It’s a fun job, and I enjoy it

I stole this slogan unashamedly from Happier in Hollywood, a fun podcast about life and work.  Their motto as writers in Hollywood is “It’s a fun job, and we enjoy it!”  It sums up a feeling I often have that doing PhD is an amazing privilege.  Sure, it’s a privilege that I actively despise a lot lately, but I should probably be more focussed on the good side not the dark side.  So in an effort at procrastinating positively, I made myself a happy squirrel reminder.  Seriously, a PhD is a great thing to be doing.  I’m so lucky to be able to give three years to a project this way (and not have to have higher paid work), I’ve got great hours so that I can be a stay at home parent (something super important to our family), I’m very interested in my topic, and I love “thinking about things” as my job.  If I could choose any job in the world and describe it, it would be a professional “thinker about things.”

It doesn’t help to actively remind myself of this most days of the week…

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The eye of a needle

My topic, it’s enormous.  I am still searching for exactness.  Like most PhD students, I have an enormous olympic pool of ideas, research, concepts, theories, but I’m cramming them into a wading pool that is my 3 year thesis.  It’s old hat to say that it’s a thesis, not a Nobel prize, but the reality of narrowing, effectively throwing out (for the next 3 years) ideas and theory and other work is a hard slog.

I’m finding the focusing stage a difficult time.  My topic is the transition to adulthood for people with severe cognitive impairment.  I do socio-legal work that looks at how law works in practice (on the ground, the interface between law and people), and what that might tell us about our society and ourselves.   So in my thesis, I’m interested in intersections between broad ideas (like what is an adult) as they intersect and are represented within regulatory systems.  An example: a person can vote when they turn 18. This is regulated by laws, and these laws are administered by the electoral commission.  All of this, the laws, the regulation, the institution, helps illustrate what we think being an adult IS exactly.  What is voting?  Why is it important?  What do we do when someone can’t vote?  Even more specific: We got a letter for Daelle about her reaching voting age and being registered.  There is a form you can fill out if someone isn’t capable of understanding voting to get an exemption, which means she won’t get fined.  This needs to be signed by a doctor.  So we (and Daelle) intersect with this system of law and regulation and bureaucracy about voting in a particular way.  All of this stuff is our society’s way of defining these bigger shared ideas and concepts.

My project is about where parents andneedle carers of people with severe cognitive impairments (who are transitioning to adulthood) bump up against regulatory systems and law, like social welfare systems, finance and banking, transport, education, healthcare, the NDIS, and guardianship.  I’m looking at severe cognitive impairment because it informs us all not only about the lived experience of their carers (as close as I can get to the person themselves) – which is not very much researched and super important – but also because looking at the “extreme” edges more clearly shows us the core of our ideas about what being an adult means, what being a citizen means, what being “disabled” means, and at some fundamental level, what being a person in our society means.

So yeah, like most people, I have some big ideas to wrestle into 100,000 words in a specific format that shows I deserve a doctorate.  Like everyone, it’s all about wresting the ideas into smaller shapes, that are still meaningful, and that still represent the big ideas, but that can fit into a PhD shaped box.  It’s a mental juggling act.  And my arms are tired!!

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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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.

 

 

 

Endnote Woes

My attempt to get around using two operating systems, Mac at home and Windows *shudder* at work, is not going as awesomely as I wasn’t expecting it to.  Endnote is giving me issues, refusing to sync either of my computer based libraries to the supposedly authoritative web version, causing many headaches and much swearing.  My iPad, for some reason, is syncing just fine.  download

Even my IT support guy (also known as Mr Shaggy Dog, and Husband-face) threw up his hands today amongst mutterings of metadata, reinstall, blah blah error…something something.  I’ve heroically decided to leave the problem to be Tuesday’s headache, which is when I’m next at my work desk.  It’s something to do with library locations, and by all that’s unholy, I will fix it!!

This is part of my “start as you mean to go on” project, which among other epic tasks, involves making sure my reference library is actually correct.  I also have to use a particular kind of legal citation, which has already caused a bit of fiddling around.  I’m sure I’ll get there, but they don’t advertise this stuff in the PhD brochure. I figure future me will be grateful when I’m putting in footnotes the night before drafts are due.  She better be!

Also, I should probably be reading more of the reference library, as well as ensuring the author field is correct and the title has all important words capitalised.  That’s a project for future me…

I feel I should note I did look hard at two other citation managers, Zotera, and Papers3, before sticking with Endnote.  Though other options are looking even more attractive at this point!