A Studying/Parenting/Life Manifesto

To know that for everything there is time. Keep it for things that matter.

To keep both eyes open, with both hands and two feet ready.

Don’t leave things get burned until you live only for putting fires off.

Know that some things (like a PhD) is an inferno. You cannot just tackle it, you need to strategise. Build dams, water channels instead of throwing a bucket of water to the raging fire.

To know that everyone is a human, who needed to be treated with kindness and respect.

Yet also remember to treat yourself with kindness and respect.

Practice thinking holistically. Why are we doing this? What are its benefit, long term? How to do it the appropriate way ?

Be the shepherd, not the sheep. Make decisions. Raise concerns. Don’t be the passenger of your own journey.

 

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How to like your PhD again

The title might sound strange. After all, why would you hate your own PhD?

However, as time goes on and you are sort of stuck with your PhD you might grow to resent it. I felt that way in this year as I entered my fourth year of PhD.

Anyway, I read something on my twitter feed about people finding their success on things that they are most passionate about this morning. And it really makes my heart warm, and rethink again how I actually really like my PhD and grateful for it. Some reasons are:

-I get to work on it. Earlier this month my friend left UK to work on it on her home country. I felt that I am actually really blessed to get to do it.

-It is something I really passionate about and believe in. While some thesis might be really technical, as part of a social science field I believe my thesis has been triggered by real concern on better life quality of people. Despite the hard work, I actually really like my thesis. I am also grateful that I got a smart and kind yet tough supervisor that makes the process of finding and shaping ideas on the thesis as rewarding as it is.

-It creates opportunity for good quality education for my kids. They learn to be creative, finding their voice, and learn in a simple but meaningful ways.

-It trains me to be a better researcher, and people in general. I read, analyse, and write better than before I do my PhD. I don’t get easily turned down by  challenges, as not many things are more challenging than doing a PhD. I am also more patient now.

-I learn to be myself and do things based on what I am good at instead of trying to follow others. It is  a work in progress, but I know that it is there. Sometimes I think that it is not enough, and that I need to keep challenging myself.

In the end, I do hope that I get to finish it in good note. But if not, these past years were not wasted.

Bouncing back period in PhD

In the process of doing my PhD, I have always had that ‘bouncing back’ period. What is it?

‘Bouncing back’ period is the time it takes to get back to your writing again. This can be a couple of hours, a few days, to a week stretch (some might need even more time). Time required to bounce back usually emerge because of previous period of ‘binge-writing’, which is the term Paul de Silva (writer of How to Write a Lot–my favourite book) uses for writing extensively due to deadlines where writers just write and pour their brain out. Consequently, you need time to recover from it, and therefore postpone your next progress. De Silva recommends that we need to avoid binge-writing at all cost and should instead aim to write regularly and without stress.

My bouncing back period, however, is also driven by some logistical issues. I have used time after submission dates not only to get myself recovered, but also my family and my house. Therefore, after submission I would get back to my mountains of laundry, things to iron, cluttered house, empty fridge which occurred during my so-called absence due to binge-writing. Therefore I usually spend a day or two after submission to clean up my house and get it restocked again. However, due to this absence, I will need longer time to get back to my usual speed of writing.

Other than after submission bounce, for me there is also other type bouncing back time needed. This is usually after I received bad input (endless revision or rejections from conferences). I just couldn’t have the mental energy to face the writing again without thinking about the bad input, and often rethink in despair what I would have done wrong.

I am still ambivalent about bouncing back time. Despite the time being thrown away before one can get back to their writing, for me at least they bounce, and not stop. However, to make it  faster to recover and get back in writing, maybe plan of action may help. The key is to make the plan before the bouncing supposed to start. For example, before the submission date, you plan what you need to do shortly afterwards, and what are the goals of writing that you still need to tackle. Similarly,  for bouncing after rejection, you need to make a plan before the announcement date, what you will do about any possibilities of the result. If it is conferences, you could list other place where you can send it out. You could also review again your manuscript to see your mistakes, and therefore when you have revise you already see the manuscript and its flaws instead of only ‘hoping for the best’.

 

 

 

PhD vs home chores: a question no man will ever ask

A happy note: Last month I have finally finished a full draft and submit it to my supervisor, which has since returned it back with loads of revisions. I am grinding it now and hoping for official submission within this month.

On the other hand, it comes naturally that leading to submission point I find that there is no time to sufficiently do home chores. It is all good when there is a fixed point of submission such as during undergraduate and masters, where everything is finite and well accounted for. In my writing process, I felt that it often slides and extends more and more, it seems that it will never be finished.

Yet, in a home with kids, this leads to a problem with home chores. I would like to abandon everything and just do my work consecutively for a month like I did during my previous degrees, but I couldn’t do it now, and it is frustrating. First, there is kids to be fed and clothed rather properly (but my standard is pretty low on this-not aiming for perfection), and that the second, the deadline is not fixed, it can be a month, but it can be two months, which limit how far can you abandon your home chores.

I felt that although this is done by both parents, this mostly fall within the mental space of women within the households. At least most of my women friend with kids at the workplace also complained that they wanted to work more, read more, write more, but alas, they have to come home to either pick up kids, cook, nurse, or whatever it is they ought to be doing. I mean, you can not do laundry and fold for a couple of weeks, but you got to do it eventually. My office mate, a mom of two kids, went home early at 4 pm because she said she kept thinking of the pile of laundry that she needed to iron. On the other hand, all of our other male colleague would stay at their office until very late night, some even spend the night at office–and then returned home to sleep. Oh, the irony.

Despite all of this feminist rant, I want to do what is best and appropriate for my situation and working habit.  I looked at the internet that there are various tips for working mom. For cooking alone, these vary from doing night prep, waking up earlier, meal planning, making spices and food prep for weekly and so on. However, I thought that I couldn’t possibly consistently do a night prep as I am already tired at night and my motivation is quite low. I am a morning person, but I would prefer my morning time is used for working and not for cooking, for example. Meal planning, spice and food prepping sound good and I have done so in the past, but the idea of having to cook everyday is the one that makes me depressed.

Since last month I have fairly resorted to block cooking. I find that it is more manageable for me to cook a large batch of food for my family to eat in a week. I don’t have to cook everyday, which free my day for thinking about what to cook and free my evening (the time when I used to cook). I find comfort in knowing that my family have food, which make it easier if I want to do more work. And if my family does not want to eat the food, they could order takeout, which perhaps occur once in a week.

As an example, the photos above show menus for two different weeks. As an Indonesian, I mostly cook ayam ungkep (chicken that has been boiled with yellow spices and can be fried later, can also consist of eggs and tofu), some batches of ready to eat stir-fry food (in the left it is fish with chili and tofu and the left it is chicken with paprika), and I try to have at least one thing that is baby friendly (in the left it is perkedel–some kind of potato cakes, and in the right it is the kani roll–a kind of meatloaf, but made with chicken wrapped in a tofu skin and can be fried later). They are all stored in a chiller in my fridge (I am bad at managing freezer, so that why weekly cooking instead of monthly is better for me).

I usually cook vegetable soup every two days to accompany this food and to make my baby easier to eat with rice. Each batch can last my family of three adults and three kids five to seven days for lunch and dinner (although there are times when my husband wants to eat instant noodle, or I cooked something else for the baby). But the main point is, there is always food. If I don’t have clothes, I can always reuse (see, pretty low standards eh). But no food is sucks, and it really the ones that gets in the way in doing thesis (for me). At least food in the fridge makes a less depressed, happy mama!

 

A talk with my lecturer today

I have not completed any draft by today. All the written text is completed, but lists of drawings have managed to bogged me down.

I have whined in despair with my husband all this morning, up until the time I have to dragged myself to campus.

In the lift lobby I met an accomplished senior lecturer. She was my examiner during my confirmation exam.

She asked, “So you are close to submission?”

I told her my date (which is due in a week).  I then wallowed that I still have endless things to do.

She listened emphatically–grinning with all these familiar complains of a PhD student–before saying that I just need to keep working and keep my confidence.

It will feel endless, she said, but she adds, “You will see that in the end the satisfaction is also remarkable.”

I’ll keep that in mind.

 

Important things to be addressed in each chapter discussion/conclusion

I am currently writing the conclusion parts of my chapters. Some thesis does not necessarily need an elaborate chapter conclusion, but as my chapters consist of two main case studies I’d need to do one. I thought I’d note what are the important things that need to be concerned in the process of writing such part in my thesis below.

  1. Remind the reader about the main objective/intention of the chapter and also why it is important. For example, my current chapter is about reading the spatial connection that unfolds between home and the city from its maintenance process. Without this understanding of availability/unavailability of connection, often matter between spaces unable to move through and then displaced.
  2. Outline important findings in the chapter in relation to point 1. Findings must be emphasised based on the structural logic of the chapter. For example, the chapter starts by reviewing gap of territories in maintaining the river and its banks and the wider fabric of the city as a lived space. The chapter then proceeds by mapping how informal dwellers engaged within this gap through their maintenance process.
  3. Add a bridge linking to the next chapter. My next chapter is different case study that similarly discuss spatial connection through maintenance process, but in a different mode of spatial production. Highlight the difference in here, but also the significance why they also need to be seen as a whole. For instance, the first case study occur in a ‘permanent and done throughout the day’ mode of spatial production, while the second case study is more ‘temporary and cyclical’. This influence the spatial connection configuration produced that enrich the overall knowledge. I also need to emphasise that it is not about waste itself, but instead the process of how environment is contaminated and decreased its quality/ become unsightly (ensure that objective and methods are important instead of the research setting/data).
  4. Create limitations of such part of this research (but also its significance as a selling point). Limitations of my study might be on its methodology in researching cleaning process and waste disposal, as there is possibility that one’s might lie when they were being asked. I should have record them one by one, but time and space constraints hindered me to do so. Perhaps other methodology can concentrate on just limited number of people, or should have focused only on traces and not narrative?  (still not sure here).
  5. In relation to point 4, highlight things that are important and can potentially become future research to conclude in the overall thesis conclusion chapter. The above paragraphs has note different modes of methodology. Other point can be different type of data itself (not waste disposal, but perhaps electricity etc). This is important as the next case study rely on different type of data, although share the same methods of research with tweaked steps of analysis.
  6. Most important thing, persevere and ensure it is finished. Don’t decrease the speed because you think that it is going to end soon!

PhD Mama work tips

My almost ten-month-old baby has been sick for almost three days. He got flu and sore throat from his big sister, and as a result, is down with fever, reluctant to eat, and basically just want his mommy. I couldn’t go to work in the office because he only wants to nurse, so therefore I have to stay at home.

In the same time, I am currently trying to finish a major chapter, like my main fieldwork. I want to complete it in a week. Yesterday, it was absolutely unproductive, and it is really demoralising when you have an unproductive day. So I tried to track my time as attached below to make sure I am doing something and not gone to the ‘why bother’ mode.

Picture1

Although not much, turns out it I am actually producing something. From 11 to 16.15, I spent more than 2 hours working or half of the time tracked. And I finished drawing two of four drawings needed. Another hour is spent for picking my twin girls from school and shopping for groceries. The other hour is used mainly to prep lunch (even doing things such as scrubbing bin cap–the perks of working from home) of which takes longer than lunch itself (only 10 minutes).  There are five minutes breaks here and there to snuggle with the baby (but what can I do about it?) Now as the baby is eating his (slightly burnt–just kidding) baked potato I might go back to work 🙂

How to focus in working on your PhD

In the last few months I often face paralysing moments that left me stuck in my writing process, and often prolonged my writing/drawing process in assembling the PhD draft. To untangle these moments, I found that there is one particular tip than can be addressed to reshape my focus.

My mentor in my home university made an analogy of focusing on any working process as approaching rows of columns. You just need to reach the column nearest to you. You know that there are plenty columns left that you need to get onto, but for now just think of your one particular column, and get there. Then when you arrived on that column, you get to think of the next column. As simple as that.

This analogy is reflected in many other references across movies and literatures. One of the dialogues at the end of The Martian film narrate Matt Damon welcoming his students, saying that in the time of crisis, they need to just focus on solving one problem at a time. Then if they managed to solve enough problems, they might get to get home—refering to his complicated journay back to the Earth.

Regarding such strategy of focus, Peter Drucker quoted the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It tells a story of the summer when her brother was doing a report on bird which he actually had three months to write, but somehow had neglected to and now due the next day. Anne’s father wrapped his hands around the poor boy that was paralysed by the massive task, and said calmly,’Bird by bird. Just take it bird by bird.’

PhD is not a sprint, whatever phases you are at. It is a long and painstaking process. Lengthwise, it is in minimum five times other documents that you submitted during undergraduate and masters. So let’s just reach the next column and track your way from there. Making sure you reach one column at one time is better than thinking of five but reaches nothing.

Keeping Your Motivation When Starting New Thesis Chapter

I am just starting to edit my new chapter, which is one of my analysis chapters. It is projected to be 15,000 words, I have 10,000 to edit (I am now 2,000 words in) and have to write another 5,000 words.

When you are in process of doing the middle to end part of chapter, your motivation is at its peak position. You already know what you are doing, all of the data has been laid out, and that you just have to roll with it. While on the other hand, new chapter is weighed with distractions (yes, including this post), uncertainty, and fear of the daunting new task.

So how to keep your motivation steady? I compile some of the tips that work best for me when starting new chapter and move forward.

  1. Start from the thesis’s outline structure, and map out how long it would take in your calendar. You could also move from the back and decide when you should finish and take it from there.
  2. Write down each section’s synopsis. The synopsis should have (a) link from previous chapter (b) main interest of the heading and (c) structure of the text in each section.
  3. If you have to write new text, outline the arguments first. Don’t attempt to write anything from scratch. It’s just not gonna happen.
  4. If you have drawing/picture/images inside the text, for me I preferred to do/insert it latter. It is helpful to crank out all the text and then find out what kinds of drawing work more efficiently.
  5. If you have to edit, remember that editing takes ages. Don’t beat yourself up!

Tracking PhD writing progress

Tracking your progress is important, and even more so in your PhD writing.

I am currently editing my second chapter about literature review, which was 24 pages when I started and roughly 10,000 words. Initially I thought that I would spend 1-2 days editing it based on supervisor comments and other progression of writing (moving parts from other chapter, etc).

However, turns out I have been doing it for over 4 days. It makes me feels depressed as I didn’t meet my expectation (over and over again). So I time tracked my writing to understand why it takes ages. Using a simple spreadsheet (see below), I track my writing time and pages that I am currently editing. I tried to put a timer as well so I would feel much motivated.

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Turns out for each page to be edited I spend around ONE HOUR.

(some of it takes half an hour, but then often I spend longer on other pages due to missing or incorrect quotes and other major changes).

While this number makes me slightly even more depressed, at least it gave a more accurate calculation for my future target. It is true that everything takes (way) longer than we think.