Thursday, September 18, 2014

Writers' Lab: PhD Writing with a Baby

Today in the Writer's Lab I have invited Kristin Haase to share her experiences on writing her doctoral dissertation while being a new mom. Kristen is a doctoral student in nursing in Canada and proud mother of a wiggly one-year old.

On the road to a PhD there seems to be endless work. Unfortunately, for most women, our PhD years overlap with our most fertile years. So, with the clock ticking down, I blindly jumped into the fray. This is the story of my PhD plus baby.

Pre-baby, my typical PhD day would include heading to the office around 9, reading and writing until around 5 or 6, interspersed with a few breaks for lunch and tea. I'd head home around 6, and maybe do an hour or two of work and call it a day. My husband and I lived in different cities (I relocated for school), which meant I didn't do a lot of work on weekends, but had lots of time during weekdays.

I won't get into how pregnancy impacted my work, because pregnancy is a temporary state. A baby is forever.

First things first, I had plans to get back to work immediately. I didn’t have realistic expectations as to how my little human would impact my life, my brain and my body. I know people who jump up and head back to work within weeks, but I was not one of them. And I don’t think it is something to glorify. In the first three months, I spent a lot of mental energy wanting and trying to work; this was seriously counterproductive. Plainly put, I was exhausted from a baby who breastfed every 2 hours- which meant he, nor I, really got any sleep. This is not for lack of preparation, as a nurse and someone who has a lot of experience with babies and children, I knew what to expect, I just didn’t know how it would affect me.

Second, I was allowed one year of parental leave from my program, but I opted to take 4-months. This was decided because the awards I received were not dispersed during my maternity leave, but needed to be used during that financial year or they would disappear (they could not be on hold). I met with my committee at 3 months and I felt fine to return, but not super focused (this may also have been related to other challenges with my committee). In hindsight, I should have taken more time off.

Now that the baby has just turned one, I feel like I am starting to develop some semblance of work-life rhythm, but it has taken effort. Returning to PhD work and teaching post-baby has required time and support. Pre-baby, time was elastic, your time is your own fluid commodity to spend as you like. In baby land, you work during naptime. I like to think of naptime as a mystery pomodoro- typically I get 1.5-2 hrs of work, but I might get more and I might get less!

Childcare is another huge issue. If you're lucky enough to have a supportive spouse, family and friends (I am), they can allow you to attend meetings without the baby being in daycare full time. Having good childcare is probably one of the most important aspects of new parent retention in PhD studies. If you are at ease with your caregiver, you can focus on your work. When I first sent my 6-month old to daycare, there were many days I sat in front of the computer, not doing anything, just wondering what he was doing. Now I am much more confident in his care, and think he really enjoys spending time with his ‘friends’ at daycare.

Of course we all feel that there is never enough time, but now every waking minute of the day needs to be measured out. Once I had a child I realized that my time is not my own, it does not belong to my supervisor, my employer or even my spouse. This doesn’t mean I can’t take on responsibilities or meet deadlines, it just means I have to be more efficient with my time and allow minimal distractions when I get a chance to work. I also try to maximize the time when I have childcare. For example, I don’t take a long lunch between teaching classes, and instead do revisions on a paper or, in the evening when I used to watch TV, now I’ll do at least 25 minutes of writing. It’s amazing how productive I have been with these small chunks of focused time. This time crunch has really made me focus on prioritizing what is important, what needs to be done and what reasonably can be done.

My final comment is around mental health. Adjusting to parenthood is a huge challenge and I think academics are especially prone to adjustment difficulties given our over-achievy type-A nature. Staying up all night once every couple of weeks to finish a paper or work in the lab is not the same as having 2 hours of sleep every night for three months. The highly unpredictable nature of babies makes planning and preparing for parenting extremely challenging. As a new parent I tried to give myself space to adapt and feel out my new role. I definitely put too much pressure on myself at first, but I quickly learned that I needed to adapt my expectations and my priorities. I had a good support network of other new moms, and my own mother to support me. However, for some people, this isn’t enough. Post-partum depression is a real and serious illness and just like other post-birth complications, you should ask for help. Don’t be too brave.

For those of you contemplating PhD plus baby, I think it’s very doable. Just be realistic about your expectations and be kind to yourself. Your child needs a mommy or daddy that loves them and takes care of them and doesn’t give a damn whether your paper gets rejected from the journal with the highest readership in your discipline. Chances are they will have a drooly kiss for you no matter, and you can always revise and resubmit your paper somewhere else.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Become a Productive Slacker

After the previous post on questioning the 9-to-5 (and more) mentality in academia - which has been shown not to be our most productive way to work- Amber Davis talks about how to put working in sprints into practice. For those of you who haven't met Amber yet, let me introduce her to you:

Amber Davis is a political scientist and a PhD coach. She studied at the London School of Economics and Leiden University, and holds a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence. She teaches stress-management and productivity seminars for PhD candidates and created the HappyPhD Online Course to help you write your PhD (almost) effortlessly. On her blog, she is giving away the online course twice to celebrate the new academic year. Click here to enter the competition.

In my previous blog I talked about how to become a prolific scholar and improving your work-life balance by reducing, rather than increasing, the hours you work, and by introducing the notion of working in intervals, and taking relaxation seriously (the irony!). Although the ‘work and focus’ part of the interval presents a challenge for many people, the ‘relax’ part tends to encounter even more resistance. It is where many people get stuck. Letting your hair down a noble and honourable cause? That can’t be right. Or: it is so difficult in practice! Let’s go through some of the reasons:

1.      “Everybody else seems to work ‘office hours’ plus. I cannot leave work early and be perceived as a slacker by my colleagues, my supervisor, everybody!”
Yes, you can. You can leave work early, and you can ignore what other people think of it (or worse: what you think other people think). If you want to make this work you have to be somewhat non-conformist, and in most academic contexts it’s perfectly possible. Perform on output, not on hours put in. If you apply yourself 200% during your work sprints, you can leave the office guilt-free, while everyone else remains - procrastinating or slaving away. Listen to your inner rebel. It is the only wise thing to do! In the unlucky circumstance that your department or supervisor indeed expects you to work in a rigid, ‘office hours’ corporate manner, and you absolutely cannot leave without negative effects, at least make sure that you do not compromise on the sprint mentality. Make sure you get your most challenging, most creative work done in the first few work intervals of the day, and shift to a lower gear for the remainder of the day.

2.      “I cannot switch off because I feel guilty when I am not working, and I feel better about myself when I put longer hours in.” In essence this reason is the same as the first one – I cannot leave work early, because I don’t want to be perceived by a slacker…by myself.
The solution? 1) challenge your assumptions, and 2) experiment.
To start, seriously consider the idea that the combination of Taylorite, conveyor belt attitude to work and Calvinism is fatal: it is dangerous for your academic work, and it is absolutely lethal for your enjoyment of life! When that truly sinks in, you will find it easier to let go of work a little. You are not a factory worker. You are an academic hero, whose strong, lucid, unflinching analytical mind is celebrated and allowed to perform at unprecedented heights by regular brain breaks. Your wild-hearted free-flowing side will only help in doing so, if you allow for it. Take the risk. Unchain yourself. Step away from the conveyor belt. It will work out better than you can imagine.

3.      “But,” I hear you object, “I have so much more work to do! I cannot take a break right now. It’s too important!” Ah, but is it, really? Oh, the ways we trick ourselves into thinking the sky will fall when we close our laptops! Unfortunately, ‘feeling behind’ comes with the territory of academic work. There is no way around it. Ultimately, there is always more to do. It is never finished. If you cannot make peace with that idea, the academic road will be a torturous one to travel. There are things you can do to make life a little easier. Working in intervals, and the sprint mentality that goes with it, will help you gain a sense of control. The accomplishment and satisfaction of the all-or-nothing sprints will immediately help reduce feelings of guilt and you will be less likely to feel like ‘you haven’t gotten anything done’. Training yourself to prioritise also helps. Learn to see what is truly important and do that first; then let the other tasks and activities arrange themselves. Your most important work should be at the heart of your workday, not the pesky tasks and distractions. Also: draw a firm boundary around your breaks and time off. The bottom line: lightening up a bit is the best way to get your academic work done.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Challenge Your Office Mentality

Today I have the pleasure of inviting Amber Davis once more for a series of two guest posts. Amber wrote last year on Optimizing your Workday for Productivity, amongst other. Amber is a political scientist and a PhD coach. She studied at the London School of Economics and Leiden University, and holds a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence. She teaches stress-management and productivity seminars for PhD candidates and created the HappyPhD Online Course to help you write your PhD (almost) effortlessly. On her blog, she is giving away the online course twice to celebrate the new academic year. Click here to enter the competition.

Many academics work ‘always, everywhere’. They work weekends, evenings, and holidays, and there is no clear distinction between ‘time at work’ and ‘time off’. With flexible schedules, why not finish that abstract while you’re waiting for your plane, or type up your results on a Sunday afternoon? ‘Work’ can slowly start to take up the largest part of your waking hours. Worse: when you’re not ‘working’ you may feel guilty about it. Work-life balance, they call it. The balance often goes askew.

The reasons for an out-of-whack work-life balance tend to vary depending on where you are in your academic career. In the PhD stage, the most common reason tends to be a combination of procrastination, combined with an inability to switch off from work at the end of the day because ‘I didn’t get anything done’. In the ECR and tenure stages (oh, if we would only be there already!) it is mostly the result of being completely swamped with responsibilities and obligations. Workload starts to take on an entirely different meaning (oh, life was good during our PhD days!). In any stage of the academic career, the message that working ‘hard’, in the sense of working long hours and being available is laudable is reinforced. We start believing that we indeed need to ‘work all the time’ to get our work done, and that nothing less will do when it comes to being, and being perceived as, a ‘hard-working’, prolific, serious academic.

The troubling aspect of this way of approaching your work is not the flexibility of schedules. It is the assumption that endlessly sitting at your computer with your documents or email open is virtuous and constitutes work. The truth of it is that it is NOT the best way to get your best work done. Or any work, for that matter. At least not if you don’t want to be wasting your time more than half of the time! Our brains aren’t wired for long-term, steady state achievement. It’s a shame that plugging away for unlimited hours seems to be the norm, a norm that can be daunting to challenge. But if you dare do so, you may become more prolific than you could have previously imagined. Your energy will lift, your ability to focus will improve. And you’ll be able to shut your laptop, without the worry and the guilt.

The first step in challenging this ‘work-til-you-drop’ paradigm is to challenge the 9-5, or 9-6, or 8-8 or even 8-10 paradigm. The current norm is still very much centred around the idea of ‘office hours’: you work from 9-5 (or longer), with a lunch break in the middle, and maybe a coffee or tea break in the morning and afternoon. Entertain the idea that this might not be the best way to structure your workday. Rather than attempting to work at a steady state and in a linear fashion, envision your workday as a series of sprints.

Work in intervals that are long enough to get things done, but short enough to force you to focus without letting your energy slump. When followed by a period of relaxation you will allow your energy, focus and spirits to remain high. The relaxation part, the ‘non-working’ part is as essential as the part that we normally think of as ‘work’. It is the part where your brain re-sets and recharges, and shifts from analytical thought, which is of crucial importance for thinking logically, hermetically and analytically, to a more free-flowing state of being which allows for sudden new insights to occur. Both are needed for academic work. You need analytical focused thought for running your analyses, making sense of your results and constructing a logically sound argument. But the insights, the breakthroughs, the previously unimagined solutions, do not present themselves when you are focusing on the task at hand. They happen when you let yourself daydream, when you relax, and when you are unfocused (read an article about the brain science behind it here). The bottom line: to foster original thought, and to allow for the more creative parts of mental processes to happen the brain needs to relax, not be narrowly focused.  

If you give working in intervals a try you will see you’ll be able to work much shorter hours while getting more done, because you are taking advantage of the way your brain is designed to work. Even better: you can start enjoying time off without the guilt! For all the workaholics amongst us: now you can be ‘productive’ while doing absolutely nothing except letting your mind wander. What a revolutionary idea! To start, I would suggest experimenting with three 45-minute sessions of focused work, followed by 15-minute breaks, preferably in the morning, and before you have overloaded yourself with other stimuli and distractions. Maybe you’ll find that you get more done in those three hours, than you would have done in a whole day previously. You could use the afternoon to do less mentally challenging work: reading, say, or looking up references, answering email, and doing routine and organisational tasks. I would urge you to leave work early. Yes, you have permission! I believe that a 6-hour workday is often more than long enough (depending of course on your particular commitments). In the long run it’s the only way to keep it sustainable. It is not humanly possible to do intellectually challenging sprints for more than so many hours a day. Fewer than you probably think. Challenge your office mentality. You need to spend less time working, not more. Trust me on this.

To make working in intervals work, there is one catch. You need to focus, and work as intensely as you can, during those 45-minute intervals. It’s a sprint, not a marathon! Don’t pace yourself. Go all out. Give it everything. Pour your heart into it. A simple but helpful tip: disconnect from the Internet while you’re working. Looking up references can wait. So can those news sites and Facebook! A second tip: get very clear on what you actually want to be working on in that work session. Make it as specific as possible. That way it becomes doable. With distractions out of the way, and a clear focus, you can start chipping away at that next paper or chapter.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Writers' Lab: Write, write, and write some more.

Today I have the pleasure of inviting Chris Keyworth to the Writers' Lab. Chris is a final year PhD student in Health Psychology based at the Centre for Dermatology Research, University of Manchester, UK. Chris’s PhD is examining health risk communication and lifestyle behaviour change in people with psoriasis. Twitter: @ChrisK_UofM

One of the best pieces of advice I was given before starting my PhD was to spend the majority of my three years writing. Not thinking, not planning to write (although yes these are key elements to writing and doing a PhD generally), not writing endless to-do lists or downloading those journal articles to your IPad that you will ‘read on the train’, but writing – words on paper. The PhD journey ultimately ends with one thing – the thesis. Without it, there is no PhD. Coming to the end of my PhD, whilst there is still long way to go and a lot of writing to be done, having a basis for my thesis has really helped me.

‘It will be alright on the night’

Cramming all of your writing into the final stages of your PhD is something that I would not endorse. ‘The 3 month thesis’ that we hear about, for me, is nonsense. Writing should evolve over the course of your PhD. Even though drafting, redrafting, and redrafting your redraft is often a pain-staking process; this really does strengthen your writing skills. I sometimes look back at my masters and think ‘did I really write that?’ Being able to write effectively and communicate with a scientific audience (and otherwise) is a fundamental skill for academics. An iterative writing process can only serve to strengthen these skills.

The idea of writing an entire thesis in the final few weeks or months of your PhD fills me with dread. Understandably, lab-based students generally (but not always) spend their first three years of a four year PhD in the lab – and use their final 6 months to a year writing up their findings. This is all well and good, but nothing can prepare you for the undue stress and pressure you will feel at the prospect of cramming your writing into the final stage of your PhD. I am fortunate enough to have received good advice about writing early on in my PhD.

 ‘Is it me or is it cold in here?’

To use an old cliché, starting is the hardest part. I hate that cliché, but yet it rings true. Students (and perhaps academics in general) are all too familiar with that common routine we go through before deciding to type those words on that empty page of our word processor. Make cup of coffee, check emails, get side-tracked by an interesting journal article, make another cup of coffee. Procrastination is a fatal trap that PhD students in particular fall into. Beware of procrastination early on in your PhD when the common thought pattern is ‘it’s fine, I have three years to write this’. We procrastinate, we do anything we can to avoid writing. We convince ourselves the conditions are not suitable to write. ‘It’s too dark in this room’, ‘it’s too light’, ‘it’s too cold’, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow instead.’

Find something that works for you

When it comes to writing, I do like my own space and it is important to find something that works for you. The office, at home, or in the local coffee shop. In my case, the library out of term-time is a great place to work. All the students have gone home, all the books are usually in, and the great peace and quiet, perfect! But it is important to find somewhere where you work best.

The ‘2 hour rule’

Knowing when to write, and how long for, is pivotal. Try blocking out specific time slots in your diary so you have it written down, this seems to be effective for me. Think of it as a written contract with yourself. Research suggests that if something is written down, and even signed (but you don’t
need to go that far!), it is more likely to be followed through. Think of the ‘2 hour golden rule’ which is just about enough for most of us. Give it a go – just write – for 2 hours. You’ll be surprised how productive you could be in a relatively short time-frame.

Break it down into small manageable goals

Writing does not have to be overwhelming. To borrow a term from the health psychology literature, think SMART goals; be specific (number of words), make it measurable (track your progress via the word count), achievable (you know you can write 200 words), realistic, and timely (give yourself plenty of time before an impending deadline). It is not feasible to write 5,000 a day. But think about 200 words every day for 3 years – there is your thesis.

Think about when you are most productive – is there a certain day of the week or time of day when you are most productive. I am definitely a morning person, which is when I tend to focus my writing on. Strangely I often get a ‘second wind’ on Friday afternoons which powers me into a relaxing weekend. The point is you will discover your own writing habits, and make the most of the time that works best for you.

Let your writing guide your reading

It is all too easy to become immersed (and potentially lost!) in the literature, particularly in the early phases of your PhD, but also when it comes to writing generally. My advice would be to let your writing guide your reading. As you write, you know the areas you need to read more about. This not only allows you to develop that all important word count for your thesis, but more crucially, it helps uncover gaps in the literature, and therefore formulate your research questions.

Most importantly – enjoy!

Another piece of advice I can give is to quite simply enjoy writing. It can be very rewarding seeing your name up in lights in that internationally-renowned journal. I am far from being a writing guru, but I merely pass on some words of encouragement that writing need not be the devil’s work.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How I manage my papers in progress

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

At the beginning of your research career, you might make be making a big deal out of working on a research paper (and that's normal and alright, it's a skill that you are acquiring and it will take some practice before you have the writing in your fingers). Once you gain more experience, and once you move onto the next stages of career, you might be transitioning into a next stage of writing, the stage of Having Many Papers Going On At Once.

Having many papers going on at once can be messy. You'll need to find a way to keep track of the deadlines, see if you need to go and bug the editor to get your reviews back if after many months they still don't give a sign of life, and keep track of the replies of your coauthors. Or you might have pasted a figure into your paper, and then afterwards when you need to upload a high-quality version of it, forget where on Earth you have left that drawing.

In this post, I'll be discussing the different aspects of managing papers that are in progress. There's some planning involved, some regular document tracking, and some list-making. The system that I'm using is integrated with my time management system, and might not be completely suitable for you. More than anything, this post is meant to give you some ideas, rather than to present a water-tight system that you should copy. Now, with that warning as a side, let me present you the system I'm currently using:

1. Planning your papers

I use a Google Document in which I keep an overview of the papers in progress and the papers I have in mind to write. I use a spreadsheet in Google Docs for this, which is a rather low-tech approach for planning, but let me explain why I prefer Google Docs for this purpose:
  • Shareable: This Google Doc is shared with the people who are most often my co-authors. I don't need to send an updated file whenever I make a change - they can simply see the latest version whenever they want to check our progress. And on the rare occasion when I do need a print or time-snapshot of this table, I can easily print the table (as a PDF or physical print), and use it for something like my annual evaluation.
  • Accessible: Whenever I have an idea of a paper I should write, or if I'm traveling and I forgot how far along I am with a given paper, I can simply access this document in the cloud, and check the table. This feature is especially helpful since I'm working at institutions that are divided over 2 continents.
  • Overview of dates and people: My Google Docs table is very simple, and consists of the following columns: "Paper", which has an abbreviated name for the paper, typically related to the journal I'm aiming at, "Topic", which -well- contains the topic of the paper, "Journal/Venue" contains the journal or conference in which I'm planning to publish this work, "First Draft" has the goal-deadline for my first draft, "Revisions" has my goal-deadline for getting the revisions from my co-authors, "Co-author X/Y/Z" has an x if said co-author already sent me his comments, "submitting" has my goal-deadline for first submission. Then, for the second round of reviews, I use the following columns next to the previously discussed ones: "Draft Review", "Revision", "Co-author X/Y/Z" and "Resubmit". Finally, I have a column that I use for notes-to-myself.
  • Comments: Using a simple spreadsheet-based document allows me to write some comments in a separate column. What goes in there? For example, if a paper is rejected, I make a comment of where else I could publish it and when I can think of reworking it. Or, I write in there that I need to ask other people if they want to be co-author for the paper.
  • Color-coding: I'm using a simple color-coding in the sheet (by filling the background of the cells in the first column): light blue for papers that are completely done, green for papers that are on hold or in review, orange for papers in progress, and red for papers I haven't started yet.

2. Reminders and future plans

Besides the Google Document with the planning table, I also put self-imposed and hard deadlines in my to-do list app. I use Todoist, and I have a separate project titled "Writing papers". In there, I have not only the deadlines (which show up as reminders on the Todoist website, the app on my phone and tablet and whatnot), but I also have reminders for starting dates (when I plan to start working on a paper), and vague ideas for papers that have no deadline but that I review from time to time - although at the moment I'm still completely swamped with finishing up the papers that result from my dissertation. Once a "start-writing" reminder shows up in my Todoist (or better: in the 7 days ahead view that I always use), I will add it to my weekly planning in Google Calendar. I'm using a weekly template to make sure I find the time to teach, prepare class, read papers, write papers and do research. Oh, and -to my distress- read and reply email. The weekly template is generic, but on a weekly and monthly basis, I fill out which paper precisely I'll be working on during my writing time, and which piece of research precisely I'll be working on during my research hours. On a daily basis then, I write down my 3 most important tasks in my paper-based planner, because I tend to get distracted when I need to keep checking my schedule on Google Calendar online.

3. Organizing documents

Another related element here is keeping track of all mails from the editors related to a given paper, and the figures - to avoid not finding the high-resolution version of a given figure once you need to upload them for submission. I create a folder per paper (all together organized in a document with my written stuff). Within this folder I save the paper and its different versions (I use "Paper Title YYYYMMDD.doc" as a name for the documents). In a subfolder "figs", I save the figures - lately I've been just using fig 1.eps, fig 2.eps etc for naming the figures. I also keep a subfolder "review process" for replies to reviewers and any email related to the review process. Another folder, "calcs" typically contains the calculations backing up the data in the paper for easy reference. Since I have an Inbox Zero, I also save all emails regarding the paper in the main folder of the paper, such as the email giving me the name of the submission, and the confirmation of the submission.

This method, in a nutshell, helps me to keep an overview of the papers that I have in process. It's easy, in the cloud, and suits the purpose. In my opinion, complex time management system with a lot of zinging and dinging features are not what we need - instead, a simple system that just contains the basic information is sufficient.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Writers' Lab: Writing practices of a postdoc in the sciences

Today in the Writers' Lab I have the pleasure of inviting William Alexander, who shares with us his writing habits. William Alexander was born and educated in Missouri. Currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his interests center on synthetic biology, homebrewing, and child rearing.

Scientific writing is a difficult skill to master. As a young scientist in the early stages of my career, I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to putting letters to paper (digitally, of course), and during that time I’ve developed a writing routine that has enhanced not only the quantity of text I can output in a day but also the quality of said text. In this post, I’d like to share with you what I do when I’m writing so that those of you reading this who are just beginning their first journal article write-up or dissertation chapter will receive some tips to make the experience less of a grind.

Before I even touch a keyboard, I focus my thoughts to the task at hand. Writing is a form of communication, and communicating requires that you take your potential audience into account. Who will be reading this document? What is the intended purpose of this document? Getting into the head of your readers will assist your writing to target their level of knowledge or their demographic. Once you know who you’re trying to reach, you now must tell them something. What information are you conveying? Is this document data-heavy (like a journal paper) or theory-heavy (like a grant application)? I have found that doing an outline of the document is immensely useful in directing both the flow of your writing and organizing the information you wish to convey.

I absolutely, positively cannot write in the lab. I couldn’t do it as an undergraduate, I couldn’t do it as a grad student, and I can’t do it now as a postdoc. Labs are full of distractions that wreck concentration and flow, like beeping timers, loud conversations, meetings, experiments, and so on. If you’re like me and you get distracted by these things, then get out and go somewhere else! Some people prefer coffee shops, bars, or parks, but I prefer writing in my home office. The coffee is better, I’m isolated from the world, and, most importantly, it’s comfortable; I think that being comfortable when writing is incredibly important, especially when the crunch is on and you need to get a document produced ASAP.

This sounds silly, but I have incredible difficulty writing after 7 pm or so. I can maybe do some light editing or figure drawing, but my text quality and quantity drops noticeably in the evening. The best time for me to write is in the morning after breakfast, so when I have a heavy writing load I will take that time to write like a maniac, then eat lunch and go in to lab for the afternoon and evening. While your ideal time will probably differ from mine, figuring out when the best time of day for you to write is important because it will increase your productivity and morale. Figuring this out is easy: do the experiment for yourself!

You need to take breaks when you write. Full stop. Period. You’re a person, and people need breaks when they work. Writing can and will be a laborious task, and if you’re tired or overworked your text will suffer. I try to write for no more than two hours at a time. Once two hours passes (or I get fed up with whatever I’m working on), I go do something for a half hour or so. This break could consist of taking a walk, watching a TV episode on Netflix, making and eating a meal, or any number of things. Well-rested people are productive people, and this rule applies to a scientist writing a paper as much as it applies to more physically demanding labor. Also, be sure to not sacrifice sleep; staying up all night writing a paper has always led to me reading over garbage the next day. I’m a thirtysomething, and my body and mind can’t cope with the lack of restful sleep.

To summarize: my writing routine consists of planning, writing mostly in the morning at home, taking breaks when necessary, and not wrecking myself by staying up all night. I hope this insight into my process helps you, or at least provides some ideas to try for yourself. Happy writing!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What is Digital Scholarship

Today I have the pleasure of inviting Stephanie Echeveste to share her views on digital scholarship. Stephanie is the community manager for USC Rossier Online, which offers a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Change and Leadership program delivered online at the USC Rossier School of Education. Stephanie has taught English abroad, dance in South Central Los Angeles and art in the mission district of San Francisco. She is passionate about providing quality education for all and is a lifelong learner herself.

What is Digital Scholarship?

In the not-so-distant past, graduate and doctoral students spent countless hours in university libraries digging for information for their dissertations. Now, digital scholarship is changing just how and where we conduct research. So, what exactly is digital scholarship?

Digital Scholarship Defined

According to The University of Washington,
“Digital scholarship is often composed of works that are born digital, multimedia, database technology-based, analysis of other born digital material, digital text and images, digital music or art, and data sets. Much of this scholarship is never intended to be formally published. This form of scholarly data, presentations and dissemination represents a shift away from publishing and the kind of scholarship that we have traditionally collected and preserved in libraries, and is a natural evolution and adaptation of digital technology to scholarship[KF1] .”
With digital scholarship, many of the research tools are open-access, so their uses are unlimited. Digital scholarship enables researchers to share their findings instantaneously with the world and also enables collaborations among technology experts, scholars and anyone else involved in research. We are moving away from the days when university faculty and students pursuing their Doctor of Education degree need to conduct all of their research in university libraries, leafing through academic journals.

Advantages and Implications for faculty members and PhD students

Since many universities have or are establishing digital scholarship centers, the process of data mining is becoming far easier and less time consuming for faculty and graduate students. Educause took a close look at what a typical digital scholarship center infrastructure looks like and how universities are capitalizing on digital scholarship.
Digital scholarship centers are separate from their traditional research counterparts in that they employ experts in digital learning. They may offer tutorials, consulting services and curate specific types of materials.

One example of a digital scholarship center is the Center for Digital Scholarship at Brown University. Brown University is a pioneer in digital scholarship since the 1960s. Today, the center employs “two digital humanities librarians, a social science data librarian, a scientific data management consultant, a data visualization specialist, an imaging and metadata manager, and a digital repository manager.” Besides offering significant libraries of multidisciplinary information, they are hosting a number of collaborative research projects that include a “Catalon Literature Bibliography” and “Open eBook Validator.”

Utilizing Digital Scholarship

What does all of this mean for faculty and doctoral students? With digital scholarship centers, valuable research information is available via a simple search on a computer and viewable anytime from any location. Digital scholarship centers support the use of digital scholarship by providing a collaborative space and access to resources that are necessary to enhance projects, papers, and more.

Digital scholarship is often collaborative, which enables PhD students to work with experts and other students around the world, and exposes students to different perspectives. Digital scholarship makes it easier for researchers to strengthen their work with digital resources such as, where many researchers are sharing their findings.

But with all digital information, resources must be scrutinized for authenticity and objectivity.
Since digital scholarship use is so common, universities are clarifying exactly how they evaluate digital scholarship to help others understand what is expected of them. For PhD students and faculty with leadership aspirations, the University of Southern California has documented its expectations when it comes to the use of digital scholarship. For example,
  • Project expectations must be crystal clear. Project objectives, tasks, and the timeline must be outlined before students or faculty conduct any research alone or in collaboration with others.
  • Digital work should be edited and reviewed digitally by experts in the field.
  • Peer review standards are created with digital publishing in mind. This means that factors like aesthetics and formatting are important.  
  • Researchers must clarify the importance of their work, how it was or will be reviewed and what the future implications of their research is, which makes it clear for any readers outside the field of research.
With expectations clearly explained, issues like plagiarism can be avoided, making digital scholarship a useful, convenient and valuable tool in education.