Planning and Time Management for Researchers

I’ve recently taught a workshop on planning and time management for postgraduate research students in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton. The session covered a variety of techniques to help with planning and managing time effectively as well as issues to think about with reading and writing. I’ve uploaded my presentation to Humbox. The workshop was based on similar training materials I developed for postgraduate taught students in my other job role at SOAS, University of London and which I wrote about here.

Motivation for Research Students

Recently I led a workshop on motivation for PhD students at the University of Southampton as part of the Faculty of Humanities doctoral research training programme. While developing the workshop content and deciding what to include, I found it interesting and also useful reflecting back on my own motivation when I was a part-time PhD student. I remember it as very challenging – somewhat ironic really given that my thesis focused on motivation in language learning. Of course, the motivation for starting a PhD is not the same as the motivation required to get to the end – it’s important to make this distinction. The effort and persistence needed to keep going when the going gets tough can result in students losing sight of the reasons for embarking on the PhD in the first place. I know it was like that for me.

In the end, my workshop covered the reasons for doing a PhD and the benefits associated with it and we then looked at some of the principles that might be involved in keeping motivated to the end:

  • Managing your time
  • Looking after yourself
  • Knowing when and where you work best
  • Planning and managing tasks (including setting goals)
  • Collaborating with others
  • Engaging with the concept of flow
  • Developing strategies to help you through the tough times
  • Reminding yourself of why you are doing a PhD in the first place

My PowerPoint presentation from the workshop is available on Humbox

Writing a Master’s Dissertation – useful resources

I’ve been looking around for useful websites for Masters students which include some nice tips for writing the dissertation. There is lots of stuff out there – the resources below all look helpful to me.

Teaching PhD students to get ready for the viva

The time between submission of their PhD theses and the viva can be a tricky one for PhD students. In my own experience, the viva is often viewed as very mysterious as well as challenging, daunting and downright scary.

As part of the Faculty of Humanities doctoral research training programme at the University of Southampton, I teach a session which is aimed at providing research students with practical tips and advice on preparing for the viva and at giving them an opportunity to talk about their research to other students.

Although universities have their own sets of procedures and regulations for the PhD in general and the viva in particular, preparation can be greatly helped by the range of open educational resources now accessible (many of which are student-friendly). My own session draws on one adapted by my former colleague, John Canning and available as an OER on Humbox. The original version was developed as part of an excellent set of OERs on research skills produced by the University of Leicester and available on Jorum. The viva materials are very thorough and really give the students a lot to think about; enabling them to go away and work on questions relating specifically to their own research. They also strongly encourage talking about research. I would highly recommend these resources.

Other resources and articles relating to the viva which are worth a look are listed below:

Finally, this article from the Independent includes useful advice on how to shine at the viva.

New Year, New OERs

A few interesting open educational resources to kick off the New Year….

1. OpenLives inspires Spanish singer/song writer – Lovely blog post on how the OpenLives project has inspired the singer, Clara Sanabras to write stories of Spanish exile.

2. Street Art in Brazil – Wonderfully imaginative examples of street art in Brazil posted by Margaret Clarke in Humbox.

3. Quantitative Methods in Linguistics – Helpful worksheets for teaching undergraduates in this tricky area posted by David Pollard also in Humbox.

4. How to create a Prezi – Detailed guide on preparing a Prezi presentation from Ester Ehiyazaryan-White on Jorum.





Useful resources for teaching time management and workload planning

This term I’ve taught a new study skills workshop at SOAS on planning and managing workloads at Masters’ level. It’s not a traditional time management workshop – those are taught by one of my Learning and Teaching Team colleagues. However, when talking to postgraduates about managing workloads, issues of managing time inevitably arise, especially for part-time students who may be juggling a wide range of different responsibilities and demands. And it’s a topic where it is particularly useful to get students doing practical exercises which focus on their own planning and use of time.

Fortunately, there are lots of open resources available for use with students (undergraduate and postgraduate). What follows are a few examples of what I’ve come across. Encouraging students to consider their time use seems like an important first step so keeping a time log often seems to be recommended as a way of encouraging students to examine in detail how they actually spend their time over the course of a week. They can do this quite simply in a note book, of course but there are a range of templates available too. An example time log is one of a number of OERs developed on time management by Rimmer and Corfield and downloadable from Jorum. These authors have also created scenarios for students to work through so that they can generate their own tips and ideas on monitoring use of time and planning. A resource which the SOAS students seemed to find particularly helpful was one developed on self-management by Quince and Carl and available on Humbox. This is specifically for postgraduate research students (and so I adapted it for Masters) and it focuses on where our time goes. Students used the template to count up the number of hours they spend on all their different activities and commitments during the week and then to see how many hours are left for study after eating, sleeping, catching the tube, being distracted by technology etc. They seemed to find this a genuinely interesting exercise.

There are also some useful open resources from Learn Higher, which include dealing with distractions (with tips from students), getting organised, planning schedules and lots more.

All this has encouraged me to reflect on my own planning and time management skills as I often find that managing two places of work brings its own challenges. So I’ve been following up with some more in-depth reading of my own. I am not particularly interested in advice which would result in a rigidly organised style of working – that wouldn’t suit me – but I have been dipping in and out of a few books which have included some helpful suggestions. In What the most successful people do before breakfast, Vanderkam focuses on the importance of mornings and so I have been trying to shift an hour of my working day from afternoon to morning – so far so good – there is no doubt that for me, mornings are more conducive to getting stuff done than afternoons! Also, some of the very practical suggestions of Ian Cooper in How to be a time master look useful so I’ll see how I get on and whether I can generate some new activities for my next student workshop.


Statistics for Humanities

Statistics for Humanities is a new open resource developed by my former University of Southampton colleague, John Canning. The content has been created to help Humanities undergraduates get to grips with some of the basics of understanding and using statistics in their work. It also provides detailed support around collecting, managing and analysing quantitative data. John has used lots of examples for Humanities subjects to illustrate particular points.

Statistics for Humanities is a really helpful, readable resource and I would recommend it to any Humanities academic who is looking for an introduction to quantitative work.