Networking, what is it good for?

This is rhetorical of course.  I have to push myself to reach out to other academics and students.  I have grand plans, and can even manage competent email contact, but when the fateful day to have coffee and a chat comes around, I am finding some large scale resistance in my brain.

I can tend to be an insular soul, so meeting new and interesting people and talking about myself in some way that makes my work sound scintillating can be a tad anxiety provoking (for all of us I figure, work with me here!).  But I’m soldiering on.

I set a goal this term to meet up with two women who do great work in my field and also happen to work right at my University, and I managed to actually follow through last week!  It doesn’t help that I had to reschedule twice because of a seizure day and a pupil free day/childcare fail.  These things do not instill one with confidence as one sails out into the big wide world.

Of course, the chat (eventually) went great.  Anxiety = nil; Awesomeness = 1.  I hereby award myself a networking gold star!

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Living it

Like a lot of people who research, I live my topic, it’s part of my own narrative.  This has, for me, a somewhat messy heap of benefits – including thinking of the topic in the first place, seeing that it’s an issue socially and legally, and being in the privileged position of being able to spend time thinking pretty deeply about all of this *stuff*, some of which is my own *stuff*.

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Daelle, refusing to fit into all kind of categories!

But it’s also hard.  Nearly everything I read and think about now is about profound disability.  I read articles about how we define people as “people” – as moral actors.  I read about horrific discrimination, or the lack of value of human rights, or about what on earth human rights (and humans!) are in the first place.  I read about programs for people with severe disability, and about the grief, despair, hope, and joy of their parents and carers.  I read about the nature of our laws of guardianship, our lack of human rights protections, our failures in social services and social administration.  And I am in all of those things I read, or at least a close neighbour.  Then, I think if I wasn’t in it, I would be missing an essential element, some intangible thing, that grounds it all and helps me see it.  I don’t have to hurdle the foreign language of a immersion in research area, I just have to see it when it’s all right there in front of me.

Having it all right there is also hard, I deal with some of the issues that prompted my topic nearly every week.  Our family moves through social welfare systems, financial systems, we make decisions all the time “for” Daelle, we share her care, so we have issues of disagreement and alternatives, we have funding, program choice, transport, therapy, aids and equipment, staffing, all this front and centre, every day.  The constant small hiccups and large catastrophes of having an adult person who can’t fulfill our system’s many criteria of being an adult person.  Where those criteria fall way, way down, how they hurt and harm, how they become endless exercises in bureaucracy, reporting, forms, how something essentially human is lost here….  At least through all this,  I get a constant parade of subject headings for my thesis!

This makes me think a lot about the nature of research, and how we see bias, what meaning we put on it.  I’m doing interviews later, too, and I think this will be interesting to share and think about as I go.  I’m planning on writing on all this in my methods section, maybe a paper too… Maybe!

Procrastination, my friend

It’s been school holidays, then several weeks where it was either a public holiday that week, or a pupil free day, and my brain is confused.  I appear to be lacking the basic motivation to work on my thesis at all, despite my most excellent reading plans.  I have ground to a halt!

I’m not really sure what it is, exactly.  I’m not really behind, I have a good plan, everything is set up and organised, I love my topic and find it all super interesting.  But opening files and writing, or getting out articles to read and make notes is just not appealing.

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Instead, I am organising ALL THE THINGS in the rest of my life, which is fine I suppose but not conducive to being called Dr one day.  I have a bunch of admin for my oldest girl at the moment, and we also got a new giant turtle tank, which had a knock on effect of meaning we now have a new pet lizard, and all our fish tanks are getting makeovers because reasons.  So I find myself buying silkworm eggs and replacement impellers instead of being a good academic.  This too shall pass…right!?!

Must stick to reading goal this week, at least then I’ve got something nice a ticked off a list to point to.  Happy trails, all!!

Read, read, read

I read a lot, I’m a reader.  Thank all the gods.  I have SO MUCH in my (clearly) overly ambitious reading list in Endnote that I’ve embarked on an equally ambitious plan.  I’m setting a goal of 10 papers a week for the next three months while I’m writing up my confirmation of candidature.  I should be able to do it (I hope!) as I’m an embarrassingly fast reader, so at least I can physically get through it.  It’s a total of 130 papers, which sounds like a lot.  I have over 500 things in Endnote at the moment, so if I can manage to stick to it for longer, I might get through most of it!

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Bonus pic of my work calendar!

It took me a while to settle on how to approach reading.  I’m a perfectionist, which is shit sometimes, so I just kind of left engaging fully with a very long list of articles and chapters in the too-hard-because-I-can’t-perform-it-perfectly basket.  That’s a big basket.  I try and deal with my must-be-perfect-or-just-sit-frozen-in-inaction-and-binge-watching-Blacklist tendencies by making a good enough job be 1) okay; and 2) doable.  As in, I have to get in to the tiny boring details.  Which I’m now going to overshare with you all.

I tried to read on my iPad but for key papers (I’ve got about 50 that are pretty central so far) I need a hard copy.  So I am a repentant tree murderer.  I print them out.  I am hoping to move to the iPad soon though, it’s way easier, and I read books on there via Kindle so I don’t really know what my brain’s issue is!

I want to read at least 10 papers a week, and these can’t all be super hard papers because I might be dedicated, but I’m also a delicate flower.  So I try and pick a mix of “get the gist of the work” papers, that don’t need a lot of notes, just a summary, and at least 5 “OMG I have to read and synthesise this or I will totes fail my PhD” papers.  I should point out this doesn’t include anything else I read on my way through the week, like if I’m working on a section and dig through literature as I go.  I’m talking more about getting through a large body of literature that I want to fully understand and appreciate before I finish up.  The body of work that will be the fields I want to contribute to as a researcher and in my career.  Anyway, back to stationery, which frankly is the highlight!

I have nice box that my 10 papers fit in, with my pen and highlighter.  And I have a clipboard for home.  Because I like them and there’s nothing like a clipboard for making you feel super smart and organised.  Try it!

I’m writing up notes for each paper in Scrivener as I go, so I can more easily shift and flesh out notes to be in any final writing.  I posted a little while ago about working at home with kids, and I think having a reading set up at home will mean I can just have this task set for quieter afternoons, and a chunk of weekend time.   The whole project also fits my have a checklist of shit to do goals (“Write it down, check it off”), which is nice.  Might as well work with it as against it.

Scrivenings

Early on in my candidature, I made a big change in the writing program I’m using.  I am giving Scrivener a go.  It has Mac and Windows versions that so far seem to play nicely with each other.  I’m foreseeing issues with citation, but it’s designed to export into Word, so at the moment I’m planning to use it to get chunks of writing and ideas out, move them about, and build up chapters organically.  At the moment, I’m writing ideas and chunks of text related to papers or key issues, but I think I’ll export those into Word so I can tie in Endnote.  Law requires footnoting as well, so I don’t want a giant headache at the end of my thesis if something doesn’t translate, and the way citations look in Scrivener are really distracting for me, so I prefer to write draft text in Word.

There are some great posts on adapting academic work, specifically a thesis, to Scrivener, I liked these ones:  start at The Thesis Whisperer, she has several posts on it you can find from there; there’s a detailed technical overview at Qualitative Research; and lots of fancy tips and tricks (colour coding!) at A Law Unto Herself.

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Some folders from my “Doing a Thesis” Scrivener binder

I run two main files (binders) for my thesis.  One is a kind of “how to” mash of things that I call “Doing a Thesis.”  And the other one is the Thesis itself, which sticks to folders on the research questions, my chapter headings, and a folder for my confirmation document and presentation.  I like it so much I actually started a binder for my personal stuff, reading I’m doing, notes about parenting stuff…  there’s a reason I’m a researcher, people!

I’m finding Scrivener great for jotting ideas and keeping information, and having confidence you’re not going to forget anything.  I could use something like Things or Evernote, but I like that in Scrivener I can drag chunks of written work around, and see ideas, people, papers, and links in the same program.  I’ve used it for everything from snippets of writing, cards for people I want to contact, organisations I’ve joined, as well as the basic stuff of outlining chapters and my confirmation document.  It’s great for holding ideas, not just text.  If you haven’t already had a look at it, I’d give it a go.

 

 

 

A Twit

photo_0041I’m new to Twitter.  Wait, that’s a lie.  I have had an account since 2009, but I don’t tweet.  I prefer Facebook, which is probably a product of it being what I use most.  In social media land, familiarity breeds more familiarity.  Or something pithy.

I like the idea of twitter, and have logged in every year or so to try and catch it.  But it’s never infected me.

Still, as I’m faithfully “building my Academic 2.0 profile” I am attempting to acquire a case of Twitter.  I have a “Professional Me” account @ashaggydog and am in a following frenzy.  Come visit me!

Juggling, and Peppa Pig

I have kids.  It is school holidays here, and whenever this happens, I spend a little time lost.  My youngest is 9 now, so it’s not a onerous as it once was, but I still find working at home with kids a rough stretch.

I think it’s also the nature of the stage of the thesis that I’m at now.  I’m 8 months in, and still mostly reading and making mildly coherent notes.  My other main job in the first year is to write the confirmation document and presentation, which I’m starting to outline now (and when I say outline, I mean it: I have headings.  That’s it.).  So my work is a lot of thinking about stuff like the nature of being a person, what is an adult, or how complex social security administrative law works (I’ll have to get back to myself on that one!), and this is kind of hard, even if your kid is mostly self sufficient.  Even if she mostly does for her herself, she and her friends sure are noisy!  And seem to need food an awful lot.

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Watching Peppa Pig after a seizure last week while I pretend to work on my thesis!

And if Daelle is home, it seems impossible!  There’s something about it that means I find it hard to divide my attention.  I’m not sure if it’s a something I should work on and try strategies to “fix”, or if it’s something that just IS and I should accept.  Having a profoundly disabled child is not just physical but is a mostly emotional labour, and maybe my thinking bits (a technical term) are too taken up with that and there’s no room for hard thinking too.

Of course, there’s the issue of my topic being at times very very close to home.  Which is another entry (or ten) to come…