Creating an Outline Using Margin Notes

I’m currently writing the various sections of the dissertation’s literature review. I usually have the narrative, or flow, of what I want to write about in my mind and don’t map it out. I’m very fortunately that I’m able to visualize the flow beforehand, as this saves me a lot of time. If I don’t know how to write about my chosen topic, or I can’t see the narrative, I sometimes just start typing. This allows the information I’ve read ahead of time to come to mind and the piece, for the most part, works out rather well. Other times, however, it’s a mish-mash of thoughts, topic sentences, and a disjointed mess.

I over the weekend I set about writing a section on the Canadian Copyright Act, emphasizing the fair dealing sections, and the lack of copyright comprehension by educators. The seven pages contained some well-written paragraphs, but lacked a good flow. I felt a bit like a pinball when I re-read the piece. The topics (and the poor reader) were bouncing from one subtopic to the next, and then back again.

Self-diagnosis writing problems can be tough, but as an academic writing tutor at UVic, I’ve learnt a few tricks that can quickly get the heart of the matter and offer a remedy to disjointed work.

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The Four-Week Ph.D. Candidacy Exam

Photo by John Newcomb, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54294021

MacLaurin Building, University of Victoria. By John Newcomb, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54294021

On March 16, I successfully completed my candidacy exams. In the curriculum and instruction specialization program, faculty of education, at the University of Victoria, candidates are emailed four questions and must answer two questions within two weeks. The final step is a presentation and oral exam.

Answering two questions doesn’t seem difficult, but each answer must be a 30 to 40 page academic paper, not including references. The first question focuses on the candidate’s area of specialization and is known as the content question. The second question is on methodology.

I prepared meticulously for the exams over the past several months. Integral to the preparation was believing I had successfully passed the exams. I wrote the first two chapters of the research paper and completed a rough draft of the methodology chapter, and even up until the night before my exam began, I was adding to my quote bank.

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Being Busy Isn’t the Same as Being Productive

Tracking my time allows me to discover what I waste my time on and ultimately manage my productivity. This is of particularly importance to me as I work on my dissertation. I felt I was working towards my completion goal, but I was actually spending a lot of time “doing” and feeling busy with tasks that worked around my dissertation and not on my dissertation.

Being busy isn’t the same as being productive; therefore, I had to put my energies into finishing my dissertation and not into being busy with my dissertation.

I solved my problem very easily. I track my time, but the time sheet didn’t have enough detail. First, I added more categories to my time sheet so I could accurately track time I spend working about my topic.

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Balancing Teaching and Dissertation Writing

DeadlineEarly last week I was successfully following my work schedule, which includes re-shooting about 30 videos for the online course I’ll teach in fall, revising my dissertation introduction chapter, and writing the first draft of the lit review chapter.

Then I received a phone call that changed my work schedule.

A week earlier I had applied to teach another online course. My application was successful and I now have 27 more videos to shoot.

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Organizing Journal Articles

create-865017_960_720One of the biggest challenges I’ve had on my PhD journey is organizing. Organizing journal articles, organizing time, organizing the contents of the dissertation, and organizing concurrent projects.

I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last, PhD student to have these problems. Over the last couple of years I’ve read copious blogs posts and talked to other PhD students about how they organize everything to do with school, and, not surprisingly, everyone has different methods or organizational procedures.

Raul Pacheco-Vega provides excellent advice about organizing at the academic level. I totally understand why he is an organizational guru. Like me, he values his time and strives to work effectively and efficiently as possible.

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Dissertation Writing isn’t an 8 Hour a Day Job

To Do List

Before I began my PhD journey, I had a to do list of unrelated things I wanted to complete either before I graduated or shortly thereafter. Looking back on that list as I enter my third year in the program, I realize that I  accomplished only one goal: continue to teach. The other goals were pushed aside by real and self-imposed deadlines … and life.

Teaching, particularly a very interactive online course, takes up a large amount of time, both in prep work (on average it takes me about one hour to script, shoot, and edit one minute of video) and during the semester (student meetings, synchronous classes, and marking).

I try to front load as much as I can into the LMS prior to the semester because I need to free up time to mentor students through an undergrad research project, work on my dissertation, and also work at the university as a writing tutor.

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