Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Time Management for Thesis Writing

Photo by Sonja Langford, sourced from Unsplash
Photo by Sonja Langford, sourced from Unsplash
by Silvia Tavares, The Comfort Pursuit: http://silviatavares.com/2014/09/05/time-management-during-the-thesis-writing/

On 3 July this year, while I was printing my thesis I got a few notifications from my LinkedIn network.

As it turns out, the day I submitted my thesis was exactly the day I completed three years working at Lincoln University, therefore three years of my scholarship.

I won’t lie, it was not planned, and if it was it probably wouldn’t have worked so well.

Managing time and keeping motivated during the PhD is not easy in itself. After a period of struggle and procrastination I found a way that worked for me and ended up submitting my thesis in three years, while teaching part-time.

Since then, I have been asked by some colleagues and friends how I did it. At this point I should make clear that some people have been calling me a “productivity addict”, a “planner freak”, or have not said anything and just laughed at my system. Anyway, the bottom line is: it worked for me, and maybe could be helpful to someone on the other side of the screen.

To start with, I made and kept updating at least every couple of weeks a thesis timetable with my full thesis research and writing plan. When the write up time came up procrastination came with it.

Because I didn’t know where to start, I would find other easier things to do (the house has never been cleaner!!). Reading inspiring academics such as Raul Pacheco-Vega, Eva Lantsoght and Inger Mewburn, I thought maybe (just maybe because I wasn’t a planner after all) a planner attitude could work. Following their advice and the method Neil Fiore presented on “The now habit”, every Sunday I would plan my week using Google Calendar as follows:
  1. Add ‘static’ commitments (classes, meetings, workshops, commute, etc)
  2. Add things I want to do (gym, happy hour/dinner with friends and family, etc)
  3. Plan my writing in the remaining time
This might seem too good to be true, as we tend to feel like 24 hours of our day should be devoted to the research. However, seeing how much time remained I relised I wouldn’t be able to do most of the things I wanted to if I didn’t take advantage of my writing time slot.

Since I was using Google Calendar as a planner, I tried to use it as a diary as well, but I found difficult. It can be embarrassing in some situations when you need to be quicker (at meetings for example) and have to ask everyone to wait until your smart phone updates and loads the data.

In these situations the old fashion way of having a physical diary with the appointments is still the best option for me. So I adopted one. I then write down my appointments on the diary and plan my time on Google Calendar.

During this process another tool that helped me to keep control of my time was the Pomodoro Technique. Every pomodoro is around 25 minutes of focused work plus a 5 minute interval.

My day ended up measured in ‘pomodoros’ and I kept a table of the number of hours I spend really focused working on the thesis. You would be surprised how much you can produce in a few hours when you are focused! I have recently tried to abandon this habit, I though I’d grown out of it and didn’t need it anymore. It didn’t work and I had a very much wasted day.

Now that I have submitted my thesis and started working in a new project I am slowly going back to my planning routine with a diary, Google Calendar and pomodoros.

But as Dr Amanda Geary Pate says
“Submission is not the finishing line, wearing your robe and standing with your certificate in your hand is.”
There is still more to come. So let’s keep going and hope for the best in these next steps.

How do you manage your time? What techniques and applications do you use?

South Korean Education Ranks High, But It's the Kids Who Pay

Image result for south korean education
by David Santandreu Calonge, Sungkyunkwan University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/south-korean-education-ranks-high-but-its-the-kids-who-pay-34430

In Korea, perhaps more so than anywhere else, educational success equals socioeconomic status.

South Koreans view education as the main driver of social mobility, for themselves and their family. Graduating from a top university is the ultimate marker of high status and the pressure is on from an early age.

Competition and studying hard to be the best is deeply ingrained in the psyche of Korean students; the entire environment surrounding the child (parents, family, and teachers) is actively involved and geared towards the same goal: to be test-ready and succeed. Students have a clear path and a clear purpose in mind at the start of their educational journey.

Why do South Korean students consistently dominate league tables?

According to global expert on education reform Sir Michael Barber, Korean culture “prizes effort above inherited ‘smartness’”, and believes long hours studying and hard work will eventually pay off.
Research has found the attitudes and strong beliefs of Asian parents make an important contribution to their children’s academic success. Researchers from Stanford University say Asian children find motivation to succeed in parental expectations.

Australian children with East Asian parents outperform their Australian peers, with researchers finding East Asian children spent 15 hours a week studying after school (9 hours for Australians), and have a stronger work ethic and higher aspirations (94% of them expect to go on to university).

Experts and heads of state, from US President Barack Obama to former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, often cite Finnish schools or the “Asian Model” as the panacea to improve our education systems.

The fact that American children “spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea” will, according to Obama, in “no way prepare them for a 21st-century economy". This belief seems to increasingly resonate in the corridors of power in many parts of the educational world.

Is the South Korean educational model replicable?

“To be a South Korean child ultimately is not about freedom, personal choice or happiness; it is about production, performance and obedience,” argued Yale academic See-Wong Koo. This statement seems miles away from recent reports by education company Pearson and the OECD placing South Korea at the top of the education league tables.

While Finland is considered a non-competitive system of education, South Korea’s is often described as very stressful, authoritarian, brutally competitive and meritocratic. It emphasises high pressure and high performance, particularly for the 640,621 students who took the eight-hour long suneung (College Scholastic Ability Test) nationwide in November 2014.

This event is critical in the life of South Korean families - entry to one of the three most prestigious “SKY” universities (Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei) will basically determine social status for most of their lives and will secure a highly-paid job in one of the chaebols (family-owned business conglomerates).

Education at all levels and particularly in science and engineering, is viewed as a key to upward mobility in the still highly stratified Korean society. As a consequence, a new phenomenon has emerged in recent years: Dwaeji Omma, or “Pig Mums”.

A Pig Mum does her research thoroughly and keeps her eyes on the ultimate target: a Korean Ivy-league university for her child and her “adopted” children (those belonging to her Pig Mum network); she plans every step of her kid’s educational journey and all the extracurricular (studying) activities, attends all the best schools’ open days, organises strategic planning reunions, bullies, lobbies and even bribes private schools and private teachers to skip admission lines if necessary.

Should South Korea’s system be adopted to remedy Western education’s ailments?

The intense pressure to succeed no matter the cost is taking its financial and social toll: as university places are limited, Koreans spend over $18 trillion won (A$20 billion), around 20% of household income to pay for after-school private academies called hakwon. 75% of all children attend a hakwon, mainly at DaeJi Dong, Seoul’s study Mecca.

Research has found that Asian-American students are more likely to have conflicted relationships with their parents over unmet expectations and more self-image issues than white students. The 2014 Youth Happiness Index found for instance that only 67.6% of Korean youth said they are satisfied with their life (OECD average is 85.8%), mostly because of study pressure.

The conclusion of a 2013 study was that Tiger Parenting (strict parenting, often in Asian cultures) is less effective and more demanding than a supportive parenting environment.

South Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide (28.9%) in the OECD. South Korean novelist Young Ha Kim wrote in an op-ed that suicide is the “No.1 cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 30”.

Korea also ranks among the highest for household debt, depression, divorce, and alcohol consumption. It has been argued South Korean education produces overachieving students who pay a stiff price in health and happiness.

Neither does a focus on credentials, tests and entrance exams give South Korean students the skills (like creativity and teamwork) to succeed in higher education or in an increasingly difficult local job market.

So while other countries may envy South Korea’s positions in the league tables, there are cultural factors that mean this focus on hard work probably can’t be replicated elsewhere, and given the societal collateral damage, probably wouldn’t want to.

Further reading on what Australia can learn from education abroad.
The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, March 30, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Umberto Eco's "How to Write a Thesis": Reviewed in Times Higher Education

9780262527132_0_0by , Progressive Geographies: http://progressivegeographies.com/2015/03/23/umberto-eco-how-to-write-a-thesis-reviewed-in-times-higher-education/

As previously mentioned, Umberto Eco’s 1977 book How to Write a Thesis now out in translation from MIT Press - is reviewed in The Times Higher Education by Robert Eaglestone – thanks to Dean Bond for the link. Here’s the concluding part. 

How to Write a Thesis is really: how to be an academic.

This is part of the answer to those who think that focusing on research makes us bad teachers: at their very deepest roots, both research and teaching in universities rely not only on subject knowledge but on the virtues of sincerity and accuracy, taught through research.

But there’s more: the paradox - brought into sharp focus by How to Write a Thesis - that even with a PhD, you never properly qualify. Even eminent professors remain, in a way, students forever, with more to research, more to explore just over there.

And the surprising fact is that the people who remember daily the experience of doing research, who know that despite their degrees, titles and fancy hats, they, too, are really only students: these are the best people to teach other students.

Whisper it - it’s not politic to say it aloud - but that’s what makes universities special places. Our graduate students intuit this, so help them scale the tower’s walls (so as to toil in the incongruously situated groves) by giving them this book.

Top-Ranked Universities Have More Money Than Australian Unis Could Dream Of

English: ANU Medical School Building
ANU Medical School Building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Janice Dudley, Murdoch University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/top-ranked-universities-have-more-money-than-australian-unis-could-dream-of-39189

Education Minister Christopher Pyne claimed his plan to deregulate university fees was essential to ensure Australia’s universities continue to climb the international rankings and don’t “slide into mediocrity”.

At present - depending on which ranking you refer to - Australia has between four and eight universities in the top 100 universities in the world, with the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University and the University of Queensland ranking in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THE) and the QS World University Rankings.

Australia has more highly ranked universities than France, China, Japan or Russia. When compared to the US, Australian spends 1.6% of GDP on higher education, the US 2.7%. Australia has a population of 23 million, the US 319 million. Australia has 43 universities, the US has over 4500. The US would have to have 57 universities in the rankings (it has 46 in the THE) to match Australia’s “GDP to top university” ratio.

This says we’re performing remarkably well - and that’s a tribute to our higher education sector rather than our governments.

It’s seriously big money that counts in the rankings

The 10 highest-ranked universities in the ARWU rankings are among the 20 wealthiest universities in the world. The highest-ranked 15 are all in the 40 most wealthy. Or to look at it in another way, 25 of the world’s 40 richest universities are in the 50 highest-ranked universities.

Whichever way you look at the relationship between university rankings and money, the correlation is very strong. That’s hardly surprising but it’s worth reminding the government’s policy makers that while money counts, what counts is a level of investment beyond the reach of any Australian institution.

The Australian universities that feature in the top 100 in the major rankings are - in Australian terms - quite well endowed.

The University of Sydney has around A$1.88 billion, Melbourne A$1.86 billion, Queensland A$1.67 billion, Monash A$1.61 billion, UNSW A$1.54 billion, ANU A$1.1 billion while UWA has around A$985 million (2013 figures).

The endowments of the world’s highest-ranked institutions make these amounts look negligible. Harvard - sometimes referred to as a giant hedge fudge masquerading as a teaching institution - has US$35.9 billion, Stanford US$21.4 billion, Yale US$23.9 billion, Princeton US$21 billion and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) $US12.4 billion.

So the top performers have 10 to 30 times the financial resources that Australian universities can draw upon. No amount of deregulation is going to enable Australian universities to accumulate such wealth.

Declining public investment in higher education doesn’t help matters 

OECD figures demonstrate that the level of public expenditure on higher education has steadily declined in Australia. In 2000, Australian public expenditure was 49.9%. By 2011, it was down to 45.6%. In 2011, private expenditure was 54.4% (mostly from student fees). This contrasts with the OECD public expenditure average of 75.3% in 2000 and 69.2% in 2011.

Pyne’s first raft of higher education proposals included a 20% reduction in funding at the same time as undergraduate fees were to be de-regulated, continuing the downward trajectory of public expenditure on Australian higher education.

The policy aimed to substitute private funding for public funding. Effectively, this meant the privatisation of Australian higher education by a thousand cuts. Pyne’s claims of deregulation being critical to Australian universities’ international rankings are, at best, fanciful and disingenuous. The current proposals will do little to improve research in Australian universities.

Rather, students’ escalating tuition fees will simply substitute funds withdrawn from the sector and will increasingly be required to cross-subsidise the research performance that is the basis of the rankings.

We should not ask students to shoulder the cost burden to enable institutions to move from 44 to 43 or from 74 to 70 in an international league table.

The most recent review of higher education funding in Australia (the Lomax-Smith Base Funding Review of 2011) recommended more rather than less public investment - 60% public funding and a maximum of 40% from students.

If Australia’s universities are to be players in the rankings game, then we need a bipartisan commitment to fund the sector appropriately - and equitably.

In Australia in 2015, ordinary Australians believe that a quality higher education should be available to all, and that their children and their children’s children are entitled to the opportunities that a quality higher education can offer.

This is not the likely consequence of the higher education policy that Pyne is trying so desperately to pass through the parliament.
The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Examiner-Perspective Lens for Doctoral Editing

Image result for dissertation
by Susan Carter, Doctoral Writing: https://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/the-examiner-perspective-lens-for-doctoral-editing/

Doctoral students are often anxiously interested in what research shows about examiners.

It is a useful practice for doctoral writers to measure their work against the questions examiners are known to ask before submission. It’s a writing task, revision not for grammar or punctuation or structure or referencing, but with the examination criteria in mind. And with those first readers in mind: the examiners.

For those doctoral candidates whose examination process includes an oral defence or viva, preparation for facing the examiners is a crucial part of completing the PhD.

Vernon Trafford and Shosh Leshem research doctoral examiners and examinations. When I placed their work in the writing section of my book on Developing Generic Doctoral Support, they worried I had made a mistake. However, I deliberately put them there because their research findings are so useful at the writing stage.

One of Trafford and Leshem’s earlier articles suggests that it is easy to guess the kind of questions you will get in the viva because the same clusters of issues underpin all examinations (2002, pp. 7-11). Then they provide a breakdown of predictable questions. To me this looks like a checklist against which doctoral writers can audit their work before submitting the thesis.

Trafford and Leshem cluster these predictable questions. Here I have clipped their work back to just what seems applicable to all doctoral research, regardless of epistemology or methodology - this is just a sample, and may inspire you to follow up their work.

Some predictable examiner questions from Trafford & Leshem 2002 that suggest defensive writing in the thesis before submission:

Cluster 1 Opening Questions
Why did you choose this topic for your doctoral study?

Cluster 2 Conceptualisation
What led you to select these models of …?
What are the theoretical components of your framework?
How did concepts assist you to visualize and explain what you intended to investigate?
How did you use your conceptual framework to design your research and analyse your findings?

Cluster 3 Research Design
How did you arrive at your research design?
What other forms of research did you consider?
How would you explain your research approach?
Why did you select this particular design for your research?
What is the link between your conceptual framework and your choice of methodology and how would you defend that methodology?
Can you explain where the data can be found and why your design is the most appropriate way of accessing that data?

Cluster 4 Research Methodology
How would you justify your choice of methodology?
Please explain your methodology to us.
Why did you present this in the form of a case study?
What choices of research approach did you consider as you planned your research?
Can you tell us about the “quasi-experimental” research that you used?

Cluster 5: Research Methods
How do your methods relate to your conceptual framework?
Why did you choose to use those methods of data collection?
What other methods did you consider and why were they rejected?

Cluster 7 Conceptual Conclusions
How did you arrive at your conceptual conclusions?
What are your conceptual conclusions?
Were you disappointed with your conclusions?
How do your conclusions relate to your conceptual framework?
How do you distinguish between your factual and conceptual conclusions?

Cluster 9 Contribution
What is your contribution to knowledge?
How important are your findings and to whom?
How do your main conclusions link to the work of [other famous scholars]?
The absence of evidence is not support for what you are saying and neither is it confirmation of the opposite view. So how do you explain your research outcomes?

Some of these questions are invitations to doctoral students to spell out things that they do actually know, but might not have articulated in the thesis. The list above could be a great help before the thesis goes over the counter to be sent to these questioning examiners. The list above, and several other lists from those who research examiners and examinations could be consulted.

If you have suggestions as an examiner, or know of other research on examiners’ questions that might help doctoral writers before submission, post a comment!


Carter, S. (2008). Examining the doctoral thesis: A discussion. Innovations Education and Teaching International 45(4), 367-374.
Johnson, S. (1997). Examining the examiners: An analysis of examiners’ reports on doctoral theses. Studies in Higher Education 22(3), 333-347.
Tinkler, P. and Jackson, C. (2000). Examining the doctorate: Institutional policy and the PhD examination process in Britain. Studies in Higher Education 25(2), 167-179.
Tinkler, P. and Jackson, C. (2004). The Doctoral Examination Process: A Handbook for Students, Examiners and Supervisors. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Trafford, V. and Leshem, C. (2002). Starting at the end to undertake doctoral research: Predictable questions as stepping stones. Higher Education Review, 34(4), 43-61.