#MyPhD Research

Tune Out to Tune In

Here’s a curious thing. I can’t remember the last time I had my usual browser window open, and I didn’t have my email account open in one of the tabs. I constantly flick and flip between so many online snippets, and I always have my email account as the far left browser tab, and my Twitter account as the second tab. This makes it easier for me to snap back to them to check for updates in between reading articles of interest.

Recently, I noticed that I increasingly, absent-mindedly even checked them mid-article – even if the article was only about 500 words. There has been much written about this; our ever-growing need to flit between one thing and another. Our lack of ability to truly focus.

I've got my eye on you.
Are you studying? I’ve got my eye on you.

And yet, I love to read more in-depth items. The Guardian even badges such submissions as ‘Long Reads’ now. These would probably just have been called ‘reports’ ten years ago. Now, reading a newspaper report (should I say newspaper any more? Media outlet?), I find they stop just as I’m getting into them. They seem to cut off partway through to make way for the below-the-line commentators to introduce bitterness where there was none, or shout about their latest political or cultural issue.

And books. Remember them? I love to read, yet I can count on the fingers of two hands the books I have read from start to finish this year.

I digress. This is simply a stream of consciousness to accompany my initial opening statement.

This morning, at 10am, I closed all my email and Twitter tabs. After six months’ leave of absence from my research studies, I pick up my PhD work again this weekend. There is much to do, and I’m never going to manage it with constant distractions. I need to tune out, or at least be stricter with my tuning in.

I have surprised myself by actually missing studying. I’ve been keeping on top of interesting articles and developments, and spending some time thinking about how other people approach and present their research; but I’ve missed the progression of studying itself. Which is funny, really, because I never felt like I was progressing before my leave of absence; I felt like a ball-bearing in a bagatelle table, careering around, and not necessarily making a huge amount of progress in any particular direction.

Even now, mid-morning, I’m itching to check for online updates. I could productively procrastinate all day and never get any real studying done. The Man, recently graduated himself, is my appointed research conscience for the next eighteen months; being hugely supportive, but also gently blunt. He’s the only one who could get away with that, and that’s mostly because he has his own recent experiences to relate. We’ll see how that goes, given I’ve never managed well with being told.

There will a time when I, too, can swim off into the post-PhD sunset.
There will a time when I, too, can swim off into the post-PhD sunset.

Eighteen months. That’s my submission deadline at the moment: the 31st of March 2018. I really don’t want to ask for an extension, so I’ll be doing everything I can to have my thesis complete by that point. This does mean that I’ll be physically disappearing somewhat over the next several months. I’ll be online, but I will be making less weekend trips to visit friends and family, as I’ve decided that I need to block out whole weekends for my thesis. I’ve had a request for flexible working hours approved at work, meaning I have Friday afternoons and Monday mornings off, so I have extended weekends to solidly work on my PhD. Most weekends, I will be in Inverness, head down and go, far from distractions.

Though I’m disappearing to some extent, I will probably, actually, have more of a consistent presence online. When I submitted my leave of absence request earlier this year, I was sure I would keep up my weekly #MyFigFriday posts, but I didn’t manage that. I also had to cancel attending the Folklore, Ethnology, and Ethnomusicology Conference Aberdeen 2016 due to scheduling issues and train strikes. I thoroughly enjoyed presenting at the St Magnus Conference 2016 in Orkney earlier this year, though.

I’m reducing my in-person commitments from a research perspective, too. I’ll be attending the UHI University Research Conference in Inverness in November 2016, but I won’t be presenting; and I won’t be looking for any more conferences over the next year. I need to concentrate on my data and my writing now, and stop allowing myself to be distracted, even by seemingly justifiable events. I’m hoping to keep up a rough equal ratio of organising-reading to data collection and analysis to writing until Christmas. And I’ll be taking a real break at Christmas again this year. And I will be taking holidays next year (remind me of that in due course, won’t you?).

Much to do, indeed. But it’s entirely possible, and it will be an interesting challenge. And I do love challenges. It is, after all, why I registered for a research degree in the first place.

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