Tonight I hosted a panel discussion on this at our campus student success center. This center is a great resource and the session was really useful. The speakers were from Nursing, Economics, and Psychology and it was really interesting to hear how the conventions differ between disciplines and also where there is common ground. This is one of the areas of post-graduate education where I can see a lot of room for improvement. Sessions like this are valuable because they offer really practical advice about practices which can make a real difference to our chances of getting hired. And with so few (in my area anyhow) tenure-track positions coming up, we need all the support and information we can get. I know I am not looking for an academic job after I finish but I still want to be smart about my choices and my practices.
One thing that I hadn’t thought about before was the way in which we behave as reviewers (when we are invited to review submissions for a journal). I think there are two temptations to avoid: a) to agree to review and then put it off and either be late with it or not do it at all and b) to feel as though we have to be critical in order to prove ourselves as ‘serious’. It seems like common sense now, but being a reviewer on a journal brings our name and comments to the eyes of the top notch scholars who edit these journals. Providing timely, thoughtful, feedback in an organized and professional manner can be great reputation building practice. I’ve been asked to review submissions before and I have sometimes done a good job but have also dropped the ball on a couple of occasions. This was a good reminder to attend to the details and to be professional even when I am trying to figure out critical discourse analysis and a four-year-old’s tantrums (we had a doozy tonight, bedtime went on for about three hours). I need to allocate time to respond to emails and do administrative tasks and to certainly not say yes to things in order to temporarily get them off my radar.
In other dissertation news…I have been progressing, albeit slowly, with methodology and methods. I met with my supervisor last week and I have a deadline of Feb 20th to send her what I have managed to cobble together by then. I’m pretty excited to get some feedback.
At the beginning of this week I finished a draft of the epistemology section for the methodology/methods chapter. It’s definitely very drafty but I feel good about about it. It’s honest, and (to be honest) I never really thought about honesty as a quality relevant to my academic work. When the writer’s block has hit (and it hits me nearly every day), the best way out of it has been just to write what I’m thinking about rather than trying to force it through some kind of academic writing filter in my head. Once I started doing that it was surprising how easily the connections between concepts came.
The other thing I’ve done is to work out a rough timeline for the project. First I listed each chapter and estimated its percentage of completion. Then I thought about how much time I would need to get a complete draft for each chapter. Finally I sat down with a calendar and plotted each chunk of work. I included two vacations and about three mini-breaks. This puts my estimated completion date for a full first draft at mid/late October. It’s a little later than I would like but when I look at what needs to be done and the time I have available to work during each day, it’s still ambitious.
Next week I start work on the methodology section (leading into the methods section). I have two weeks to knock something out on this.
I’m almost finished my draft of the Epistemology section. A couple more pages to edit and then I’m going to move on even though it’s far from being done. This is something I struggle with. I would much rather worry one little paragraph to death than gloss through things and leave them rough. I’m forcing myself to keep pushing forward, to get better at first draft-ing. I’m hoping that all this pushing on will create momentum to power me through the rough spots. I have certainly struggled to stay motivated this week, it’s amazing how quickly my initial burst of energy fell a little flat. I’m ignoring the feelings of doubt and flagging motivation and just putting one foot in front of the other. The early morning starts seem to be the best time for me and they don’t always happen: Z wakes up early sometimes and won’t settle again, or I have a really bad night with one of the girls and am just too bagged to get out of bed. My current rule is that if I have had six hours of sleep then I have no excuses. So the goals this week are:
– Finish first draft of Epistemology section
– Make project timeline in Excel
– Collect all the methodology notes that I have and see what is worth using and what won’t fit.
I’ll check in each time I accomplish these goals.
As part of my effort to treat my thesis completion like a project, and thus to learn more about (and update my existing knowledge of) project management, last weekend I asked a question of my Facebook friends: “What is the best advice you could give to someone planning a project for the first time?” I have summarized the suggestions here and have saved some other suggestions which were very academic-work/thesis focused for another post.
The advice included (in the order it was received):
- Don’t get thrown off by, or blame yourself for, unexpected hiccups.
- Break down tasks and plot them on a timeline using Excel.
- Plan backwards from the desired result.
- Scope, schedule, quality: pick two.
- Seek out mentors, learn from others who have done similar work.
- Recognize the importance of good, clear, communication.
- Relationship building.
- Brain dump all the project information and then organize it.
One of the things I have struggled with in the past is reaching out to others for help and support. I used to work in IT and I think I worked well with the project procedures that were in place within those organizations. However, more recently, I planned our wedding and I completely failed when it came to delegating and asking for support. I was so afraid of getting into conflict over the plans for the wedding that I basically didn’t share much and took on way too much myself. I don’t *think* I was anywhere near that stereotypical ‘Bridezilla’ caricature (which is offensive anyway) but I ended up exhausted and there were a whole lot of things which would have been better if I had recruited some more help. Lesson learned. When I thought about using and exploring different project management and execution techniques in the writing-up process of my thesis, I figured that I should look for some advice especially seeing as I have plenty of friends with really diverse and interesting professional lives and expertise. In the spirit of using this support network and trying new things I am going to take each of these snippets of advice seriously and try to implement them. I’ll post my progress. I think the first two I’ll take on are to plot my timeline on Excel (which I haven’t used in ages – yikes!) and also do some backwards planning as part of that. My allotted completion time expires in September this year. I would LOVE to have a full draft by then.
I have also tried to be better about saying no to distractions this week. When Z naps, I have to work on my thesis. I’m not answering the phone during this time, I’m not accepting invitations to hang out, and I’m not letting other things off our (massive) to-do list creep into that time. So far, so good, but I am one measly week in. I have two more days (this weekend) to get that Epistemology section in decent-draft shape. C’mon Georgia!
Yesterday, I caught part of an interview with Mason Currey, the author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work on the CBC radio program Spark. When Nora Young (the presenter of Spark – I am a fan!) asked him what the common thread was in terms of a practice shared by the artists he researched for his book, Currey identified the habit of taking long walks. They then talked a bit about how this practice is not nearly as common these days. Oddly enough, I was in the car driving to meet a friend to take a walk at the time. Going for a walk is something I grew up doing. As a child I remember my parents taking me for walks (and some childhood tantrums on walks-gone-wrong!) and whenever I go home to Ireland I walk as much as possible: on the pier in Dunlaoghaire, up Killiney hill, along the Liffy in town, out in the countryside where my mum lives (walks before dinner and after dinner and in the morning too if the weather permits). I had no idea that this was unusual. Since I’ve been living in Calgary it’s taken time to find the best walking spots (especially now I am often walking with a stroller). Yesterday I was raring to get out for a stroll seeing as it was the first warm (i.e. above freezing) day we have had for a while. I find walking relaxing, energizing, and deeply enjoyable. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of having an intellectual or artistic function but it makes complete sense that it would.
So, in the name of forging ahead with my dissertation and developing supportive practices, I am going to make an extra effort to incorporate a walk into my day whenever the weather permits. I can’t work while Z is awake anyhow, so it makes sense to use some of that time to stroll and think about things and enjoy nature – we really are blessed in Calgary with terrific access to natural beauty in the city.
The other practice that I’ve been working on (and Currey also talked about this in his interview on Spark) is getting up early, before the rest of my family, and doing some work then. As I type this I have been up and working for the past hour and I have organized my little Epistemology section and put some shape on the notes I’ve been gathering this week. I also located three or four more pieces to look over and perhaps use in my discussion. It was hard not to crawl back into bed after Z’s early morning feed but I am feeling pretty good now. I know it won’t work out every morning (I think it is very important not to be too rigid in my expectations) but I would like to be up early and getting at least an hour in whenever I can.
We had a no-tv day following a frustrating bedtime last night. R (who is 4) was up and down like a yo-yo and by 10.30 we were all a bit frazzled. In a particularly desperate moment I told her that if she didn’t lie down and try to sleep there would be no tv today. She got out of bed and said (insanely overtired at this point) ‘that’s okay, I don’t need to watch tv tomorrow’. So it totally didn’t work in terms of getting her to sleep and today I was faced with the reality of following through on my promise (it is nicer to think of it as a promise than a threat).
We watch a fair amount of tv in our house and I’ve been a little concerned lately by how attached to it R has become. We really limited her tv when she was smaller but in the past year she has been watching more and also begging for it more. On days when she is at home (not at preschool) she probably watches at least 2-3 hours of tv over the whole day. She will start off with an hour in the morning while we are getting started on the day and then an hour mid-day and another hour at bedtime. We watch mostly on Netflix (no ads, which is good!). Her favourite shows are My Little Pony, Rescuebots, and (recently) Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. We don’t facilitate any barbie or much princess themed stuff although she has watched a couple of Disney Princess movies. Her favourite movies are Cars, Finding Nemo, and Monsters Inc. L (my husband) and I are completely responsible for allowing or disallowing content and we are also responsible for promoting context that we like (I like MLP and L likes Spiderman). So, I’ve been thinking lately that it’s too much and also some of the content is not really age appropriate (I will defend MLP though!). I was nervous about having a no-tv day. How would I get any down time? How would we get through the day without our (my) crutch?
Well, it was pretty good actually and I’m kind of jazzed about it. I’m not going to lie, I’m tired, and it was challenging, but we had a good day. We had lots of creative play; we played ponies for a while; we drew and coloured; we had lunch picnic-style on the living room floor; she listened to an old record of L’s of the Lady and the Tramp and followed along in the read-along book; we went for a walk and an ice-cream; we played with Z. It was fun. I managed to keep the mess somewhat under control and made dinner with R and Z playing on the kitchen floor instead of R being in the living room watching TV. What was also interesting was that Z went to bed tonight wayyyyy easier than she usually does. Usually she freaks out when I put her in her crib at first but tonight she went down super easy. I wonder if the tv is too stimulating for her in the evening (not that she’ s watching but she must be aware of the noise and flickering images). I have to admit, it was kind of cool coming into the living room after putting Z down and seeing R following the read-along record and L reading his book-club book. I don’t think I’ll ever stop watching tv or ban it in our house just because I love popular culture too much and I fully believe that there is good tv and that even watching ‘bad’ tv can be interesting and fun. But having it as a treat rather than a part of the fabric of our routine is perhaps much healthier for our little ones. I was thinking about R’s ability to play on her own too. If she’s so used to being entertained by a show or a movie, it is going to be tougher for her to play creatively by herself. I can’t play with her all the time, but I can give her the skills and tools to learn how to play by herself and not just expect her to just ‘get it’.
Anyhow, also today I saw a link posted by my old MA supervisor on Facebook about Slow Scholarship and I was curious right away. I haven’t finished reading it but so far it’s really thought-provoking (by Jeremy Hunsinger who works in Canada on knowledge and technology, i know I’ve come across his work before). Slow scholarship has been on my mind lately. I think about the time pressure I feel on my thesis, and how I feel like a big failure and loser a lot of the time because I’m not churning stuff out. I really really struggle with the churning when it comes to scholarly writing. I get paralyzed very easily and it is like pulling teeth for me to produce a first draft a lot of the time. I think that is why the thesis is such a huge challenge for me. I am a fast, intuitive, and good editor. I’m a very slow first-drafter. Hunsinger draws important connections between the culture of speed scholarship and neoliberalism and capitalism. I’ve been wondering whether to build something on this into the methodology chapter and I think the challenge is to do this without it reading (or being) a big fat excuse for taking nearly a decade to complete the thesis and choosing not to be in the academic ‘fast lane’. I’ve bookmarked it and will try to read it more closely and see if it fits. It’s exciting when I find something cool like this that really connects with something I’ve been thinking about!
For some reason I have been quite keen to get to work on this chapter and was thinking about it a lot in December and over the holidays. This is only strange because, up to this point I have been pretty fearful when it comes to methodology/method. I think the methods section in my MA thesis was pretty skimpy and I have just never really thought of myself as a ‘methods gal’. To get me started I have given myself the mini-goal of completing a draft of the epistemology section of this chapter by the end of this week. I’m shooting for about eight pages (which can be edited and developed later). On Friday, when R was at school and Z was napping, I started mapping out what I had been ruminating on over the hols. I think I have a rough structure and right now I am developing some of the concepts.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is reflexivity. It’s a term that’s bounced around a lot in feminist scholarship, and I have been guilty of using it pretty lightly myself. Today I started thinking about what it actually means to be reflexive as a researcher. I started reading Reflexive Methodology: New Vistas for Qualitative Research by Mats Alvesson and Kaj Skoldberg and, so far, it’s brilliant. Here is my quote of the day:
“this concept means that serious attention is paid to the way different kinds of linguistic, social, political and theoretical elements are woven together in the process of knowledge development, during which empirical material is constructed, interpreted, and written. Empirical research in a reflective mode starts from a sceptical approach to what appear at a superficial glance as unproblematic replicas of the way reality functions, while at the same time maintaining the belief that the study of suitable (well thought out) excerpts from this reality can provide an important basis for a generation of knowledge that opens up rather than closes and furnishes opportunities for understanding rather than establishes ‘truths’” (Alvesson & Skoldberg 2009, p. 9).