Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Post 34: Paragraph Thinking and Writing

I write this post with gratefulness in mind for my colleague Garrett Richards, whose brilliant conversation, friendship, and mentorship was immensely valuable to me when we were able spend time together for a month and a half this summer. We'd meet up to eat lunch together several days of the week, discuss a wide variety of fun topics, including the thesis work we were doing.

As a PhD student, his slightly more advanced (in academia) perspective was fantastic: he'd finished his master's not-that-long-ago, and so was able to provide some phenomenal advice. He was also really getting into writing his thesis at the time, so a number of the conversations we had were around me asking questions like "How are you organizing your chapters?" and  "How do you sort out what information belongs where? How do you plan your writing?"

So with my thanks to Garrett, this blog post is dedicated to the few (awesome) conversations about thesis writing and thinking in paragraphs.

Thinking in paragraphs is the way he structures what he has to write. The paragraph is a great unit to organize thoughts by, because it's a nice balance between the tiny details of a specific point that one research paper makes, and the overall aim of a thesis chapter.

A paragraph has a logical organization, beginning with the topic sentence that informs what the paragraph will cover (and consequently, Garrett said, he had the tendency to write long paragraphs), and finishing with a sort of wrap up of what that paragraph then said (the concluding sentence), with related sentences in between. Then, you can organize sections of the chapter based on laying out which paragraphs speak to the others around it, and which ones need to be in there, etc.

On my walk to the library, being charmed by the big maple leaves! 
Having this kind of tool was really helpful for providing advice to one of my colleagues recently! In one of my Thesis Completion Group meetings,  a colleague was dealing with writer's block, and the fellow sitting next to me said to him, "D—, are you trying to write a whole thesis at once?!" And this got me to thinking about what was helpful for me for breaking down the intimidation involved with setting out to 'write a thesis', and well: you don't write a thesis all at once; you write word that builds a sentence that builds part of a paragraph, one piece at a time. Or, one thought at a time, and I chatted about this with D— when I invited him to my thesis writing group the following week. In short order, we'd discussed what he'd be working on writing, in smaller, manageable paragraphs, and he set to it!

Therefore, paragraph thinking (and writing) is an extremely important tool for chapter organization (on top of writing!) that helps to break down the concerns about writing a whole thesis at once. :)

Hope this was helpful!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Post 33: On Juggling 5 Projects... Where Did the Time Go?

Well, okay, maybe it's only 3 projects, but I'm certainly keeping busy, and finding my daytime hours are disappearing faster than I can say "Unique New York" quickly 10 times in a row! (It's already the middle of October!!)

Last week the second research project that I've picked up to help cover my bills, now that I'm in the post-funding era of my degree, really started to ramp up! And it is hella fun! It's so cool to research the backgrounds of some of the people that I'll be interviewing in the next few months, and think about time zone differences and adjustments for suggesting potential 'best' interview times (unless I want to rise for a sleepy one at 4AM!), so that has been very good.

Lots of writing back and forth feedback and undertaking a pilot interview to test out our interview questions—and seeing the evolution of those has been phenomenal, too, and has inspired me to reflect in slightly different ways on the way I undertook my thesis research.

Our dash of green: pathside plants and ferns, exploring out at Goldstream Park!

On a different note: much love to my thesis writing group*!!!! I can't gush enough about how much I love their company and the productive atmosphere we have built. While there is still some scheduling irregularity with space and times that we're able to meet (we're trying to do Monday, Wednesday, Friday; everyone has different departmental meetings and odd things that break up the times), it's been phenomenal.

More Pomodoros. This time, smilies!
I've now graduated to being the Pomodoro timer on occasion. We use the online one available here. It's quite innocuous, and so isn't an unpleasant shock when we hear the timer.

And the MOST FUN thing is finding different ways to keep track of/tallying (photos coming soon) how many we've been able to get done in a day! We were in over the Thanksgiving long weekend on Sunday and Monday, and went from getting six done on Sunday, to a RECORD of 10 on Monday! That felt so good!

Phew! What a day! Got so much done!
The structure of hunkering down for 25 minutes at a time, and then having a set chat/break/question time is fantastic. Again, much love to them. Really, really enjoying spending more time with this group.

AND: we also appreciate the support of the Graduate Student Society, who keeps allowing us to schedule time in one of their two conference rooms in the Halpern Centre for Graduate Students. Having a big room suitable for convening and getting our work done is really, really great.

* I wanted briefly to identify here that I joined this thesis writing group by meeting some of the members through the Thesis Completion Group that I've written about before, here. :)