I really enjoyed reading Salma’s post on unorthodox researcher tools and promised to write a post about my own unorthodox tools. Here it is, finally, a (tentative) list of things that help me in my everyday PhD Life…
- Not-To-Do List
A well-deserved first place, but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to explain what is it and how exactly a not-to-do list saves my PhD project. Anyone doing interdisciplinary research will know the challenge of pinning down your topic and sticking to it all the way through, even when faced with many different, equally appealing research paths. I’m blessed (sigh) with a case study that yields new questions and possibilities on weekly basis. This means I need to make a lot of choices and say ‘no’ to great things quite often.
I don’t like doing either so I’ve come up with a way to deal with it – I note down all the questions I won’t be answering in my dissertation, all the aspects of analysis I’ll need skip for the sake of time and word-count, all the links and comparisons I won’t make. This not-to-do list helps me stay focused on my PhD research questions, relieves the feeling of creating academic waste and, finally, also provides a pool ideas for side projects, conference papers, etc.
There are days when motivation is not easy to come by, days when you’re just tired, when your research doesn’t make much sense and you wonder if it ever did. If you’re the only person in your department doing that particular type of research, it takes a lot of effort to regain the PhD momentum on such days.
That’s why I thrive on conferences, in particular specialised ones. They give you a unique opportunity to talk about your research to people who never heard about it before, you share, challenge and defend your ideas, you redefine your approach the topic. New people, new places, the excitement of boarding on a train or plane, what’s there not to love! (well, in case if you enjoy travelling like yours truly) I always return energised and motivated to continue with my work, and, ultimately, if I wouldn’t able to go to conferences, my PhD life would be much, much duller.
- Swimming pool
All of my jobs entail everyday interaction with a large number of people, all of different age, background and with different mood and needs, as well as almost constant communication in the virtual environment. As you might imagine, despite trying my best, I run out of my ‘social credits’ too. Swimming pool becomes a sanctuary in these moment. There are no emails, notifications, or talking, there’s just me and the water. I’ve found this especially helpful when I feel particularly stressed about something or when I’m doing long stretches of repetitive tasks (marking and coding, I’m looking at you!) and need a mental refresh. Not to mention the wonders it does for my poor spine, after hours and hours of being hunched over laptop.
- Freezer, microwave, and tumble-dryer
I guess it’s obvious that electrical appliances make our lives easier, but what does it have to do with my PhD? I was never particularly inclined towards household chores, but since working and studying full time, these have definitely hit the bottom of my priorities list (to be honest, I’m not sure if they’re even listed anymore). However, a PhD student or not, I do require food and clothes. Batch-cooking, freezing and reheating probably don’t sound like the most appealing approach to gastronomy but they do save me time and worries on the majority of days. Finally, I was fortunate enough to move in a house with a tumble-dryer. I didn’t appreciate this enough in the beginning, but now I am profoundly grateful for my sturdy, noisy metal housemate, especially in the winter. In cooperation with washing machine, it sorts out the “I have no clean clothes?!” PhD nightmare and I can go back to Sketch Engine or VLE.
Do you have any unorthodox tools you’d like to share with us? What helps you sail through your PhD life? 🙂
I like the idea of a “not to-do” list. My supervisor has informed me that this year attending conferences is on that list, sadly, as I too love the opportunities to travel and meet fascinating new people while discussing my passion.
My main unauthodox tools are red wine and loud music. I find wine help calm those negative inner voices while loud music gives me something to shut out in order to concentrate better. Probably both are placebos but I need all I can get!
Thanks for your comment, Peter. Sorry to hear about the conferences; true, they can take up a lot of time and energy (depending on what you’re present and where), but perhaps a short, local one could slip through?
Placebos or not, I think it is good to be aware of what helps you and, more importantly, why.