time management: the bullet journal

One of the most important skills that a student has to learn, ANY student, at any level, is that of time management, and a PhD student is not particularly unique in that. Where we differ from undergraduate or even masters students, however, is in the time we have available to us with little in the way of specific externally imposed goals. Most of us will have two, absolute goals that have to be met: the Thesis and the Viva, and most, if not all, will have to meet targets imposed by their university: reviews, supervisions, reports and so on.

That means there are large blocks of time where there is little external pressure to achieve things. New students are warned, going into a PhD, that we have to be responsible for driving our PhD forward, managing it ourselves, and not relying on our supervisors to do it for us. That sort of discipline can be difficult to learn.

 

What can also be difficult is in balancing and driving forward the different parts of the PhD, particularly the parts that ‘feel’ less urgent (e.g. the bits that don’t have an externally imposed deadline). It’s always easy to let secondary reading slide, for example. And while there are a number of different tools and methodologies for managing different projects which can be useful to the PhD student, different projects and balancing them also very much impact on our time management… or at least, have the potential to cause problems there.

Eighteen months ago, I stumbled across something called Bullet Journalling. I’m not alone in this: any number of students around the world have discovered it and are using it to aid and manage their studies. One of the key strengths of this system lies in the fact that it can be tailored to suit you, the user. Another, is in its simplicity. All you need is a notebook, and a pen. Actually, scratch that. All you really need is something to write on, and something to write with. you write the date at the top of your page. then you list what you’re going to do that day, your tasks, like this. You can use a series of ‘bullets’ – that’s the various squiggles on the left of the right page – as signifiers, or a key to the different items, and there’s no limit on space. If you want to list 3 pages worth of bullets, you can (although I would question whether you’d get them all done!). I’m sure some of you are thinking “sounds like a to-do list to me” … and yes, to a certain extent, it may be that, although it’s more than that: you can record other things too, appointments/events, and you can make notes. So that killer quote you overheard in the library cafe: pull out your journal and jot it down on the next available line. You see a fab chart that just happens to explain the balance between primary sources and secondary sources in a dissertation and when you should be using each in which bits of it (that actually happened to me!) … you can devote the next page to copying it down. The kind of stuff you’d record on post-it notes and lose – no longer. Now, stick ’em in your bullet journal.

It gets more complex than that, however. Obviously, you’re going to want to remember this killer quote when you’re writing your thesis…. so you need an index. and you need page numbers. And, since you write this journal as you go (remember, each day has as much space as you need?) how do you handle appointments in the future?

The inventor of bullet journalling has a great starting point here, but as I said, one of the key strengths of this system is that you can adapt this to make it work for you. If you hate the idea of using a dot to signify a task, fine. I have boxes, myself (colouring them in to say they’re done makes me *ridiculously* happy and it is embarrassing how much of a motivator that is for getting things done. My one solace is that I’m not alone in this). If you find that their suggested way of recording appointments in the future just doesn’t work for you, great. Use a different way. [Myself, I record appointments in google calendar – it means this stuff is managed on my smartphone and goes everywhere with me (even if my journal stays at home), and my partner can see it too.]  If you like systems with different coloured pens and diagrams and you like drawing and doodling… oh man. Bullet journalling is TOTALLY for you!

Even better … there’s a huge, and I do mean HUGE community out there on the internet of other people using bullet journals to manage their lives in a myriad of different ways. If you’re new to it, I would recommend holding off on going that route – and for heaven’s sake, please do NOT google image search bullet journal or Pinterest it – going that route is well and truly a major and very deep rabbit hole and this is meant to be about improving your efficiency and time management not distracting you from your PhD…! There are a lot of very highly decorated, artistic journals out there and for some that can be intimidating and off-putting. However, if (despite what I said), you looked anyway … I think its important to reitirate that bullet journalling is not about having a highly decorated, very colourful journal, necessarily: at its core, it’s a pen, and a notebook. Nothing more, nothing less.

That caveat aside, the community is useful because that ability to tailor your journal means that you can steal ideas from everywhere. There are a LOT of other PhD students – hell, even some academics – using Bullet Jouralling to manage their time and their work, and some of them generously share how they do this, so that people like you and I can learn from them, and sometimes their ideas are really useful ones. Things like, for example, the Research Pipeline that Dr Ellie Mackin developed. Ellie has a number of really useful and interesting videos on YouTube about how she uses the bullet journal to manage her work. There are facebook groups galore: I’m not going to mention specific names because 1) most of these are closed groups anyway and 2) because of that rabbit hole thing I mentioned earlier. [But if you are very keen for a recommendation for a  bullet journalling students group, please contact me and I will try to help.]

But I can hear you ask: … if bullet journalling is such a rabbit hole, why should I start?

Well, here’s what it’s done for me. Since I discovered it, I’ve graduated from my MA, pulled together a PhD application and won funding for it, written and delivered 6 conference papers, written and delivered 5 public history talks and won a general essay prize. I’ve started my PhD, which is going well. My productivity has gone from strength to strength, but more importantly, I feel confident that I’m able to remember things when I said I will do them. I’m managing my goals and my projects. Things in my life are getting done, and I’m happier than I have been in years, mostly because I also use my journal for self-reflection. My physical health is better than it has been in a long time. I’m not alone in noting all this. Many people have noted that keeping some form of paper and pen-based record improves their lives, that the act of putting pen to paper aids in so many ways.  Bullet Journalling specifically has many benefits; creativity; better mental health; productivity; for us students, there are so many articles out there.

The more astute amongst you may note that although I’ve extolled the virtues (many) of the bullet journal, I’ve not said a great deal about how I use it. That’s quite deliberate. My journal is highly personal, and also very unique to me. And I suppose I also don’t want anyone reading this to take away the message that my way is the right way. It is – for ME, but not necessarily for anyone else. There are no shortcuts to this: You have to read the inventor’s website (bulletjournal.com). Go on! grab a pen. grab a notebook. get going! Try the system, make changes. You won’t get it right immediately – there’s a process, over several months, of trying things, seeing what works, scrapping what doesn’t.  You may conclude, at the end of the day, that this system is not for you, and that’s perfectly fine – it won’t suit everyone. But I’m willing to bet that there are many people who will like it, and who will find it something completely lifechanging. And if you do try it, even if you conclude that it’s not for you I’m also willing to bet that you’ll come out of it with a better understanding of how you work, what you need and what you don’t need. All of which is good stuff to have.

So… go for it. What have you got to lose?

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Not abandoned, no…

Those who don’t know me in real life may be forgiven for thinking that this blog, like so many others on the internet, has been abandoned. Not the case – although I note I haven’t blogged since March! – more that I’ve just been tremendously busy.  I have been thinking about the blog though, about how I want to take it forward from here, given that I am now moving into the primary source research phase of my PhD.

But before that, I wanted to do a bit of a catch up, fill in the gaps of what has happened in the last three months or so: Continue reading

PhD: three months+ down the line

I think one of the things that no one ever really mentions in a PhD is how long it takes to settle down and find your feet. Surprisingly so as well. It’s kind of expected at BA level – especially if you don’t really know your way around your new university or place. It takes time to know where to go for XYZ, even if you know the shop you want any given item, you still have to find it, find your way around. Even more so with classes, and so on. Then there’s the slow understanding of what it is that is expected of you at Uni, how to write essays, how to deliver the original contribution that they’re looking for. Over the course of three years you grow – even as a mature student who knows a bit more about life and themselves (i.e. not experiencing so much the kind of self-discovery process that 18-21 year olds go through at that time) still grows. I remember learning about Gramsci and hegemony and seeing the world and history in a different way, for example. You read, and the process of reading, of absorbing, changes you – for the better. It’s not just about what you’re reading and learning and writing, but HOW you do it – there are certain changes that I think (and I hope) are held in common by all university students, regardless of actual subjects studied, such as the ability and awareness of the importance of questioning what you read. So, yes… these changes are expected at an undergraduate level.

At Master’s level, especially if, like me, you stayed with your undergrad institution, there feels like less of this kind of development. You know your way round (both uni and city). You know the people. You know what it is that you’re doing. It’s shorter, of course. The pass mark may be higher, and more expected of you. The Master’s degree gave me more confidence in what I’m doing and more knowledge, of course, but I don’t feel that it fundamentally changed me in the same way that the BA did. Instead, it felt like it gave my BA an extra polish, if that makes sense. And while I don’t want to dismiss my Master’s degree, or the work that I put into it … having gone from BA to MA to PhD and graduating from my MA during my PhD it feels somewhat like the MA is more of a ‘blip’ in the journey towards the PhD. The BA graduation felt far more monumental, coming as it did in the summer, a month after the course ended, and before I really knew that I would be undertaking the MA. It felt more like drawing a line underneath it all. The MA graduation, as special as it was (more about that in a moment), didn’t feel the same in that sense and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking or feeling that way.

The PhD, however, feels more like the BA in terms of the potential to change me in a more fundamental way. Maybe it’s because it’s longer – three years, like the BA, as opposed to the 1 or 2 of the MA. It’s more than that though. There is constant questioning. Questioning my ideas, my thinking. My writing is being picked apart (and if you are someone considering a PhD and you hate having your writing dissected: I’d urge you to reconsider the PhD plans or learn to love the criticism). My supervisors are questioning the use of certain words, highlighting the way I write. It’s turning me into a better writer so its not an unwelcome process, I don’t begrudge it (in fact, I’ve asked them to continue it because I KNOW it will make me a better writer). I’m reading – and no matter how much I read, it feels like it’s never enough; the “to-read” pile is constantly getting higher and higher. This is good, not bad (although I cheerfully admit I’d feel happier if the “to-read” pile would go down, instead of up). It’s the process of doing exactly what the PhD should do, what it says on the tin: to turn me into an expert in my field. There’s a very strange change going on – I’m growing in confidence, but at the same time I’m not. Growing in confidence in my abilities, in my skills – for example, learning how to deliver presentations, talks and papers. But the constant questioning of my ideas is having the opposite effect, making me stop and think before I deliver an opinion. ‘Am I really SURE about this?’ This uncertainty is making me hesitate before delivering any opinion, anywhere, except the really subjective ones, like ‘I love chocolate’. Oddly, I feel okay with that, mostly. I do have the occasional attacks of imposter syndrome (which is extremely common in academia) but I suspect the reason I feel okay with it is because I know that it’s a) temporary and b) for good reasons. There’s a huge difference between this process and the kind of way that some people behave when they try to make themselves feel better by undermining someone else, and I know that this process will make me a better academic in the long run. This is, most certainly, A Good Thing, rather than the kind of negativity that makes one want to curl up and hide.

We’re frequently exhorted, as PhD students, to write. ‘WRITE!’, the cry goes up. No matter what, just to practice the process of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. I’d echo that but I think what is just as important is the process of self-reflection, an awareness of the changes experienced over the three to four years of the PhD. I think one of the many elements that make for a successful PhD student is constant analysis, constant thinking and asking why. To give an example: on Friday, I graduated with my MA degree. It was a lovely ceremony, a lovely day – bright and cold – but throughout I was analysing, thinking and comparing the experience with that of 2.5 years earlier, in July 2014, when I graduated with my BA degree. The MA ceremony felt – to me – altogether more comfortable, more relaxed, but more serious as well. I had the same sign language interpreter for both ceremonies and I discussed this with her at the time. She agreed with me, that it felt both more serious and more relaxed, so it wasn’t purely a reflection of my own emotions on the day, but more to do with the general atmosphere within the graduation hall.

I should say, for those who do not know much about academic graduations in the UK: Graduation ceremonies are different with each university. At the University of Leicester, the ceremonies are held at De Montfort Hall, which is a lovely concert hall dating from 2013. It doesn’t seat many people so graduation ceremonies are smaller than some universities, and as a result, shorter. My BA ceremony in 2014 was just 2 hours long; the MA was just over 1.5 – I know some universities have graduation ceremonies that go on much, much longer. There are also more of them – the university will hold two in a day – in January, graduation lasts for 2 days (mostly for postgraduate students) and in July, for a week or so (mostly for undergraduates). There are some cross-overs, however – we had some undergrads last week, and in 2014, I remember seeing people who are now friends graduate with their MAs and PhDs. I think it is the fact that last week’s ceremony was primarily made up of postgraduates, who had already experienced a graduation (if not specifically the Leicester one) and who were therefore a tad more relaxed about it – but also more serious at the same time. For undergraduates, graduation can be the end of one stage and the beginning of another – often leading to a career, to the beginning of one’s life, a sense of coming of age. There was less a sense of that with a post-grad graduation, I think (although I may change my mind about that when I graduate with my PhD!). I know I enjoyed Friday’s ceremony more, not because the university was doing anything particularly different, but because I was different, more relaxed. I’d learned from the 2014 experience what to do, what not to do. Wear a blouse so it’s possible to attach the hood to the buttons more easily. Wear comfortable boots, rather than heels so you’re not praying ‘don’t trip, don’t trip’, as you walk across the stage to shake the chancellor’s hand. Pick up the cape, hood and cap early, get the photographs done and out of the way early. Don’t wear a ponytail, as it’ll interfere with the cap. That kind of thing. Still, I’m glad I attended graduation – it underlines the Master’s. Done, dusted. Put the certificate on the wall. Order the photographs. Turn my attention back to where it should be… the PhD.

In just over a week (1st February) I have to hand in the mid-year review, which is something I have to do as a Midlands3cities-funded student. It involves writing an extended research proposal for my project, a 5,000 word sample piece of written work, and then I have to defend my progress thus far, a sort of mini-viva (the Viva Voce is the oral defence of the thesis, which I have to pass to gain my PhD, and is done after The Thesis is submitted). This is a good thing; practice in defending work done is good for the ultimate viva that I’ll have to do, but I am nervous about the whole thing. There are three possible outcomes: either I pass (and can continue my studies); I am sort of on probation (i.e., I have to redo the entire thing in June); or I fail, lose my funding and probably get kicked out of university as well. We (M3C-funded students) have been assured that outright failure is very rare, and my supervisor has also tried to reassure me. I’m still nervous though, and I doubt I’m the only one. I’ve already written both the pieces of work that M3C require; I have two 3,000 word pieces of work which I need to amalgamate into one 5,000 piece, which is very doable, although I have had feedback on both which I need to incorporate into this new work, so there is some additional work to do there. I have also written the extended research proposal which was handed in to be marked as part of a doctoral research training module that the University of Leicester offers to all new PhD students. As an M3C student I did not have to complete (or even pass) the assignment attached to the module, which was a similar extended research proposal, but the recommendation was; do it anyway, as the practice and feedback will come in useful for the mid-year review. So I followed the advice. I’m not particularly happy with my work on that, and having discussed it with my supervisor last week, I know where to take it and how to amend it. Hopefully the changes will improve it to a point where I feel happier with it. The mid year review will, in many ways, mark the conclusion of the first four months of my PhD and is the first big hurdle to pass, and I’m sure that that point will bring further self-reflection about the changes that the previous four months have wrought (which I may or may not share here).

So, three months down the line. Still trying to find my feet. Still trying to find a routine. I do feel that I overdid some things in the months before Christmas; I have dialled those things back substantially to allow me to focus more on what I should be doing. I’ve made decisions about the way that I will be working, and some of the short term aims that I need to achieve, which I will focus on once the mid-year review is complete. It is a different way of working to the BA and MA, and it takes time to develop that. The uncertainty of the first few months is, in some ways, a good thing. It’s a process that has to be gone through because it isn’t like when you move to a new city, and you’re struggling to find your way around; that is fairly easily rectified. This is more complex, and you learn from the process – its not something you can learn about from reading, but only from doing. I just wish more books/blogs that discuss PhDs mentioned this. That it’s okay to be uncertain, to wobble, to struggle with finding one’s feet. I do think though that I’ll come out of this unsure period as a much stronger student, more sure and able to forge ahead and make progress very quickly.

little by little, brick by brick

After Friday’s rather angsty post about feeling unsettled and unsure about my work … I’m pleased to say that I now feel vastly better. I feel more in control, although little may have changed to the average onlooker! Over the weekend, I’ve:

  • Assessed various different notetaking tools, including Evernote, Onenote, Readcube, and Mendeley. I’ve not truly been happy with any of them, or rather, I’ve not been happy with how my current laptop set up is able to handle them (i.e. not very well, very slow – and thats with just a few PDFs loaded). That may change when and if I get my new computer, but I have to make the decision now for the next three years. I also feel that with these tools there’s a certain level of redundancy – I’d be typing bibliographic information into RefWorks, into a word document, and into this – its one layer of typing too many.
  • At the same time, I’ve also revised my understanding of what I think I should be achieving right now. This is partly prompted by an article of Pat Thomson’s over on Patter, the rather timely and well titled – ‘Can you do too much reading’. One very specific paragraph in there really spoke to me and made me realise that at this point, it’s not (or shouldn’t be) about taking copious notes on all the secondary literature, that’s pointless, slow and cumbersome. Rather, it’s about reading widely, jotting down the occasional note if it’s really important, but otherwise, its about recording your reactions to the material. Do I agree with them? Do I think they’ve proved their point? Are they talking rubbish, left something out? Have I spotted a gap? What’s the theme? How does this work with my project, my ideas? The specific paragraph from Thomson’s article begins: ‘Reading ought not to contaminate our thinking, but rather enhance it. Writing about what we are reading, as we are reading it, and writing about our reading in relation to our project, can go a long way to helping us sort out our own ideas, bouncing off the texts in our field.’ I feel it’s so critical I’ve copied it onto a post-it note that will eventually find a place on the wall above my desk which is where all the really critical stuff goes (and I’m very selective about what goes up there).

So, put those two together, and a suggestion from a friend on FB, means that instead I’m going all luddite and doing it with good old pen and paper. I’m going to be using a B5 notebook from Black and Red which is split into two columns, so that I can use the double-entry notetaking method (there’s a video here which is rather good on that method), and usefully, has the pages numbered, as well as a space for the date at the top. The time may come, later, for more indepth notetaking and for that I may resort to more technological methods, but we’ll see. I know one person who built an entire notetaking system for her PhD within MS Access, which I’m full of admiration for! But the handwritten books have another advantage: I can do them anywhere, as long as I have the book, a pen, and something to read, which helps with my current, rather on-the-go life.

I’ve also started something I’ve been putting off for a while, writing in my PhD journal. This is an A4 sized book, which feels massive and beautiful and clean (fellow stationery aficionados will understand this) and I’ve not wanted to write in it for fear of spoiling it, but I’ve hoiked myself up by the chinstraps this afternoon and bravely put pen to paper! This book is intended to manage the entire PhD: it has the nuts n bolts of information about the various deadlines I have to meet in the front, so I can check at a glance if I’m on course with something, as well as a research diary and a section of basic information about each and every parish in Herefordshire. I have a feeling this journal may well be worth its weight in gold by the time I finish the PhD, at least to me.

I’ve also sort of cleaned up my desk a little, although I suspect I may need to wait till the Christmas break to have a really good go at it. I did sort out some of the paperwork and coursework I’ve been sticking into a pile; sorted them into groups and filed them away in lever arch files so it all feels a bit better. That, coupled with sorting out my planning system a bit more means I feel much more in control of things ahead of the week to come. Lets hope I maintain it.

Next week I’ve more time to do the things I should be doing (reading and writing) and I hope I can make some serious inroads into the work that I should be doing. If I can do that, I think it will vastly improve my situation, and really contribute to building that foundation I was worrying about on Friday. It’s not much of a foundation yet. Maybe the foundation of the foundation. But it’s getting there, slowly!

building a foundation

Still struggling to find my feet a bit. Not in the sense of knowing what I’m supposed to do – that, I’m very clear on – but in the sense of feeling as though I’m doing everything but what I’m meant to be doing (reading) and just not having time to think very much at all. I just feel like I’m staggering from one deadline to another, one meeting and class to another. And the days are slipping by so fast, its frightening.

I must be doing something right though – my supervisory team have made it clear that they’re happy with what I’m doing so clearly this feeling of not quite being able to get my feet underneath me isn’t perceptible to those around me. I just don’t feel quite grounded. A bit like this:

bambi_on_the_ice

That, of course, is from Bambi (1942), but it is how I feel – as though at any moment I’m going to fall flat on my backside in a spectacular and hugely embarrassing fashion. And this morning, after an incredibly frustrating day yesterday (with just two bright spots in the whole day), I resolved that something has GOT to change.

When I first returned to studying, six years ago, every time I hit a hurdle, I’d vow: ‘work smarter, not harder’. Logically, I knew that each time I found something difficult, while hard work might be the answer, that could not continue exponentially. There are only so many hours available in the day for studying, after all, even if you work full time at it – and studying every waking moment is neither desirable, healthy, or even productive. Hence; work smarter, not harder. Largely, that’s worked. It’s like I’ll periodically hit a cliff, work harder for a bit while I figure out how to get over the cliff, in other words, learn something new. I’d then find a new plateau, maybe work a little harder while I mastered the new skill and got to grips with wielding a new tool with more confidence and flexibility, but soon, I’d be back at my usual level of actual working hours and effort. I wouldn’t be working that many hours more than before I’d hit the cliff, I’d just be working differently. Smarter, not harder.

That’s what I think is happening now: I think I’m hitting another cliff.

In some ways, it’s about due. Again, logically, each time you step up to a new level of course (i.e. from diploma to BA, BA to MA, MA to PhD) you’re learning new skills, new ways of studying, there’s going to be a series of cliffs, right? That’s the learning curve. And since I’ve just started the PhD… well, a cliff is about due. Not that that’s much consolation, when you’re at the bottom of the cliff looking up – although right now, said cliff feels rather intimidating – Beachy Head sized!

And in feeling so very unbalanced, unsettled, I’ve realised at least part of what it is that is making me feel that way – I don’t have a foundation, a routine. I’m rushing from post to pillar, class to class, my study base is at home, where I have my own study, my own space, but I’m hardly there at the moment. And while I’m normally very organised, with a to-do list in my journal (done Bulletjournal style), it’s not helping me to feel in control and organised. My study, too, is a mess – piles of paper everywhere, books scattered around, no sense of organisation. I have no sense of routine – my daily grind has, in the last month, changed completely from what it has been for the last 18 months (7.30, take partner to station, get home at 8am, start work. 6pm stop work to go to station to collect partner. Now, with his change of job, it’s all over the place), and I am very definitely someone who needs a routine. Perhaps its no wonder that I feel so unstabilised. The base of the PhD, the foundation, just doesn’t feel like it’s there at the moment.

This sense of being out of control, on rocky, or slippery ground is illusionary, I’m sure. Although the upheaval around the structure of my days will continue for a few months yet, I can perhaps try to institute some kind of routine outside of the upheaval, which might help. Tidying my desk and sorting out some of the paper piles will definitely help! I have to make some decisions on the administrative methodology of how I’m going to work, and STICK to them (e.g. bibliographic software and annotated/notetaking software vs printed copies and journals for secondary material). I’ve established and kept to a paper filing system which somewhat mirrors my email and computer file structure, thankfully, so that doesn’t need sorting out. I’ve a quiet weekend this weekend. I think some time at my desk, some time tidying up, some time sorting things out will help a great deal. See if I can build a foundation, or something firmer from which to go for the next few weeks. See if I can feel – hopefully – just a tad more stable and settled.

balance

Just over two weeks have flown by since I last blogged, oh-so-confidently, that I thought things were beginning to settle down. Well.. they are. And they aren’t.

See, in all the advisory reading I did about embarking on a PhD, one idea chimed across the board – that the next three (or four) years would absolutely fly by, and that while 3 years sounds like absolutely ages and ages to research anything, in reality, it won’t feel that way. After waking up to find that two weeks have gone in the blink of an eye I very much fear I might wake up next Wednesday to find that the final submission deadline is upon me. Ulp. Continue reading

Teaching & career opportunities

One of the best things for me about being a PhD student (apart from the fun of research) is that you get to try your hand at teaching. ‘Proper’ teaching – that is – taking tutorials and seeing a group learn and develop over the course of a ten week module. I’ve done a little bit of teaching here and there with undergraduates over the last few years, working on the ‘Historical Research Methods’ module, where undergrads received workbooks to work through on the computer, and I (and others) were around for assistance as needed. But that’s it, so far. It was enough to whet my appetite, and to know that I want to do more!

The University of Leicester doesn’t allow first year PhD students to teach undergraduates in tutorials, so sadly I won’t get to do that this year but I’m hoping to get to teach on a module called ‘Barbarism and Civilisation: Medieval and Early Modern Europe‘ next year. We’ll see. But, what I did get to do yesterday, and which was fab, was to attend a workshop on teaching, where we got to talk extensively with other PhD students who are ahead of us and teaching, about their experiences, and their tips, techniques, and tactics.We talked through all kinds of things, I found out exactly what they (we) get when we sign up to teach on a module like that, we’re not just pushed in the direction of undergrads and told “go teach!” (thankfully!). Each tutorial has an assigned, core reading, specific objectives, linked essay titles and the module as a whole has overall aims, which we need to bear in mind when devising our lesson plans. It’s very much up to us how we get our students there. It’s clear that there’s a huge learning curve for us the first year we do it, but as we work, we can experiment with different teaching styles (I really liked the sound of the mad professor style one person the fabulous Jennie Brosnan described – I wish I’d had her as a teacher five years ago!) and we can experiment with different teaching activities, different room set ups. It’s very clear that teaching is, to a certain extent, an art that is learned through experience, and for that reason, this workshop is so important – because it wasn’t just a workshop where the learners listened to the more experienced and went away to try to put it into practice.

The second part of the workshop saw us paired up with one of these advanced students, who will mentor us through the next batch of teaching we do. For me, this will be the online moderation I’m doing between now and Christmas with the ‘Making History‘ module, which is a really fun module – I did it myself five years ago when I started my BA. As with the ‘Historical Research Methods’, it’s going to be very interesting to see the same module from the teaching side, rather than the student side.  There’s no requirement in this work to do anything like tutorials or to build lesson plans, but there will be the requirement to gently encourage, to motivate, to try to include people as much as possible – all of which should stand me in good stead when I go on to do the tutorial-type teaching. I can’t wait – and I’m so grateful to have my mentor onboard as well. I’ll be able to bounce thoughts off them as to how I’m doing, and hopefully they, and the process, will help me to grow into the kind of teacher I want to be.

Yesterday was self-reflective in another way; I got to go through a training analysis form with my supervisor. Here, we used the Researcher Development Framework to identify where I need additional training, and ended up with a training plan for the next year. We discussed a number of really exciting possibilities – and I really hope at least one of them actually happens, because it would give tremendous opportunities for my career, would help to raise possibilities for a career outside academia and would look fantastic on my CV. My supervisor raised the point that a huge number of newly minted doctors go on to careers outside academia, and I know from my reading elsewhere that even if ECRs (early career researchers) want to remain within academia, to work in universities as researchers and lecturers, there simply aren’t the positions available for them to do so. Entry level lecturer’s positions are like gold dust…. and the competition to win one is so intense. I thought the AHRC Midlands3Cities competition was intense, but this will be far worse. I know at least two people who are really struggling to get work after graduating. But having said that, I also met one person yesterday who got a permanent job as a lecturer in a university just a year after passing their viva. Much of it seems to be about being in the right place at the right time, with the right qualities, but with odds like these, it’d be daft not to consider how to make the most of opportunities for a career elsewhere. But we’ll see. I’ve at least three years to worry about that!