AHRC Midlands3Cities funded first year PhD student at the University of Leicester.
How much research time is built into my job:
In theory, all of it. In practice, not a lot of it right now. At the moment it’s all about the secondary reading – and an awful lot of classes. Looking forward to next term, in the new year, when it should settle down. Having said that, I’m managing to sneak a little bit of primary source research into my days. Shush. Don’t tell anyone, will you?
However even once the classes and reading has eased off, I’ll still have breaks from the research – Midlands3Cities are very keen for their students to make the most of opportunities to grow outside the PhD in ways that contribute to our studies/careers and we’re able to take placement breaks from the PhD of up to 3 months.
If the next REF were held tomorrow, I would:
Shrug my shoulders, as it doesn’t (yet) apply to me, and then pray fervently (and probably fruitlessly) that all the current problems with it will be fixed by the time it does apply to me.
I work on:
My PhD is parochial relationships in seventeenth-century Herefordshire, with a focus on clergy-lay relationships. Very much orientated towards social history, political history (as in politics of the parish). My MA was in English Local History and Family History at the Centre for English Local History at the University, so I’m using the Leicester approach; lots of maps, landscape history, and some archaeology of the built environment (specifically churches).
Tools I use to plan my research:
The centre of my planning is my bullet journal. That has all the day to day stuff in – I have appointments and classes in google calendar which is on my smartphone, but in terms of actual to-do and planning, it’s pen and paper. Like Ellie, many people comment about the amount of time that it must take to keep my bullet journal going but I find it doesn’t take much more than a pre-printed planner would. In fact, I’d argue less, because I’m not wasting time trying to make a pre-printed planner work for me. I have a blank notebook – a Leuchhturm 1917 at the moment, but in January that will finish and I’ll start afresh in a Rhodia (I’ve also used a Moleskine in the past). These are all dot-grid journals which I love. Each day has a page; each week has a sort of one-page overview, so each week has 8 pages. That makes it very easy to plan ahead and I usually block out a month at a time. On the daily pages I will record any appointments, the tasks I have to do, people I have to email, and notes I need to remember, or quotes I love, or just things I liked or want to remember. At the end of the day I write a bit about the day. It’s a very strong and flexible system. If I’m travelling on public transport, or attending a conference that day, then I have lots of space to add the details of what I’ve got to catch, where, or what papers I want to hear, and when they’re being delivered.
I have a planning journal where I plan a year in advance, and then revise that plan every three months. Each month I transfer that month’s plans into my current bullet journal, then break them down by week, and then the associated tasks slowly make their way onto my daily list. It’s not perfect but it helps me to keep on track of most things – the time critical, or important things. My biggest problem is being too ambitious!
For the PhD, my main focus planning wise is an A4 Leuchhturm book, the Master sized, which is a whopper of a notebook. In there is the meta information for the PhD, as sort of overview of the project. There is a large section of the book that gives each parish in Herefordshire a half page. There, I am slowly gathering information on each parish, and will eventually record information in there such as when I have collected/transcribed a particular source for that parish, or when I’ve visited the church there, and so on. There’s also a research diary in it, for secondary material, listing the searches I’ve done, what criteria I’ve used.
For secondary material, I record the bibliographic material that I’m actually using in my thesis into Refworks; but the actual record of my literature review searches are being kept in Excel (such as, what material I’ve found, and the status it’s at – is it read, have I decided not to use it, why not, have I got e-copies or hardcopy copies, where are they kept, and so on). Notes on my secondary material are being done in a series of B6 sized journals. When it comes to the primary source material, though, I may set up a database; a couple of people at the Centre for English Local History at Leicester have done this with their research and the result is tremendously powerful. So I’m a mix of tech and paper – I love both, but I prefer to use the strengths of both as I think best.
My approach to planning/planning philosophy is:
Whatever works best for you. If that means standing on your head and typing backwards, so be it. But I’m also very much in favour of continually questioning the way that I work, and trying to improve on the processes. That means if I feel something isn’t working, I’m very quick to change it up.
My routine is:
At the moment it’s rather chaotic due to those classes, but if I’m at home, it’s very simple: drive partner to work, come home, grab coffee and go to my study. I start with something straight forward – perhaps answering email – to warm up and then go into something difficult. Then I’ll answer a few more emails before lunch. I try to have a proper lunch break and not work while I eat – it’s good for the brain to switch off and do something else. Then back to work – again, I try to go with the easy-difficult-easy approach. I’m very good at procrastinating and the best way I’ve found to get through that is swallowing a frog – that is, just doing something workwise, anything, just to get the ball rolling. Mark Twain suggested doing the most difficult thing first (i.e.frog swallowing) but I need to work up to it.
(note: no frogs were harmed in the writing of this post, or my daily life.)
I think I am organised/disorganised/other (please specify):
Organised, definitely. If I start to feel disorganised, out of control, I hate it and will do whatever is necessary to get back into my happy organised state. I can deal with mess, but it has to be organised mess, if that makes sense.
I would like to improve my…
Study space. I am so incredibly fortunate, I know, in having a dedicated room that is my study space, that I can shut the door on in the evening, and know that I can walk away and no one will touch the papers on my desk until I come back to it. While I have the kind of shelving that makes academic bibliophiles jealous, there’s a lot I can do to improve the rest of my study.
My best piece of planning advice is:
Whatever system you have, plan to revise. That is, every so often, sit down, look at what you’re doing. Does it work for you? If not, be prepared to change it. It may not always be entirely possible (e.g. at the end of a three year PhD!) to change all of it, but changing some of it will help to keep it lively and active and keep you engaged with what you’re doing. I think this is a large part of what makes the bullet journal so phenomenally successful – that people are able to take the basics and make it work for them.