I attended the conference of Spotlight on Social Sciences 2012 on Friday 30th March at the Graduate Centre. The programme started with registration, which was followed by an introduction to the event, and then a very interesting presentation with the title of ‘’Studying violence and self-harm in forensic and clinical settings’’, by Professor Robert Snowden from the School of Psychology. There were also talks and poster presentations throughout the day. I attended talks such as health psychology, family and health, as well as family and gender. Although all the presentations were interesting, the presentation ‘Research as a Rollercoaster’ was the one that best explored my experiences with my research study.
PhD studies require dedication and commitment to succeed. Therefore, I asked myself what was I feeling when I started my PhD programme? I was so happy and I have really enjoyed the last year in my life, although I faced a series of opportunities and pressures as a 1st year PhD student. I understood that many students have gone through it before, so I took the opportunity to learn from their experiences and listen to their advice in order to manage the process of my project and improve my own success.
The content of this presentation also reminded me of the workshop “The Seven Secrets of highly successful researcher students” in 2011. The seven secrets (Kearns and Gardiner, 2008) include:
1) Care and maintenance of my supervisor. I have to regularly meet them to discuss and negotiate my progress. I have to understand that I cannot produce a thesis without them!
2) Write and show as you go: this is show and tell, not hide and seek! Because, writing and showing my work forces me to stay on track and refine my thinking. I have to remember writing is essential and a thesis is writing work. Thus, set deadlines for my writing and for handing in.
3) Be realistic: it’s not a Nobel Prize. Always remember, when I am writing a thesis, I am also learning how to do research. Original work means one step in advancing existing knowledge. I have to stay focused and accept I can do only do my best and that is good enough. I think it is better to write even when I think what I write is not good enough.
4) Say no to distractions: even the fun ones and the ones I think I must do. It’s fine to do other kinds of work while doing my thesis. However, I have to set priorities and be realistic about what I can do. Consult my diary or an objective person before saying yes to new opportunities.
5) It is a job: that means working nine to five, but I can have holidays. Although I do not have work nine to five, I definitely need regular hours and a proper work place. I have to set deadlines and stick to them in order to get free time in the evenings and weekends and take holidays.
6) Get help when stuck: Because I am not owner-operator single person business! I have to ask my supervisor about sources of assistance and get help from statistics, methodologists, and academics in my department or at other departments, as well as peers.
7) I can do it: A thesis is 10% intelligence and 90% persistence and I have the 10% already. If I feel like an impostor, I have to be assure myself that most people writing a thesis feel this way. However, the other 90% comes from my habits, like meeting regularly with my supervisors, doing effective plans, sticking my plans and treating my research like a job. I have to accept my own limitations and believe that I can do it, so just keep going!
Finally, when I reflected on the effectiveness of my progress during the first year, it was like ‘Rollercoaster’’, up and down. I understood that I have to maintain a work/life balance and build a strong supportive network that will give me more resources to draw on when my work or personal life is challenging. To improve my writing, I learned that there is one useful strategy, just get into the habit of writing one page per day. Even my writing is poor quality and I am not sure how this fits into my thesis. Just write one page per day. In a few months I may have enough stuff to put together a very rough draft. Although I may have to throw away a lot of those pages, I may end up using some of them too. Moreover, this one page per day habit may benefit my psychologically. I will feel that, at least, I am doing something every day. I think it gives me feeling of some kind of progress.