This week I submitted the first official version of the complete thesis (366 pages including references and annexes) to the evaluation committee. I also : attended two Christmas meals at my son’s school, including spending a morning decorating the school gym and cutting up meat pies for the Christmas halal lunch; attended a meeting about health advocacy in the region I now live in; attended a union meeting where we voted to strike (for 10 hours, over the course of a month, that’s another post, maybe); met with 2 colleagues, separately, regarding courses we are co-teaching, one next semester, one this past semester; travelled to the city I used to live in to attend a meeting and a Christmas party; hosted the family Chanukah party; spent a day revising the thesis; spent a few hours here and there marking; completed the Christmas/Chanukah shopping; and reviewed a chapter where I am a co-author. Work-life balance at it’s best? At it’s worst? I have no idea. There were stressful moments, there was some celebration, now I wait 3 months for the committee to evaluate the thesis and set a defense date, oh and spend my holidays marking, which I swore I wouldn’t do this year!
The second draft has been emailed away – yippee! The references are all done, I was even audacious enough to write the acknowledgement section, so let’s hope my supervisor and co-supervisor think it’s good enough to submit to the committee.
In other news, I spent the week at a great conference, where most presentations I attended challenged my thinking and inspired many new ideas. I presented a paper titled “Revisisiting narratives of relationships with marginalized families during the transition to school: An ethnopoetic inquiry,” which, as you might have guessed, was yet another way to analyse my thesis data, specifically the data that didn’t make it into the thesis. The idea was to look at transgressive emotional data, shared by my participants and my own emotional reactions to their stories, as well as emotional memories evoked by the participant narratives. I was terrified, because my family laughed at me for calling poetry research, and because I’m not a poet, but it was so well-received, I am still in shock. Also, it was great catching up with friends and colleagues, and I somehow managed to drink too much every single night, which tends to happen every time I go to a conference.
Back to the busy semester of teaching, and marking, and administrative tasks, but first, looking forward to a restful weekend!
It’s a great semester so far, the three different classes I am teaching (to four groups) are going really well – especially the one I am teaching for the third time. I’m finally having fun and feeling like I’m becoming the professor I want to be. There are way too many meetings, as usual, not that I don’t enjoy them. I’m involved in a colleague’s really exciting research project, which so far has only meant meetings with the research team and with teachers, and accompanying immigrant and refugee children on explorations of the city. Article accepted and final revisions submitted. Planning a reading circle for professors of preschool education with all the other universities in the province, we’re going to talk about Beyond Quality (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 2007), which was one of the reasons I decided to do a PhD in the first place – to have people with whom I could discuss that book! So things are going well. I am very much enjoying living in the same city where I work, and being so close to nature. All good, except the stagnating PhD, but I am pleased to announce revisions of chapter 4 (the assembled narratives) are complete. Only 2 more chapters to revise, some references to update, some formatting issues, getting someone to proofread, and I should be able to submit the first official draft to the whole committee (it’s called a jury where I am) before the end of October. Woohoo!
So, summer is coming to an end. Course syllabi have been submitted, planning for teaching has begun. Committee work is kicking up, and I’m off to Italy this weekend for a conference. I received feedback on my initial thesis draft while I was on vacation, and have spent most of August revising, but I still have 3 chapters to go, not to mention the references to go through (now is not the time to tell me I should I have been better with my use of reference management software!). While the revisions are not major (I don’t need to rewrite anything, yet – the whole committee hasn’t read it, just my co-supervisors), they do take time. I’m a bit worried about keeping the thesis as a priority once classes start (2 weeks from yesterday), but I have a deadline (September, I am amending that from beginning of to end of, in a rare attempt to face reality), so hopefully that will keep me on track. That’s the update for today, the end is in sight, but still a ways off. Any encouragement will be much appreciated 🙂
I moved, with the whole family. Happily unpacking boxes and less happily putting stuff away. My official vacation ended yesterday, so I’m back to work (now only a 4-minute cycle away!) I got feedback on the first full draft of the thesis – basically I need to reorganize some things and find a better style and tone for chapter 4. Chapter 4 is my assembled narratives, basically presenting the data before I present the analysis. It is a totally different kind of writing (more narrative, less academic). I think I would be capable of doing this in my native language (English), but in French, not so much. I’ve got the academic formula down pat, though I still make mistakes and lack finesse, but I’m in unfamiliar waters here, and my wonderful and super supportive supervisors can’t help me. I’m thinking of recruiting a student in literary studies or literary creation to help me get a handle on this. I have a month and a bit to submit the next version, which should be the one to go to the whole committee. I’m also working on the references in my free time, and on other publication projects, and on prepping the classes I’m teaching in the Fall…
No need to mention the references, acknowledgments, formatting, and a few rounds of corrections. I did a practice defense because I was invited to present my thesis project to a group of grad students, the deadline keeps changing (due to my supervisor’s knee surgery) and is now during my vacation, but I just may be able to finish it before I leave, so yeah, the end is in sight!
I have a deadline, two weeks from now. Unfortunately I am also moving during that time, not to mention the conference/vacation overseas, but I got through most of the other crazy tasks I had to do. I ran 30k. I organized a conference (at which I presented 3 papers, what was I thinking?), and a networking event. I am almost finished preparing next week’s guest lecture and my keynote speech. I am so looking forward to those 3 weeks of vacation after the thesis deadline!
Sadly, the return from Bootcamp was rough – motivation was hard to find. After a few days of getting very little done at home on my own I decided to meet up with strangers through the Facebook site set up by others who have experienced a post-retreat slump. There are people who meet in cafés or libraries daily, in many cities across the province, to write alone but together. It worked like a charm. I went twice and chapter 5 (that’s my second results/discussion chapter) is done. Leaving me with revising chapters 1 to 4, putting all my references in order, fixing the formatting, revising chapter 5, writing a conclusion, revising, rewriting, revising…but the end is approaching. I think letting go of the PhD student identity is going to be hard, but, I get a pay raise, I get to not lose my job, so I’ll adjust. Still no idea of a realistic timeline, but it’s because a lot depends on my how my co-supervisors feel about the work I’ve done. Hopefully this lack of estimation skills will not continue throughout my career!
So I spent another weekend at Thèsez-vous, my favourite (and only) thesis-writing retreat! The first one I went to was held at a children’s summer camp, this one was in an old convent, but the experience was similar. There is a very rigid schedule: we have blocks of writing time, interspersed with outdoor play time, meals and breaks and snacks, a somewhat condescending workshop with an experienced academic, and some yoga and meditation. We set goals for each writing period at the beginning, write them on post-its, and then move the post-its from the ‘to do’ section to the ‘in progress’ section, to ‘done.’ I found it super motivational, and though I thought I knew all there is to know about myself as a writer/academic, I found it pretty neat to realise that micro-structuring my time seems to be helpful. I didn’t achieve all my goals, but I did leave with a road map (or detailed outline) for the rest of the results/discussion, and a view of the end in sight, very very far in the distance, but in sight! So I’m hyper motivated and happy.
Of course, when I returned home it was to a whole other set of deadlines, none of which involve the thesis. This week I could write a blog post titled ‘How not to write a journal in 7 days,’ and then there’s another article to edit, some data for a third project to analyse, a conference submission or two to prepare, some preservice teachers to supervise, the MA student I am co-supervising needs me to read her document (I think it’s somewhere around 50 pages long), and besides organizing a conference, meeting with the teachers for a fourth project (where at least I am not the lead researcher), and meeting with some colleagues to discuss the possibility of starting a bilingual academic journal focused on early childhood education and care, oh and that book proposal I am supposed to write with some other colleagues…well, I should get a chance to work on the thesis again sometime soon.
Oh and did I mention I’m doing the Crossfit Open, going to start training for a 30k running race when the snow melts, and preparing to move with my partner and 2 kids to the city where my job is actually located? But thèsez-vous was an amazing experience, I highly recommend it to any grad students in Quebec or eastern Ontario. They have a Facebook page now where you can meet up at cafés and work. You just announce where you will be, put a clothespin on your laptop, and wait for the other students to show up and motivate you. I met a woman at the retreat who works full time so she either attends a formal retreat or organises an informal one with friends once a month, and she says she’s making excellent progress. My next plan is to try the informal rent a chalet with friends and attempt to reproduce the vortex of writing joy and vacation feel. I’ll keep you posted if it happens!
The Slow Academic, who is one of my academic superheroes primarily due to the name of her blog, recently posted about a conference she attended where the presenter inserted “thinking time” into her weekly timetable. Another article, this one on the Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses scheduling blocks of time for “deep work.”
I am not interested in chaining myself (any more than I already am) to my agenda. I wish I could unschedule my time. Now I appreciate living a life (and having a job) where I am (mostly) the one in charge of deciding what I do when. I often take an hour out of my work day to exercice, I work in cafés or at home, in the train or my office, I volunteer at my son’s school once every couple of weeks. My work time is split into teaching and the work that surrounds teaching (preparing, evaluating, meeting with students, and thinking); service and admin tasks (mostly meeting others in person or virtually, and doing follow-up work and communication between meetings and thinking); and research, which at the moment involves reading and writing (deep work), but also can include meeting with people, travelling to international conferences, and yes, thinking. This is one of the things I love about my job, and hopefully this variety and the constant evolution of courses and research and service commitments will make me want to stick with this job for the long haul.
Personally, my strategy is not to schedule more (to include thinking and other “slow” or “unproductive” tasks into my agenda), but to schedule less. To be loose with my time, to include more time than I think tasks will take in the schedule, and to be kind to myself when I just can’t concentrate on the task I had planned. To understand that some days what I had planned to take 6 hours will get done in 1, on other days it takes all day just to do something I thought would take 15 minutes, and on some days, my brain refuses to go into the deep thought place it needs to be, so I do less taxing work tasks like responding to emails, reviewing other people’s work, and doing the laundry. I only work evening and weekends when deadlines are dire, and I try my best to prevent this from happening. I manage to “produce” enough, but I judge my “productivity” on what I contribute. Did I make a new colleague feel welcome today? Did the article I published or the paper I presented make others think and question what they thought they knew? Did it inspire them? Did what I said at the meeting make a positive contribution, to the task at hand or more generally to some aspect of the field of Education?
Do you have any other ways to measure contribution on a daily or yearly basis? How do you handle scheduling your time?