Saturday, 3 August 2013

How to use twitter - a guide for phd students

1) Follow the right people.  You have already decided that the reason you want to use twitter is to advance your learning and your studies, to do this it is best to follow people with similar intentions.  If you're wondering how you find out who these people are then go to the relevant 'chat' pages;
2) Engage in a relevant chat - use the right hashtag (#).  The hashtag symbol (#) is like a tagged conversation, so you carry on a conversation using the hashtag (#) symbol to identify it. Type in at the top of the twitter screen (once you have registered - using your real name) a relevant twitter chat hashtag: #phdchat, #phdforum, #socphd (social sciences), #acwri (academic writing) & #ecrchat (early career researcher).
3) Spend an afternoon following people.  You can always unfollow, and you can follow up to 2,000 people before twitter blocks you from following people.  This takes about an afternoon to click on follow for that many people - I recommend you do this from looking at the people contributing to the chats, then follow the people who are following them, after reading their profiles - aim to follow other academics and PhD students. Look at how many tweets people have done - the more they have chances are they are more experienced and so you'll have more to learn from them.
4) Start your own chat. I would say practice on existing chats first (as 2) - for about a month or so then for your topic area, if there isn't already a chat existing (check ).  Get together with some like minded people you met on twitter through 1) and 2) - send them direct messages if necessary and chat to them on the phone or Skype.  Your topic might have another hashtag or several.  Decide on a day, a unique hashtag title and a time and hey presto - you're started! 
5) Get some support  By this stage hopefully you will have at least one supporter or collaborator, you can help bounce ideas off each other.  You've got your topic now, all you need is a discussion theme every week or two and you're off!  Themes for weekly discussion are probably common to most PhDs so could be: Literature Review; Conceptual Framework; Methods; Results; Discussion; Analysis; Motivation and Procrastination.
6) Start a website or blog based on your chat. Wordpress is probably the best blogging site - you just need a unique name for your site and get going.  You can shorten your blogposts using and then post the links on twitter - using your chat hashtag from 4) above.  Send direct messages to those people who contributed to your chat to promote the website.
7) Celebrate milestones.  For example once your chat is 6 months old you can promote that and put on your website (6) all the achievements of your chat.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Mrs Motivator's emergency 7 point kit

1) Have a break.  If you're worried that you've already had too long a break then...
2) Write a plan.  Scribble down the tasks you need to do on a piece of paper and put timescales on them, put a time/day next to it.  What are you going to do?  What task or activity?  When are you going to do it?  For how long?  How often? Do you have a contingency plan?  Can you share the plan with others to help motivate you?
3) Use a timer.  Work for one minute on the most difficult task - break the back of it.
4) Reward yourself with free treats - stick to it, be consistent with yourself.
5) Have a list of your top ten motivators to hand- people preferably still alive that you can talk to personally to help motivate you when you need it.  Can you ring them now?  Use motivational chats as free treats.
6) Dissect your demotivation:  What has caused it?  What got you out of it in the past?  The same things will work this time.
7) Pick motivational quotes and stick them on your computer monitor - preferably personalised to you - Good feedback?  Stick it on your monitor.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Twenty points to tick off daily for a happy life as a PhDer

1) Are you prioritising your mental and physical health?  Without good health you can't do anything so...
2) Take regular breaks - for breakfast, lunch and dinner for example.  Take care of number 1) - nobody else will.
3) Practice deep breathing - breathe counting to seven in and eleven out - 7/11 easy to remember and you can do it anytime, any place and anywhere.  Essentially this is what meditation is.
4) Try to write something everyday, even a to do list will do.  But if you don't, then don't beat yourself up about it.  Free time is thinking time which is very important too.
5) Put some very easy things on your to-do list that you can tick off - the ticking off will help you feel better.
6) Break tasks down into do-able chunks and put time scales next to them - of how long they take.  You can plan your day like this.
7) Read something.
8) Foster a positive relationship with your supervisor - try to act on their feedback and report back to them.  If this is problematic then...
9) Ask for advice and help from other sources to get you back on track.  Is there a reason why the relationship has been upset?  Are you ill?  Do you need a break? - go back to 1).
10) Do the most difficult thing on your to do list first.  If you can't do this, then
11) Do a few very easy things on your to-do list - ask advice about the difficult thing.
12) If you are having problems on a task or issue - can you have some training on it?  Book yourself on some training.
13) Tidy your desk.  Sounds small, but always makes me feel so much better!  Do it three times daily if necessary.
14) Do some filing. Follows from 13), just grouping your references together in their themes can help to increase your confidence - that you know what they say.
15) Play to your strengths.  If you're a morning person then have an early night and get up early.  If you're a night owl then stay up late and lie in!  You know when you work best, plan your most difficult tasks for that time.
16) Give yourself free treats - whatever floats your boat for the tasks that you complete daily.  Have you given yourself one today?  Plan what time to do it to increase your motivation.  Perhaps a cup of tea for a paragraph.
17) Stay connected with friends and family - best in person, then Skype, then phone, then email. 
18) Get support from twitter and the internet to help keep you motivated - look at #phdchat #phdforum #ecrchat and #acwri on twitter.
19) Reward yourself with motivational chats from suitable friends and family, get them to keep you on track
20) Have some exercise - adrenalin and endorphins keeps us going in the darkest of times.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Twenty Tips to get editing - get your teeth into it

1) Pinpoint the problem.  What is stopping you edit?  What is the problem?  If it's a point of academic disagreement, then swallow your pride and accept your editor's points.
2) Just do it.  Open the document.  Work on one sentence at a time.  Then a paragraph, then a page.
3) Give yourself free treats as rewards for completing bits.  Whatever floats your boat.
4) Have motivational chats with people as your free treats.
5) Draft an email that you may never send, to your editor, addressing their points.
6) Get into a routine of edit, then reward, edit, then reward.
7) Block your time 'In the next hour I am going to edit 200 words'.
8) Make a date with yourself to edit.
9) Ask an expert how they do it.
10) Get warm and comfortable.
11) Have your references close to hand and well organised.
12) Refer back to your original sources, look again at what they said.
13) Are you procrastinating or are you thinking? - write down your thoughts in a short bullet point list.
14) Chunk it - break down the task into doable chunks of even a few minutes at a time.
15) Present your piece verbally to see where the holes are.
16) Read it again.
17) Look at your proof readers' comments again.
18) Use the Writers' diet website
19) Evaluate your progress - how much have you done today, what helped you get going?
20) If you're desperate ask for an extension to your deadline!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Conquering self confidence issues - ten steps

Every writer, presenter and author has moments, days, weeks or even years of self doubt. One senior academic said to me that he thought the secret of successful completion of something like a PhD was 50% confidence.  Increasing our confidence will therefore increase our writing quality and performance. Confidence and motivation go hand in hand - you can't motivate yourself if you don't feel confident. To write something like a PhD you need both so these ten steps might help you along the way.
1) Don't panic. Breathe deeply - 7/11 technique- count to seven breathing in, count to eleven breathing out.  It is totally normal to doubt your writing skills/editing skills/public speaking or whatever it is.  Everyone has periods where they doubt themselves and get a little anxious, just don't let it get out of control so it affects your everyday life.  Easy to say, but follow my other top ten tips to prevent panic and you will hopefully stave off these negative and counterproductive feelings and behaviours.
2) Talk to someone.  Share your writing or thoughts on the topic with someone whose writing skills you admire, someone who makes you feel better; you are probably doing much better than you think.  Get them to bolster your confidence. Say to them 'look I'm not sure about this', see what they say.
3) Get yourself in the confidence protective bubble before you write or present. It is worth setting aside an hour to do this with a good friend or relative.  First think of four of your best, happiest memories - in date order.  It might help to write them down - just a word to remind you of each.  Feel yourself smiling as you remember and really revel in it.  The first one should be a time from childhood or youth, the others later, then imagine as you think of each your confidence/happiness/relaxation doubling and trebling each time.  By the fourth memory you should be ready to conquer the world.  Now imagine yourself (or better still actually stand up and do it) stepping into your confidence bubble, at the level of confidence of your quadrupling of the four memories, smiling, happy and confident, ready to take on anything. Practice 5 times daily.
4) Just write a sentence.  Then a paragraph, then a page.  Or edit previous work.  Or do a bullet point list of the first things that come into your head.  Summarise the most exciting things you've uncovered in the past 2 weeks. Then celebrate or reward yourself, allow yourself to write your blog, go on facebook, phone a friend, have a nap or whatever.
5) Pin your free treats or rewards for writing/practising on your fridge.  When you forget what you have at your disposal to motivate yourself, there it is.
6) Consider Coaching & Get a Mentor
You should be able to get a workplace or University mentor.  Just ask a member of staff who has inspired you before to help mentor you through whatever process you are finding difficult.  You could get some free coaching from a coaching institution which is training people to become coaches, thus getting a student coach.  Coaches are good at helping you meet your goals.  Some of them are trained in hypnotherapy techniques such as NLP which is very helpful for poor confidence.
7) Meditation
By setting aside time each day to practice deep breathing as outlined in step 1, you are effectively meditating.  It is a very good idea if you have problems commiting even a few seconds to this that you learn how to use the stopwatch on your smartphone or use an eggtimer and just practice deep breathing for 3 minutes a day to start with.  You will find that as well as feeling more confident you will feel calmer and more focussed, very useful attributes. Don't worry if you fall asleep - sleep is excellent when we're stressed and anxious.
8) 'Positive self talk'/Prayer/Self hypnosis
Once you've mastered meditation (perhaps after a week) introduce positive statements of what you want to be doing, visualise yourself doing it eg 'Let me learn, grow and develop'.  This is self hypnosis and there are plenty of books you could get from the library to fine tune your skills in developing this.  Prayer - some people love and claim great results from - perhaps start off with counting your blessings, expressing thanks for all the things in your life and end on a request to help yourself on a particular do-able task.
9) Hypnotherapy
There are many schools of hypnotherapy who are happy to accept volunteers for students to practice their hypnotherapy on - and lack of self confidence is a very easy complaint for hypnosis to work on.
10) Take a break.  It could be that for reasons entirely out of anyone's control - death or illness for example that you simply need a break from work and study to nurse your confidence back to its usual levels.  Just give yourself a break if this is your situation.  Enjoy the time off and come back when you are feeling better.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Top Ten Tips to diffuse 'PhD Panic'

This is not the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobody has ever died from not writing a PhD. It is not the end of the world that you have hit a blockage. Nobody is going to die because you haven't written 100 words today. Convince yourself via the following steps how counterproductive panic is, and how it's much better to tick off these ten steps from your to-do list than panic over it.

1) Stay Calm with Deep Breathing - try the 7/11 technique.  Count to seven when breathing in and count to eleven when breathing out. Can be done anywhere, anytime, any place.  Helps you get to sleep too.
2) Get help. Acknowledge that you are panicking and immediately seek help.  It could be that your panic might lead you down the not-so pleasant path of anxiety and/or depression.  Possibly not, but even so talk to your friends and family.  If they can't help then seek help from the professionals - the students' union, the careers service, perhaps someone who has helped you before, they will help you again no doubt. 
3) Give yourself a break.  A metaphorical one - free treats, be kind to yourself, and a real one - fresh air or just a few seconds deep breathing, an hour's walk, a nap, a weekend away or time off for longer.
4) Use Distraction: Do something else. Either work on a different section, read or do something totally different from the PhD for a little while, coming back to it afresh may give you that calm space and feeling of serenity in your head that is so empowering.
5) Get a good night's sleep. Everything is always better in the morning and you may get inspiration to deal with your worries from your dreams.
6) Take some exercise.  Good for your physical health too, great for invigorating yourself.  If you can't face leaving your desk, do a few yoga or Tai Chi moves in a bit of space by your desk. Or a stretch or a nice long yawn looking out of the window; all thinking time.
7) Allow yourself thinking time. Really important this that you start to see so-called 'procrastination' as thinking time instead.  It only takes a few seconds to write a sentence.  Theoretically a thesis could be done in a year; you could write 3,000 words a day but most people probably write 100. All that time is mainly for thinking, not writing so stop beating yourself up!  Don't forget you think whilst you're cooking, washing, feeding the cats, having a bath, chatting to friends.  Those cogs whir on even when we're asleep.
8) 'Chunk it' : Break down the task into doable chunks.  It might be you are just panicking over the very first step, such as finding a document that you have lost.  Book a trip to the library or phone a friend to help.  Try to make the tasks that you dread as pleasurable as possible.  Give yourself a reward for the smallest of steps - like a cup of tea for the first sentence or writing the day's to-do list. Estimate how long each task takes, put timescales (and rewards) against tasks.
9) Use the internet for support.  This probably needs its own blog post - how to use the internet for support in your PhD, but there are so many blogs, twitterers, #groups, facebook people, linked in and stuff I don't know about.  Find out the twitter feed addresses of your University main people and follow them, then follow the people they're following.  You could also use twitter and linked in and facebook to help you keep abreast of your topic.  I get enthused whenever someone contacts me and says 'carry on the great work', even if it doesn't feel like particularly great work, it's wonderful you feel you have an army of people behind you supporting you in your research.
10) Bolster your self confidence.  Poor self confidence and poor self esteem go hand in hand with anxiety, panic and depression.  So whatever you can do to big yourself up is worth doing if there's a whiff of those about.  The problem is that with most PhDs, even at the end, we end up being more unsure than ever of concrete conclusions - that's what the Universe is like (ie nobody knows) so it's not surprising we end up doubting ourselves.  But we must steer away from seeing ourselves and the PhD as one and the same thing.  We are not.  We are separate human beings from the PhD, which is some words.  If you know you have confidence issues have you tried to tackle them?  Re-read your most well received work.  Go over in your head words of praise your supervisor has given you.  Pin those words to your computer monitor.  Have you thought about seeing a hynotherapist for self-confidence?  Or a life coach?  Or sorted out a mentor for yourself at University? - ask an inspirational member of staff that you get on with. Go on a free coaching course.  If your panic is hand in hand with a crisis in confidence (it usually is) then use the 'confidence bubble' NLP technique.  Imagine you are in your 'confidence bubble.'  You are protected inside this bubble in a sphere of happiness, confidence and strength, protected from all the negative things which are outside of it.  You need three or preferably four memories of when you have felt most confident - preferably in date order, ie remember the first one first (childhood/teenage) - good exam results?  First love? Best friends playing together?  Then move forward in time to another memory when you were confident - you are much more confident now in your mind's eye, doubling the first amount of confidence.  Then treble it with the third memory, and quadruple with the fourth. The fourth memory should be in glorious technocolour, bright and big and massive. And you should find yourself smiling and confident, happy in your confidence bubble.  Repeat 5 times daily.  Write down these, your most happy, confident memories and pin them to your computer monitor. Practice especially for Vivas, interviews, public speaking, supervisions and so on.  Get into your confidence bubble and write, write, write!  Use your new found confidence to sustain motivation.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Top Twenty Tips to keep motivated writing again

1) Get into a routine.  If you've got yourself out of it, then ask yourself why, and try to get back into it.  If you can't get into the routine again then
2) Take a break.  Have a cup of tea, have a shower.  Plan time for thinking
3) Read.  Read how to write books, read methodology, re-read reviews, re-read research papers.
4) If you've hit a block and written less than say, 100 words today (see written kitten website,) then work on a different section
5) find downloads to listen to - Open University for example
6) Freewrite - a paragraph preferably at the same time each day, part of tip 1) routine
7) Have a comfortable (warm for example), well filed and tidy workspace.
8) Do your blog
9) Post problems online - twitter or facebook
10) celebrate writing 100 words or one paragraph - Rome wasn't built in a day.  This is not perfection or a Nobel Peace Prize.  It is only a PhD.
11) Do a MindMap.
12) Use aromatherapy - frankinscence oil
13) Hone your to-do list
14) Re-visit your training plan
15) Phone a friend
16) Do some filing
17) Write down your thoughts on bullet points
18) Be systematic in your thinking - draw a table
19) stimulate the 'learning' acupressure points: wrist, forehead, eyebrows, tummy
20) Revisit happy memories - has your supervisor ever given you praise?  Go back to that time, place and go over what happened to get that.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Top Ten Tips when you're struggling with your PhD

1. Get support
Get as much support from wherever you can.  This might be the University careers service, counselling service, equalities service.  It could be your friends (from outside academia), perhaps they have skills which you can tap into free of charge, help with time management for example or motivation.  Your colleague PhD students will be of enormous help - can they read what you've written?  Can you get an academic or non-academic mentor?  Do you need to re prioritise if other stuff is going on?  Talking to friends and family can help you do this.
2.  Ask for time off
Have you had any holiday recently?  Are you ill and need to take sick leave?  A bit of 'me-time' might be all it takes to get back into the rhythm of writing again.
3. Take time out for thinking
Very important that you allow yourself time to think about things, this can sometimes take weeks. 
4.  Ask for what you need
Look again at your training plan.  Have you understood and taken on board all the training you have done?  Do you need to go on some of the training again?  Do you need to attend new courses?
5.  Listen to and act on feedback
If your supervisor has asked to to rewrite something think carefully about their comments and try to incorporate their thinking - after all they are more experienced than you.  If more than two people have said the same thing to you - like 'have you contacted the University counselling service?' then chances are it might be a good idea to do just that.
6. Write as you go along
There are a lot of blogs and help online for example #phdchat on twitter and Perhaps set up your own blog and document your thinking, even if it's quite unsure, documenting it might illuminate new avenues. 
7. Do something else
Focus on another part of your PhD for a while, perhaps an area where you're stronger.  You might have to do something completely different, perhaps join a friend for a badminton, tennis or cycling outing.
8. Read your favourite inspirational texts or books on the topic
To help motivate you at this difficult time.
9. Read how to write books or draw a mind map
Authors like Patrick Dunleavy, Roweena Murray or Tony Buzan might help.
10. Stick up to your supervisor