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May 15, 2013

In the middle of the journey of life…

dark woods"In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death; but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there". So begins Dante's Inferno, and so begins the tale of where I have been for the past seven months, since I last wrote a blog entry.

My story left off at a difficult point in my PhD life: I had begun a postdoctoral fellowship without finishing the doctoral thesis. I was hugely disappointed by this, as I had always considered that three years would be ample time in which to complete a PhD. But I had reckoned without the vagaries of my ongoing cardiac symptoms, which had made me take some time off in the late Spring of last year. In October, I wrote that I was stressed. I could almost laugh now, given what has happened since...

A couple of weeks after my last blog, my dad suffered a catastrophic brain haemorrhage. He had surgery, but never recovered and was in a coma for twenty days. Twenty days of driving to Sheffield. Twenty days of sitting, watching, waiting for signs I knew would never come. At the end of twenty days, he died. I was with him, which was a strange and beautiful thing - just him and me in a room, and the most peaceful thing he had ever done.

On December 1st, I returned to the fellowship research. My brain was full to exploding, but I felt my manager had given me too much time off in November to take any time to think about what had happened. In December of course, everyone in the world was ill. Except me. My children had the flu, my husband had the flu, then my children had the vomiting bug. Then it was Christmas, which of course was difficult.

Then in January, I was ill. My turn at last! But I had a report to write for my boss, and I carried on. The relief I felt when that report was done was immense. I remember saying to a friend of mine that I could now take a few days to sit and think about my dad and begin the grieving process. As if it would ever be possible to grieve neatly, in a compartment marked 'time to think'.

The very next day, I discovered a mass low in my abdomen. I thought it would be nothing, although my midwife hands were slightly surprised at the size of it - my GP and I laughed at the idea that it felt like a 20-week pregnancy. But the scan I had that same day agreed: a mass of some kind, 10cm big. 10cm? How had I not noticed that earlier?! There followed urgent appointments in gynaecology oncology (the NHS moves fast when it feels the need...), an MRI scan, and lots of serious faces, my friends (midwives) included.

So I had a hysterectomy at the end of February, and because of the uncertainty of the tumour's malignancy or non-malignancy, I also had my ovaries removed. Instant menopause! Then a long time sitting still - the longest I've ever spent sitting still, by some considerable margin. And now, a damaged ligament and more sitting still.

Meanwhile, my fellowship contract ended, and I now find myself technically unemployed, although still registered as a student - that was an easy extension to get permission for, thankfully! I'll be extending again next month, which will take me through to September. And then, I say determinedly, the thesis will be submitted.

So a dreadful time. The worst time of my life. But as ever, there are bright moments to be found: my husband, beside me and caring for me; my children, who seem to be enjoying the whole sitting down thing; and my friends, who have brought me such joy over the years, and who have shouldered such a lot of my burden over the past few months.

What a strange post this is. It's taken me a very long time to write. I hope to begin blogging normally again from now, as I return to the process of writing up the thesis. Because for all of these seven months, the PhD has been sitting in a tiny corner of my over-crowded mind, and now, finally, it's getting some attention. sun through trees


March 15, 2013

Guide to Employability: Step 3. The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making

Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for Warwick Business School. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).

In my previous two blog posts I underlined the urgency of turning one’s attention inwards in order to understand who they are and what they wish to pursue, while also identifying their strengths, needs and drives and building a robust skillset. Now it's time for action!

In this blog post, I will focus on action towards academic routes. We know for a fact that academic jobs at the moment are as effortless to find as a Hobbit under your bed! No surprise there! Yet, it’s easy bemoan the competition and toss the responsibility there. The question is, what do YOU do about it? What can YOU control in the process? And, trust me, there is a lot!

The 10 Commandments of the Academic in the Making

If you are really serious about an entry level academic position, it is paramount that you start thinking, breathing, talking and acting like an academic. The following are your new 10 Commandments:
1. Research agenda:

What you have done or are currently working on is not enough. What are your future research plans? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Don’t take this light-heartedly. The PhD experience has been uncertain enough! The traineeship is over! You’re a professional now and if you’re serious about your career, you’ll have to be a strategist. The more conscious you are of your research plan, the more clearly and coherently you can articulate it, the more convincing you will be about your reliability as future expert in your field.

2. Research Dissemination/Publications:

Be specific about the journals you wish to disseminate your research in; the publishers you wish to target; the conferences you wish to speak at.

3. Funding:

It’s all about the money and you know it. Any successful funding bids so far? Which funding bodies are you planning to approach? Have you thought of research projects that can attract funding? Time to start planning!

4. Impact:
If you are looking for a job in a UK (research-led) institution, you have to be able to demonstrate how your work is likely to engage wider audiences outside the academe. This could include:
  • Media/Press Engagement
  • Consulting
  • Policy input/Workshops for practitioners
  • Input to Industry

Now, except rather vague guidelines, there is no specific way of measuring the actual impact of one’s research. This is the farcical irony of the whole affair. Still, the more impactful your research is, the more likely it is to attact interest (and get you that promotion!) Consider how your work can have a tangible influence, implement an institutional change, or alter the way people think or act in a demonstrable way.

5. Outreach/widening participation:

Can you create collaboration links with institutions within and outside your country of work? Where are you pointing your antennas towards? The key here is proactive networking!

6. Teaching:

What’s your teaching experience? What elements does it entail? Have you got the potential to design and deliver an original/innovative module that pertains the tradition of the institution you wish to apply for? How do you render your teaching more engaging and experiential for students? In a climate where students pay yearly salaries for their education, the bar of expectations has been raised dramatically and rightly so! (Note to all: students are rarely interested in an academic’s research outputs!) Moreover, have you pursued formal teaching qualifications? Many institutions are asking for professional qualifications now.

7. Technology

Bet you haven’t thought of that one, right? How do you plan to use technology to enhance your research prospects? Do you blog? Podcast? Prezi? Think 5 years ahead... If, at the moment, we are shopping online, socialising online, researching online, even dating online, what does this mean for academia? More cites and quotations will most probably entail more technological involvement! Be proactive, things are bound to transmogrify!

8. Networking:

It’s a dirty little secret that connections are key in the current job market and beyond! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know and how you utilise such connections for your progression. So get involved!

9. Mentoring:

Every young professional could benefit from a good mentor, someone who can share the secrets of the trade, whether this involves navigating publication landscapes, exploring funding opportunities, or sharing their leadership experience. A mentor can be an enormous source of support (and at times more benefits), so don't underestimate their usefulness.

10. Finally, can you talk the talk?! If you want to be part of the academic elite (and by this I mean obtaining a permanent academic job) you will have to learn, and convincingly regurgitate, the contested and, more often than not, sensationalist academic jargon that will consolidate your credibility amongst your peers and superiors. So come on, repeat after me:

· ‘In five years’ time I will be a “world-leader” in my field!’ Now, imagine telling this to Barack Obama! How does it feel? Are you convenced? Is he?!
· ‘I am a pioneer in the field of…’ and visualise winning that Nobel Prize!
· ‘My research agenda has a robust impact strategy’ and it will rock the world!
· ‘My dissemination strategy entails…’ touching hearts and souls in all corners of the globe!
· ‘I am a/the world leading expert/authority in…’ and everyone else is using my work as a forefront for theirs. Hmmm. How do you substantiate this?!

Yes, sophistry and self-image are increasingly going hand-in-hand in the current academic entry climate and beyond!

Bottom line:

Academia is your corollary; you have to breathe it, think it, be it! Now is the time to switch from the, at times, myopic mind-set of a Phd to a well-rounded ‘research leader’ conviction. Don't get me wrong, you'll still live in your academic bubble, but this time you really need to think of your research agenda, your impact strategy, your networking policy, and your academic career development plan. Create your ‘academic excellence’ in the making self-image and gradually project it to the world! Start believing in who you are becoming and the rest will follow! But have a plan, have a strategy, and follow it! Be visionary, be strategic, and be open to collaboration! In other words, be the Principal Investigator of your academic career project!

Stay positive!

Ioanna


January 15, 2013

End of transcription & start of analysis – I feel alive again!

Despite having planned to transcribe all my research interviews as I was going along, it didn’t quite work out that way. This was mainly due to the limited availability of participants and then the lack of them, which meant I re-located mid-way (very happily I must say) to my parent’s home for over two weeks so that I could conduct interviews one after the other. There’s nothing more I need or would want for motivation and energy than the fresh chappatis and curries my mother churns out every evening! Bless her :)

chappatis and curry

So moving on, having spent the last month trying to complete transcribing over 20 hours of spoken word (imagine - I have typed over 100,000 words – only if that could be included in my thesis!), and having finally completed it today, I feel alive again! Yes, it was such a bore. I’m not saying my research is not interesting, of course it is very very interesting, and I can't wait to start analysing the juicy data, but sitting for 7 to 8 hours per day, just typing away, is not only boring and tedious, but can be frustrating too especially when it feels like it's never going to end. But it will end - if you are in the transcription phase, just hang in there, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Hence, to celebrate the end of the transcription phase (finally over!) and the start of the analysis stage (woohoo, can’t wait to get going!), despite the snow, I am taking my other half out to Pizza Express this evening (check out their 40% off offer – yeah I know that’s cheeky – but hey I am still technically a student).

pizza



January 14, 2013

Guite to Employability: Step 2. Identify your Strengths and Talents

Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for WBS. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).

In my previous blog-post entitled Guide to Employability: Step 1. Be Original – Know Thyself I claimed that it is paramount for doctoral researchers to turn their intellectual inquisitiveness inwards and ascertain their needs, wishes, and aspirations. Throughout my PhD years and beyond, I have kept focusing on the following salient point: what is it about a PhD process that makes one avert their attention from themselves so profusely? Seriously, what is it? Am I the only one who asks this formidable question?

The staggering reality

Have you noticed that, while undergraduates are grossly encouraged to engage in a plethora of extra-curricular activities, get actively involved in teams, pursue internships, and sentiently reflect on their experiences, PhDs are only geared towards their research project, as if it’s a one way street with no way out?! Have you noticed that the most prestigious and sought after employers come to campus to meet bright, educated, and articulate individuals, yet, PhDs very rarely return the favour? And to state the acrimonious obvious, have you noticed how undergraduates are more successful in their entry level career pursuits compared to PhDs? If you think that’s because there are inherently better prospects and more career opportunities for undergraduates, this is simply an indolent and ‘easy-way-out’ excuse! Undergraduates have more options simply because they actively pursue opportunities to explore and develop themselves!

But where do I start?!

I’d say start from the basics! To speak your language, in your research project the theory is secondary, it’s the evidence that renders it worthwhile! The only way to explore your options is to understand your strengths and talents, alongside your studies. This will be achieved by means of active exploration (= research) of your potential, involvement (= data collection) in various activities and opportunities, and reflection (= critical analysis) of yourself following such pursuits. Is the process reminiscent of something familiar?

Let’s start from the basics then!

Explore, Participate, Reflect! Isn’t this what you do as a professional researcher? So, research yourself. Go ahead, get involved in various activities and explore yourself, what drives you, what energises, what motivates you, what makes you get out of bed in the morning! Ultimately, where your strengths and talents lie! If you think that reading and writing are the sole and sacred duties during your PhD experience, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment! Ultimately, even as an academic in the making, you should consider training yourself in active networking, public engagement, consultancy, and effective collaborations with non-academic stakeholders (think impact and outreach here!).

The tools

Warwick University provides a plethora of options for you to get involved with various activities, develop abilities and, not only render yourself employable in the process, but mainly uncover your strengths while building new skills and enhancing existing ones. And if you don’t know where to start, here’s a brilliant tool created especially for you:

Warwick Portfolio: an online platform where you can find all the training and development opportunities Warwick can offer you. It allows you to develop skills in 8 areas (Communication, Leadership, Networking, Language, Practical, Critical Thinking, Ethics and Research Skills, and Enterprise), record them, reflect on them, and communicate them to yourself and others! 

Guide to Employability: Step 2: Identify your Strengths and Talents

In a frantic recession-shaped era, where we are bombarded with the paradox of endless options and the ostensible lack of them, more is better than less. You might think you don’t need to develop further skills; your research and data analysis is time-consuming enough. It’s also very confining! Looking for potential academic or non-academic paths is not the right avenue to start your journey from! There is a myriad of post-PhD options at your disposal, I assure you! But just like in every worthwhile pursuit, it’s the journey that makes the destination. The latter will remain unexplored until you get there, but the route, the richer in experiences, the wealthier it can render you, if not in funds, definitely in potential!

To be continued…


November 12, 2012

Guide to Employability: Step 1. Be Original – Know Thyself

Ioanna Iordanou is a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor at the University of Warwick. She also works as a Postdoctoral Researcher for WBS. She tweets (@IoannaIordanou) and blogs (Ioanna's Employ-Ability Blog).

On 16th December 2010, an article of The Economist entitled Doctoral Degrees: The Disposable Academic, caused much controversy by claiming that disgruntling doctoral experiences and brutalising career prospects render a PhD highly unnecessary and a ‘waste of time.’ The author maintained that universities take advantage of PhD students and use them as ‘cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour’ that will ‘do more research, and […] more teaching, with less money’ to conclude that ‘the interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned.’

Don't believe everything you hear: You make your PhD, it does NOT make you!

It is not in the scope of this blog entry to agree or disagree with the Economist’s piece, although I know quite a few PhD students and graduates who would report similar experiences. In fact, as a PhD graduate, I could be the first to point my finger to an inept academic system that, I felt, failed me. What my gruesome yet invaluable post-PhD experience has taught me, however, is that systems don’t change unless mentalities do, and futures don’t alter unless presents transform. As professional researcher myself, then, I would like to begin by looking at you in the eyes and ask:

What’s your research in?

If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve been asked this question as a PhD candidate…! As doctoral researchers, I am sure you have built a well-oiled questioning machine, equipped with your inquisitiveness and intellectual curiosity. Research must run in your veins by now! But have you turned your questioning machine inwards? Have you really asked yourself what you wish to get out of your PhD? What’s the plan A? What’s the Plan B? (Yes, two options are better than one!) These are by no means trick questions nor provocative ones.

When students write applications for graduate schemes in the corporate world, one of the main criteria is to show commitment towards a certain career aspiration and specify how a three year graduate programme will contribute towards their career development plan. Just like a training programme in a large corporation, your PhD is your apprenticeship for your future career. Make no mistake here, a PhD does not have to be the means to an academic end only! Have you decided what you wish to do post-submission and how your doctorate will help you get there? Did you and your supervisor ask this question from the very kick-off of your PhD? Do you keep asking throughout? I fear, more than I know, that most frequently the answer is ‘no’.

Who are you? What are you?

As a Job-Search Adviser and Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Skills Tutor, I work with PhD students who, more often than not, dismiss the above mentioned questions as too daunting, putting off their career decision plans for the post-submission stage. I have classified the hitherto most widespread tendencies in three main categories:

1. The Whatever-ers: those who have no idea of what’s out there for them and vast reluctance to find out.

2. The No Way-ers: those who have ruled out the prospect of an academic career as a result of, more often than not, poor doctoral experiences and, at some point, will consider their options.

3. The Default-ers: those who, moulded in the droning shelter of a PhD, got so desensitised by the intellectual process of proving something original, that lose sight of the wider picture, and inevitably follow the only – in their minds – route available to them, academia.

I have yet to meet the fervently steadfast PhD candidate who forcefully marches their way towards a predetermined goal via the doctoral route! This, I hope, is my loss rather than the norm!

Guide Employability: Be Original – Know Thyself

As a professional in the making, you’re better off researching yourself, your dreams, your needs and your aspirations. Identify what you want and start building your professional background in the same way that you are constructing your thesis, with passion, commitment, and, most of all, originality. Your PhD fate does not need to be as acrimonious as the Economist correspondent proclaimed. You don’t need to be one of the many! You don’t need to be dispirited, lost, and steered. Conditioning can be as dangerous as conformity and doctoral environments can be, ironically, prone to both! So take charge of the present NOW and steer it towards your desired future. It’s only when you know yourself and your needs that you’ll be able to make the best decisions for yourself and market yourself effectively.  

To be continued…


October 02, 2012

A magical metamorphosis?

Over the weekend, there was apparently a small miracle occurring: I was changing from PhD student to research fellow. Naturally, as ever, I gave insufficient thought to this process, and just spent the weekend trying really, really hard not to think about the thesis, which is ever-present and taking up considerable space in my brain. I found pink wine and the company of friends hugely helpful, and came to Warwick yesterday determined to enjoy my new identity for as long as it lasts.

How long it will last is highly debatable, but that's a different story and not one to be told today. So yesterday, I met with my new boss (not new at all - my first academic supervisor for the PhD) and the research fellow whose position I'm covering while she has a baby. The field of research I'm looking at is quite different (elderly care), but it's still NHS, and there are actually a lot of parallels with midwifery (risk and governance), so it's not so strange as it might have been.

Yesterday, I discovered there was an induction session for new WBS employees - I hadn't actually been invited, but I gatecrashed it anyway. On arriving at the WBS building, I discovered that my student ID card no longer let me in. But I don't have an employee ID card yet. I had a proper head-scratching moment, and then went to ask the lovely people in IT support what I should do. I turns out, I don't appear on any systems just now, so I'm in a sort of non-identitied place.

I'm not sure I like this: according to the Graduate School, I'm still a PhD student because I'm writing up. And the WBS doctoral office obviously agree, given that they haven't turfed me out of my office. But according to WBS, I'm now an employee. I have a new ID number and everything! Only they haven't quite managed to get all the necessary paperwork sorted in time for the October 1st start.

It's a strange place, this land of in-between-ness, but quite a familar one. After all, I've just spend three years being in between midwifery and academia, so I expect that's why I feel quite chilled about the whole thing.

So the lovely IT people have made my student card work again, and I'm just off now to pick up my staff card. Who shall I be today? I think I'll stick with student for now. I feel more comfortable there. And besides, I'm not brave enough to actually go into the staff lounge in the WBS building. It's full of grown ups.


September 21, 2012

Time for a Meltdown

Well, it's Friday evening, and I'm sitting in my office having a bit of a moment. You know, one of those moments when your brain feels like it might actually BURST! It's silly really, but it's just hit home that I only have 10 days of my PhD life left, and then I have to go and be an actual grown up again. Not a grown up like when I was a midwife, but a grown up researcher. Off I go, into another new room, which is lit up by those stupid energy saving lightbulbs that take about 10 minutes to get going. I've walked in, switched the light on, and now I have to stand around waiting to see what's actually in there as the lights get brighter. At least, I hope that's what will happen, now that I have a letter confirming the post, and I've filled in a billion forms, and met with the research fellow I'm taking over from.

So I'm going to be a research fellow for six months. That sounds like a proper job, doesn't it? I have a contract and everything. But essentially, I feel as clueless as ever - I'm going to be covering maternity leave, so I really am just a stand-in. An understudy. A temp. And although the research is in the NHS, it concerns elderly care, so something quite different from my usual line of work. But I have to be really good at the job, and I have to still try and finish my thesis at the same time. Not to mention commitments to conference presentations and some lovely teaching.

And at the end of six months, who knows what will happen? Apparently there are things in the pipeline for me, but I'm left with a sense of just not knowing which door I'll be opening next. Or whether the next room will have good old-fashioned lightbulbs that work straight away, which would be nice.

I'm allowing myself a moment of utter fear (hello, my old friend), in the hope that when I wake up tomorrow morning I'll have worried all the worry out of my system and I can take everything in my stride. And then I can write like a demon for the next week, and feel slightly less disappointed that my thesis will have to take a bit of a back seat for the few weeks after that as I settle into the fellowship role. Maybe the break will do me good, as I still feel like I'm fermenting the eureka moment I had last week. I hope so. And I also hope my family is prepared for me to be working all week and writing all weekend for the next however long until the thesis is finished.

I think the next few months are going to be quite different from the past three years. And I may need some hand holding. Just thought I'd put that out there...


September 04, 2012

Recording & Transcribing Interviews

This past week I've been busy conducting interviews and transcribing them, so I thought I'd share my experience and ask you to share yours! :)

Recording interviews

italk

I use a digital recorder to record interviews as well as an app on the iPhone called iTalk which was recommended by some fellow PhD students. The iTalk app brings out the best quality of recording for me and it is very convenient as it is linked to my Dropbox and can therefore upload the file on to Dropbox with one click of a button (however doesn't work with very large files). There is a Lite version of the app which you can try for free, and the full version is around £1.50. This is working fine for me and the recording quality is excellent especially in comparison to the digital voice recorder I have (I do record the interviews on both just in case). However, I will probably need a much more sophisticated digital recorder when I decide to record a focus group.

Which device/app do you use to record interviews?


Transcribing Interviews


trasncribing

I am using Express Scribe Pro(FREE!) to re-play my recordings and it is working fantastically for me. You can set the audio speed to a lower speed (mine is set at 59%) and set to 'play the audio with pauses', which automatically pauses the audio every couple of seconds and it means you can transcribe the audio without ever having to click pause (and without the need for a foot pedall). Transcription for a one hour recording takes professional transcribers at least 6 hours to transcribe. Rebecca Houge (who I met through Twitter) mentioned on her blog that she uses Dragon Dictate alongside Express Scribe Pro to transcribe interviews, which cuts the transcription time by half (3 hours of transcription for 1 hour of recording), to quote her:

Second, I use Dragon Dictate(I'm on a Mac, it is Dragon Naturally Speakingon PC) to transcribe the text. If you are buying it, I highly recommend the physical shipment, as you get a good quality headset that is designed to work well with Dragon.

The trick to this is not to input the audio into Dragon, which gets mixed reviews for effectiveness, but rather to re-speak the transcribed text. I listen to the audio file in my headphones, then repeat exactly what is said into the microphone at a pace that is optimal for Dragon Dictate. The pace is slightly slower than normal talking, but not much. The more important part is to pace your words, speak clearly, and speak your punctuation. Dragon then types it out. I proofread as I go along, and correct any errors.

Seems like a great idea in theory. However, Dragon software is not available at the University (yet) and it isn't a cheap software to buy.

So how do transcribe your interviews/focus groups etc? Have you ever outsourced the transcription work?


August 17, 2012

I am a Write Up Bore – by Bernie

Well, hello, it's been a while, hasn't it? It seems like a tiny moment since I last wrote, but in fact it's been more than three weeks. That's a lot of thought-fermenting time, usually, but at the moment I've turned into a Write Up Bore.

My poor family is having to endure my apparently random comments whenever I emerge from my study. Things like, 'Anonymity is so tricky in the tiny world of midwifery leadership', or 'One of my interviewees said something really odd about identity', or 'Grrrrrrrr... I can't make these themes fit together'. Usually they just nod, smile, and beat a hasty retreat, which is probably a safe thing to do, but it does make me feel a bit lost within my own head. Actually, my eldest daughter has developed a beautifully polite 'And how was your day?', which I'm quite impressed by. And I'm equally impressed by my new-found ability to answer in one sentence: 'Oh, you know, writing words...'

I think that's the problem for me, with writing up during the summer break (break - ha! Not this year...) I haven't been around fellow PhD students for a few weeks, and I haven't been to my lovely, peaceful, neat WBS office. My friends away from the thesis are great, but I don't want to talk them to death about the work. And if any of my midwife friends actually asks me how it's going, I have to actively stop myself from spilling the entire contents of my brain across the table!

It's sort of going okay, actually, except no actual sentences have formed yet - my strange way of working requires me to have a million pages of handwritten notes before that happens. However, I do have a data chapter deadline (three data chapters by the end of next week), so I'm hoping some magic will happen over the next few days.

My head space is going to be crammed by then, because Peter and the children are going away to London tomorrow, and they're not coming back until next Friday. Imagine how full of words I'll be without them to distract me! If I think I'm boring now, I'm going to be the dullest person EVER by the end of next week. Ah well, at least there will be many words to make the supervisors happy... I am dull today


August 06, 2012

Effective Research Tools – by Joelin

I have been obsessing lately with various software programmes that may (or may not) aid the PhD process and increase my productivity. This is the inevitable outcome of a slight mid-thesis crisis which includes a mild panic concerning my submission date’s sudden appearance on the horizon. It is far away still, but becoming increasingly noticeable.

I have tried a long list of software programs that promise increased effectivity in thinking, remembering, writing... well, they all pretty much claim to make you a better person all round. Of course, they don’t always deliver on their promises. I thought I would write about a couple of the programmes that I like and use, or consider investing in, with the hope that some of you may have some recommendations or tips to offer a fellow researcher.

Evernote
There’s been quite an Evernote-hype going on for a little while now. It is a program that lets you type notes, collect web-clippings, pdf:s, documents and images that are then stored on your Evernote account, always accessible online or from your smart-phone. I use it to note down my thoughts and the developments of my PhD - like a stream-of-thought research diary. I also collect web-clippings from interesting articles, or other things I find online. This is useful for two reasons: (1) you keep everything interesting in one place, and (2) if the website/article/image should disappear from cyberspace, you have a copy of it on Evernote. You can also give ‘tags’ (keywords, essentially) to everything you keep in Evernote, making it really easy to navigate through an expanding (virtual) pile of materials.

Papers2 vs Mendeley
Thanks to a great blog post a while ago by Salma I ended up downloading the reference programme Mendeley. It stores and organises your references and you can also annotate your pdf:s by highlighting and adding notes. But best of all, it is free! There is one thing that annoys me with Mendeley though, and that is that it is not compatible to export references into Pages (the iWork word-processing programme I am using instead of Word). It hasn’t been a massive bother yet, but I can foresee some issues in the near future... So, I was wondering what reference programmes you guys use and what you think about it? I have my eye on on a programme called Papers2 at the moment. It both looks beautiful, has a great range of features AND it’s compatible with Pages. But it does come wit a price tag... Does anyone have any experience with Papers2? Is it worth spending a bit of money on?

Scrivener
Has anyone tried Scrivener? It is a combined word-processing and project managing tool, and from what I have seen, it has been getting glowing reviews from academics on various blogs and in comment sections online. Essentially, it allows you to write a research paper in sections, rearrange them easily and keep summaries attached to each piece of writing you do. I really want to get it, BUT... it’s £31.99 - perhaps a fair price to pay if it really is as awesome as everyone claims, but a painful blow to my wallet if it is not...

I have just downloaded a 30-day trial version of Scrivener to try it out for myself but would love to hear from you guys - do you use it and like/dislike it? Or do you use other programmes in your research and like/dislike them? Any tips for software that makes the research/writing process just a little bit more efficient and structured? Share your tips and recommendations please!


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