the “introductory” texts earlier than I did.

Yes—that! I should have stopped to realise that I didn’t fully understand the field of information science so that I could have built a stronger foundation from the start. Instead, I’ve had to backfill large sections of my knowledge.

The good thing is that my literature review is starting to make a lot more sense now. And—hopefully!—this extra work now will save me some effort and frustration when it comes time to write up my thesis.

The other good thing is that I have learned some important lessons about literature reviews, my new field of study, and—importantly!—myself.

There is still much work to do—for my literature view, my PhD, and my own self-esteem—but I’m getting there. Slowly.

And maybe now that I am feeling a bit more confident, I’ll be able to write here on Just a PhD a bit more. (I’ve been ignoring this place because I haven’t felt worthy of writing about a PhD when I haven’t even felt worthy of doing one!)

So, that’s a bit more on how not to do a literature review. Hopefully by the end of it, I will be able to give some great insight to how I will do my next one!

* Well, I’m half-way through my PhD studentship anyhow. At this rate, it’s going to take me a bit longer than the three years of funded studies. So that’s a stress I’ll have to worry about eventually.