All 28 entries tagged Charlotte Mathieson
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April 03, 2013
This week's Guardian Higher Education live chat is on the subject of "Networking: engaging effectively, online and off". I'll be on the panel talking about my experience of networking as an early career researcher, and it would be great to see more ECRs and Warwick researchers join in! The chat takes place this Friday, 5th April, from 12-2pm and to join you simply need to be registered as a Guardian user and respond in the comments section of the blog post that will go up on Friday morning.
April 02, 2013
On Friday 1st February the IAS held an Advanced Workshop Day on Career Progression and Planning; in this series of posts we blog the highlights from each of the four sessions on Developing your Career; Contracts and Career Planning; Gender and Academic Careers; and Work-life balance.
A session on work-life balance formed the last part of our "Careers Progression and Planning for ECRs" day back in January. While work-life balance is perhaps not something typically thought of when considering "career progression and planning", the events throughout the day had repeatedly reiterated the ways in which career development encompasses and accommodates a whole range of life factors, from the skills and experience you've gained throughout different career paths to the personal family and lifestyle issues that your career may have to work around.
This session further demonstrated that successful career progression is facilitated by good work-life balance. Although the competitive and demanding environment of academia can push us to think that success lies in having a lifestyle in which work far outweighs life, the time taken to stop, think and recharge on a daily, weekly, or termly basis is often what's needed to get through that never-ending to-do list quicker, and happier. Implementing good work-life balance seems near-impossible as an ECR, especially if you're working towards that elusive first permanent job, or feeling that you need to prove yourself worthy once you get there; but putting good techniques into practice at the start of your career is well worth the effort, setting yourself up for a much healthier and sustainable career path.
In this workshop, Kate Mahoney (VitaeMidlands Hub Project Officer at Warwick) took us through some exercises to think about work-life balance and the changes that might help you to achieve a better balance. All of the resources are available on the Vitae pages for researchers, and specific sections are linked below.
What does balance mean to you?
The first point of working out what you want to improve upon is to consider what "work-life balance" means to you, and how you'd picture your balance at the moment. There are key signs that flag up imbalance, such as stress, fatigue, isolation and worry, and these should always be taken as signs to stop and readjust your work-lifestyle. But beyond this everyone's idea of a "healthy" balance is different, and in the session it emerged that our opinions varied wildly: to some, taking work on holiday isn't a problem if you enjoy and want to be doing it; to others, anything to do with work should stop when the office door closes at the end of the day.
Most people's happy medium is somewhere between the two, but the important thing is to identify what you want your work-life balance to look like, and what you need to do to get there. It might help to identify specific goals - more time for exercise, seeing friends, taking up a new hobby - or to recognise ways in which your off-time could be improved - for example you might have regular time away from work but find it difficult to truly switch off. It's also ok to realise that you might be perfectly happy with the balance of your lifestyle and only need to make a few tweaks to what you're already doing - in which case, please, share your secrets below!
Balance at Work
The first step to making changes is to look at your work patterns and identify what could help stop the overspill from work hours into home-time. The common factors most people experience are: taking on too much; emails, emails, emails; and not getting enough time for research. A few tips we discussed included:
- Saying no and delegating: "no" is probably the most underused word of a researcher's vocabulary (can you remember the last time you turned down an opportunity? I can: it was in 2011, and felt so unusual that it's stuck with me all that time). It's not easy to turn down great opportunities, but it's important to be honest with yourself as to whether you have enough time: if you say yes, will you actually be giving your best to the project? Is it that beneficial to your career, or just more CV pollution? What would you be using the time for otherwise? Saying no doesn't have to be rude, and there are ways to politely decline; you might also be able to delegate the task for someone else, or recommend a colleague for the job - particularly good if you know it will be advantageous to them. Vitae's assertivenes techniques are especially useful here.
- Beating the email deluge: good email management techniques are essential to preventing hours of your life being eaten away by replying to emails. Kate Mahoney recommended Vitae's plan of "Do it/ diarise it/ ditch it": either reply straight away, or set aside time when you will deal with it, or hit delete. Be strict about when you check and respond to emails, e.g. only at the start/end of the day, and you could also try to delegate times to different types of email - many teaching ECRs find that student emails can get out of hand especially around essay deadlines; I've found it helpful to store up student emails over a couple of days and then sit down for half an hour (or more...) to deal with them all in one go.
- Research time: this is the main thing that slips away in a busy day of admin and, as the guilty pleasure of academic life, probably the main thing that feels most acceptable as take-home work. Of course that's fine to a point (and this goes back to finding your personal ideal balance), but it's nonetheless worth seeing if you can increase the amount of research time in your working day/week. Blocking out time in your diary is one good suggestion for making this happen- an hour a day, or a day a week, which you prioritise as highly as a meeting or seminar. Good time management techniques are also essential in increasing available research time.
Balance at home
This part of the session was about redressing the "life" side of the equation and getting that proper off-time that will help you recharge. Some of the main problems revolve around truly switching off from work, and sticking to the boundaries you set. It can be difficult to leave work at work especially with constant email access, and deciding to finish up some editing or an abstract in the evening can quickly turn into a late night at the computer. A few tips and ideas:
- Decide what your boundaries are: no emailing once you've left the office? no work after 8pm? Make a decision about what your personal rules are, and identify what would help you stick to these: enlist the helps of family or friends, or line up something to do for the off-time that means you'll have to stick to it - rather than leaving it free just in case you want to spend a couple more hours on that paper or doing your emails because you might as well.
- Block your time off: on a similar note to the previous point, block time off in your diary in the same way that you would for work or research. This can be especially hard when on short-term contracts that don't come with annual leave allowance, and even with the option of taking proper holiday, a busy conference schedule starts to eat into time off. Block off the time you want to take well in advance, and be strict about it.
- Switch off: taking an evening/day/week off is all very well, but sometimes it's hard to fully switch off from work. Email access is a big culprit here - constant iPhone alerts keep work on your mind - and social media can also keep you in the work zone when you're having time off. Un-syncing my email from my iPhone has been a bit of a revelation for me over the last couple of weeks, and making use of the "rules" on Outlook (so that all work emails are automatically filed away) has also been useful in allowing me to access the emails I need without seeing the ones I didn't want on my mind. I only implemented both of these things because I was on annual leave but I'm thinking of continuing as it will help with day-to-day work-life balance.
Theory into action
Sometimes putting ideas into action is much harder than it seems, and I have been to work-life balance workshops in the past where I've thought "that sounds amazing... and I have no idea how to actually make this work". One useful thing in the session was identifying small, achievable goals to focus on, and looking at what would help with achieving/sticking to these - some examples of goals from the session included leaving work on time, taking a proper lunch break, making time to go to a new class.
Good self-management is essential here; ultimately, only you are going to care enough (or directly benefit from) these changes, so it's your responsibility to be strict with yourself and assertive with others - something I've increasingly realised is that others can only respect your boundaries if you do so yourself. It's also useful to think about what might be blocking you from making a change - academic guilt, stress about deadlines, expectations of yourself/ by others - and working on these as much as the practical changes. Vitae also usefully reminded me in a tweet today that it can take up to 15 times to make an effective change, so if at first you don't succeed, try, try again!
What is your experience of trying to achieve good work-life balance? Do you find it difficult, or have you found effective strategies for maintaining a healthy academic lifestyle? What tips can you pass on? Please share your wisdom or difficulties below!
Slides and handouts from the workshop on 31st January are available on this page. Some additional helpful resources include:
Storify of the latest #ECRchat on healthy ways to stay motivated and productive
Pat Thomson on Making time not to think
Jo Van Every's advice on how to stop feeling guilty
Tips on staying focused and motivated from The New Academic's Research Survivors series
March 08, 2013
Today on "The New Academic" you can read a guest post that I have written on the subject of the REF 2014 for early career and PhD researchers: this collates and updates some of the information that I have previously written for the Research Exchange. In the post I outline: what is the REF? will I be included in the REF submission? what happens if I'm included? Impact and the REF; so how does this affect me? And what happens after the REF?
If you haven't done so already, do check out the rest of The New Academic which includes excellent guides and resources covering everything you need to know as you embark on an academic career.
February 05, 2013
The Academic Careers and Employability session on 17th January was on the subject of Collaboration and Co-Authorship. Jenny Delasalle (Academic Support Librarian) covered the theory of collaboration, while David Wright from Cultural Policy Studies gave his advice on putting collaboration into practice.
Collaboration and co-authorship is on the increase: the Finch report stated that "UK researchers are more likely than those in almost any other major research nation to collaborate with colleagues overseas: almost half (46%) of the articles published by UK authors in 2010 included a non-UK author.” The numbers differ across disciplines and career status, typically higher for STEM subjects and at Professorial level, but trends are fast changing. With the increase of interdisciplinarity, new funding opportunities, and changes in the publishing landscape, collaboration and co-authorship are likely to become more popular across all disciplines.
What do we mean by collaboration?
Collaboration can be:
- International / National / Institutional
- Between individuals, groups, institutions, sectors, etc…
- co-authorship, but not all co-authorship is collaboration - collaboration is between equals
For the purposes of this session we focused on forms of collaboration from the perspective of individual early career researchers.
There are many potential benefits to collaboration
Pooling resources and skills can have a cost and time benefit: for scientists, sharing equipment & training can be beneficial; in many disciplines, writing partnerships can play to different strengths and knowledge areas
It’s easy: although travel might be a barrier, advances in communication and digital collaboration tools are making it easier and faster to collaborate across distance
It's fun: for ECRs, collaboration is a great way to overcome intellectual isolation and reignite motivation in a post-PhD lull, and sharing ideas can be more inspiring than working alone
It opens up new networks of contacts, increasing opportunities for dissemination of outputs
It can help to achieve “impact” - collaborations crossing disciplines & sectors can improve opportunities for impact and public engagement work
There are political/external drivers such as moves to facilitate European collaborations through funding bodies which might open up new funding possibilities for your research
Of course, collaboration is not without its problems:
- It can take time to find a common language between disciplines and to build up effective working relationships
- Differences of opinion are inevitable, and not always productive
- It can be more time-consuming to work on a shared document as drafts need to be distributed and approved among authors
- It can incur additional costs, such as travel, that wouldn't otherwise have to be factored into the research
- It needs to be equal: discrepancies between career status of collaborators can lead to issues
Tips for successful collaboration
Many of the pitfalls of collaboration can be easily avoided with some planning, and a few tips from the session:
- Build on existing working relationships: collaboration can be a useful way to extend contact with new fields and researchers, but building on existing contacts can smooth out some of the potential issues - it's much easier if you know who you are working with, how they work, and what common conceptual ground you both have
- Agree practicalities in advance - some questions to consider include: what are you going to publish and where? who is responsible for which area (and how much) of the research/writing? what deadlines are you working to? what will be the author order on the final publication? How are you going to respond to peer review comments? Make sure you discuss these issues at the start and if possible put into writing (even if just a short email recap of a meeting) to avoid confusion later on
- Allow time: be aware that timing for publication practices vary in different disciplines and may take longer than you expect
Other issues to consider
Co-authorship and the REF: there are guidelines for the inclusion of co-authored articles in the REF2014 submission. Within the same unit only one of you can put the publication forward for REF; you need to demonstrate a material contribution as an author, in order for it to be credited to you for REF. For further information see the REF guidelines
Vancouver protocol for co-authorship: this is internationally recognised as the standard for determining authorship on publications. Authorship credit should be based on all of these: (1) substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis of and interpretation of data; (2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; (3) final approval of the version to be published. For more information see here.
Consider who is going to sign the authors’ agreement from the publisher, and how co-authors are implicitly authorising the lead author to agree to those terms and conditions. If you are the lead author, then you will need to be aware of your responsibilities, indemnity clauses and such like. You may need information in writing from your co-authors, just to be sure!
Finding a co-author/collaborator
Many collaborations arise organically from your current work and contacts, but you might be in a position where your findings aren’t significant enough for a whole paper/project and you want to expand to consider different, perhaps interdisciplinary, directions.
Some suggestions from where to look include:
- Institutional repositories like WRAP
- Profile pages on department websites
- Tools like Research Match, Academia.edu, Twitter
- Network: attend events & talk to people!
It’s also worth thinking about how you would respond to invitations from others, and what issues you might want to consider in deciding whether to accept an invitation to collaborate.
Other resources & further reading
LSE guide to impact in social sciences includes evidence that co-authorship leads to higher numbers of citations, in Chapter 4, and advice on external partnerships, in Chapter 5
JISC Model “Licence to Publish”
Creative Commons (if publishing online yourself )
Publisher Agreements on SherpaRomeo
Finally, talk to others about how their collaborations have come about, what makes for a successful collaboration, and how others have managed potential difficulties. Every collaboration is different and will produce different challenges, but equally, once you start collaborating the possibilities for fruitful new directions are endless!
January 03, 2013
It's now one year since Researcher Life started to run in its current form as a blog written for and by early career researchers, and to celebrate I've drawn together the best-of-the-blog from 2012.
The Top 5
The most-read posts of the year were:
- Live Q&A: REF 2014 and ECRs - in July we held a live chat on the topic of the REF 2014 and its implications for early career researchers, with advice from experts at Warwick. Also popular was this post which includes links to all of our REF guides.
- On positivity - this post on staying chipper as an ECR remains a popular burst of positive thinking, good for a new year boost!
- It's Oh So Quiet - do you prefer quiet study or a bit of a buzz to work to? Hannah Andrews wrote about the value of quiet space vs the benefits of background noise.
- AcWriMo 1: the warm-up - we ran a short series of posts on Academic Writing Month, and this first post generated lots of useful feedback about making the most of your writing time.
- Getting out there- I gave some tips and advice on how to get your research out of the academy and into the wider world - this post has since reappeared on the RS Project blog resources for ECRs.
We've had some great guest bloggers this year both from Warwick and other Universities, and the top 5 guest posts are:
- Preparing for an Academic Interview - guest blogger Dr Nadine Muller gave valuable advice on her experience of preparing for an academic job interview, followed by part 2 on the interview itself.
- An ECR Journey - Stephen Soanes wrote a wonderful reflection on the process of finding the right post-PhD career path.
- Permission to write - following a "Shut up and Write" session held for Academic Writing Month, Sherah Wells reflected on why it can be so difficult to give onself permission to sit and write in the midst of a busy schedule.
- Getting stuff done - Steve Locke-Wheaton gave practical advice about how to get stuff done (followed up in part 2); his post on avoiding email distraction is also valuable reading.
- Plenty of impact talk - but now it's time for action - a recent post by Social Sciences Impact Officer Katy Wilkinson gave an insightful overview of the themes that emerged at three events on Academic Impact at the LSE, British Library and NCCPE in December 2012.
Thanks to all those who have blogged for us over the last year! We're looking for more guest contributors in 2013, so if you'd like to write for us then please get in touch (Warwick and external ECRs welcome)
A happy new year to all our readers and we look forward to more blogging in 2013!
December 19, 2012
On Tuesday 4th December I attended The Future of Academic Impact, organised by the LSE Public Policy Group as the finale of the 3-year Impact of Social Sciences Project. I blogged about the first 3 panels in this previous post, and here I write about the final panel of the day on Impact as a Driver for Open Access.
Open Access has been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks as the implications of the Finch report and the announcement of the RCUK policy on open access have started to unfold. In this panel it was useful to see open access framed in the context of impact, in which the benefits were strongly put forward. The panel began with Stephen Curry from Imperial College London whose central message was that the relationship between impact and open access is a two-way dialogue that benefits both: if you're serious about your research having impact, why wouldn't you make it open access? Open access gives research the "Heineken effect" - reaching places that other research can't - driving new areas of engagement, and facilitating communication and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. Researchers need to take responsibility for understanding publishing costs and value for money in publishing, and open access is a way of making this happen.
Mark Thorley from RCUK followed this by talking about RCUK's policy on open access, again making the essential point that the value lies in removing barriers, opening up opportunities for innovation and driving the value of research. If the government is committed to an agenda of openness and transparency (a rather questionable statement taken to task in the discussion that followed), then government-funded research should aim to meet this agenda, working towards openness and transparency throughout all levels of practice. Thorley also sought to emphasise that this is a gradual journey not an instant transition, although figures of a 5-year move towards 75% gold OA don't seem that slow a rate of change when we consider the speed at which publishing has traditionally moved.
The panel made a convincing case for many of the benefits of open access but this was clouded by the troubling sense that emerged in the discussion that followed that there is little willingness to engage with questions about the potential pitfalls and problems that the OA model signals: attempts to question the government rhetoric were met with a blanket dismissal that these concerns don't warrant consideration. Issues were raised around the global spread of OA: will the USA, until now showing no moves of a shift to OA, catch the UK up? And what happens if they don't adopt this model? Questions were also raised about the implications for arts and humanities researchers: the OA model has a clear STEM bias, and there are key differences in the academic landscape that raise new concerns when that model is transplanted straight over to the humanities - for example, learned societies that play a valuable role in academia are at risk, and there are concerns around how funding will be made available and distributed to researchers, especially early career or independent researchers.
The response to these questions, particularly by RCUK's Thorley, was strikingly dismissive and refused to engage in any debate from the floor. As I tweeted at the time, it seems that any real consideration of these issues will be retrospective, the key message now being "we're going to transfer what works for STEM subjects, see if it works, and if it doesn't then maybe we'll start to take these issues seriously". While I'm not unwilling to accept that many of the concerns raised might turn out to be easily addressed during transition period, it seems wholly irresponsible to be entirely unwilling to engage in debate. If vast numbers of arts and humanities researchers are raising concerns about OA, then surely dialogue and discussion around these issues is more productive than shutting the door on these questions.
This was a disappointing end to the panel because the papers had made clear that there is a valuable message behind the drive to OA and academics would do well to understand more about how OA can help and facilitate their research. The one thing we need to do right now is not to shut off concerns but to engage in productive discussion about OA - in my own field, it's been encouraging to see the Journal of Victorian Culture's editorial board make a clear statement on OA, and using blogs to raise discussion among its readers. But for those who aren't engaged in social media it seems that confusion is even more prevalent, and early career researchers in particular have a lot of questions about how the changing landscape of publication is going to affect them. Open Access is now an inevitablity for the future of academic publishing and signals a real potential for the future of academic impact, but as we go through the unsteady process of transition the debates and questions need to keep being raised.
December 11, 2012
On Tuesday 4th December I attended The Future of Academic Impact, organised by the LSE Public Policy Group as the finale of the 3-year Impact of Social Sciences Project. The conference drew together the results and outcomes of the project and aimed to look forward at how impact research and measurement might develop over the next few years. Here I provide a brief write-up of the day and my reflections on some of the implications for early career researchers.
The day started with a session on The Economic Impact of Academic Research. Due to public transport issues I unfortunately missed the first speakers - Patrick Dunleavy and Nicola Dandridge - but was just in time to hear Sir Adrian Smith (Vice Chancellor, University of London) give his perspectives on the view of research from Whitehall. Smith talked about the importance of clustering of research around themes and topics, emphasising that the government typically think and talk about research in non-disciplinary specific ways - research is seen in terms of ideas and problems to be solved rather than as disciplinary-based understanding- interestingly this is something that we've started to get on board with at Warwick through the collaborative sandpit initiative for early career researchers.
In session 2 on Impact and the New Digital Paradigm we heard about different ways in which digital technologies are helping with the academic impact of research. Victor Henning, co-founder and CEO of Mendeley, spoke about how Mendeley is helping to make research more open and collaborative on a global scale, providing a wealth of ways for extending the reach of research. Mendeley is also providing new tools for measuring and tracking the academic impact of papers, and the Global Research Report 2012 provides "the first-ever analysis of scholarly reading and studying activity in relation to economic indicators and research productivity".
Ziyad Marar, Global Publishing Director at Sage, began his talk about the new digital paradigm with the compelling quote: "the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet". Marar questioned why, despite huge advances in digital technology for research dissemination, does inertia persist in adopting these technologies? Is this just a small hurdle that needs to be smoothed out, or a bigger structural factor that means uneven distribution is here to stay for some time? Marar suggested that we need to refocus our attention on the question of what is academic scholarship trying to do, and in doing so shift away from relying upon hard-and-fast measures of impact. Whilst digital innovations in measuring impact are beneficial in many ways, these put the focus on knowledge consumption and access to information and can obscure from view the conditions under which knowledge is produced, and the different disciplinary bases on which scholarly claims are made. Ultimately it is quality and excellence that should be the crucial measures of research: quoting Einstein, he said "not all that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts". Marar ended by especially emphasising the need to find ways to ensure that academics, especially early career researchers, can develop and establish their own authoritative voices.
Jason Priem from ImpactStory followed with a discussion of the shift to altmetrics, in which Impactstory is one of the leading resources for measuring different forms of digital scholarly impact. Priem took us through the justification behind these perspectives, assessing the problems with traditional bibliometrics such as the limitations in tracking emergent research fronts, failing to accommodate for the multiple forms of impact and engagement that research can have, and not taking into account the different places in which "publication" - in its widest and most literal meaning, "making public" - occur. Impactstory addresses this by collecting different metrics for inputted data, giving a more diverse and complex picture than a traditional scale of good-bad that typical metrics might produce. Altmetrics, Priem reiterated, is about supporting a new generation of web scholars, peers and collaboration.
In Panel 3, Next Steps in Assessing Impact, Julia Lane and Cameron Neylon both gave insightful talks that broke away from the idea of immediate, direct impact and instead looked at the more subtle forms that research impact might generate. Julia Lane posited a theory of change that focused around networks of researchers, understanding the creation and transmission of ideas through networks of human interactions, to form indicative of patterns of collaboration and breadth of coverage rather than hard-and-fast measures of impact. Cameron Neylon's paper reframed impact as reuse: a bracket under which citation and direct academic impact isn't separate from public engagement but all part of the same system and understanding. In light of this, Neylon argued that researchers need to think about how their research is being reused, and to reconsider the mission and values that underpin and drive research rather than letting values be determined by assessment. Cameron Neylon followed this up with a post on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog which makes for interesting reading.
David Sweeney, Director of Research, Innovation and Skills at HEFCE, finished the panel with perspectives on the REF and impact measurements which contrasted starkly with the previous two papers and prompted some rather lively debate in the Q&A that followed. Sweeney spoke about the impact agenda in the context of the REF, reiterating the guidelines currently in place and arguing that the REF isn't about placing disciplines or individuals against one another, but looking at how some institutions have been more successful at doing research than others. The REF is about persuading the government of the necessity of funding new research and we should all, he argued, be literate in describing what's been done and the impact that it's had; however, Sweeney did little to elaborate on the REF rhetoric and was persistently inattentive to questions that attempted to get into the nuances of the arguments presented. "Everyone hates it, but nobody wants to change it" was his decisive, if somewhat controversial, statement on the REF.
The final panel looked at Impact as a driver for Open Access and I'll be blogging about this in the next post in order to elaborate further on some of the debates presented.
The full archive of tweets at #LSEImpact can be found here.
December 05, 2012
#AcWriMo has now come to an end, so it's time for the traditional round-up post of what I achieved, learned, and changed as a result of the month. I can start by saying outright that I didn't meet all of my goals; in fact, I only got about half way there. I did, however, know from the start that these were highly overambitious, and I did write an awful lot more than I would have managed otherwise, and also achieved goals that I wasn't expecting to meet.
So first, the goals. My writing total for the month was 26000 words, which breaks down as:
- 14,000 words of a chapter - not quite complete, I stalled because I had a substantial amount of reading for the final section which I hope to now complete this weekend.
- As a result, I didn't start on the chapter 2 redraft I had planned, but I rescheduled this to coincide with article revisions on similar work that are coming in over Christmas.
- 4000 word research paper - which took longer than anticipated, but has provided more ideas than I expected for my chapter 3 redraft, so progress on that will now be quicker.
- 7000 word lecture - which again unexpectedly involved some useful research for the book.
- 2x 1000 word blog posts - one planned, one not!
I'm happy with this progress, and more importantly I've found that it's useful to set and review targets over a month-long period in this way: not only have I gained more sense of achievement from working towards regular writing goals, it's also a good way to get a sense of how and why some targets worked and others don't, and of what can truly be acheived in the course of a month. Setting targets over a month, and then breaking that down into weeks, days, and even hours, helped me to be both more ambitious and more realistic about what I can achieve.
So the first thing I'm taking away from AcWriMo is planning my writing month-by-month as a way of focusing on more concrete, realisable targets. At the same time, the above goals make clear that being flexible is crucial; we can never entirely predict where a piece of writing or research will take us, and that's natural. What was important about having the overall AcWriMo structure in place was keeping the end-goal in sight, and being realistic about how I could still have a solid outcome from the month whilst adapting to the changing needs of my research.
Another significant outcome of the month was my time management of writing time. Knowing that I had to meet regular writing goals made me much more reflective and organised about how I could best use my time effectively. I've become better at identifying potential writing time-slots during the busy stretch of my working week, but equally important is reflecting on what will be the best use of that time - I haven't actually managed much daytime writing but have better organised my admin and email-based tasks, which has a knock-on effect later in the day for freeing up longer writing slots. Some days I took time management to the extreme, organising a whole day around pomodoro slots (as in the picture to the left); whilst I couldn't maintain this on a daily basis, a couple of days of pomodoro-ing proved good practice in terms of more sustainable time management strategies.
So if I wasn't writing in the daytime, when did I write? Well, I managed to reclaim evenings for writing. As I reflected in my first post, I'm no night-owl and have always struggled with writing after work. This month I charged myself with the task of not assuming that I won't get anything worthwhile done, but also not expecting writing miracles to happen at the end of the day: just sit down, write, and see what happens. A key way towards this was to set myself a short, achievable writing time of 45minutes (rather than attemtping to keep going for as long/many words as possible) and then see how I was feeling at the end of it. Some days I did little more than dabble in a few paragraphs, others I wrote substantial amounts. Although not every day was amazingly productive, what I did find is that daily writing really is beneficial and even just a few words of redrafting is useful in keeping focused on the task in hand.
Finally, AcWriMo wasn't just about the month itself, it was also about reshaping my writing routines to create a sustainable habit and all of the points I've outlined above are things that I'm taking forward into December - and beyond that, into 2013. Of course all of these changes are things that I could have done at any time without the structure of AcWriMo, but it helped enormously to have a supportive #AcWriMo community giving encouragement, advice and ideas for better writing habits, and to see others achieving some impressive writing feats was also motivating and inspiring. As an ECR in a non-research position, it was also incredibly useful to be part of a community where my writing and research goals mattered in a small way, even if I was still ultimately only accountable to myself. Although this will hopefully continue on Twitter throughout December it's also something that I hope we can continue at Warwick, for example with future Shut up and AcWriMo sessions.
So thanks to Charlotte Frost of PhD2Published for organising #AcWriMo and well done to all who took part! You can also read the Storify of "Learnings from #AcWriMo" part 1 and part 2, and check out the PhD2Published website for many more useful writing tips, as well as the small series that we've run on this blog.
November 09, 2012
AcWriMo is now well underway, and hopefully you're settling into a good writing routine and finding out what works best for you. Through the very helpful #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter I've been collecting links to online tools and tips that can help with your writing - whether it's to focus, get ideas flowing, or to organise your writing.
Here are a few of the best I've found:
Pomodoro timers: the Pomodoro Technique is a method of managing your writing time so that you focus for short, sharp bursts interspersed with quick breaks. Writing in this way helps you make the most of long stretches of writing time - no more getting distracted by your emails, or drifting off into a daydream - and also helps you to realise what you can achieve if you only have short time-slots available for writing. There is a lot of information about the Pomodoro Technique available on this site. Timers such as Flowkeeper, Focus Booster and CherryTomatoinstall to your desktop to help time your Pomodoro slots.
StayFocusd: this add-on for Google Chrome helps you increase your productivity by restricting your access to time-wasting websites - once you've used up your allocated time for the day, the sites are blocked. The great thing about this compared to some internet blockers is that you can configure it to specific sites whilst leaving others unlimited, so you can keep access to the online research tools you need whilst you work.
750 words.com: often the two biggest hurdles to writing are starting to write, and getting into the habit of writing every day. 750 words.com is about writing those first 750 words (about 3 pages) every day, so that you clear your mind, get the ideas flowing, and get into the habit of regular writing. The website gives you a place to write and store your writing online without the public element of blogging. You also get points for meeting writing goals, which is good if you're reward-motivated or at all self-competitive!
Evernote: if you often find yourself with time to write without your writing to hand then Evernote is ideal. Evernote stores all of you writing on a cloud service which can be accessed anywhere online, and can be installed as an app on your mobile or ipad. Everything syncs between devices meaning that you can always keep track of the latest document, and it's good for keeping notes organised into different folders. Perhaps most useful of all is that you can integrate different formats - video, audio, writing - so if you have a great idea but not enough time to write it down, you can quickly record it into a file to type up later. I tend to use Evernote for blog ideas and notes rather than proper writing but I know some use it much more extensively to great success.
Scrivener: this writing software helps you plan and organise ideas, letting you collect ideas in a non-linear fashion and gradually create some order out of the pieces as you work towards a bigger draft. I haven't tried this one (thanks to the tweeters who recommended it!) but it looks perfect if you work in a piecemeal way or if you think spatially - like a more sophisticated version of a desk covered in post-it notes or multiple scraps of paper tacked together.
I'm sure there are plenty more suggestions so do let us know your top tips for online writing tools in the comments below.
October 31, 2012
Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/researchexchange/ecr/events/shutupandacwri
Image by Chris Devers on Flickr; shared under a Creative Commons License
Last year the Research Exchange ran two "Shut up and Study" sessions for early career and PhD researchers: these are days where participants spend intense periods writing, mixed up with breaks in which to talk with others about how you're progressing with your goals. As Kate blogged at the time, you get dedicated writing time free from distractions, whilst gaining the support and encouragement of other researchers.
To tie in with the AcWriMo series that we're running on this blog, on Wednesday 7th November we are running a special Shut up and AcWri! day. There will be 3 focused writing sessions of 1.5 hrs each, and 2 breaks of half an hour. During the writing sessions you'll be able to stop talking and get writing; during the breaks, we'll bring you the best of the tips and resources that we've been gathering in the first week of AcWriMo. You'll also be able to share ideas with others about writing, time management, and related issues (and hopefully provide us with some great ideas to share on the blog!). Best of all, we'll keep you fuelled with tea, coffee and biscuits throughout the day.
You can sign up for all or part of the day (although we ask that you attend for the full time of individual sessions to prevent disruption). Anyone can attend - AcWriMo participation isn't necessary. We ask on the form that you indicate what you'll be working on so we can tailor the resources we provide and to help you think about what you want to achieve. We also have a limited number of laptops available for use.
Sign up here.