Posted by: gcarkner | September 30, 2013

Research Disciplines

Research Disciplines that Make a Difference

1. Take lots of notes on your computer while reading; set up a sound filing system so that you have easy access. You never know when you are going to need that paper or quote in future. Perhaps you will use it in teaching eventually. Pen & paper notes are fine as long as you get them on your computer as soon as possible. Reference everything. Back up everything at least twice!

2. Discipline and design your work in two week chunks. This is enough time to master a new book, or get a handle on a new research method, or write a section of a chapter. Have either your supervisor or a friend hold you accountable to the goal of that period. Meeting regularly with someone to discuss what you learned is key to the process; this is the Oxford model of the tutorial. It is 900 years old and it works.

3. Only answer your email at a certain time of the day; don’t let it constantly distract you from the task at hand. The ping on your email system can be your enemy in disguise.

4. Get help when you get stuck or depressed, from a pastor, counsellor, a professor, or administrator. I met a psychiatrist once on a flight to England and her specialty was to help PhD students who got stuck right in the middle of their work. Imagine that. This is often when people quit–when the early novelty wears off and you see much work still ahead, and no light yet at the end of the tunnel. Remember the movie A Beautiful Mind. Help is available!

5. Write up a schedule with a series of milestones to accomplish by a specific date. You have no idea of what you can accomplish until you set the goal and try. Build that dissertation chapter by chapter like blocks in a building. One day you wake up and Voila you are a PhD!

6. Write, read, create, imagine in the early part of your day. Your mind is freshest and most open to new breakthrough thinking at this time. First four hours are usually the most fruitful for most. Busy work and administration should wait until late in the day, unless it is an emergency.

7. Learn from different types of writing: journalistic, artistic/creative, novel, technical, philosophical. Develop that art of good rhetoric throughout your graduate degree. Expand your vocabulary and grammar base. By all means, learn what makes a good argument in your field, with solid substantiation.

8.View your research as a diamond drill; day after day you are applying pressure to the rock of ignorance, and one day out pops a diamond, the breakthrough or big insight, a thesis proposal or concluding chapter. That’s how the Eurotunnel got completed–38 kilometres through rock from two continents. Perseverance, discipline and patience is of the essence. Keep drilling even when it is no longer thrilling.

9. Keep a regular journal of all your thoughts, but don’t try to integrate them all into your thesis. Only include what you need to get a PhD; save the rest for a conference or your book. That brilliant idea can wait to be developed later. You are not doing your magnum opus in your PhD; in one sense, you are just cutting your teeth on research and writing. I met a professor once who filled ten journals over the time of his PhD. Some of your thoughts are half way home … and that is a good start. Thoughts build momentum over time. Write down the questions you have not solved; they can simmer for awhile in your subconscious mind. It is also good therapy to look back and see how far you have come and how much your writing has improved. The degree is geared to make a new you with new abilities and work habits!

10. Don’t wallow in your weaknesses; get the training or the help from others that you need, whether a computer programming skill or lab technique. You are running a business and you cannot possibly have all the expertise or skills needed to run it at the outset. Enthusiasm and academic passion can only carry you so far. Sometimes you will need to take an extra course, or hire someone to train you. If you need expertise by another professor in your department, go through your own supervisor to maintain good protocol.

11. Build a nice circle of friends and have fun together; let off steam once in awhile. Other PhD students are often your marker of sanity; they pull you back from the workaholism abyssDon’t sleep in your lab! Have a life outside work. Church can help immensely; build a prayer partner. Go to a movie, a dinner party, or a friend’s wedding. Some theology study can help to balance out your life as well. Feed your whole person and it will pay dividends in the creativity of your work. Remember the Sabbath principle and stay cool; be committed but don’t get obsessed with your project. UBC students have the luxury of Regent College and Bookstore next door with all of its rich resources.

~Reflections from Gord Carkner, a fellow sufferer in doing two graduate degrees, both of which seemed impossible at first, hard and burdensome in the middle, exhilarating to finish, but eventually they changed my life.

References:

How to Get a PhD by Philips and Hugh.

How to Read a Book: the classic guide to intelligent reading. by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles van Doren.


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