Let’s face it… We all have bad academic habits. It’s easy to slip into them and they’re hard to give up. Studies show it takes at least 21 days to break a habit, so this month, we asked our committee what habits they’re currently trying to give up.
The bad habits that I have developed in relation to my PhD are all in relation to time. How I organise my time fluctuates and when things are going well, I get in the zone and spend hours reading, note-taking and getting very involved in my research. From that, I end up in a literature rabbit hole and my focus goes off in tangents and I get excited about and interested in so many things that branch off from my research. Then there is the other extreme when I somehow manage to easily step back from my research, neglecting my studies spending more time procrastinating and questioning whether I am doing the right thing or whether I need alter my focus or perspective on my research. My research continues to niggle away at the back of my mind and as I mull things over it spurs in me a definite need to be productive, get back to the project as planned and to keep on track to the deadline I have set myself. I guess the PhD journey really is full of ups and downs, just like a rollercoaster.
Probably my worst academic habit is scheduling other things on my writing days. As part of my attempt to organise my time more effectively, I dedicate Thursdays and Fridays exclusively to thesis writing. Though I often do work on my thesis on other days too, these are intended to be time purely for the thesis – no conference/article writing, no teaching, no internship work. However, I have the bad habit of seeing these as “free” days instead. So, when someone asks me to have a meeting on a Thursday or Friday, I’ll look in my calendar, see no other appointments and agree. To combat this, I’ve been trying to write my writing days down as appointments in my planner, but I still struggle with feeling like my writing is something that can easily be moved and rescheduled to accommodate others. I really want to break this habit, because think that being precious about writing time and not letting other deadlines overtake thesis work is the key to finishing the PhD on time.
A bad habit I want to give up? Procrastinating the writing process, without any doubt. I definitely do not enjoy preparing my drafts for supervision. I always find them incomplete, or superficial. The truth is that every chapter draft – especially during the first years of a PhD – is a work-in-progress, and this lack of structure leaves me unsatisfied when I am clicking the “send” button. I know that I could have read more, that I could have said things better, that as a non-native speaker I could have checked my academic English writing more thoroughly and so on. All these thoughts make me procrastinate the whole writing process. I would rather make dozens of research presentations than write a single chapter draft – and I find it surprising myself, as I usually love writing and consider it a gratifying and powerful tool! So, definitely yes, this is the bad habit that I want to give up. I believe I should just enjoy the process and think less about the final product and its faults – or, at least, think about it at a later time!
This March, I am giving up setting huge goals! Instead of just giving myself the monthly deadline of having a draft for a chapter, I am going to set daily and weekly targets. That way I still feel like I am achieving something throughout the month, not just at the end!
There are so many bad academic habits I’ve picked up over the years it is hard to keep track of them all. But I think if I had to choose, my top one would be making a list of all the academic articles I want to read, and then hardly getting to any of them. It’s so easy to put off reading new stuff when there’s more pressing tasks, yet the more you do it, the longer that list gets and the more overwhelming it can be. I’m going to try to set a new goal to read one per week so I feel like I’m making progress on it and keeping up to date in my field.
A bad academic habit I want to give up is probably pretty common with a lot of fellow PGRs… I wish I would read the articles I save to my Mendeley folder every day! I feel like I will never catch up on the pile of readings I constantly save!