Well, hello 2022

Happy New Year! And here we are in 2022, the third calendar year in which we are experiencing a global pandemic. The Omicron variant has moved the goalposts yet again, but excellent research has given us effective testing and vaccines to help us navigate our way through as best we might.

Happy New Year 2022

As usual at this time of year, the media is full of resolutions, diets, and gym memberships. Despite everything that’s going on, it seems we are expected to embark on a (short?) period of stringent self-improvement. If that works for you, then great – good luck! Personally, I find that January, with still only around 8 hours of daylight in Birmingham and the house full of left-over Christmas chocolate, is a terrible time to consider that type of thing. Instead, I prefer to focus on identifying some milestones (personal and professional) that I hope to achieve during the year.

A milestone is a major progress point on a route to success. It’s usually relatively substantial – it might take a decent amount of time or energy – and represents a step worth celebrating towards your overall goal. In a research context, a milestone might be completing a literature review, collecting the last of your data, or getting a thesis chapter signed off by your supervisor. In an ideal world, we might set out a project plan and timescale to achieve these milestones but to my mind, the start of January is for reflecting, choosing the most valuable milestones and laying the groundwork. Detailed project planning is best achieved at the time it’s most appropriate in the context of your project (at the start, when you’ve achieved a milestone, when things start to slip, and so on) rather than at a rather arbitrary change of the calendar.

Wishing you a healthy, productive and successful year in 2022.

A novel way to spend Christmas

With a lot of talk at the moment about the Omicron variant, reduced socialising, and potential lockdowns, it may be tempting to consider continuing with research work over the 2021 Christmas vacation and University Closed Period.

In this video, Professor Vikki Burns recalls advice given to her by her PhD supervisor in the first year of her PhD:

So wherever you are this Christmas period, and whoever you do manage to see, make sure you are taking time away from your research, tell yourself you should not be working at this time, and find something completely different to do. If you want to take Vikki’s supervisor’s advice literally, there are novels available to borrow from the Main Librarytry some from this list.

Remember, #takebreaksmakebreakthroughs. Prioritise coming back to your work in January refreshed and revitalised, and ready to take on 2022.

Helen writes: #AcWriMo productivity vs procrastination

Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams continues her occasional series during #AcWriMo with her thoughts on ways to deal with a tendency to procrastinate.

I recently read this column in The Guardian on procrastination – most likely when I should have been doing something else – and started thinking about the relationship between productivity and procrastination. When I speak to students about procrastination, they often seem to think they need to change a lifetime of habits, how they approach their work, and even the type of person that they are. Of course, this in itself becomes a mammoth (and impossible) task. Much more effective, as the article says, is to start changing the smallest possible habits that you can. If you’ve been taking part in Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), you may already have started to form a few new habits that can help with productivity, but if not, here are a few suggestions.

Baby steps: start by making small changes to your habits
Continue reading “Helen writes: #AcWriMo productivity vs procrastination”

Taking Part in #AcWriMo: Reflections and Responses

November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) and in this post, Liam Knight, a PGR in the Department of English Literature and a Westmere Scholar, reflects on his experience of participating in last year’s event.

Back in 2020, I took part in AcWriMo, a month-long writing event in which people working within academia set themselves goals to accomplish over the month of November (e.g. write X000 words, collect X amount of data sets, read X number of papers, etc.) and then use their local and online academic communities to keep themselves accountable and supported and ensure that they reach those goals (or come as close as is reasonably possible)!

Join the University Graduate School for Shut up and work sessions every Tuesday (09:30-13:00), Thursday (13:00-16:30) and Saturday (10:00-12:30) during November 2021, Academic Writing Month.
Details of this year’s #AcWriMo at UoB, hosted by your Westmere Scholars
Continue reading “Taking Part in #AcWriMo: Reflections and Responses”

PhD Chats: (re)connecting with the PGR community

Faith Van Horne, a PGR in the Department of Theology and Religion and Diana Cruz de Oliveira, a PGR in Mechanical Engineering introduce PhD Chats, informal, guided conversations reconnecting PGRs.

When Faith started her PhD program, one of the first events she attended was a PhD Chat, an informal guided conversation to discuss some of the challenges associated with the often-lonely PGR journey. As Westmere Scholars, Diana and Faith are part of the team leading the current PhD Chat series. All of the sessions fit the theme of (Re)Connection. As pandemic restrictions lift, many of us are curious about how we will connect again with the PGR community (or for the first time, if we’ve had trouble establishing those connections already). Last week was the initial chat in the series. This was a very informal check-in, just to see how PGRs were doing, and their hopes and fears about (re)connecting with the larger community.

Diana (left) and Faith (right), Westmere Scholars
Continue reading “PhD Chats: (re)connecting with the PGR community”

Caring for PGR carers

This week, 7-13 June 2021, is Carers Week. Carers look after a family member or friend who has a disability, mental or physical illness or who needs extra help as they grow older. Carers make a significant contribution to their families, communities and society, so it’s important to recognise the valuable work they do, and to make sure they receive the support they need. This is particularly true for PGRs who are carers and are juggling the dual challenges of research and caring.

Carers Week logo

I cannot claim to have first-hand experience of the challenges of caring, but here are some of my thoughts on the ways in which we, as members of the UoB PGR community, can support our PGR colleagues who are also carers. Although Carers Week focusses on caring for those with a disability, mental or physical illness, many of the suggested actions here apply equally to parents or guardians of young children.

Continue reading “Caring for PGR carers”

Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement

In this post, Mustafa Coban, a PGR from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in the College of Arts and Law shares his experiences of Shut up and work.

Shut up and work was for me initially, Shut up and write, though I’ve come to appreciate the ‘work’ phrasing is much more apt since there is all sorts of work involved in study and research before, during and after the writing process. It was, and still largely is, a time dedicated to writing, editing, and proofreading. A friend who was leaving the university after completing her studies told me about Shut up and work as I was starting my PhD programme. It took me some time to seek out a session, but once I found one, I found it immediately useful.

University of Birmingham University Graduate School. Shut up & work co-working sessions for PGRs. Weekly Thursdays 1pm-4.30pm; Monthly Mondays 10am-5.10pm. Tackle your to-do list and get more done!

I wasn’t entirely sure of what I expected. But I knew I wanted a time dedicated to writing and only writing. I imagined it as time free not only from reading, but the endless loops and interesting dives into reading, that only seemed to snowball as I chased one footnote, idea, or curiosity after another until I had a folder of pdf articles becoming too big to manage. That was in the early days of my programme, and while I still chase footnotes, through “shutting up and writing” I’ve become better at not trying to cover everything I’ve read.

Continue reading “Shut up and focus on mutual encouragement”

We need to talk… about PhD student mental health

Just in time for Time to Talk Day on Thursday 4 February, Samantha Sandilands, a PGR from the School of Management, talks about some of her early warning signs and the value of support networks in matters of mental health.  A fuller version of this post can be found on LinkedIn.

The PhD process has been amazing in so many ways. What nobody can prepare you for however, is how much it challenges your mental health.

Concrete shaped and painted to look like a pumpkin
Samantha’s concrete pumpkin

Eight months in, I attended a session for PhD students at a conference, delivered by the amazing Beth Patmore, about mental health during your doctorate. I could relate to so much of what she was saying, but I never really associated it with poor mental health. Procrastination, strange sleeping patterns, putting on weight, overeating, feeling guilty for having a day off… in my group we all agreed that we could relate. As Beth read out some of the signs, ripples of agreement travelled through the room, some uncomfortable laughter, nodding, awkward silences. Even at that stage, the signs were there but I brushed it off… “I’ll be fine”.

Continue reading “We need to talk… about PhD student mental health”

New year, new lockdown

Happy New Year! This isn’t where we’d hope to be at the start of a new year, but there is relief in having got through 2020 and in knowing that vaccines are on their way. While we wait, 2021 will have to be about being kind to ourselves, leveraging the self-knowledge we have gained in 2020 to cope with local restrictions, protecting our mental health, and taking steps forward with our work.

A family in a house cradled between hands, surrounded by coronavirusEngland is in the process of entering a third national lockdown. Those of us living on or near campus must stay at home except where necessary (necessary activities include work, grocery shopping and exercise). We’ve done this before, and the familiar rhythms of daily exercise, meal planning and Zoom calls are already established. Think about what worked and what didn’t work for you during previous periods of restrictions and use that knowledge to get through this one as best you can. If you’re not in England, check your local restrictions.

Continue reading “New year, new lockdown”

Putting dark days behind us

And so we are approaching the end of 2020. The days are getting short, and I am prioritising getting out of the house for a walk (however briefly) during daylight hours to help me get through. Only one week left before the winter solstice in the UK, and the longer days start to bring hope of spring and a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

Stonehenge, photographed at sunset close to the Winter Solstice (2009)
Continue reading “Putting dark days behind us”
Helen Kara

Writing and research

PostGradual: The PhD Careers Blog

Taking PhD careers one tip at a time

Think: Research

Because there's always room for improvement

Research & Scholarship Skills

Handy hints for PhD students

Think Ahead Blog

from the Researcher Development team at the University of Sheffield

Jobs on Toast

Take the next step in your career - with Chris Humphrey, PhD

patter

research education, academic writing, public engagement, funding, other eccentricities.

The Thesis Whisperer

Just like the horse whisperer - but with more pages

%d bloggers like this: