Nine months in

Nine months in and I’m in the process of getting ready for confirmation (in Australia we have a PhD confirmation panel at twelve months to assess where you are at and whether you are on the right track to continue).

This involves writing up a 10,000-word doc, making at least one oral presentation of your work and generally being all over your subject matter. It is really a time of reflection on what you have done for the year and here are just two things I have learnt so far:

Note taking

I have written on note taking before and since then I have been completely turned around. Here’s how it went:

During the first few months I took notes like a robot, then I came to use them in my first assignment and found they were next to useless, so I stopped taking notes. Later in the year, when I was getting my WIP day presentation ready, I went back to these early notes, and all of a sudden they were incredibly useful. They made more sense and I could see relationships I didn’t see earlier. So, I will go back to doing it that way.

As I read, I make detailed hand written notes (that include all references, page numbers, quotes and my own responses) and then (at least once a week), I type them up (with a bit of editing and more of my responses). It adds up to a lot of words and the form is pretty rough, but it saves me time later, as I do not have to go back to original sources and I can follow all the little leads I have put in my notes.

The most pertinent points go onto note cards and added to my thesis map (which consists of index cards blue tacked to the wall).

Presentations

Part of a PhD is standing up and presenting your work to other students and academics.

When organising my presentations I keep in mind my personal style and audience. I do

Avoid Death by Powerpoint

not read aloud well, so I do not follow a script. I organise my presentations in dot form. I am a visual thinker, so I have lots of pictures on powerpoint (possible too many) and short blocks of words or quotes. I do not do academic speak, which may become a problem later, but I think if you keep your language accessible it makes for a more engaging presentation. I also try and keep it short and relevant.

I am not nervous about the thought of presenting, but when I get up there, a part of my brain kicks in that says ‘this is not OK’; it releases the old ‘flight or fight’ hormones, that I know will peak at about 5 minutes in and will then start to subside. My voice will get shaky, sometime also my hands, so I have a few tricks. I slow it down; I take a deep breath; have a sip of water; put up a slide and give the audience some time to read it while I regroup.

My supervisor said something that has really rung true during this presentation period – A thesis is so specialised that, by the time you finish, you may be the only expert you know in this area. This is something that become apparent while presenting my work to others.

In the first year, when all you are doing seems to be reading the background texts in your field, it can feel like you are just playing catch-up; that you are not getting anywhere, and definitely like you are not making any original contribution. But that comes later. There are other experts around the world, but when I present to my peers they find my stuff new and interesting, just as I have. I still expect people to know more about my subject than I do, but they don’t. Which is giving me a bit of confidence that I am actually getting somewhere.

This year has been a bit of a roller coaster, but I am on an up swing at moment, I will let you know how it goes with writing up soon.

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