Posted in Life as a Research Student, PhD Journey

Going into the Final Year of my PhD – Planning and Writing my Thesis

As of this month July 2018, the 13th to be exact, I will officially be in the final year of my PhD. I had a meeting last week with my supervisor to set some dates to work towards and we settled upon May 2019 when we fill in all the forms to say i intend to submit my thesis soon and have it submitted in June. Meaning the end of August/beginning of September 2019 should be when I have my viva… which is terrifying!

Using Hugh Kearns completion planner, I set up when I want to have each chapter completed by (so I know if I am on track) and I used the huge poster printer in the library, printed it off and stuck it above my computers in my home office! I would recommend doing this because you can see it every single day and understand if you are on track.

I recently went to a workshop called “planning your final year” run by Dr Nathan Ryder and he really helped me to understand and break down my final year into small manageable tasks.

It seems impossible knowing you have to write 80,000 words (or whatever your word limit may be) and setting yourself a task of “write chapter one” is so huge and so complex that it is better to set yourself smaller goals such as “write notes on a paper” or “write 1,000 words for chapter one”. If you want to write a chapter a month, think about how many words that might be and break it down into how many words you have to write a week, if you want even smaller goals how many would that be a day?

When I first started looking into writing, I had no idea what a thesis was supposed to be like. What really helped me was looking at a successful PhD from a past student! Luckily, there was someone who helped me start in my PhD who was about two years ahead of me so I looked at her thesis – how many chapters were there, what were the chapters, what did the chapters contain, how did she lay them out? This helps you to get started on your own thesis and get an idea of how many chapters yours is going to contain!

My next thoughts for the final year, and a sort of impending doom, is trying to get a job to line up with the end of my PhD. I’ve already started to look at post-docs (as my plan is to do RA or post-doc work and then go into lecturing) and seeing how long between the adverts going up and the start date.

My last payment from my PhD is July 2019. So I have been advised to start looking around Christmas 2018, and applying around April. It’s going to be a stressful time for me as I live alone so I can’t afford to have a gap (I have bills to pay!) but I have been assured there are always options to make sure there is no gap.

Although the thought of my viva is scaring me, I know that once I have finished writing this thesis, once all the data and the methodology has come together, it will feel a bit better.

Good luck to anyone else out there who is doing a PhD and to anyone about to go into their final year too, we can do this!

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.

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

Writing for journals; thoughts of an early career researcher

The idea of writing for journals has been incredibly intimidating to me. As I mentioned in my post on getting published, my first publication was to an open access journal where I was able to meet with the editor and get his thoughts on my work, as well as the second reviewer, rather than going through the process of waiting for a decision and having to revise and resubmit which is the process of many academic journals.

If you haven’t read my post on getting published, my first publication was a literature review of an aspect of my thesis topic. Currently, I am writing another literature review paper. I am quite lucky in the sense that my thesis topic is an incredibly new area in terms of being conducted in an English higher education setting and therefore, there are plenty of ideas of papers which I can write.

However, I’m finding the whole process incredibly daunting. I went to a workshop recently, run by Taylor and Francis, explaining the process of getting published in a journal and giving some really helpful tips. But, I’m someone who suffers terribly from the infamous “imposter syndrome” and actually getting myself to write and work on the paper has proven difficult. You would think that already having a publication would help, but it doesn’t. I still feel this sense of impending dread of “what if I’m not good enough” and “what if I’ve missed something out or the structure is completely wrong”

To help myself with the more technical side of things, I purchased the APA publication manual, which I think will help with many disciplines and is a must have for any new researchers who feel a bit like it’s a lot to take in, much like myself.

I often find myself feeling lost but I know that if I put my mind to it, I can do it.

Posted in Book Reviews, Fiction

Book Review: Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

Star Rating: 3/5
Title: Dear Killer
Author: Katherine Ewell
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 359
Genre: Mystery, Thrillers and Young Adult
Purchase

Rule One—Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two—Be careful.
Rule Three—Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body. Your arms are the weakest.
Rule Four—Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five—The letters are the law.

Kit takes her role as London’s notorious “Perfect Killer” seriously. The letters and cash that come to her via a secret mailbox are not a game; choosing who to kill is not an impulse decision. Every letter she receives begins with “Dear Killer,” and every time Kit murders, she leaves a letter with the dead body. Her moral nihilism and thus her murders are a way of life—the only way of life she has ever known.

But when a letter appears in the mailbox that will have the power to topple Kit’s convictions as perfectly as she commits her murders, she must make a decision: follow the only rules she has ever known, or challenge Rule One, and go from there.

I’m aware that it has been an incredibly long time since I last read and reviewed a book. I have been in what feels like a year long reading slump, every time I picked up a book I would get bored so easily and would never have the desire to pick it up again. But, suddenly, I felt like reading again and I decided to try and start fresh with a book I hadn’t read at all and this is what I chose. Dear Killer has been on my shelf for 3 years now and I didn’t realise until I saw it in my purchase history just how long it had gone unread!

I actually hadn’t heard much about this book in reviews or on youtube – I just saw the title and was intrigued by it. I have mixed feelings about this book, hence a rating of three stars. This book has gotten me back into reading, the first time I picked it up I sat and read for hours, but I felt like it was long drawn out and could’ve cut out 100 pages easily. I found myself starting to get bored around the 250 mark and wanting something exciting to happen. I really liked the beginning of the book and I was intrigued by the premise of a killer who only killed those that had been requested by the public – something I had never really seen before.

I have to say, i was impressed by the fact that the author was just 17 years old – it definitely didn’t read that way and I wasn’t thinking that the writing was juvenile in any way, it was quite well written, i just felt as though it was very drawn out.

The main character, Kit, was a character that I surprisingly liked – despite her being a serial killer. She called herself “Diana” whenever she killed and she used it as a way to separate herself from the killings and to be able to deal with her crimes. I do wish the whole “Kit/Diana” concept had been explored more, it also seemed like a nod to multiple personality disorder but then it wasn’t explored in much depth so it was hard to say. I absolutely despised Kits mum, it also bugged me slightly that Kit called her “mom” despite the novel being set in England.

The character of Alex, the policeman, was one that I also wasn’t convinced by. I felt like his mannerisms and the way he spoke was quite flat – as though all of the characters in the novel had a similar personality, I guess this will change as the writer becomes more experienced.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, I just wish that the writer had cut it shorter and fleshed the characters out some more.

Posted in Education Help and Advice, Publishing

Tips for Writing Literature Reviews

Literature reviews. Some people really love doing them, some people absolutely despise them. If you have never heard of a literature review before, this is essentially a critical analysis of work which has already been published on a particular topic. Literature reviews are often used as a summary of work which has already been conducted to show the gaps in the knowledge which are going to be filled by a particular research project. A literature review is normally at the very start of a published article, this first thing that is read that is not the title or abstract. In some cases, an entire article may be a literature review, as was the case for my very first publication.

When you first start university and are expected to write a literature review, the whole idea of it can be very daunting. Where do I start? How do I know what is useful and what isn’t useful? How do I search for sources to use? Where do I search for them? It’s definitely one of those things that becomes easier the more you do it and the more people that you talk to about it.

Think about synonyms for your keywords.

If you find that you’re not getting very many results from the words you’re using, consider looking up synonyms or words that are similar. For example, if you are looking for articles about education instead try using “learning” or “teaching” which may bring up more results.

Don’t forget Google Scholar.

A lot of people seem to forget about google scholar, or if you’re an undergraduate you may feel like it’s something you can’t use… But you can! It definitely shouldn’t be the only thing you use, but sometimes it can be a really good starting point and it might help you to find some good journals.

Find out from academics the best databases.

Databases are essentially a search engine for journal articles. But there are so many it is difficult to know which ones are best for the kind of literature review that you are writing. Ask academics or your supervisor on what databases they would recommend. It may be that you use the database and don’t find that it works for you, but it’s always good to get recommendations from other scholars.

Look in the referencing section of articles.

Another thing that people often forget is to look in the referencing section of articles they have managed to get, especially if its one that you find contains a lot of useful information. Look at the literature review for that article and see who they have referenced, because you never know, it could be a really useful piece!

If you find the same journal popping up – look in that journal.

Similar to the previous point, if you find that there are several useful articles from the same journal then look up that journal and see what else they have published as they could have more articles on a similar topic. Journals tend to have what is known as a “conversation” and published articles add to this “conversation” so if you find a few articles from the same journal, chances are, there are more.

Think about the point of writing the literature review.

The most common reason for writing a literature review is to summarise previous work to show where the gaps in the knowledge are which you are going to be adding to using your research. This means that you often have to be critical and also it helps you to decide what you should and shouldn’t include. You need to include articles which are going to convince the reader that what you are researching is worth doing and that it is adding to the existing knowledge and not just repeating previous work. On the other hand, like me, you could have written a paper that was a literature review. In which case you need to think about the topic you have chosen to write about and keep a critical eye. You need to summarise key studies for your reader.

Once you’ve found enough articles, plan it!

It seems so obvious. You are always told – even from being in school – to plan things! Just like planning an essay, it makes everything flow so much easier and seem well thought-out. It will not only make your writing better, but it will be easier on yourself. If you plan, then you simply have to sit and write, where as if you just delve into writing you might be sat there thinking “now I know I had an article that mentioned that somewhere…”

Don’t assume the reader will know what you’re talking about.

This is something I have been guilty of many of times. Don’t assume that everyone who is going to read your article will know a lot about the area which you are writing about. Even at undergraduate level, when you tend to solely be writing for lecturers of that discipline, it is good practice to explain yourself and write as though the person who is going to read it – is not in your field. I found getting a family member or a friend to read my work very useful, this meant if I hadn’t explained something enough, they’d be able to tell me because they wouldn’t understand what I was talking about!

Don’t just accept what you’re reading as fact – Analyse it, Question it. 

During my undergraduate degree, this was something I rarely did and found it difficult to do. Quite often you think that because something is published, it must mean that its correct, which is not always the case. You have to question and challenge the assumptions made in an article. Not just on the results, but even on their participants and methods that they used. Was it appropriate? Was it enough to be able to generalise to the entire population? Was there a good representation of different age, genders and ethnicity? These are the sorts of things you have to be thinking about every time you read an article.

Write, Write, Write.

Finally, just keep writing. As daunting as it may be, and some people find the act of writing a literature review incredibly tedious, sometimes just getting stuck in is what is going to get you going and get you to finishing.