Category Archives: Doin’ my doctorate

Calling 18-25 year olds

Woah, July was my last post? Sheesh. Sorry about that. Now I’m about to do something rude and ask for a favour.

I’m currently researching the news habits of young Australian adults, with a particular focus on social media and comedy as sources of news. It’s for my doctorate. Yeah, the one I’m still doing. I know, I know.

Anyway, I need some more 18-25 year-olds to fill out my online survey and it would be FREAKIN’ AMAZING if you could send the survey link through your networks:

The survey is open to anyone in the age range who lives in Australia.


Here is me, seeing the finish line:


What do I do now?

I’ve reached the point where I need to make a tough decision about my doctorate. I’m three years in, finishing December next year. I don’t have three years of work behind me. I have three years of wasting time and worrying, punctuated by brief periods of working on it. I think the fact that I’ve been sick for almost two months isn’t helping things. However, my entire life has taught me that I am very good under pressure and always come good at the end. I am confident that I’ll finish it, but I don’t know if I want to.

Update: I should point out, I’m not stressed at all by the doctorate or the work. I’m very “yeah, whatevs” about the whole thing. It would probably help if I was more stressed.

I get to be called Doctor.
I love my topic (how young adults get their political news).
I wanted to do a doctorate because I’ve never had a job that challenged me and figured this would. It does, and not always in the way I expected.
I’m very good with external deadlines, so as it gets closer, I’ll feel more excited and my work rate will increase.

I am sick of having no money.
I am sick of worrying about having no money.
I am sick of relying on ManFriend financially.
Days slip by and I have nothing to show for it.
I spend too much time by myself and I’m sick of my own company.
I don’t feel at all connected to my university.
I don’t want to be an academic.

So, what do I do now? Do I walk away, or keep at it?

So, I’m having one of those weeks

I’m having one of those weeks in which it’s impossible to concentrate on anything for more than a minute.

It’s not that I’m daydreaming, it’s just that my mind keeps going blank… and then I realise that it’s been blank for a while, and there’s nothing but freakin’ tumbleweeds in there.

It’s taken me all day to write this stupid post and it’s only four sentences so far. Because I keep forgetting that I’m writing it.

Of course, in hindsight I realise that I should have turned off the computer and gone to the gym/read a book/gone to an art gallery/met someone for coffee/baked a delicious treat. But that would require me to have noticed that I wasn’t doing anything, which brings me back to the problem.

So, it’s time to bring in the Big Guns: you guys. How do you deal with this? How do you say, ‘ok brain, let’s go do something else’ when you don’t even notice that you’re not doing anything?

Tomatoes – not just great on pizza

It’s time to be brutally honest. Things have been pretty bad in PhDland for a while. (“Fddland” is how I say it in my head, which makes it sound a little bit Kiwi and a little bit Nordic.) When I started this post I hadn’t read more than a couple of journal articles or written anything for weeks. Weeks and weeks. Probably months and months if I could bring myself to look in my diary at the last time I’d crossed anything out.

This is something I have struggled with for a while. I wrote about it in November, and January and February, and from the comments, it’s something many of you struggle with too. When people tell me that I must be smart to be doing a PhD, I reply with, “no, you don’t have to be smart, you just need to be ok with spending a lot of time by yourself for at least three years”.

In my experience – being halfway through, and fucking hell, that’s a scary thought – doing a doctorate means you cook a lot, do loads and loads of washing, read things unrelated to your topic, and play a lot of solitaire and freecell on the computer. Sure, you do some work, but it’s never as much as you imagined you’d need to do. And there’s always the feeling that you’ll get it done in time, because you always do. Or maybe that’s just me? After all, three tertiary qualifications, years as a journalist and years as a freelancer have shown me that I can always pull decent-to-very-good work out of my arse when it’s needed.

When I started this doctorate, I expected to feel like I was a one-conversation pony who bored my friends, reasonably stressed, and overwhelmed by how much work I had to do. But what I wasn’t expecting to feel was guilt. Guilt at being able to spend whole days doing very little. Guilt at knowing that friends have done PhDs while looking after very small children. Guilt at knowing that friends have done PhDs while working full-time. Guilt at knowing that ManFriend is bringing home most of the bacon. Guilt at being in this incredibly privileged position and wasting it. And it seems that nothing I’ve tried so far has been able to get me to work for any meaningful length of time. For someone who loves reading and learning and thinking and has signed up for a doctorate, this is not a good place to be. People tell you that you’ll learn a lot about yourself doing a doctorate. What they don’t tell you is that you won’t like what you find.

A couple of weeks ago, I read two blog posts on the same topic: Jen Dziura’s Productivity Tips for People With Short Attention Spans, and The Thesis Whisperer’s Another way to write 1000 words a day?, about the Pomodoro Technique. I took this to be a giant neon flashing sign that hit me in the face like a wet fish and caused me to mix my metaphors.

It sounds a bit fancy-pants, but the Pomodoro Technique is using a timer to work for 25 minutes and then take a five minute break. Then you do it again. It’s ridiculously simple. So I downloaded a timer. You can put it anywhere on your screen and it looks like this:

The pomodoro timer

The timer that is restoring my sanity

Before I clicked the start button for the first time, well, let’s just say apprehensive was an understatement. Like Virginia Valian (1113KB pdf) who felt overwhelmed by the thought of spending five minutes on her thesis, 25 minutes seemed like a really long time. I knew I’d keep looking at the timer in the vain hope that I could will my punishment to be over.

I took a deep breath, clicked start, and looked down at my journal article. Then I looked back up at the timer and was shocked to discover that I only had three minutes and 20 seconds to go.

Sure, not all of my breaks are just five minutes, but seeing the timer there, waiting for me to reset it, makes me focus back on my doctorate in a way that no amount of telling myself “today I am going to get lots done” ever could.

Sometimes I even go over the 25 minutes because I’m engrossed in what I’m reading or writing. I didn’t expect that. According to the book you can download (500KB pdf), you’re not supposed to do this, but frankly, being on a roll happens so rarely that I’m unwilling to stop it.

Strangely, that simple little timer is more compelling than leechblock and freedom. Perhaps because the doctorate seems so big and looming. Whereas leechblock and freedom say “ok, the internet is blocked, now do some work”, all the little timer says is “hey, you only have to do 25 minutes, you can manage that”.

Last week I pomodoro-ed. This week I’ve pomodoro-ed. Today I’ve done two so far. Wish me luck. Or come around and kick my arse because that might work as well.

Cold turkey week four – the end

Wow, that was a pretty quick 30 days huh?

As I wrote last week, not wasting time is a pretty amorphous aim, and apparently it’s easier to add a habit or change a habit if it’s something concrete.

When I started this 30 day challenge, I wrote:

No pfaffing around on the internet, no spider solitaire, no seven-tabs-open-I’ll-read-it-later. If I click on a link I have to read it all and then close the tab. And I’ve downloaded freedom so I can block my internet access.

Well, I used freedom once but found that blocking everything just meant I ended up with a list of studies to look up later. On Lauren B’s suggestion I tried leechblock, so I could choose what to block (twitter and email, I’m looking at you) and still have access to the uni library. That was much better because I could look up a study when I came across it and quickly decide if it was a keeper.

But this is about more than just my doctorate – it’s also about doing the things that are always on my list but never get crossed off. So, when I write in my diary (the 2011 type, not the Dear Diary type) things like “go for a walk” and “call the builder” and “call Wendy”, I’m putting a time next to them and at that time I will do those things.

Yeah, I didn’t end up any better at this. But I did get to tell you a story last week about my Dad, which probably gave him a smile before he and Mum went off to Tajikistan.

But I have been better – more focussed – about my research. I’ve been reading, and writing, and thinking.

And I’ve also been free.

At ManFriend’s Masters graduation yesterday (yes, we are now a Master Master household), Alex Malley, the CEO of CPA Australia, gave a speech about how you shouldn’t be afraid to fail. When you’re scared of failure, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t going to kill you. He also said you shouldn’t be afraid to quit a job if it goes against what you believe in. I was nodding so hard I almost pulled a muscle in my neck. I had been working two days a week in a newsroom whose entire approach to news I fundamentally disagreed with, and for someone I had absolutely no respect for. I kept telling myself that it paid the bills, but it was making me feel sick with myself for doing it. I felt dirty, and not in the good way. That’s disappointing. So I quit. And it feels so good. And that person I didn’t respect? They’ve been reading my blog every day to see if I write about them. Talk about pathetic.

Anyway, removing that – I feel like saying “impacted bowel” – has made me feel a lot lighter. And this lightness has allowed me to give more of my thinking time over to my doctorate. So while quitting that job wasn’t directly related to this 30 day challenge, it has been a part of it. I haven’t become Super Productive Person (that would have to be a nerd superhero), but I am more productive than I was 30 days ago. And since it apparently takes 66 days to create a habit, I’m halfway there. (But don’t worry, I won’t keep blogging about it.) The hardest part of the challenge has been to keep the idea of it in my attention. Maybe I should have used some post-it notes?

I want to finish with a bit of shameless self-promotion. I’m a finalist in the 2011 Best Australian Blogs competition, in the commentary category. I’m up against four great blogs so it’s very flattering that I’m in that league. I’ve also been nominated for the People’s Choice award. Hint hint. The blogs are listed alphabetically and I’m under T, which is where I should be. (I have this argument with friends all the time. When alphabetising cds, The Cramps should be filed under T because The is a significant word in their band name. If they didn’t think The was an important part of their name, they’d just be Cramps.)

So, how did everyone else go? With the challenge, not with alphabetising their cds.

Cold turkey week three

For those who haven’t been playing along at home, this cold turkey stuff is about my 30 day challenge. I want to be using my time more productively and so made myself accountable to you.

Like any new habit, the first week goes really well because you’re focussed on it. The second week isn’t as good, but still ok. Week three is a bit blah. That might also have something to do with spending the first part of this week as a snot factory, oh woe is me-ing on the couch amid my midden of used tissues.

As I type this, I have 12 tabs open. Twelve! So much for productively reading and then closing each tab as I find something. Apparently it takes 66 days to form a habit, so I shouldn’t be expecting years of multi-tabs to be fixed in just 21 days. I think I like Lifehack‘s version better – they reckon a habit will stick after 30 days. I guess it depends on the habit you’re trying to create. Adding something specific, like going for a walk every morning, or eating a piece of fruit with lunch, is a lot easier than a vague idea about being more productive. Which is not to chicken out, but to acknowledge that it’s a pretty difficult task I’ve set myself.

I don’t have a lot of childhood memories featuring my Dad – he worked a lot, but every Friday was Lolly Night when he’d come home with a huge bag of sugar for us and we’d meticulously divvy it up so everyone got exactly the same number of lollies – but he always seemed to do things as he thought of them. When he opened a bill, he’d write a cheque straight away, put it in an envelope and into his briefcase. Well, that’s my memory of it. He might have been writing love letters to my Mum or a list of swear words to randomly send to someone. I don’t even know where all our current bills are, let alone when they’re due. Some are probably on the coffee table under brochures for appliances, half a block of Lindt sea salt chocolate and a picture of a toilet I like. The others are maybe in the pile of stuff on one of the chairs. Maybe. For the last seven or so years I’ve been paid monthly, and each month I just pay the same amount on each bill that I paid the month before. It usually works out ok. I’m not a very good grown up. (I do, however, have a gold-lined cape and rollerskates and hula hoops and a shitload of plastic accessories, so I’m a pretty good adult-sized kid.)

Clearly I’m also easily distracted. So, week three, much harder to keep up the productivity, but still better than I was before I started this challenge. How is everyone else going?

Cold turkey week two

How is it Friday already?

(If you’re new here, this is the second week of my 30 day challenge to use my time productively. I’ve wrangled some of you lovely readers into playing as well. It’s not too late to join in now for a mini-challenge on whatever topic you want.)

It’s been a busy brain week. The highlight was on Wednesday when I finally quit my job – I’ll write more about that next week. But it meant spending a lot of time thinking about options, and more time than was necessary thinking about clever yet cutting remarks. I love those conversations in your head where you always win, or the person you don’t like loses their temper while you stay cool as a freakin’ cucumber.

I’ve spent less time in front of the computer this week. When I start to pfaff around on the internet, I get up and walk away and do something else, like read a chapter of a book, or put on a load of washing, or go for a walk. Purposeful. So that’s a good thing.

It doesn’t feel like I’ve been as productive this week as I was last week, but you’re always on your best behaviour in the first week of a 30 day challenge.

So, K, Mimbles, Pirra, Teresa, Melski, Zoie, Philippe, how are you going?

Oh, and I’m after some tasty inspiration. I went to Flemington this morning and got a little excited by the apples. Anyone got a great recipe for a picnic-friendly apple pie or tart? I’ve got Royal Galas and Granny Smiths coming out the wazoo.