Category Archives: Supervision

Class Reunion and Working Practices

I had a class reunion today, in the coffee shop. My classmate* from my MRes and I met up to chat PhD things.   She began her part-time PhD in October last year and is essentially in the same situation as myself, working full time, studying part time and commuting to see our supervisors every month or so.   She messaged me because I said it was important to speak to others in the same situation and as we both commute to our respective universities meeting up in the middle ground (work) is the simplest option.

I hope she won’t mind me mentioning this, but she said she had hit her first hurdle with being able to concentrate on work. She has a space set up at home to study but finds herself getting distracted.   I was given some advice by my supervisor about distractions quite early on.  She told me to allow some distractions to distract me.  If I am working from home, water the plants if I keep staring at them, put that washing in the machine. Otherwise the small distractions become bigger distractions.  This helped me a lot.  I could shrug off the guilt of moving away from the desk for five minutes and I felt that I was more productive while I was “in the zone”.

We also spoke about where we work. I try and work away from the computer as much as I can when I am at home.  I am mostly desk based at work so coming home and thinking that I might be stuck at a desk for an hour or so in the evening would put anyone off!   I do a lot of my reading and note making sat on the sofa, sat in bed or soaking in the bath**!  I find it hard to work when there are voices on the TV but if the other half is playing computer games it is not a problem (and definitely not a problem for him as he is encouraged to play games!).

Hopefully some of my habits are useful to help her get sorted out. I think we all have to find our comfortable space to work in.

Yesterday I ended up in an interesting conversation with a maths academic about museum visiting. I mentioned my PhD and we ended up discussing class inequalities in museum visiting.  It made me feel quite confident in what I am doing and in what I know.   Hooray for baby steps!

*There were only two of us on the MRes when we took it. We both work(ed) full time and are now both on part-time PhD courses. The stats for progression following our degree must look amazing for our cohort!

** The bath has its downsides, dropping papers in the water and difficultly in jotting down ideas when they come up!

In a twist of fate, the PhDSupportNetwork posted this which is strangely relevant to this post!

paperclips and coursework

Numerical paperclips for organising articles, so satisfying!


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Filed under Distractions, Hints & Tips, PhD, Supervision, Uncategorized

Juggling and it’s consequences

Juggling... (c) Dr Seuss

(c) Dr Seuss

This last month has been a little hectic.  I am a full time employee and a part time PhD student.  I am not new to studying while working, in fact my two master’s degrees were completed in this way.  I have found though that the workload (which is my creation, rather than anyone elses) is doubled.  I want to do more reading, more writing and more critical thinking about subjects.  I keep getting sidetracked by subjects that are almost the one I am looking at.  All of that is fine – when I have the time.

I have just spent the last 6 weeks recruiting and training the latest batch of student ambassadors for the university.  This involves talks, applications, assessment centres, then three Wednesdays of training to make sure they are knowledgeable and smiley enough to put in front of visitors.  I have managed to get this done within working hours, so no late nights at work to distract me from studying in the evening.  However, as there isn’t any thinking time during the day.  There is always a task that needs doing that requires some brain power.

Now, many people may be thinking that this is what work is always like, but spend 5 minutes contemplating this.  On a normal day I have a list of things I need to do and I work through them.  There is time in between to have a chat to a colleague, someone drops in and so you stop and chat to them, you finish a task and there is some time to think about the next one, you have time to react to the unexpected and change your plans .  There were days in the last 6 weeks when this didn’t happen, one task finished, straight onto the next one.   It left me exhausted, a couple of nights I went to bed at about 8pm because “my brain had stopped braining”.  (I actually said that one night when I ran out of words!)

This impacted on my PhD work.  I could do the reading, that wasn’t a problem at all, but I had a massive case of writer’s block.  I had the information in my head and in my notes, but could not get it onto a page in any sensible fashion.  Luckily that time is done (until next time).

I have come to terms with this, it is alright to have a month where only reading happens.  As long as there is some progress!

I now have my upgrade paper to begin.

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Filed under PhD, reading, Supervision

Imposter Syndrome – the cat amongst the pengiuns

This week I admitted that I worry that I am not good enough to do a PhD.  I often think that I don’t have the intelligence or research skills to get anywhere with it.  I feel nervous when going for supervision meetings as I don’t think I have done enough work or work of any worth. Coming out of those meetings I feel reassured and quite good about it all and this lasts for about a week until it kicks back in again.

I told a friend about this and she told me about Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor syndrome[1] is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

Thanks to Wikipedia for actually having the most succinct description I could find.  Although this article really sums it all up if you have the time to read it – The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention

So, here are things I think about myself:

  • I have to work doubly hard to do good work while others just sail through things (this could be true in some cases).
  • I have to work doubly hard to show that I can keep up otherwise I will fall behind and won’t be able to catch up.
  • I shouldn’t take credit for things I have been involved in as others involved are probably more deserving of the praise.
  • If I do promote or recognise my own achievements I am being big headed and selfish.
  • Any feedback on anything I do I expect to be really bad.

There are a bunch of other things (being 5’2″, female, not in an academic role for example) that I think go against other things I do.  I am not sure how many of those are actually barriers or if I should stop reading articles with titles like Short Women Struggle to Break Glass Ceiling.  I often think that I shouldn’t apply for jobs because people in X department know who I am and it will put them off.

Having read more about this, I have realised that this comes into other parts of my life as well.  More interestingly (I think*) is that I don’t tell people about my worries or thoughts on some subjects as the response will be along the lines of ‘don’t be silly, that’s not true’ or ‘hugs** – we think you are brilliant’, or I think someone will tell me I am wrong and stupid***.

However, these positive reinforcements are really honest opinions from people and not necessarily people humouring me as no one wants to tell me the truth about my idiotic brain workings!

i also don’t often tell people what I think as I don’t think my opinion or expertise matters.  This applies to my academic life, work life and hobbies.

So it is out in the open.  I don’t think that there is much I can do about it except be aware of it and that it makes me worried about my supervision meetings and the amount of work I am doing.   It is nice to know it is a thing and I am not on my own.

They still haven't noticed that I shouldn't be a PhD student...

They still haven’t noticed that I shouldn’t be a PhD student…

* There is another insecurity right there, I am giving you the option to disagree with me.
**For the record “hugs” and “squee” are two things I despise on social media.
*** I do appreciate a well reasoned debate though.


Filed under PhD, Supervision

Self appreciation and ethics

Another supervision meeting down… I feel like I am starting the get the hang of what I am meant to be doing. Well, I feel like I am making some progress and that I maybe know what I am talking about! Which was one of our topics of discussion during my supervision meeting, being self deprecating. I wrote a short piece on me and my motivation and included the phrase “I didn’t do so well in that,” which ignores everything I have achieved since!
So new plan (especially after I was telling students to do this) – some self recognition on my achievements and that I am working towards a qualification that will put me at the top of my field and that I know what I am talking about. Note to self: remember that you know what you are talking about.

So apart from that and my reading list becoming longer, I have some writing to do. I also have a pilot study to think about from the ethical point of view of working with small children. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but small children know what they like and don’t and are able to give consent in research studies. So there is some thinking to be done around that. I am looking forward to getting to the point of being able to run a pilot study, there are a lot of unknowns from this and it would be good to see what some of them might be.

As usual, cat picture…this time the cheeky Fatty is stealing my water.

Fatty stealing water

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Filed under PhD, Supervision