I’m a part-time PhD and a very effective procrastinator

What does it mean to be a part-time PhD student? The thought of having 8 years, in my case, to complete a thesis is mind-boggling and seems a rather long period of time to be holding this baby. After all I’m 51 going on 52 (is that a song?). I’m an Owl PhD. I’ll be close to 60 when I’m done. Thing is I don’t feel that close to 60 and it’s not like I haven’t been ‘doing’ research for many years.

I’m not sure that I ever saw myself as a PhD candidate. I’m an educator. I have been teaching and learning in schools for a good 30 years now. Three years ago I resigned from my leadership position to concentrate efforts on my other love – consulting. I was juggling this job with my full-time leadership positions for years. I particularly love working with pre-service teachers. I applied a number times to university with my idea for a course on learning – learning students in order to teach more effectively. I have concluded that it wasn’t my course that was holding me back from a gig in a university but the fact that I had not completed a PhD. You see 30 years teaching and learning experience in schools and a Masters in Educational Leadership, is not enough to run a course at university level. There is, instead, a preference for those who have a PhD or at least be sometime into one. The problem I have with this arrangement is that many have very little recent classroom experience. They get to work with pre-service teachers at the tertiary level. Well, at least that has been my experience. Don’t get me wrong there are some great educators at the tertiary level but they are researchers not teachers per se. Many will tell you that the real teaching and learning happens on the ground in schools.

What needs to happen in my opinion is more practice less theory; hence my course, and probably why I haven’t been successful. I get that. So here I am. I’m a PhD candidate and I’m doing it for 2 main reasons:

  1. I’m passionate about my area of study and think I can make a difference, and
  2. I want to work with pre-service teachers to help make transition between learning about teaching and learning and actually ‘doing’ it in schools.

So how do I do it part-time? Let me outline an atypical week. I say this because not all weeks look the same, as it is dependent on how many consulting gigs I have, if I get called for casual relief teaching and other appointments. So an atypical week looks something like this, or not:

Monday: I usually get out of bed around 7:30am depending on how hard I partied over the weekend (that’s a lie –the hard partying not the wake up time!)

Coffee first, then check emails, twitter, Facebook page for business purposes. Then I get distracted and an hour later…

If today is a PhD day I like to try and read at least 2 journal articles or a couple of chapters from a book. I keep journals for my PhD notes, ideas, scribbles, references, questions I’m pondering. I use the same journal when attending any training sessions to do with PhD and especially when meeting up with my supervisors.

I have a visual memory, it’s not photographic but I remember where things are on a page and what the page looks like with highlighted sections, bolds, colours, symbols, cut and pastes, so I can find things quite quickly. I tend to carry the current journal around in my handbag –just in case.

Jo Prestia Image

I also use Evernote and Microsoft OneNote as technological record keeping tools. I like them because you can add visuals easily or take photos of notes, objects, and the like that are relevant quickly and easily as I read.

Tuesday: For writing my confirmation paper –that is my proposal I recently discovered and fell in love with Scrivener. It’s a content generator that allows you to format, link, and move any relevant information over into one place, including the articles you are using for reference, tables or visuals. It also talks to Endnote my reference manager. I’m not one to put up a daily word count goal but rather prefer to just write over a couple of hours, sometimes half days. If I do decide it’s writing time then I break it up into short, sharp slabs. It happens even without a timer though the pomodoro technique is terrific or even ‘shut up and write sessions’ work for me. I’ll admit though I haven’t done a face-to-face social meet up with it yet but have tried to join some on line. The procrastinator in me is concerned I’ll be found out if I go out in public to PhD write. You see in all this reading and writing I also ‘procrasti-clean’, ‘procrasti-cook’, ‘procrasti-wash’. It keeps me sane and also, believe it or not, helps me think things through.

Wednesday: If Tuesday was great and I feel I achieved way beyond expectation things can go either way. I’ll continue my winning streak or excuse myself from PhD duty for the day. If things went pear-shaped I’ll worry all day. I’ll do more reading and writing or none at all. This is NOT ‘procrasti-anything’. I’m a part-time PhD!

Thursday: Early morning meetings with one or both my supervisors – they are flexible and we try and touch base at least monthly though sometimes if I am not in a school or tied up with consultancy workshops we’ll meet fortnightly for a while to make up for when we can’t. Regular email contact and Skype sessions are a must for part-timers, as we do feel isolated otherwise. I am also ever present on twitter chats to do with education, and PhD. At time of writing, I am launching a #survivephd15 chat, a keeping the hash tag alive idea extending our learning on the MOOC course I completed through ANU with Inger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) in November. I also blog about my PhD journey and everything educational as a way to escape academic writing but still write about academia.

After returning from my meetings I’ll spend the day following up on our conversation with a ‘to do’ list, compose a blog or draw up my next workshop presentation for a consultancy gig, OR ‘procrasti-something’ if not in the mood for any of the above!

Friday: This seems to be the day I tend to catch up with other PhD students at university. I might be attending a workshop run by my education department on a relevant topic – the most recent was on situating your author voice in the field. During the workshops we meet visiting lecturers or current PhD students who share their experiences. Other times it might be a group meet up to discuss and practice for up-coming milestones. Sometimes it’s just a coffee and chat. This is certainly a welcome distraction to being at home – I don’t tend to go to university and work in an office. I work here from my dining room table, or a comfy armchair, outside on the patio and sometimes even in my study –though I shy away from that space as there are a lot of books, articles, files and folders in there and I can’t actually see my workspace –but I know where everything is –I promise. I also utilise my kitchen bench when I need to work on my flow charts, brainstorm or even to work standing up for a while. They say it’s best to mix it up and this reflects the way I learn and remain engaged. I get up and move to another learning space. Yes I really do!

Saturday: I’m from an Italian background so most Saturdays are about family, food, and fun. On the odd occasion I might do some reading from PhD related blogs.

Sunday: Some afternoons I spend preparing for the up-coming week but it’s rarely PhD related unless I have a deadline looming –that’s when I start ‘procrasti-….’ NO… I am going to plan my week. Wait! Is it time for Sunday night tweet chats? My favourite!

And so another week begins…

Thanks for reading J

By Jo Prestia (@JoPrestia)

For more about Jo why not go and have a look at her website

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