March 06, 2012

The 'unorthodox tools' of a researcher – by Salma

With the constant distraction around us, whether that is in the form of emails, text messages, alerts, tweets, whatsapp, gchat etc, it is no surprise that many of us are constantly finding little room for reflection. As I found a moment a two last week as the sunshine was pouring into the city, and my wheelie was producing far too much noise pollution (see below), I suddenly had a chance to reflect on the unorthodox tools that help me as a PhD researcher. These are my top three 'unorthodox tools' I can't live without (not in order of importance):

1. My wheelie (pic below) to wheel my laptop, books and notes. I wont deny that my OH almost always insists on carrying the shopping bags whilst I stroll along empty handed alongside him. Hence, when I was faced with carrying a 17inch laptop, plus books and notes around campus, I have to admit I did freak out a little (my arms werea little sore). Then I saw my supervisor with a wheelie, I just had to get one. Since that day, we have never parted! However, I have been found complaining on a few occasions regarding the noise pollution it creates. When I walk into the open plan office at Warwick, I don't need to let anyone know about my presence, it does it for me. Yet, I find myself wondering every other week: Has a silent wheelie been invented? Or should I add that to my even increasing post-PhD to do list? ;)

I have a very similar one to this

2. My food flask (pic below) as it allows me to have homemade left overs such as curry at work. It is the only food flask that doesn't require one to heat it up using boiling water, all it needs is a couple of minutes in the microwave. Voila :)

food flask

3. The practice of daily meditation and reflection. It helps keep my research and life into perspective.


So what are the top three 'unorthodox tools' that help you as a PhD researcher, or ones you can't live without?

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  1. That is an amazing post Salma.I envy your wheelie:)I should buy one for myself soon…My ‘unorthodox tools’ are sleeping well,travelling,talking with family or friends,eating healthy food and my music player(ipodie)...

    06 Mar 2012, 18:11

  2. Salma Patel

    Thanks Ceren :)

    I was thinking of adding family and friends, then I realised that everyone must be using family and friends as sources of comfort, so it wasn’t ‘unorthodox’ enough (well that’s my excuse anyways ;) ) but yes, they do come top of the list and deserve their own post :)

    The day my OH (other half) described my PhD research better than me to someone was the day I realised I need to stop going on and on about my PhD … ;)

    06 Mar 2012, 20:46

  3. Salma Patel

    The wheelie is fantastic btw, bit pricey but comes with a 5 year warranty :)

    06 Mar 2012, 20:48

  4. Jemma

    1. My boyfriend – to escape the research (although I am not sure he would like being described as a tool :-)

    2. Bananas – they keep my energy up and my weight down…Has anyone else found a correlation between waist size increase and progression in their PhD? Maybe there is a thesis in that?

    3. Dictaphone – when my heads buzzing, I get it all into that darn machine and then forget it for a while!

    06 Mar 2012, 22:19

  5. Those food flasks are amazing – a girl in my lab has those and they are fantastic! Keep meaning to get one but I don’t know where from.

    Anyway, three things I can’t live without as a researcher…

    1) Music & headphones to drown out the noise of the lab (and other people) around me and help me focus on work when I need to concentrate.
    2) Coming home to my flat and my other half each night – it keeps me more sane than I realise sometimes.
    3) Knowing what I am going to eat for dinner – it stops me distracting myself looking at recipes (mostly) and I look forward to cooking/eating it when I do get home.

    I suppose the mass spectrometer should be considered essential as I can’t do my PhD research without it, but I don’t really want to focus on the work things, more the sanity things!

    07 Mar 2012, 13:06

  6. Salma Patel


    You can get the flash from John Lewis or online.

    Number 2 is essential for me too! Number 3, I can totally relate to. Hanging around food blogs was my part-time hobby, but I’ve got a good control on that now – only on weekends! :)

    How about we share our recipes here that help us with the PhD related stress we all face every now and then? Comfort food as they call it… :)

    07 Mar 2012, 13:12

  7. Salma Patel


    “Has anyone else found a correlation between waist size increase and progression in their PhD? Maybe there is a thesis in that?”

    There must be a correlation especially because most of the PhD is done whilst sitting on a computer all day long! ;) Plus, it is so easy to get drowned into comfort food when stress levels are high. On a more serious note, there must be some research on stress levels and PhD, and thus food must be playing a part for some in relieving that stress and tension.

    07 Mar 2012, 13:15

  8. Doug Peters


    Yes, everytime I have gone back to school my waist size increases!

    My three unorthodox comforts are:
    1) Working in a different state during the week and seeing the family on weekends. Gives me peace and quiet (almost) to get some research done during the week. Wasn’t by choice, just worked out this way for the last year.
    2) Dragon Naturally Speaking to somewhat speed things up
    3) A wife that really understands my desire to do this and does whatever she can to support me.

    09 Mar 2012, 20:23

  9. Salma Patel


    Thanks! Having a supportive partner makes all the difference for many of us ..

    In terms of working in a different state, have you (and others) found that sometimes a change of scene can help? Today on the way to a meeting I started working on the train, and suddenly, something that didn’t make sense yesterday in the office, just fell into place … Maybe it was the green scenery that helped :)

    09 Mar 2012, 22:17

  10. Jennifer

    Hi Salma- great post.

    My tools definitely include a bit of yoga and meditation nearly every morning – but my favorite unorthodox tool (after my other half of course!) is once a week I go and take a ballet class. After sitting still all week it is great to jump around and move :)

    I also have success with working in a different place from time to time – especially good when I am editing because I don’t need to carry all my notes and books – I don’t have a wheelie ;)

    10 Mar 2012, 20:21

  11. Salma Patel


    :) @ your last sentence, and thank you!

    Yoga is a great idea, and so is taking part in a regular extra curricular activity/hobby, especially one that includes moving the body around. The gym, here I come … ;)

    10 Mar 2012, 22:14

  12. Eljee Javier

    Thanks for the post – it got me thinking what are my unorthodox tools! The ones that come immediately to mind are:

    - a mechanical pencil for underlining stuff I read (I don’t like highlighters). I always got 2 on me.
    - my food box (I’ve got the green one – they’re ACE)
    - my walk to and from uni: it’s about 20 minutes each way, but it’s my “free mind” time of getting myself together (am) or putting things away (pm)
    - of course, my other half (who does a lot of the cleaning) who reminds me that there is life outside of my PhD :-P

    15 Mar 2012, 08:32

  13. Salma Patel


    Wonderful :-) Your mechanical pencil reminds me that I bought a set of pens yesterday after a very long time and was so excited!

    I was tempted to get the pink food box, and then decided against it, in case my other half wanted to share it with me one day. John Lewis didn’t have the green one in stock, or else I would have preferred that too.

    15 Mar 2012, 20:07

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