PhD is about…time management

Time management – it has always been a big problem for me. I’ve  always wanted to do so many things, and there was never enough time for everything. They say that doing your PhD is the time when you can totally and completely devote yourself to the study of one particular area becoming  a real expert in the field. I wonder how many PhD students actually devote 100% of their time to their research project. It is certainly not my case.

I have recently drawn a map of all the activities I am currently involved in (apart 35 hours of my PhD work). Here is the result:

  • Involved in designing workshops on intercultural communication for GCU students. It is a joint project between the Graduate School, Organisational Development Department and Business School of the University.
  • I am currently a Research Student Convenor, and represent research students’ views at the Graduate School Board.
  • Helping Graduate School to redesign their website and improve the communication with research students and staff.
  • I am the president of the Research Students Society which is aimed at creating a vibrant research community with lots of social  events
  • Volunteering for the GCU student association I am involved in the project of setting up a Postgraduate Students Committee at the university
  • I am coordinating the Scottish Researcher Career Coordination Forum which involves reps from the Scottish Universities, Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council who try to identify ways in which these bodies could work together to support the career development of researchers within Scotland.
  • I  try to attend lots of training and development activities including conferences, workshops and networking events.
  • And also I am guilty with spending some of my time on sleep and meals (perhaps I should cut down on this 🙂
  • Forgot to mention… wasting my time on Twitter, Facebook etc…

I am absolutely enjoying all of these things but there are certainly several major problems in my approach to time management:

  • No focus, try to do too many activities with success in most of them apart from my PhD project
  • Can’t set the priorities. I spend 70% of my time on other ‘useful’ activities, and 30% on my PhD
  • Easily distracted from work
  • Can’t say NO when people ask for help
  • Can’t stick to the plan. E-diaries, reminders don’t help
  • Can’t keep promises to myself, and it’s getting worse since I can’t keep promises to my supervisors either
  • Leave everything till the last minute, and then driven by stress and pressure trying to finish it off on time.

On a more positive note, I believe that I do many things that contribute to the development of my employability skills. I have learnt so much within the past 8 months. But at the end of the day I will probably need a title Dr to be successfully employed))) So trying to work towards it slowly but surely?:)

What is your approach to successful  time management? Any useful advice to share?

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My first bid…submitted!!!

I am so happy and relieved. Yesterday I submitted the first bid in my life.The funding will be allocated by Vitae for the best innovative projects that promote the personal, professional and career development of researchers.

In collaboration with the Glasgow Caledonian University Student Association we have submitted a proposal for a small-scale project (up to £10 000 pounds). Now we just have to wait and keep our fingers crossed. All being well, we are going to organise the first research student-led conference on graduate employability)))

Regardless of the outcomes, it was a great experience, and I’ve learnt some valuable lessons which I am going to share with you.

  1. For the bid to be successful, it is important to have a strong network of people/organisations. Quantity here matters as much as quality. The participants should have relevant knowledge and experience in the type of project you select. This will make the funders more confident that you are capable of conducting the project. In my case I had relevant knowledge in the area of graduate employability but not the experience in organising large-scale conferences. So I had to choose the partners. In my case it is the GCU student association since they have experience in running similar-scale events. If successful, the project will also benefit from the advice and support of the Glasgow Caledonian Graduate School, Careers Service, Caledonian Academy and National Union of Students.
  2. Meeting the criteria. It is important to meet all the criteria and follow the instructions. In my case there was a strict emphasis on word count. When reading the description of the funding scheme, I was paying attention to the key words that reflected the requirements to the bid. These key words should be stuck in your mind when you are writing the application.
  3. Pay a lot of attention to the costing. For me it was the most challenging part of the bid. Luckily, our kind secretary agreed to help me with this which made my life much easier. Costing should be realistic. So when I budgeted 41 full staff days for the administrative support, my colleagues were quite surprised))
  4. Seek feedback from your colleagues. It’s always great to get a fresh perspective on your proposal!
  5. Be passionate about your project!!! I think this is the key. This passion not only helps  to involve other people but is a source of constant inspiration in the process of bid writing.

What is your experience in writing bids? Any advice?

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I won!!!

Hoorayyyyyyyyyy!!!

I won first prise and £100 for simply presenting my research poster at the Graduate School Research Poster Competition. I can hardly believe it. The competition took place as a part of the Celebration of Research day. All research posters were presented in three different categories: Arts/Humanities/Business, Health and  Computing and Engineering. So I was the winner in the first category))) Incredible!!!

I was also very happy to talk to people on my research project. I think it can be really inspiring to see that people are really interested in your research. For me it is even more inspiring to see the impact that my research can have on people.

Soon I’ll be presenting my research poster again at the ESRC Research methods festival in Oxford. Look forward!!!

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Research poster

This Friday there will be a Research Celebration Day at my University. So all researchers were offered to make a poster and present it. I was not sure whether I would have enough time to do since there are so many things I have to do right now. But I decided to give it a try. So I spent all my free time at the weekend making a research poster.

I have not done it before so I was not sure where to start.  Mindmapping helped as always. I find mindmapping one of the most useful tools that I use  constantly in the research process. So I designed several sections including the Research problem, Research focus, Methodology and Research Impact. I also found this online tutorial very helpful http://connect.le.ac.uk/posters . You can see the results of my ‘hard’ work here)) Poster

In general,  I found the exercise of making a research poster really useful. It can be quite a challenging task to present your project on a sheet of paper. But at the same time it helps you to focus your ideas, refine research questions and engage other people in your research. I am looking forward to presenting the poster and answering the questions. There is a also a prize of £100 for the best poster. Hope to get it too)))

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EERA summer school

Hooray!

I am going to the Summer School on Academic Writing organised by the European Educational Research Association.

It starts on Monday, June 14  in Gothenburg, Sweden!

Looking forward to it (Hope I’ll get my visa!)))

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What is it like to be a researcher?

Researchers are described as:
“Professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes, methods and systems, and in the management of the projects concerned” (European Commission 2003).

That is what I am learning to do now, and struggling a lot. I find it difficult to make a transition from reproduction of knowledge to its creation. I suppose the root of all evil lies in my educational background (trying to find an excuse). Coming from a more or less an authoritarian educational system when you are always told what to do, and you just obey, I’ve never even been aware of the concept of critical thinking. In my undergrad the exam requirement was to reproduce what the professor TOLD you at the lecture + use the material of the books that HE/SHE recommended. If you do otherwise, and try to be ‘smart’ and challenge your professor, it means that you don’t respect him/her. Therefore, you don’t deserve a good mark. And since all the exams I passed were oral, any professor could easily remember the face of that ‘smart’ student, and challenge him back at the exam which normally resulted in a low mark. That is not to say that the educational system in Russia is so bad. If you are hard-working and determined, you’ll get a decent baggage of theoretical knowledge that will be useful in you PhD, for example. However, the concept of critical thinking and reading came to me as a revelation at the age of 22 when I came to the UK to do my Masters degree. But… better late than never! The year of my Masters was an exciting and challenging experience. I was learning so many new things but the price of this learning was sleepless nights and constant stress. The transition to a new educational system was really difficult. But I managed to adapt, and started writing essays with a critical approach. I did not do too badly in the end… submitted all on time, and graduated last November. But then came another challenge… PhD.

Although I started my PhD in the same educational system, it turned out to be a completely different learning experience. You are supposed not only to be critical but be able to generate new knowledge, publish original research in the journals, and in the end, preferably contribute to the knowledge economy. Not an easy task…

How do I cope?

  • The biggest help for me is my supervisors. I think I am very lucky since my supervisors are very supportive, and they all contribute to my research project in different ways.
  • I discovered that peer-to-peer support is a very powerful asset too. It’s great to hear the perspectives of your peers on your project.
  • One of the key issues is to develop the right attitude. I try to take every challenge and problem as an incredible learning experience. I learn so much about myself!!! It’s a complete 360 degrees SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)  analysis of yourself. I discover new worlds and new people every day. Sometimes it can be quite a daunting process though. For example, I am currently working on my Lit Review, and see no end to this task))) But I know I’ll get there… soon.

Sometimes I think that I’ve made a mistake, and the world of research is not for me. But here my positive attitude works again. My motto is “It’s better to do something and regret than not to do and regret”. I know that at this very moment I am creating my future. And I hope that the learning I am experiencing now will help me to become a better person, discover new worlds and make a positive difference in other people’s life.

Stay positive! Stay motivated! And get down to work! Now!

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Being a research students’ rep!

I cannot just study…. I’ve always been like that. In my undergrad at the Ural State Pedagogical University I used to be a sports organiser for my School. Later on I founded the first Student Council followed by Student Theatre for students studying English. I was a class rep when I was doing my Masters degree at Edinburgh University. And now… here we go. I am a research students’ rep at the Glasgow Caledonian University.

Being a student rep is an exciting and challenging experience which involves quite a bit of responsibility. You pretty much take the responsibility for representing the views of all research students.  In our university each school should theoretically have at least one rep for research students. But in practice it does not always work out this way. They should represent the views of students on the level of schools’ research committee. The rep for the university is responsible for representing the views of students at the:

  • Student Parliament
  • Graduate School Board
  • National Union of Students
  • any other committee and organisations involved in the research students’ agenda

In my opinion, it is a great learning experience, and the opportunity to develop my transferable skills! Here is a list of skills I am personally developing being a students rep:

  • Communication skills. I must say I am rubbish at public speaking (especially when it comes to speaking English) but I always try to break the comfort zone, and say what I think. For ex, today I was at the Graduate School Board. I had to speak on current issues in the postgraduate agenda on a university and national level. I was so nervous, and everybody could see my ears blushing))) But who cares? I’ve done it. That’s the main thing. I stand for ‘learning by doing’. Each time I do it I become more confident. Here there is also an issue of communication with different audiences. You have meetings with students, staff developers, supervisors, senior management, national organisations.
  • Networking and team working. You meet so many people…. I’ve recently come back from the Postgraduate Conference organised by the National Union of Students. I’ve met so many interesting people from various parts of the country, which I would have never met otherwise. You also constantly learn to be a part of the team working with students. You learn to understand the group dynamics and people behaviour.
  • You learn to plan and arrange various events from social to more serious like student elections. I forgot to mention that I am also involved in the Research Students Society, and we organise various events for research students.
  • An important aspect of this role is to be able to motivate others. Research students are notorious for being quite reluctant to engage in university activities. However, I believe that you need just to find the right approach to people. That is where you learn to develop your leadership skills. And in this process you should be always guided by the motto: Nothing is impossible!
  • You certainly learn multitasking. You just have to! Otherwise, there you will not have time for anything.
  • By the way, time is one aspect I am still struggling with 🙂 So my next learning goal – to develop effective time management!
  • Mentoring is one of the aspects I really enjoy. No feeling can be more rewarding than to support and encourage people.
  • But what other skill can be more transferable than the ability to help other people, and make their life and experience better.

Being a students rep also helps me to understand myself better, discover new things and make three years of my PhD a more meaningful and exciting experience!

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