Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, PhD Journey

How to keep on top of everything on a PhD.

I like to think one of my strong points is organisation. But at first, when I started my PhD (two whole years ago now!) I often found that I would forget everything that I had to do, when it had to be in for and it can often be difficult to prioritise.

Get a whiteboard.

Getting a whiteboard has been really useful for me, I got pretty pens that were quite thin and in different colours to use as well. I then used the whiteboard to write everything down that I needed to remember, I would draw rectangles in different colours with titles on such as:

  • Conferences
  • Teaching
  • Thesis
  • Data collection
  • Research assistant (this was something I did alongside my PhD part time in my final year)
  • Internship (something I did part time in my second year)
  • UREC (I was part of the university research ethics committee which met once a month)
  • Athena Swan (I was also part of the Athena swan committee for my school)
  • PGCert (I was also completing this during my PhD and needed to keep track of my assignments)

This makes it easier for you to break things down and see everything that you need to do, underneath the title you can write down what you need to do for each thing. For example, you might have written under teaching “Go over notes for lesson on Tuesday”, under conferences you can have dates of those you want to apply for/attend with all the deadlines for things you need to do such as writing an abstract, travel, making the poster/presentation etc. I just found it useful to have one place where I can see all my tasks, all my areas of work so I don’t forget anything or miss anything!

The other thing I decided to do was to set a day for each thing. This made it easier for me to know what my focus was going to be for each day. For example, I would say on a Monday I will write for my thesis. Obviously, sometimes, this can’t always be the case, but it helps to have a bit of a structure to your work and what you decide to work on rather than getting up each day feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to dive in!

I would also use the whiteboard, and sometimes a piece of paper, to mind map out any ideas for things I wanted to do, such as papers that I could write or a type of data collection I could do.

Everyone’s whiteboard will of course look different, but this took a long time for me to perfect and to get it to work even though I had in my head what I wanted to do. It’s definitely something that has helped me to stay focused and make sure everything gets done!

Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, PhD Journey

What I Learnt from my Teaching Observation.

As part of my PhD I have to do a couple of hours teaching a week to students. Due to this, I had to undertake a short week long course as well as engaging in a number of assessments in order to gain the qualification. One of these assessments was to observe a lecturer and to write about the techniques they use and I wanted to share some of the things that I learnt from observing.

I’ll start off by saying that the lecture I observed was for Level 5 Psychology students and the lecture focused on individual differences in learning styles. The lecture itself was incredibly engaging, well-structured and prepared, which is why I particularly wanted to write about my experience.
1. Recap on previous week.
I noticed that the lecturer not only recapped what had been learned in the previous week, but he also related his content to both previous and future lectures so that students’ were able to grasp where they were within the course and how it all fits together. I have not long finished my undergraduate degree myself, and I think that this is particularly important because it helps to stop the feeling of “what is the point of this” or “am I even going to need this information”. If the student is constantly reminded as to why the content is being taught and how it all fits in, then it also helps with engagement as they will realise that the information that is being given to them is important.
2. If you can give the lecture/lesson without students being there; you’re doing it wrong.
This sentence itself is something which was said whilst I was doing the teaching course and it is one that has completely stuck in my mind and which I will definitely try to follow. I definitely saw this within my teaching observation. The lecturer constantly asked questions to the students’ to keep them involved and to guide the content of the lecture. This can also be done by giving the students’ an activity such as discussing a topic in groups or in pairs.
3. Humour = engagement.
This is something which some people are going to be scared of, it’s almost like performing. But, if you can, putting humour into your lessons can really help with engagement. I found that the lecturer I watched would often crack little jokes, some so bad it made people tut and some that actually did make people giggle. It’s worth giving it a go, it also makes you more likeable and approachable meaning that students are more likely to answer your questions!
4. Use real life examples.
This applies especially to more difficult/boring topics. I found that the lecturer would often use small little anecdotes and stories to bring the teaching to life. Not only will it help students to understand the topic, but it also means that they are more likely to remember it if you are able to put it into context.
5. Don’t just read off the slides.
This is something I learnt myself from being a student and hating it, but was reinforced by the teaching observation. If you are literally just reading off the slides, then what is the point in the students being there when they could simply read the slides themselves? In my observation, the lecturer would more use the slides as visual aid rather than for what he would say. This is why you need to be prepped for a lecture and ready to teach the subject.
Posted in Education Help and Advice, Misc

Career Choice: It’s okay to change your plans.

I was always the kind of person who changed their career plans very often. I believe the first ever job I wanted was a lollipop lady (if you’re not from the UK this is the person who helps children to cross the road safely) when I was around 6 years old. During our high school years we are told we need to know what we want to do, what path we wanted to take and what we needed to do to get there. But the truth is, sometimes we can take steps towards a certain goal to then decide to cast a wider net and not just stick to one path.

I wrote a blog post not too long ago about my desire to teach and lecture. The truth is I don’t think I want to put myself in such a bubble to not try new things and potentially find something that I love and never thought I would try before. I have applied for something which I never thought I would go into and I’m actually excited about it! The point is, you don’t need to know what you want to do, it doesn’t need to be set in stone forever and it is more than okay to change your mind!

Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, PhD Journey

Top 5 Books that saved me on my PhD

I love reading and I always have. So, when I started my PhD first thing I asked about was “what books do I need to read?” And whilst I was met with a lot of people who didn’t use that many books on their PhD, I did manage to find some books myself which I think were really useful to me and could be used across a wide range of disciplines.

Discovering Statistics Using SPSS by Andy Field

I will never stop recommending this book. Not only does it help with SPSS (he has one for R too) but it helps with understanding the statistics behind it, knowing what test to use and why you’re using it. I’m one of those people that if I don’t understand why I’m doing it then I just can’t understand it at all! This book is good right from the basics up till the more advanced. I myself bought it in my first year of my undergraduate and have used it since!

PhD: An Uncommon Guide to Research, Writing and PhD Life by James Hayton

When I first started my PhD I actually got this book for Christmas, it’s only short but it really helps you to get started, understand what you should expect from your PhD and how you should plan your time. I have actually met the author as well (he did a talk at my university) and he was super nice and really helpful! He also has a YouTube channel where he discusses about doing a PhD so I’d also recommend checking that out.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

As I have written about before, publishing is an incredibly daunting experience on your PhD and I am still trying to figure it out and learn from it. This book has been really helping me, although written by the American Psychological Association it can go way beyond the psychology discipline and a lot of journals do actually recommend you read it if you are thinking of submitting a journal to them.

Doing a Literature Review by Chris Hart

I honestly think the majority of my books are from sage publications, and this is no exception, as it’s part of the sage study skills. This is a must have book for every scholar, it really helps with writing a literature review and puts it very simply. This is especially useful for those who struggle with organising themselves or understanding the best way to tackle a literature review. It’s a super useful book and really helped me to be more efficient with my literature review writing.

Qualitative Research Methods by Monique Hennink

Clearly my love for publications by sage continues! I really wanted to find a book to help me to get to grips with qualitative research. I myself prefer the quantitative methods but this book has completely helped me to understand the processes around qualitative research and analysis. It’s really easy to understand and very useful for anyone undertaking qualitative research.

Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, PhD Journey

Useful stationery for your PhD

When I first started my PhD I was searching everywhere for the things I needed to buy for my PhD journey. I’m a little bit obsessed with stationery and I love any excuse to go out and buy some. I thought I would share some of my favourite stationery bits that have gotten me through so far!

Sticky Tabs.

Very similar to sticky notes but they are used to mark sections/pages on something and make things easy to find. These are especially useful for when you are reading textbooks for your PhD, you can stick them all over the place without actually marking the book. This is good for when you have a book you have borrowed from the library or one that you intend to sell on upon your PhD completion. I have a drawer full of them! You can get some plain colours from places like Wilkinson’s or you can get some cute ones from Etsy or paperchase.

Non-Dated Diary.

This is something which I discovered from Urban Outfitters and you can get from a brand called Oh Deer. What I mean by a “non-dated diary” is a diary that isn’t set for a certain set time. Usually when you buy a diary it will have dates for that year e.g 2018. But if you get a non-dated diary it has a section where you can put your own date into it, meaning you don’t have to buy a new diary every year because they are usually incredibly thick! I find these quite useful to make quick notes about meetings or what I need to do for the day.

Ringbinders/Lever arch files

This is an obvious one but you need to have some organisation. I really love the rounded ringbinders and lever arch files that you can purchase from WHSmith. They normally have an offer on for “three for…” and they have a wide range of colours from brights, darks to pastels. So you can get really creative and pretty with it!

Label maker.

This one might be excessive to some people but I absolutely adore my label maker. I can easily label my files, folders etc and know where everything is. I also use it on the edge of dividers within the files so I can see everything easily. You can get loads of colours of tape and loads of different types of labelmaker!

An “everything” journal.

This might not work for everybody but his definitely worked for me. The idea behind this is just to have one big notebook where you write everything into. You could have one of those notebooks that are essentially a mini binder so you can add/remove pages or you could just get a bit notebook and use sticky tabs to find things. It just makes it easier to grab one notebook and take it with you wherever you go!

Highlighters.

Of course these are of particular use if, like me, you print out your articles and like to sit, read, scribble and highlight. I bought myself the big pack of a range of colours so I can easily colour code everything e.g. yellow is useful information, blue is contradicting information, green is something I want to critique etc.

Pens, pens and more pens!

I am a bit of a pen hoarder. This doesn’t help when it comes to conferences and they are so easily and freely available. You can never have too many pens! You will always need them so it is good to have a little collection going.

Things to bind paper e.g. stapler, paperclip

Having numerous ways to bind paper together is good for when you get given any pieces of paper, you print anything out etc. I would always recommend making sure you have a stalker and hole punch (necessities) but also for thicker pieces fold back clips and paperclips are useful. A lot of stationery places have sets that also usually include pins which I would highly recommend getting!

Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, PhD Journey

Overcoming Anxiety at Conferences

During my youth I was an incredibly shy person. I would rarely make conversation, never volunteer an answer in classes and the idea of small talk absolutely terrified me. So, when I went to my first conference as a PhD student, I felt incredibly overwhelmed. I would often just wander around by myself, attend talks alone where I would speak to no one and then just go home wondering how anyone considered it an opportunity to network.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had managed to overcome my fear of speaking in front of people but social interaction is a completely different kettle of fish! I have been to a few conferences now, going into the final year of my PhD, and I wanted to share some tips that I have picked up.

Sit next to a stranger in talks – and make conversation!

It’s hard to turn off the mentality that people do not want to speak to someone new and they only want to speak to those they know. But trust me when I say, people are happy to network! Make a point to sit next to someone or at least close enough that you could make conversation, especially if the person appears to be on their own. Some good conversation starters include “where are you from?” (In a conference context this means the institution) or mention something about the talk itself e.g. if the talk is about student learning which your research is in, you could say “really looking forward to this talk, it’s close to my work” and this can lead onto a conversation on what the other persons interests are and you may find you have something in common!

Talk to speakers who have caught your interest.

I always thought that those who stay behind and talk to speakers are usually asking a question – but that’s not always the case. As someone who has been a speaker themselves, trust me when I say just staying behind and letting them know you thought the talk was interesting, will make their day! Some other questions you could ask is “what else are you working on right now?” Or even ask them if they are planning on going to some other talks!

Don’t be scared of the keynote.

Recently I went to a conference where I was very familiar with the keynotes work and I even had his book which I had finished recently and was filled with sticky tabs. I was absolutely terrified to go up to him, but I did, and I was so glad! He was really lovely, signed my book and we even sat together for the entirety of the lunch that day. I simply walked up to him and said “excuse me are you …” and when he said he was I asked if he would sign my book. This then opened up for me to ask about his background I.e. what he did his undergrad on, masters etc. And also to ask what he was working on, we even ended up just having a very general chat!

Find a familiar face.

If you are at a well known conference or one that is within your institution – it is always good to find a familiar face. Even if this person is stood talking to someone you don’t know, this can be the perfect starting point to get yourself used to talking to strangers as the familiar face will normally introduce you which means they will have done the difficult part of approaching! You can then ask about how they know each other and this opens up into getting to know the new person better; their background, their research. This of course, doesn’t work if you are at a conference where you know no one but always worth noting.

If lunch is included – sit with strangers!

This is something I find incredibly difficult, especially at conferences where I don’t know anyone. At lunch, chances are you are going to have to sit with strangers. Just find a table which looks appealing, maybe one that contains a speaker you have attended so you have a topic of conversation, and ask if you can sit with them. At the end of this post I have suggested some questions you could ask and they would easily work at this point in time. Just remember – people like to talk about their interests!

Questions you might want to ask.

Just to finish up here are some questions you might want to ask someone at a conference:

  • Where are you from?
  • What is your research on?
  • Are you working on anything at the moment?
  • Are you giving a talk or have a poster?
  • Have you been to any interesting talks?
  • What talks are you planning on attending?
Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, Misc, PhD Journey, Psychology

Finding what I wanted to do with my life: Journey into Teaching and Research.

Ever since I was little I have always wanted to be a teacher – although an odd dream for a child to have – I was adamant it was what I wanted to do. I would “play” school with my friends and would give them notepads to write in, I even had a whiteboard in my room that I would use to “teach”. Although I absolutely loved everything about teaching; the marking, the delivery, the organisation, helping students… there was just one small problem, I lacked any form of confidence to stand in front of people and I also had no idea what age or subject I would teach.

I was always one of the smarter and well behaved children – I would do my homework on time, was never in trouble and I enjoyed learning. Unfortunately, this led to me being bullied through-out my entire time of primary and high school. This led to the very little confidence I did have being completely destroyed, even meaning I would beg my mum to speak for me in shops, on the phone or anything which involved interaction with a stranger. Although being able to teach was a dream of mine – it seemed impossible. How could I stand in front of a room of strangers if I couldn’t even talk to one?

My college years led me to a subject which I absolutely fell in love with – Psychology. Prior to this History had always been my favourite subject, and I chose to study this in my A levels along with Maths (which I received a high grade in GCSEs) and graphic design, which I enjoyed. Psychology was simply a randomly chosen subject as I needed a fourth! I started to jump around a bit at this point with the kind of job I wanted – forensic psychologist, clinical psychologist, counsellor… I just knew I wanted to be able to keep learning about psychology.

When it came to doing my undergraduate degree (which I, unsurprisingly, did in psychology) my confidence grew, I made friends with people on my course and I was pushed into doing presentations and group work. The maturity of students at university level was something I had been surprised about – everyone was so nice, everyone was in the same boat and everyone wanted to learn because they were doing a subject which they had chosen to do. This was the time that I discovered research and I fell in love. I always received a first (70% +) in my research projects and I always really enjoyed doing them.

One of my interests in psychology was education, I was interested in helping students to learn better and how people learn differently. This led me back to wanting to pursue my original dream – teaching. I mentioned to my undergraduate dissertation supervisor in level 6 that I had wanted to go into some form of teaching and as she knew about my love for research, she suggested perhaps I should go down the route of a university lecturer as it combined two things I loved. She discussed options with me and told me that I would need to do a PhD but that they are incredibly competitive. That night, I went home and I was researching what my next step could potentially be.

I decided that I would go into A level Teaching. I had found a course at another university that was still within commuting distance of my home. I figured I would teach for a few years and then go onto pursue a PhD when I felt ready. Amazingly, I got an interview for the course, where I also had to do a simple maths and English test, and I was offered a place to which I accepted.

Being an incredibly organised person, I decided to email my undergraduate programme leader (who I had met several times) to ask if he knew of any psychology a level teachers who I could potentially talk to so I could do some prep over the summer – to my shock, he replied with an offer of a PhD instead! He told me how another department in the university was looking to recruit a psychology student to do a PhD in educational psychology and my dissertation supervisor had recommended me – I was over the moon.

I remember the first meeting I ever had with my director of studies where she was explaining to me about how a PhD worked and she asked me if I was okay with doing some teaching and marking during the course of my PhD, I couldn’t have been happier!

The first time I ever taught was a lecture on how to use endnote to a class of masters students. I was incredibly nervous, I had prepared weeks in advance and practiced over and over again. Now, a year on, the Teaching doesn’t make me nervous in the slightest, it makes me happy, I love when students give me positive feedback (just before Christmas I was told I made a boring subject interesting!) and I feel as though I’ve made tons of friends in my students. I absolutely love what I do and I really hope I am able to continue into lecturing from my PhD.

I have found what I want to do with my life.