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Reflections on #AcWriMo by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.

After a fantastic month in Germany, I am now back in the UK. Is it a case of proudly looking over what I’ve achieved, or licking my wounds after an unproductive month? Well I’m delighted to announce that it’s the former! I have had one of my most productive months of writing in the short history of my PhD.

It was always going to be a challenge working in a foreign country for a month, but they say “change is as good as a rest”, and the different scenery and culture helped a great deal with my productivity.

After my interim report stated that I’d made a solid start, things got even better in the following week, meaning—and I take a deep breath as I type this—I have returned to England with a final first draft of my PhD thesis! It’s an incredible feeling, and one I didn’t expect when I flew out on October 31st, but the month away has propelled me into a very strong position.

How did I make it work for me? Well, as previously highlighted, I made use of daylight hours by sightseeing, hiking, taking photographs and generally forgetting about research. Mentally and physically, this was important. Then, when it got dark at 4.30pm, I wrote until around 9.30pm each evening, with breaks for drinks and a meal. I repeated this Monday to Friday, and took weekends off.

Over the course of three weeks, I managed to write 14,000 words using this method. The final week, it was decided early on, would be a break as a reward for working hard. I cannot recommend taking a week off enough. It is the first time in over two years of PhD research that I have truly abandoned my research for a week. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t check emails, I didn’t even open my laptop on some days. The impact on my wellbeing was incredible. From feeling proud of my efforts, but also a little stressed to say the least, I returned to England invigorated, refreshed and as enthused as the day I began my PhD journey. As I tweak and polish my thesis in the run up to Christmas, I have already promised myself two weeks with no PhD over the festive break.

In conclusion, I look back with fondness on a country and experience which worked wonders on my PhD productivity, and perhaps there is something to be said for a 3 week/1 week working pattern, giving the body and mind time to recover before the next stretch of research.

AcWriMo in the Alps: Part II by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD. His mid-point AcWriMo reflection follows below.

So – half way through. How are things going? Well, this weekend (Saturday 15th/Sunday 16th) is one I have designated as a weekend off. I will be watching Germany score many goals past Gibraltar in Nuremberg on Friday evening, and then allowing myself a little sightseeing and relaxing on the Saturday and Sunday.

‘What about the PhD?’, I hear you ask. Well, it’s going satisfactorily well! I know that doesn’t sound like I’m dancing around the Alpine lodge in excitement, but I’m content with my progress. Let’s do some number crunching. I arrived in Germany with 57,096 words, and as I go into my free weekend, that has blossomed to 65,281. I’ve worked on ten of the eleven days up from my arrival on 2nd November up to and including Wednesday 12th November, giving me an average of 818 words per day. That’s good going. I was aiming for 1,000, but with my thesis being in a fairly ‘completed’ state, that would perhaps be overdoing it. My realistic aim now is to head back to England with my thesis anywhere in the 70-80,000 range. Whether that is 70,001 or 80,000 remains to be seen, but I’ll be delighted with anything in between. That will give me three weeks before Christmas to edit what I’ve written, print, bind and hand in a full first draft.

What I would also like to mention in this instalment is how I have kept myself sane while I have been here. As mentioned in the previous post, isolation and loneliness are two of the down sides to a doctoral programme which have affected me deeply over the past year or so. I won’t lie: there have been evenings where I have felt these keenly since the beginning of the month, but I have coping mechanisms. One of these, which can only be good news for my mental AND physical health, is to walk ridiculous amounts during daylight hours, and work at night. It seems such a shame not to experience the country I have so kindly been given access to by my funding body, and with the sun going down at around 4:30pm, it seems counterproductive to sit inside pretending to write my thesis while I looking out of the window at the blue skies. I have clocked up countless miles up mountains, down valleys, around lakes and so forth, and have been back in my accommodation by 4:30pm each day to commence 4-5 hours of writing once it’s dark. It’s worked a treat, and my productivity is helped by the fact that for some of the walk, I’m planning what to write when I return!

This weekend off will give me a good chance to try and forget about the PhD (ha!), and clear my mind before the start of the next working week. To be honest, I’d quite like some horrible weather, because then it’d force me to some extent to stay inside and get lots done. At the same time, given what I’ve mentioned above, getting out and about is important. A PhD sometimes causes us to lose touch of reality somewhat, and there’s nothing that screams reality like being up a 6,000ft mountain wondering how you’re going to get down!

Half way through, and my report would read ‘satisfactory progress, but could do better’. Without putting too much pressure on myself, I’m hoping for a decent next couple of weeks to return to England knowing I’ve done everything I could have done to give me the best possible chance of handing a first draft in that I’m both happy and proud of.

‘Write like there’s no December’, is one quote I’ve seen banded around with regards to #AcWriMo. I like that a lot. However, I know that there’ll be a December, and that feeds my Alpine procrastination somewhat…

AcWriMo in the Alps: Early Reflections by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.

It’s getting to that time of the PhD. I’ve completed 26 months of a 36 month GTA studentship, and September 2015 is looming as ‘the month the money runs out’.

I’m fairly happy with my progress so far. I’ve ticked lots of boxes on my CV. International conferences presented at, a couple of articles about to be published, a book chapter on the way, ample teaching experience (and a PGCTHE underway) and organisation of a conference at my host institution. However, this aside, the thesis remains the most important aspect of the whole experience. Without the PhD at the end of it, all of the other stuff will seem a little futile.

So — with 57,000 words on the board (out of an expected 60-80,000 at my university) — I gratefully received a scholarship to spend a month in Germany, accessing archives, libraries and any other institutions of interest. My key aim for this month is to get as much writing done as possible, and it coincides rather nicely with #AcWriMo!

There are several questions I asked myself before arriving here. Will the change of scenery be good for productivity? I am, after all, basing myself in the Bavarian Alps for some of the stay. Will the lack of teaching ‘distractions’ help? Will being out of my own country and away from peer support be a good thing, or hinder me?

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to get stuck in at the deep end. Within 24 hours of arriving, I had opened my laptop and was sat staring at the monster: also known as ‘thesis’. An hour later, I was half way up a mountain with my walking boots on. OK — so maybe not the best start, but I should allow myself a bit of enjoyment, surely? After all, with temperatures of 17C, it was a very late Indian summer in southern Germany. Might as well make the most of it before the snow arrives in a few weeks.

There are two areas I have struggled with throughout the PhD. Loneliness and isolation. Those two things may seem highly linked, but they are separate problems. Loneliness comes with not feeling as though there is anyone to speak to about my research, with a PhD being such a personal and individual piece of research. Isolation came with all of the trips abroad for conferences. While these were excellent for the CV, there were negative sides to jetsetting across the world with only my thesis and presentation for company. Because of this demons I’ve battled with over the past year or so, this month will be a challenge not only academically but psychologically.

So how are things so far in Germany? Well, as I write this, it’s day three and all is well. The sun is shining, and I’ve already managed to add an admittedly pitiful 600 words or so to my thesis, despite taking a hike in the mountains for much of the second day. My targets for AcWriMo are roughly 1,000 words a day, five days a week. This means that by the time I get back to England, I will be comfortably at the upper end of my word count allowance, and working well towards the target of handing in a first draft of my thesis by Christmas.

The archival and library work I will undertake will be vital for tying up loose ends, and I will be commencing this shortly, but it is the writing which must be the priority for this month’s visit. I suppose it’s just a case of sitting down and doing it.

After three days, I feel good, and the month ahead is almost like a clean slate given the hectic 12 months that I have just had. Writing has never seemed more appealing. It’s one thing wanting to write, and another actually doing it though. Wish me luck!