Tag Archives: study space

Multitasking academic life with personal events – by Lowri Stevenson

This year has proved to be quite an eventful year for my family – my husband and two children – and me! Not only have I been undertaking the second year of a full-time PhD at the School of Healthcare Sciences, but within the space of seven short months, we have moved westwards as LS2a family, to enable us to enjoy a more rural lifestyle, as well as moved the children’s schooling and got married to boot!

I am unsure whether I would particularly recommend this chaotic way of living (albeit short-term), however, now that the house move and summer wedding are all just lovely memories, I am left with a very happy feeling in my bones that it has all worked out for the best for us as a family. We are a very happy and settled little unit. Thankfully, my PhD continues…

When I returned to studying in October 2013, from working on busy hospital wards as a midwife, I felt that everything should be put on hold whilst I undertook the next three years of study. I initially found it difficult to achieve the right work-life balance and put all other things aside to the studies. I found it quite stressful when anything unexpected cropped up. I remember during the early days of my studies, my supervisors reminding me several times that the PhD journey is a marathon and not a sprint! However, the changes in our lives since last December LS1have shown me, that with military-style organisation, dedication and some busy times, anything can be achieved; particularly if you are fully committed to what you are trying to accomplish. The undo ‘able can be done!

I must say, I did find myself delving my nose into my diary probably more than any other book I own, and utilising the skills of our brilliant family, as well as delegating some tasks out to wonderful friends; particularly with regards to weddingy issues. There were many times when everything else HAD to take a back seat to my studies, and that this had to be my priority at certain times along the way, particularly when there were submission deadlines or organised events. In the main, though, I found that living this double-sided existence became almost enjoyable: PhD student by day, and bride-to-be and full-time mother by night!

I guess the message I am trying to convey, by using my personal experiences, is that when life events occur whilst undertaking a huge professional commitment such as a PhD (which in the majority they will, LS3especially over a three-year period), there are certain attributes which may really help. For me, these were things such as being organised, good time-management, being flexible, not panicking, placing things into perspective and having a fantastic support network of supervisors, colleagues, family and friends to lean on.

Good luck to you all with your studies! Lowri x

Sometimes you won’t feel like talking about “IT” and it’s OK – by Carolyn Graham

As a PhD student, one of the things you will find out quickly is that you repeatedly have to tell people what you are doing, what you are “looking” at. In formal and informal gatherings, at workshops, seminars, conferences and other types of training, university and non-university encounters; either as part of the introduction or in conversations over coffee, a pint or at dinner. It doesn’t matter if you are one day or 4 years into the programme, the FAQs of a PhD student’s life remain the same: What are you looking at? How is it going? What is your topic? What is your theoretical framework? How are you going to collect data? When are you going to be finished? etc., etc. Some think it’s glamourous. “Oh the student life!” they exclaim. “You get to sleep late and work when you want.” If only they knew! IT will become your identity.SNV30975

Your response to these questions invariably begins with, “I am looking at…”

It is beneficial to speak about one’s research. Verbalization is good for formulating thoughts, to try out your ideas on others, to find persons of similar interest, to discover if you are making progress with your understanding of what you are doing, to get assistance, to get assurance, to practice for the times when you cannot avoid talking about IT and many more. Talking about your work is also good training for public speaking, in being concise, in breaking down complex ideas and for the Viva!

A tactic that I have found useful is to ask myself these same questions and write short responses to them or think up responses on the spot. I also practice varying my responses so that I don’t bore myself with my own replay. Recall that different persons are asking you so it will sound fresh and new to them, but not to you. I would recommend attending the 3-minute thesis competition, or even entering, if you are so inclined as it will allow you to develop the skill of being succinct yet thorough, while learning to put your work in a language that non-experts may understand.

Don’t forget however, depending on the situation, you can politely ask for a reprieve from talking about IT, and it is OK. The PhD life is like new parents whom everyone asks about the baby and forgets the parents, sometimes to their dismay. “What about me?” Is the silent lamentation. “I need some attention too!” At some point you feel like screaming. “Hey, I’m not my PhD, I have a life, an identity outside of my PhD. I am multi-dimensional!” Particularly if you are at a frustrating phase, just had a not-so-good supervision and you just want to forget the PhD, even for the two hours you are in a pub gathering some strength to get back to IT. You don’t always have the resolve to speak about IT. The first stages, when there is only a chaos of literature and ideas and you are struggling to put the pieces together yourself, can be a particularly dubious time. The imposter syndrome sets in and it is not made any better when asked “so, what are you looking at?” The writing up phase as well seem to be another daunting time. I am not there yet, but I have heard the tales of woe from others.

Sometimes when asked “what are you looking at?” it’s like a bombshell. The moment immediately becomes surreal, you hear the question but you are not sure what it means. When you, in slow motion, grasp the notion, your brain takes a scramble to put together something coherent and interesting. Of course, all this takes less than 10 sec11759033_958990500818475_1651712378_nonds, but for you it’s an eternity. I don’t know the full psychology, but added to the imposter syndrome is fear of sounding stupid, of not sounding intelligent enough, that your research sounds lame relative to others (all of us think everybody else’s research is more interesting) and even fear of public speaking, or speaking to strangers.

There are also those of us who, having passed through the valley of chaos and began to make sense of our work, have repeated the response so often that it becomes dreary. We have to then think of more creative, and interesting ways to answer the same question, which is itself a challenge. This is where practice helps. We also realize that, depending on who asks, we have to approach the response from different angles, and sometimes we are not sure at what level to pitch the response, ensuring the person understands but we are not patronizing.

Responding to questions about your work is a balancing act and it depends on who, when and where the question is asked. One can politely say, “wow, my brain is a bit tired now I just want to relax.” I have done that. Alternatively, you can beat the question to the punch and ask first. If you realize you are speaking to someone who likes talking about their work (and there are those who do), you continue asking them questions and this should save you. Sensitivity is important here however, people may be in a similar position to you and may really not wish to speak. In that case, it is OK to suggest a different line of conversation, such as “both of us seems to be tired of talking about our PhDs, so where are you from?”, or something similar.

10259561_723480654369462_1859309068_nThe bottom line is, like many other experiences, each person’s experience of the PhD, although there are broad similarities, is different. Personality, support, whether one is an international or local student, culture, language, and so on, all come together to influence the experience. Be reflective, know your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to take a step back if your mind and body ask for reprieve. It is ok if at times you do not wish to speak about your PhD and it is also ok to say so; but you shouldn’t make a habit of it – discussion will benefit your ideas in the long run.

Carolyn Graham

All piled up!

One of the first things I was advised before commencing my PhD study was to create some study space at home.  Being enthusiastic I was very lucky and able to convert one of my rooms into a study/small lounge area. I was pleased that I had created the space that I needed with my computer in one area, I found a place to store my books, and put some nice cushions on my study settee so that I could be comfortable in those moments of ‘thought’ and when reading. I had my CD player in a corner, in case I needed some light music while I worked….. awe, all those good intentions before I started!

One year on I have transitioned into student life and seemed to have forgotten about my tranquil study area!  It was only recently when I realized the whole house had become my study!

The realization came to fruition a couple of weeks ago, when I was getting in bed one night.  I always try and end my day on a positive note, so informed my husband about the best thing that had happened to me that day.  I then asked ‘what was the best thing about your day?’ and my husband replied ‘I can tell you what was not the best thing about my day…..you have now taken over the dining room with all of your books and papers’

Oops!! I went to sleep and when I awoke the next day, there it was, REALISATION, I had taken over the whole house. There was reading material and papers everywhere.

I had siblings and cystic fibrosis literature in the bedroom

Family centred care and qualitative research in the lounge

Several drafts of my research protocol in the dining room, lounge and bedroom.

A computer in the study, with policies and ethics documents dispersed everywhere. All my neat folders I had organized were just strewn. My laptop was in the lounge and my brain! I am not really sure where that was.

I had become so emersed in my work that I was gradually spreading it all over the place and my justification was …well I know exactly where everything is and forbid anyone to move anything.The comment from my husband was the last straw for him.  I had got the message. I needed to get organized, do some filing, tidy up the books and papers and give back the family home. I needed to retreat to the space I had originally created.

I have now begun to tidy up. The study is looking great, sometimes I am more comfortable in the main lounge and I do get restless when I am in one place.

So the new rules are:

Try and stick to the study space and if I do use another room, I must be organized and tidy everything away afterwards to that the PhD does not take over the house.

It is a good job my husband mentioned this to me when I had got to 12,000 words and not 80,000.

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye. I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye”

I was always warned that my three years of PhD funding would fly by and while I did not doubt it, I am still amazed at the pace with which it has disappeared.  The exciting news is that I will soon be starting as a Research Assistant in the School of Medicine at Cardiff University, but that means that it is time to say goodbye to theSchool of Nursing and Midwifery Studies.

I know that I’ve said it a lot, but the last three years really have been a brilliant experience.  Not only have I learned how to plan and undertake qualitative research, I’ve also learned all about other research designs and approaches.  I’ve had the boundaries of my knowledge and understanding well and truly pushed, although my partner is fed up of me interpreting everything according to a social constructionist perspective!

I’ve also had the chance to take part in such a variety of other activities and projects.  During the last three years I’ve regularly taught clinical skills, which has been a fantastic opportunity.  I discovered that I love teaching students, particularly when they are at the beginning of their journey to becoming a nurse and you can teach the importance of fundamental care, skills and attitudes.  It’s also been a privilege to teach students nearing the end of their nursing journeys research, seeing their enthusiasm for the profession and their interest in learning how to move the evidence-base forward.

My organisational skills have progressed during my PhD to the point of obsessive, which I made great use of when helping to organise two conferences in the University.  Having attended conferences for several years, helping to plan two was a great and unique experience.  In particular, it was very interesting to work with an inter-disciplinary team to organise the Spotlight on Social Sciences conference, highlighting to me the differences between our research projects and perspectives in general of research.

However, it is the people in the School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies and beyond that have made this PhD such a wonderful experience.  I’ve been lucky to share an office with a brilliant group of people, who I will miss terribly when I can no longer fill them in on the banalities of my everyday life.  I couldn’t have asked for better supervisors, while the support from administrators and IT has been fantastic.  I’ve learned such a lot from the research and teaching staff in the school, who welcomed and supported me throughout.

To conclude, I’ve also learned something very important about myself (that I will have to try and change when I leave): that I write best in my jogging bottoms and no make-up, listening to soft opera, preferably in Italian (so I can’t try and sing along), in the morning.

Thanks everybody and I will see you in the evenings and weekends (maybe) when I return to the PhD office to finish the small task of my thesis…