After attending the induction sessions for the PhD, I realised that there are all sorts of expectations of me as a PhD student. So, so many expectations! Which is good…right? At least it makes it seem like I’m trusted to make my own decisions, and trusted as a colleague, not a student. The last year has helped me mature SO much! Having a desk and working side by side with my supervisor, other lecturers, PhD students, and RAs has helped me learn a lot about the research process. Since Open Lab is such an interdisciplinary place, it’s also helped me open my mind to new research areas, epistemologies, research methods, disciplines, and all sorts of other things.
For example, I had my first supervisory meeting with both my PhD supervisors! It was scary, and weird, and helpful, and useless, and every other adjective that I can’t think of right now. At the end of it, I realised that my PhD is going to be difficult…I mean, I knew it would be, but since Digital Civics isn’t exactly the most straightforward of programmes, it’s going to be weird.
One of my supervisors is from the school of Education, Communication, and Language Science, and the other is from the school of Computer Science. Each of these have different approaches to how to work on a PhD, and different expectations as to what should happen in the first year. On top of that, I’m based in Open Lab, which has yet another approach to the entire PhD process. I guess all the Digital Civics PhDs are going to be a weird, new hybrid of what a PhD can look like. Should be fun.
One thing that everyone seems to agree on though, is that I should be doing a LOT of reading throughout the entire PhD, but maybe particularly in my first year. I’ve been doing that for the last three weeks…but something that I haven’t done, is writing lots of notes about what I was reading. I’ve printed off the most important papers to read, because I like to (somewhat arbitrarily) colour-code my highlights and write notes in the margins…as well as draw little smiley faces for things that I find particularly nice, or funny.
Over the last week in particular, I have been worrying about what to do with all these highlights and notes as I cannot possibly keep all this information in my head. Now, instead of actually doing something about this, I’ve just been thinking about it and complaining about it, and talking to others with the same problem about it.
I also took the opportunity of twitter and the #PhDchat hashtag to tackly my problem by posting the following. Suzanne was lovely enough to respond to me with what she has done.
.@a_tripsandflips I used Zotero to keep a track of my reading, and wrote notes on content in the notes section as a 'annotated bibliography'
— Suzanne Nolan (@ZannPhD) October 23, 2015
This, as well as talking to my supervisor about this problem, resulted in me attempting to start categorising my collected papers in my Mendeley library. On top of that, I am writing a short, bullet point list of what I got out of an article in a word document (I used to just write this on the top of papers I’d printed out)
As well as beginning a document of notes where I have topical headings and notes from all the papers that I’ve (references included – THANK YOU MENDELEY). I wanted to start doing this as soon as possible, as I connect papers to each other when I read them. Often I’ll read something and remember that I had read something similar, or a completely opposing view in another paper. Writing my notes like this will (hopefully) help me remember these links.
By doing this I at least feel like I’m doing something productive, even if my notes are going to be semi-useless to me in half a years time when I will need to start writing an actual literature review. Let’s just wait and see what happens…