Virtually the same – communal productivity at home

In this post, Sarah Chung, PGR in the School of Education and Westmere Scholar, tells us about the value she finds in running and attending Virtual Shut Up and Work.

As a mother of two young children, who was working as a full-time primary school teacher and school governor, I very enthusiastically started my part-time PhD in Education in 2018.  Sarah in the Westmere GardenI planned to work in the evenings and at weekends, only venturing onto campus as needed.  On a regular basis I would receive e-mails which would tell me all about the opportunities that were available for PGRs and one always stuck out – Shut Up and Work.  As an initiative, I thought it was great but I couldn’t join in as I was at work.  It made me realise that there was a lot I couldn’t attend as a part-time PGR.  When I became a Westmere Scholar in 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the Shut Up and Work sessions organised by the PGR Community Engagement Officer (then Eren Bilgen) and I immediately noticed how supportive the environment was with everyone sharing goals and next steps. I also noticed how much more productive I had been!

Reflecting on the session, I realised that it would be great if we could include other PGRs that were part-time, distance learners, PGRs with parental/caring responsibilities or even a combination of all three!  Eren and I discussed how we could do this, and we decided to offer an online version – ‘Virtual Shut Up and Work’ – via the Westmere Facebook group for distance learners and part-time PGRs. Continue reading “Virtually the same – communal productivity at home”

Being remotely productive

In this post, AlAnood Alshaikhsaad, a PGR from the Department of Theology and Religion, shares their advice on remote working from their experience as a distance learning PGR.

A sketch drawing of AlAnood's workstation
AlAnood’s home workstation

To me, remote working is all about time management and prioritizing your tasks. What people tend to miss after jumping from their on-ground non-stop jobs to remote working is the predictable tasking structure a corporate or institution provides. While the flexibility of remote work is one of its most appealing benefits, people are used to a certain routine, and routine can still exist within that flexibility. For example, waking up at a consistent time, getting dressed, fixing a pot of coffee, running through your to-do list, breaking for lunch at noon, scheduling virtual meetings in collaboration with fellow peers or supervisors. Once you define your routine more clearly, stick to it. Continue reading “Being remotely productive”

Mapping your ideas for planning, writing and more

When you are faced with a blank page, consider creating a mind map.

Mind map showing some of the benefits/uses of mind maps
Photo credit: Fernandosca

A mind map is a visual way to capture thoughts and ideas as they occur to you, and to indicate relationships between those ideas.  Because they do not need to be created sequentially, they are ideal when you are just getting started and your brain is full of stuff.  Examples of when you might find a mind map particularly useful include: writing a new chapter/article; project planning an activity for your research; and creating your to-do list.  There are many more examples of PhD researchers using mind maps on Twitter. Continue reading “Mapping your ideas for planning, writing and more”

Happy and productive 2020!

Happy New Year and welcome back.  Or just welcome, if you’re starting your research programme this month.

2020 balloons

It’s traditional at this time of year to make (and perhaps break!) a few resolutions.  The media is full of articles about diet and exercise, but what about resolving to make lasting improvements in your research processes?  It’s easy to say “I will do more” or “I will do better” but what exactly does that look like in practice and how can you make it stick? Continue reading “Happy and productive 2020!”

Fighting procrastination

Oh, how easy it is to put things off, especially if those things are difficult, ill-defined or repetitive.  Or if your deadline isn’t for a few years yet.  Unfortunately, that’s a pretty good description of postgraduate research, so a postgraduate research degree is fertile ground for a tendency for procrastination to flourish.

procrastination, n. The action or habit of postponing or putting something off. [OED]

Let’s learn a little bit more about procrastination and why it happens, but note that procrastination can become a habit for lots of reasons (or a combination of reasons) so if you are struggling with persistent procrastination, you may want to explore some of the counselling options available to you via the Mental Health and Wellbeing Service.
Continue reading “Fighting procrastination”

Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

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Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”

So, what’s this Shut up & Work all about?

Eren Bilgen, PGR Community Development Officer in the University Graduate School, runs regular “Shut up and Work” days at Westmere and here she tells us what goes on…

Shut Up And Work Graphic
An idea that started in San Francisco became a popular activity among writers around the world and transformed writing from being an isolated activity into a social experience. You probably came across “Shut up & Write” sessions for researchers in different universities. We call ours “Shut up & Work (SUW)” because working on your PhD involves many other activities as well – reading, data analysis, thinking, planning and so on.  We all know that shutting up and working is what we need to do to get our work done, but let’s face it; this is easier said than done. Somehow, the magic happens when it becomes a collective activity. This is how it works. Continue reading “So, what’s this Shut up & Work all about?”

#AcWriMo – what’s your writerly goal?

November is Academic Writing Month, or #AcWriMo.  Based on the ever-popular National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo) for writers of novels, #AcWriMo is hosted by PhD2Published and allows you to work towards a stated academic writing goal with the support of a huge online community of academic writers doing exactly the same thing.

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Image credit: Raul Pacheco-Vega

I would encourage you to have a look at the #AcWriMo resources following the links above – there’s loads of really great stuff there, and a whole online community for mutual support – but I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about setting goals.  A well-set goal can drive you forwards, focus your activities to get you where you need to be, and keep you motivated and enthusiastic.  A badly-set goal is hard to reach (or even to know if you have reached it), and is, crucially, demotivating, defeating the whole purpose of setting it in the first place. Continue reading “#AcWriMo – what’s your writerly goal?”

What are you going to do today?

Sometimes old-school pen and paper does the job best.  Sometimes technology really does do something better.  Most of the time, it’s down to personal preference and how the tools fit with your workflow.

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Image credit: Adam Diaz

A “To Do” list can be a few scribbled notes on a Post-It, or a detailed project plan.  It can be used just to help you with today, this week, or months and years.  The key advantage of a “To Do” list is that you no longer have to spend mental energy keeping track of what you have to do, which David Allen of Getting Things Done notes will free you up to think and be creative.

There’s no single right way to keep a “To Do” list, and, to be honest, they’re not for everyone.  If you think you’re a list person, there are hundreds of ways to do it, so you’re sure to find a way that works for you.  Continue reading “What are you going to do today?”