The institutionalisation of I – 90

I have not been very active on here for the last few months. The reason for this is that I have had next to no motivation to write.
I have spent a lot of time on a website called Kaggle, which is a website for competing in data science tasks. So, it is not as if I have been idle, it’s that I have picked up a new hobby, and writing for this blog has slid to the bottom of the list.

Changing passions every few years is the modus operandi of my personality. Would I choose this trait if I had the choice? No. The reason being is that I tend to get good at a lot of things, but never master anything. If I could just stick with something long enough to learn it, then I would probably much better financially. One sure-fire way to get paid well is to be an expert in a domain. I imagine most people are like me and enjoy lots of different things, and never become a master at anything, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Speaking of other things, I was recently asked if I would like to join a site that was setting itself up as the audio equivalent of YouTube. They asked if I wanted to audio versions of this blog. I find the idea quite interesting, I would still have to write to make scripts, but I would also have to get good at speaking. Something that I don’t do a lot of!

What are your thoughts on having an audio version of a blog?

Although my motivation is almost gone, I will continue with this blog. I am now about half-way through my PhD and feel as if I cannot stop now. I will drag myself over the line. Hating your PhD by the end of it is a time-honoured tradition and who am I to break with tradition.

I have signed up to work in the Universities call-centre for one day next week. The job is to accept or reject students to the university based on their A-level results. I have never worked in a call centre before so that will be an exciting experience!

What I have realised after signing up for this is that I am somewhat institutionalised. Turning up at a particular time and staying in one room to the end of the day isn’t something I have had to very much in the last five years. During my studies, I have been fortunate enough to do what I want when I want. So long as the project progresses and the work gets done, no one asks questions. The thought of going to an office to work seems alien to me. When I leave academia, I will be aiming for a job that allows working remotely and flexibly. Turning up to a certain location for a set period of time seems very antiquated to me now, and I wonder how I put up with it before I became a student.

I can see why people tend to stay in academia now, you do become institutionalised in some sense.

regression toward the mean – 89

I have come to the end of my surge in productivity and motivation. I find that I have cycles of motivation, where I am incredibly productive for around two months, and slowly this degrades into my least productive – which is where I am now.

This is the concept of ‘regression toward the mean’. For those that have never come across this principle before, the basic idea is that overall your performance is average. In my case, I have been performing above average for the last few months with respect to productivity, it is no surprise that now I am performing below average – overall, I am performing averagely. Here is a nice example if you want to read more. If you’re a sports fan, it is similar to how one week your team performs brilliantly and the next poorly. Or you can write thousands of words one day and a couple hundred the next. 

If you don’t recognise that this can happen, then I expect that you will be extremely disappointed in yourself when it does happen. I was.

This type of work that I have been doing this week is part of the reason as to why I feel my productivity has dropped. I have been a logistics manager; it would seem. I have been sending emails and having phone calls with many different people having very similar conversations.

The situation is this. I am partly funded by a premium retailer here in the UK, so I get all my samples via them. At the start of my studentship, the employees at the retailer were organising the delivery of samples for me. However, life happened. On the first day, I went to collect the samples, the person who was organising them was off sick, so they asked one of their interns to help me.

The original person then went on maternity leave, and the intern became my permanent contact.

The process is now this. I ring the people who produce the products – the farmers. I get them to send my samples to the retailer, where I then go and collect them. Why don’t I get them delivered from the farmer? Well, they say it is too expensive. Fair enough.

Up until this week, this system has been working relatively ok, considering how convoluted it is. But this week, my samples went missing. Admittedly, there was always the potential for this to happen. When you’re dealing with millions of products each day, you don’t tend to care about a few that are destined for a third party (me).

So, I have been calling and emailing anyone and everyone to try and find these samples. I failed. What has happened is that my address book has doubled in size. For networking, this has been great! However, for furthering research, it has been a stall.

This is by far the most hated part of what I do, although I am sure most people would probably feel the same way. Does anyone like organising the thing more than the thing?

Thesis Reflection Attempt no 3: The beginning of a thesis’ checklist….

I am a masters student in Performance Studies, with a particular interest in dramaturgy and dance. I am also fascinated by philosophy and science and I am interested in exploring how these different fields of study can interact, challenge existing modes of knowledge, and offer alternative ways of understanding concepts such as cognition, embodiment and experience.

Ok, now I feel like I am starting to actually get somewhere…

Yesterday, I had this sudden burst of thoughts while I was on the train, so I noted them down on my phone, and I think they might be a good way to start my thinking process…

I think after you reach some critical points during the thesis process it is important to identify the issues that were creating issues and mental blockages… And then, I remembered a book that I read recently written by a Atul Gawande a doctor trying to figure out ways to deal with complex situations…The title of the book was The Checklist Manifesto, and however odd or funny it might sound he uses some really interesting examples on how a good checklist can prevent to a large extend a wide variety of even deadly incidents…I am not going to elaborate further on that, but it might suffice to say that it has been mastered by aviation professionals, civil engineers and construction workers and their success depends heavily on checklists…In the book, he even presented very compelling examples and evidence in order to encourage more and more doctors to use checklists…

All in all, the point that I want to make is that it might prove also useful to try and employ this strategy for my thesis….these critical points that you might encounter during your thesis are moments when you learn something, whether this had a positive or a negative effect, and by trying to condense and codify them, you might prevent the same issues from coming up again, even in a different form…I don’t know about the rest of the people, but I think that some of the problems that I encounter might manifest in different ways, but actually originate from the same source, maybe that is a thought, a specific insecurity, an attitude that I have acquired over the years and I continue to enact, without me really realizing, and most of the time without realizing how detrimental it might be for my mood, and the way that I decide to approach things….. Soooooo what should my checklist include???

These are the first points that I came up with while on the train:

  • Accepting that you might need to let go of an idea – Veery important!!! I tend to get stuck on a specific way of doing things that has proven many times in my life and for very different things to be very counterproductive….
  • Learning to identify when advice and help is needed – I have this also very annoying attitude towards things most of the time, where I want things to be perfect and I think that I should be able to do everything on my own…But then, you end up getting stuck in your own mind bubble…also very counterproductive as well as frustrating
  • Start writing, formulating thoughts, even when you feel you don’t have any – Sometimes ideas don’t just appear, and inspiration can’t just pop out of nowhere. Yes, it is true that some days you have a, let’s say a more “productive” mindset, but unless you maintain and oil your machine regularly, it will eventually get stuck and then you would need twice the effort to make it run again… So, it’s good to start writing…whatever that writing might be, just to open the tap and let the water running. I think this is why I am also doing this blogpost…writing in such an informal context, without being worried how “correct” I am, whether my thoughts construct a convincing argument, they are “well- researched and backed up by other authors, helps me get into the mood and into the flow if writing…In my mind, I am now considering this an essential part of writing my thesis…and I am actually very, very surprised at how many words I was able to generate in the last three days, with literally no struggle, no effort.
  • Let the text speak for itself – Another important element, don’t try to impose your own desires and wishes on a text. On a superficial level you might think that two authors are saying similar things, but when that time comes when you need to bring them together it suddenly doesn’t work….and then you get stuck….If you see that something does not flow and cannot be explained and connected in a simple and precise manner, then it might be wiser to distance yourself from the text(s) and rethink your approach…
  • By trying to articulate your ideas in an informal setting you are testing the extent in which you have truly comprehended the material – Really useful exercise and also connected with the previous points about accepting help or advice, or even just be excited about what you are doing and try to share your ideas with people who are interested in listening, I think I have underestimated the power of communication until now during this process…
  • If you are not able to construct a consistent narrative then you might need to re-evaluate how your ideas are linked – Also connected with the point on making the text speak for itself…it is very important to be open to the flow that research generates. There are certain things that you can control and other that you can’t… and in the end this is the point of doing research you want to find out more about something…if you already knew everything you wouldn’t enter into this process… but then exactly because you don’t know everything, you don’t know exactly where the text that you are reading will guide you …you start with some assumptions but maybe your initial assumptions might be wrong… of course you start working on a topic that you are more or less familiar with you already have an intuition and some explicit or less explicit reasons why you choose that, but it is again extremely counterproductive to try to impose your ideas on your research sometimes you might need to…just go with the flow…

Well, if I might say, I am quite satisfied with the first draft of my checklist…it will definitely need to go through many trial and error checks and I think I will have something more concrete only after my thesis has finished…maybe even several months later…But I think it will be fun to see where this thing goes…

To see more of Liza’s writing click the link below.

Missing the wave – 88

The man who got into writing when media had advanced through two different formats, video and audio, is a fool?

Getting into blogging in 2019 is, unbeknown to many people, a bit like getting into steam-powered vehicles – times have changed.

Do you ever feel like switching to video or audio? I imagine most of you are not only interested in writing but in other forms of media to. For me, blogging is something that is a skill-building exercise. I started this because I wanted to improve my writing, not to become a writer; a by-product of creating this blog is that it would look good on a CV, or so I hope.

This is the student mentality, you have to be forward-thinking and plan things around getting a job. In my fantasy world, I see myself working for myself – and very little work actually happens. I am aware that it on average, you can make much more money by selling your time to someone else. Nine out of ten businesses fail and all that.

Anyway, have any of you out there transitioned from one media to another? I would love to hear from you.

In the world of being a student, this week, I have been fairy unproductive; in the short-term, at least as I have spent most of the week learning about neural networks. This means that I didn’t get any of my actual work done, but I may have discovered a new skill that I can apply to my work.

Halfway through writing this, my partner and I went on a walk down the river, I had an interesting point I wanted to make before I left and now I can’t remember it. I remember thinking that I should write it down before I went, but of course, I didn’t, and now I regret it.

I had a slight setback this week that ended up being a blessing in disguise. Every time I want samples, I have to hire a car and collect them from a distribution centre. At the beginning of my PhD, I was supposed to have someone else arrange this for me (one of my supervisors who is high up in the company that gives me samples). Still, they went on maternity leave, and I ended up having to do all the work. I am not scared of work, but I am also ‘just a student’. Because I am just a student, I am easy to ignore.

I spoke to the head of agronomy for my PhD sponsor, and he said I should name drop him if I ever have any problems. To put this in context, supermarkets dominate the food industry in the UK. You would think the people who produce the food would have the power, but this is not the case. If the supermarkets choose not to take the growers food, they can no longer sell their food, and they go out of business.

So IF I name-dropped this guy, my samples would be delivered out of fear. As someone who has had a job before and has experienced this, I did not want to take this course of action. I always hated the corporate culture, the fact that we are all adults, but have to pretend like some are superior to others while we are in the office.

If I were the employee at the company and someone name-dropped a higher-up employee to get something done, I would hate them. This is why I was reluctant to name drop, even just cc’ing on an email is too much for me. I suspect, my reluctance to do this is one of the many reasons as to why I will never be at the top of a corporation.

How much of an ass-hole are you willing to be to get where you want?

A writer’s warm-up – 87

It is relatively early in the morning for me to be writing. Still, I have a lot of other writing-related things to do today, so I am trying to get a head start on it.

As I am not at my prime this early in the morning, and the mind is still a little foggy, something has occurred to me.

Do you, a writer, have a warm-up routine before starting?

I imagine writers are not the breed to have such a formality, but maybe there are some of you out there that are more structured in the process. I come from a background that is more athletic than academic; in the world of performance, having a warm-up routine ensures you start as close to optimal as possible.

The warm-up is for the mind as much as it is physical; the mind-muscle connection is real. Given this, it makes sense to me that before starting to write, there may be a benefit to do a form of warm-up. Having a quick google, it seems as if it is a concept that already exists. I am surprised that with all the effort I have put into ‘Learning to write’ that I have not come across this idea before.

I suppose that editing makes this idea less relevant, the allure of getting more words on the page is probably more appealing to most people. The type of writing I do lends itself to getting words onto the page and then editing down rather than editing as I go along.

Anyway, the reason I am starting this early is that I have to start putting together another piece of writing. At some point during my PhD, I have to undertake a three-month internship with a non-academic partner. The one I am going to apply for is a government organisation that conducts research into waste management in an attempt to guide policy. Throughout my research, I have referenced their work heavily, so I feel as if I know them quite well.

I have had some email correspondence with one of the lead researchers, and from the emails we exchanged, I am very confident of securing the placement if I can get to the interview stage. To get to the interview, I have to create a POSTnote, I know, I hadn’t heard of one either until I saw it was one of the requirements. It is a document that synthesis the research and relevant literature in an attempt to brief politicians. The documents also become available to the general public. You can see some examples here.

The one catch with this report is that it has to be about something not directly related to my field. Seeing as this is a document only to be used at the interview stage, I feel as if I could be a risky and produce one that is within my field and thus make it easier on myself. However, I know that data is the lifeblood of the company. I will be potentially joining, so I am going to make my piece about AI and agriculture and hope that it sticks.

So, I am off to do some research, this has been a proper warm-up for the challenge to come!

I hope you’re all having a much more enjoyable weekend than I am!