5 things I learned from #ThesisSummer retreat

August 1, 2016

#ThesisSummer group Writing Retreat happened last week. Here are five things I learned from the day. 

 

Last week I hosted a #ThesisSummer writing retreat in my flat. Two of my colleagues from Edinburgh Napier University, the Centre for Social Informatics  -  Iris and John, joined me for the day. You can read John's coverage of the meeting here. Special thanks to Frances for initiating the event, this would not be possible without your leadership :)

 

 

Firstly, let me say that I don't normally enjoy writing in a group setting. As an experienced freelancer, I'm used to working on my own, especially when it comes to tasks which require extra attention - like reading, analysing and writing. I don't mind being surrounded by people that I don't know in places like libraries and cafes. However, I don't trust myself around the people I SO know - I simply can't stop my urge to CHAT. 

 

Attending #ThesisSummer group writing retreat, definitely changed my perception of co-working spaces. Here are five things I learned from it:

 

 

1. It's OK to chat

 

When working on my own, I tend do be quite self-disciplined. My partner is very aware of my reading/writing times, while researching from the flat. He knows that chatting to me during my PhD hours is simply a "no,no'. I also make sure to limit my social media interactions. Leaving me with no opportunities to get distracted.

 

During the #ThesisSummer writing retreat, we had dedicated times to 'writing only' and group discussions. At first, I thought that the "chatting" sessions would only distract me from my writing goals. However, the totally opposite happened. Having short social breaks allowed me to cleanse my mental palette and reenergise. I learned that having short social breaks does help. I decided to embed these into my daily writing sessions. (As you can image - this makes my partner rather happy :))

 

 

2. Morning routine - Identifying my daily goals

 

Before our first intensive writing session, we dedicated some time to verbalise our goals for the day. This really helped me to organise a semi-structured plan for the retreat. Having my writing aims noted first thing in the morning, provides me with a  schedule for the day. Since #ThesisSummer writing meeting, I have been spending around 10 minutes a day, to reflect on goals I'd like to achieve.


3. Fitting in intensive writing sessions in between everyday activities

 

 


I really enjoyed oranising #SummerThesis writing day. As a chronic pain sufferer, I don't really tend go out much, so hosting people in my flat is one of my favourite social activities. Our writing retreat provided me with an opportunity to test my multitasking skills. On the day, I had to manage the logistics of coffees, snacks, room temperature and MY research structure. I realised that having these extra distractions was aiding my writing energy. I learned that multitasking can positively influence my research activities.


Since last week's #ThesisSummer, I have been more flexible with my daily PhD working times. I tend to split my days into 2-3 intensive writing sessions, mainly early mornings and evenings. Having extra breathing space in between these sessions, allowed me to think about my ideas and come up with new ones. (In fact, only yesterday I came up with an idea while washing dishes... not the most exciting activity of the day, but there you go!)


This Blog post: Optimizing your Workday for Writing, supports this idea.

 

 

4. It's normal to adjust your plan and deadlines

 

During the last week's writing session, we talked about the importance of having defined goals and deadlines for your PhD workload. We all agreed that this helps with moving forward. However, we also established that these are only there to guide us - not to restrict our work.


This is my third month of my literature review and I've already realised that most of my self-imposed deadlines, are often not achievable. Considering the amount of information that is out there to be discovered, it is normal to go off our "planned research pathways", every now and again. 


Having an open discussion about this with my colleagues, helped me to understand that I am not the only one struggling with this problem. Attending #ThesisSummer lead me to realise that it is NORMAL to adjust your plans and deadlines as you go.

 

5. Each PhD adventure is unique

 

 

This something we discussed during the session as well as when recording PhD Adventures Podcast with John. Meeting many PhD students over the last months, allowed me to explore different people's working patterns. From most of the conversations, I gathered that learning styles are very personal. It is up to an individual to find a pattern that works for them and their workload. During PhD Adventures Podcast interview, John mentioned the importance of having a routine, which I fully agree with. Having a schedule really helps me to organise my work. However, I tend not be too strict with my working hours. As long as I know I am committing around 8 hours daily to my research, I feel happy with my performance. Each PhD adventure is unique. We get to know ourselves better through the process and should trust our inner voice when choosing the most efficient working pattern.

 

So, there it is - 5 things I learned from #ThesisSummer Writing Retreat. I hope some of these could be applied to you experience as well. Let me know :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr Alicja Pawluczuk

Digital Media Practitioner and Researcher with extensive experience of participatory media project design and facilitation both in Europe and South East Asia. Founder of digital storytelling educational collective www.digitalbeez.org. Associate Lecturer & PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University. Interested in Digital Youth Work/Literacy and Experiential Teaching Practice, ICT4D, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Activism. An active member of the Digital Youth Workers Network in Scotland. 

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