Come on, let’s write a PhD thesis!

writingup_klein(My photo)

 

So, I’m in the writing-up phase of my thesis. What does this mean? To me, quite a lot, and here’s a bit advice on what works (and has worked on other occasions) to get on with it. Of course, this advice does not apply to everyone, but I guess there could be a few pointers in here for some people. Also, it’s not rocket science – or is it? There’s noone who has found the formula to writing as of yet. Quite on the contrary, there are many, many guides on writing out there, and more than once I rolled my eyes at things that would never apply to my personal working style. So, here’s what works for me to get my words on paper:


Open your eyes to the facts

… and make plans and outlines. I know that this a very top-down approach to writing, with content being actively controlled from a structured point of view, but let me explain. I always need to know where I stand, and I find that keeping my eyes closed to the facts never helps in any way. So, from time to time, I like to take stock of my own work and put everything in a straight outline, or as you might have it, a “storyline”. This storyline, of course, needs to correspond with my research question which guides the plot of the article or thesis chapter. I like to work with the contents table feature in Microsoft Word because it gives me a quick overview of how the argument flows, but other methods will work just as well. It might (and probably will) take a few tries to get the story right, and of course, it might change in details during the course of writing. But all in all, it makes sure I keep on track while filling the space under the headings. In the end, these outlines benefit my writing in a great way, and sometimes it feels just like I only have to fill the blanks. Also, and as an added perk, my supervisors like these outlines since they give them a quick and dense overview over my work, too.

Write regularly

Putting off writing is never helpful, and thus… I make a plan. You might’ve already guessed it, I’m a big fan of plans and to-do lists. So, I make plans for my chapters or sections, setting out how many words or pages I want to get down in print in one day. The next step is not only setting these goals, but also assigning certain routines to them – like writing every day in the afternoon, whatever works best. It doesn’t matter when I write, I just does that I do it regularly in order to develop a habit. This is hard at first since I’m not used to this new chunk of writing in my timetable, but after a few days it’s already a given in my day. I found this worked perfectly with coding data – I had to code a whole lot, and putting it off, sadly, did not diminish the work. So I decided to code a certain amount every day, and after a very hard first week, I knew how long it would take me approximately per piece and I had the routine down. Routine – that’s the term here. Write regularly to get into a habit, and the piece of writing will grow every day.

Always keep in mind: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

However, be reasonable with the goals. Writing is hard work, and I can’t cram 5.000 words in a single day, at least not as a set task. No, I kept myself at a minimum of 1.500 words a day, and even though this isn’t that much, the thesis grows every day, step by step. Every day that’s pencilled in my calendar, that is – and these are only five days a week, and not more. Why? I made the experience during coding that working every day of the week with a high goal is not healthy, especially if you are bound to fail when it comes to keeping it. Life often comes in the way – either with bad things like illness, and even common colds keep you off work, or good things like meeting with friends or days out which everyone needs every once in a while. So, while I got on with my work with these seven days a week goals and did not lose much time, it was exhausting and took most of the fun out of my work. And fun, that’s what a marathon has to be in order to get to the finish line! Reasonable goals are everything, and a habit still develops even when not sitting on your desk 24/7.



All in all, these are the things that keep me going: good planning and structuring, writing regularly as well as setting reasonable goals. However, I would advice everyone to try out for themselves what works best. Just because I am a “list-everything person”, not everyone is. By the way, there’s some literature out there that can help a great deal – in fact, I would like to recommend Joan Bolker’s “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” (1998). Even though it is quite old, discussing whether one should use a computer for the thesis or not, Joan Bolker’s advice on writing as well as just getting on with it is still very valuable. Even though the ‘fifteen minutes a day’ is not really what happens after reading this book, one can take away lot while being guided through the book by Joan Bolker in a reassuring voice. Of course, there is a lot more out there, but since this book is tailored specifically for PhD students, it is worth a look. After all, learning by doing is always best in this case.


P.S. Also, when everything fails, I just sit down and watch an episode or two of ABC’s Castle. Richard Castle, the crime novelist, always creates the best storylines out of seemingly unsolvable murder cases at hand, and when I get up and back to work, I’m always excited to get my own loose “storylines” in order. So, this is recreation time well spent.

 

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Ankündigung – NapoKo Kolloquium 2014

napoko_post(Mein Foto – aufgenommen in der Library of Congress, Washington D.C.)


Liebe Leser,

heute mal eine Ankündigung einer Veranstaltung, die mir sehr am Herzen liegt – das Kolloquium des Nachwuchsnetzwerkes Politische Kommunikation (NapoKo). Und das nicht nur, weil ich es mit organisiere, sondern weil es eine gute Gelegenheit ist, egal ob nun Bachelorstudent oder Post-Doc, seine Arbeit vorzustellen. Und wann findet’s statt? Vom 12. bis zum 14. Juni an der Leuphana Universität Lüneburg. Ich freue mich auf zahlreiche Einreichungen!

Edit: Wir haben jetzt übrigens auch eine schöne Website, auf der mehr Infos zu finden sind: http://www.leuphana.de/zentren/zdemo/promovierende/6-napoko-kolloquium.html

Zielsetzung und Angebot des Kolloquiums

 Das Kolloquium findet jährlich statt und stellt Nachwuchswissenschaftlerinnen und Nachwuchswissenschaftlern im Bereich der politischen Kommunikation eine interdisziplinäre Plattform zur Präsentation und Diskussion abgeschlossener und laufender Forschungsarbeiten und –projekte zur Verfügung, insbesondere von Dissertationsvorhaben. Die Konferenz bietet dabei ein Forum für den interdisziplinären Austausch mit renommierten politik- und kommunikations-wissenschaftlichen Fachvertretern (Respondents) und für die informelle Vernetzung zwischen den Teilnehmenden im Bereich der politischen Kommunikationsforschung.

Im Mittelpunkt steht daher die Diskussion von Forschungsarbeiten untereinander sowie mit den Experten, die im Gespräch mit den Vortragenden neue Bezugspunkte, interessante theoretische und methodische Schnittstellen und vielfältige Anregungen zur Weiterentwicklung der Forschungsarbeiten liefern. Das Kolloquium ist thematisch offen. Dieser breite und interdisziplinär ausgerichtete Ansatz heißt Einreichungen aus allen Themengebieten der politischen Kommunikationsforschung und alle an politischer Kommunikation interessierten Nachwuchswissenschaftlerinnen und Nachwuchswissen-schaftlern aller Qualifikationsstufen (vom Bachelor bis zum Post-Doc) aus der Politik‐ und Kommunikationswissenschaft sowie aus angrenzenden Fächern willkommen.

Einreichungen/Call for Presentations

Interessierte sind eingeladen, ihre Forschungsarbeit (Dissertationen, Magister‐, Master‐ und Bachelorarbeiten sowie studentische Forschungsprojekte) in einem Abstract (800 bis 1.000 Wörter) zusammenzufassen und bis zum 28.02.14 per E‐Mail an mich, Jessica Kunert (Jessica.Kunert@uni.leuphana.de), und Björn Buß (Bjoern.Buss@uni.leuphana.de) zu senden. Wir beide stehen ebenfalls für Fragen zum Call for Papers und zur Veranstaltung zur Verfügung.

 Die Einreichungen sollten dabei die Forschungsfragen, die theoretischen Grundlagen und das (geplante) methodische Vorgehen sowie ggf. Hypothesen und Ergebnisse enthalten. Dem Abstract sollte ein Deckblatt mit Vortragstitel, Namen des Autors, institutioneller Zugehörigkeit, Kontaktdaten und ggf. Betreuer des Projekts beigefügt sein. Die Einreichungen werden durch die Organisatoren in Abstimmung mit externen Experten begutachtet.

Die Rückmeldung über die Annahme zum Vortrag wird im März versandt. Bei Annahme für einen Vortrag im Rahmen des Kolloquiums ist zusätzlich ein Extended Abstract (2.500‐3.000 Wörter) im Mai einzureichen, welches den anderen Teilnehmern vor der Veranstaltung zur Verfügung gestellt werden soll.

Für das ausrichtende Zentrum für Demokratieforschung

Für das Nachwuchsnetzwerk politische Kommunikation (NapoKo)

Jessica Kunert, Lüneburg

Susan Schenk, Dresden

Björn Buß, Lüneburg

Lutz Hofer, Amsterdam

Ganz kurz zum Schluss: Was ist das NapoKo eigentlich?

Das Nachwuchsnetzwerk politische Kommunikation (NapoKo) richtet sich bereits seit 2004 an Nachwuchswissenschaftlerinnen und ‑wissenschaftler, Absolventen und Studierende, die sich für Fragen der politischen Kommunikation interessieren sowie nach Möglichkeiten des informellen und interdisziplinären Austausches mit Gleichgesinnten suchen. Das Netzwerk veranstaltet Workshops und Kolloquien und bietet den Mitgliedern über seine Webseite (napoko.de) weitere Gelegenheiten zum Informationsaustausch.

NapoKo wird durch den DVPW-Arbeitskreis Politik und Kommunikation sowie die DGPuK-Fachgruppe Kommunikation und Politik unterstützt.

But, journals are for girls! – A case for research journals

german_smallFür die deutsche Fassung bitte hier klicken!

researchjournal_klein(Photo by me – here they are, my research journals!)

 

What happened?

… maybe journals are mostly for girls, who knows. But they are also for researchers. Journals in general are pretty handy little things: they keep your thoughts safe, and when you look back, they might contain very valuable information. So, just as a diary that serves as a reminder of what one did on a particular day, a research journal does quite the same. However, they seem to be quite rarely used, at least by the people around me. This should change!

First of all, what is a research journal? As already said, it is a journal that very much works like a diary, just for academic work. In a research journal one notes down thoughts on the research process, like on the topic, hypotheses, literature, possible interpretations, you name it. A waste of time, I hear? No, not all.

What do I think about this?

So, why do I think that a research journal is the essential tool in academia? Let’s cover the obvious first:

* Keeping stuff in order – first of all, everything is kept in a journal, which implies some kind of a bound notebook. In my opinion, scattered loose-leaf collections do not count as research journals since they are rarely put away in a fashion in that one can access what’s written on them quickly. And for me, time is crucial when it comes to finding and using my notes. Apart from that, if everything is kept in one place – whether in a notebook or in a folder  – things do not tend to get lost as quickly as they would otherwise.

* Keeping thoughts safe – related to the first point, but not quite the same. While going through a few things of my first year as a PhD, I found many, many notes scribbled on journal articles, worksheets, to-do-lists and so on and so forth. Many notes which would be lost if I did not decide at that very moment to transfer the most valuable ones into a notebook. Some of these scribbled notes helped me a great deal, over a year later that I wrote them! So, keeping things in one place helps not to forget what might be valuable information in the future.

* A nice memory and encouragement – okay, probably just me being girly here, but I like to look at old stuff. Also, it helps me to pick myself up at times when I think I did not achieve anything in months – not true. It’s all in the journal. Some days were slower than others, but all in all, I did achieve at least something and got nearer to my goal. So, a research journal can also help to get motivated!

Conclusions

So, all in all, just keeping a research journal can help the research process a great deal, especially when one is working on a single project for years, like a PhD. But I also think that keeping such a journal is very valuable when writing a bachelor’s or master’s dissertation. Even though the time frame is considerably shorter, gathering ideas and literature can be quite daunting. So, noting thoughts can be of great help when trying to figure out a topic or just checking which books were already read.

My experience with keeping a research journal is great. So, get one, too!

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Writing at university – a piece of cake?

german_smallPlease click here for the German version!

 

blockklein(My photograph)


What happened?

I attended a workshop (three weekends in total) on a topic that does not seem to get enough attention at university – at least it does not in Germany – and that is writing. Nobody ever talks about that, the common stance seems to be that everyone know how to write, how to string words together, and thus, everyone is also supposed to know how to deal with essays and final dissertations. This is what my own time as an undergrad and also postgrad was like – I always worked according to the “try and error” system, which was sometimes working out fine, sometimes not so much. Some essays took forever, some I wrote fairly quickly. Well, I wrote somehow, that was it.

But, the question is, is it really necessary to leave students alone with this? Is this really part of the daily “uni struggle” just because “this is the way it is”? Well, I don’t think so, and the workshop called “Supervising essays/dissertations” at Leuphana University Lüneburg, lead by Prof. Dr. Ingrid Scharlau and Christine Heß, showed me that there are quite different approaches to this.

What do I think about this?

Well, as for myself, I rarely struggle with writing. No writer’s block, nothing. Why? Well, I only thought about this during the aforementioned workshop, and I came to the conclusion that even though I have never attended any sort of formal training, I went through the “school of life”: during my master’s at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I always had to write something during term time – essays of around five pages, short answers to given questions, all-the-time. But, that was no piece of cake, and even though I learned a lot from just doing it, I would not recommend this way to everyone.

And that there definitely are other ways to deal with writing at university – this is what I learned during the workshop. The first weekend gave some theoretical background on writing and writing psychology, and so we, the participants, worked our way through the writing process. Concerning the drafting stage, we looked at techniques like mind maps and clustering, and scrutinised our own writing habits. The next step was the writing process itself, so we focused on topics like writer’s block and several strategies to deal with an essay or a bigger piece of writing. The last weekend was all about giving (and receiving) feedback – that is especially important for us lecturers!  Giving “good” (and thus, “useful”) feedback is quite a feat and does not come naturally.

For every single step we did all the proposed exercises ourselves, and often discussed them afterwards. There was a plethora of different exercises – ranging from a “writing talk” in a group, in which the question “What disrupts my writing?” was discussed (of course only by using a pen and not the mouth!), or writing a fairy tale, and so on, and so forth. I think that this was crucial, doing it all myself – yes, it was not easy to get started with “that stuff”, but now I know exactly how the exercises work and how I (and others) feel while doing them.

So, what to do with this new knowledge? I will plan and conduct my own writing workshop, where I will see which techniques and exercises work (and which don’t) for students. We will see how that works out, but I believe that students do not have to be left alone with their (writing) worries. Solutions can be easy – I would’ve never believed that just sitting down and “free write” anything that comes to my head for five minutes on a given topic would help to get my thoughts back on track!

Conclusions

So, why did I attend this workshop even though I am not a typical “writing worrier”? That’s easy: since I do not suffer from these problems, I also struggle with giving advice when students of mine come to me and ask for help concerning their writing. Well, I know how I do it, but that’s not how everyone writes. So I decided to learn about that, and I am actually looking forward to the next essay phase. And, well, concerning my own PhD thesis, knowing things like that never hurt…

 

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Goodbye LSE – It’s been a pleasure as always!

german_small

Für die deutsche Fassung bitte hier klicken!

goodbyelse(Photo taken by me)

 

What happened?

Well, my time as a Visiting Research Student at the London School of Economics and Political Science is over. Six months can go by so fast! But it has been a truly enriching experience, as the master’s at LSE had already been. This post is just to wrap up and to draw an overall conclusion for myself and give some recommendation which may be of help to others.

What do I think?

To start with what’s at the very end of the PhD time: Just talking to other PhD students made me feel more sure about what I wanted to do after the PhD, and I found others who follow the same path. Just being able to talk to people in another university system about current or coming struggles related to this career path helped me to see opportunities (as well as obstacles, I have to admit) that I wouldn’t have thought about if I stayed home. I hope others felt the same way! In short, getting to know new people helped me personally as well as the progress of my thesis.
Talk to others, support each other and expand your network!

However, I have learnt that it’s not feasible to go anywhere just to go away. I knew LSE well since I did my master’s there. So I knew which facilities were open to PhD students and which courses would benefit me and my work. Of course there were surprises, it would’ve been boring without them, but getting a pretty clear picture of what is to be expected certainly helps. Six months might sound like a lot of time, but if you lose two months or so because you have to adjust to the place and hunt after basic information like course information, these months are over very fast without any real input. Also, don’t forget – make sure that your supervisor there knows your topic and your research area well!
Choose the institution carefully so that it fits your needs!

In sum, it was incredibly enlightening to go to another university for a few months. Many people have written and said this before, but changing your perspective can do wonders do your work. In my case, it certainly did. It’s not that I ran out of things to do before I boarded the plane to London, but I wasn’t brimming with ideas either. Just talking to other people – familiar with my subject or not – helped me to see my project in a new light and helped me to come up with many new ideas. This meant (and still means) a lot if work, but I think my thesis improved quite a bit because of this research stay. Also, I see my home university in a new light, especially the things I initially took for granted. Going away may be great, but don’t forget that coming home also is.
Go abroad to get new ideas and a new perspective on your work!

Conclusions

I could say so much more, ranging from how you also need time off when you’re gone as well as that it’s of course not all jolly all the time, but I believe I mentioned the main points. Just go for it if going abroad fits your topic and your needs. It takes a whole lot of preparation, but it is definitely worth it.
I would do it again in a heartbeat – but now it’s time to go back home. There are many exciting things in store and I promise I will be able to share some of them soon!

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Plagiarism and so on – I’ve always refused to comment on that…

german_smallPlease click here for the German version!

dokt(My own photograph – however, please note that this is the master’s gown, not the doctoral gown)


What happened?

… but here I am. Well, there is something that is getting on my nerves quite a bit, something that may appear peculiar for anyone who’s not German. But here we go, let’s give it a try.

So, this isn’t about just any kind of plagiarism, but plagiarism concerning doctoral theses. In Germany, there is quite a discussion revolving around that since quite a few highly positioned politicians lost their PhDs because it was uncovered they – allegedly – cheated and took large quantities of text from other sources that they did not cite. I did not read any of these theses nor did I check their references, so I cannot comment on the individual cases. Since the debate has been going on for a while and is quite lengthy, I can only recommend this article in the Guardian by Timothy Garton Ash: Is there a doctor in the house?. It gives a good summary of what happened.

However, discussion does not stop with these singular cases. The thing is that many German media outlets seem to publish more and more articles on how doctoral theses in general are not worth much these days – or at all.

And this is why I feel the need to finally say something.

What do I think about this?

First things first, I am a full-time PhD student. And when I say “full-time”, I definitely mean it – writing a doctoral thesis is a 24/7 project for me. It’s a project I love, however, it takes lots of time that I don’t have for other things, like for my hobbies. There are strict deadlines I have to make – the conference where I present my work won’t be postponed because I didn’t get my paper ready. Anyway, as said before, I love what I am doing.

I don’t plagiarize. Apart from the fact that I generate my own dataset and thus cannot steal any data, I already learned in high school that one does not steal ideas/writings/etc. from others. And I also learned how to reference others’ thoughts and work correctly. So, what’s the problem? I write a paragraph, I reference one or two sources, depending on the type of citation with quotations marks or without. That’s it and it’s not something that is worth discussing. Referencing is just a routine that every first year student is familiar with.

I guess there is hardly anyone who is on vacation 365 days a year, and that also includes me. As mentioned before, I am not lying on a beach somewhere, but work on my thesis every day. PhD students are not lazy, they are not partying all day and night, and they do not get their results and their certificates handed to them on a silver plate. I cannot speak for every single PhD student, of course, but all the PhD students I know are taking their work very seriously, and it’s irrelevant whether they are full-time or part-time students. Writing a doctoral thesis is not easy and it’s not some task one does while watching the telly.

Last but not least, I do not strive for a PhD in order to just put these few letters on my business card (which is quite a thing in Germany). Much of the media coverage these days implicitly suggests that PhD graduates are just craving for validation, and nothing more. No, for me, that’s not it. I want to stay in the academic world, to become a lecturer and more, so the PhD is a stepping stone on this way. But even if that wasn’t the case, if I wanted to get out to the “real world” after the PhD, that would be solely my decision. Also, being a full-time or a part-time PhD student is not a quality indicator for doing great research. Anyway, I would not do all this just for a few more letters on my business card.

Conclusions

It makes me sad to see that the media (in Germany, at least) are conveying the picture that a PhD is not of much worth. And why is that – because a few politicians allegedly plagiarised? Okay, fair enough, but what about the masses of PhD students who are working hard for their thesis and their goals for three or more years?

I don’t plagiarize. And I am tired of hearing people say the following: “Don’t plagiarize, okay?” Meant in a playful way or not, this is neither witty nor funny. I work hard on my thesis, and I do not want flowers or a nobel prize for that. But am I asking too much if I want these offending words to stop and a bit of appreciation for what I am doing?

Sources

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PhD@LSE – The first term is over!


Für die deutsche Fassung bitte hier klicken!

lse_christmas(My own photograph)

What happened?

Well, there are quite I few topics I wanted to cover today originally, but then I felt I had to write a short piece on what happened in the last months. As some of you might have gathered, I went to the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in October to work on my PhD. My home base is Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany, but since I did my master’s there and my second supervisor, Prof. Simon Hix, is at LSE, I went back to London.

And well, the past three months were amazing. Thank God I will return in January for further three months!

What do I think about it?

Since I went to LSE as a Visiting Research Student, there are hardly any compulsory programme regulations that I have to fulfil. I can essentially do whatever I want, go to the classes I want, and still have all the rights of a regular LSE PhD student. In fact, the status of a “Visiting Research Student” only appears in the official documents, and for the rest of the School I am a PhD student like anybody else. Which is a good thing – I never felt treated like a mere “visitor”.

So, what did I do, apart from working on my thesis? I took a few courses on methods, for example. A general course on qualitative methods, in which I not only simply learned how to do a participant observation or an interview, but I actually went out and did both (see the article „(Un-) Welcome to Downing Street No. 10!“ for a summary of my participant observation)! Also, I learned how to do quantitative stuff, that is regression analysis, something I missed out on in my earlier studies. Well, numbers in huge tables and plots are my thing now! I will need all of this for my PhD research, so this will come in handy quite soon.

Apart from methods, I mingled with other PhD students out of class as well as in a regular workshop, where we not only talked with the professors about how to pursue our projects, but also had a ‘clinic’ (lovingly called “Academics Anonymous”) where we could talk freely about obstacles and challenges we face concerning our lives as PhD students. This was very helpful, seeing that other PhD students deal with the same things.

And of course, I met so many people. People who were enthusiastic about my research,  people who were always there to give support on a plethora of issues, and people with whom it was just nice to have a chat and tea with.

So, I cannot wait to be back in January (even though I am technically not even gone yet – I’m sitting in my little room at my hall of residence while writing this) – this time with even more methods courses – I’m thinking about doing an advanced course in regression analysis – and again lots of opportunities to explore my favourite topics beyond my own research. There is more out there than the European Parliament!

Conclusion

I miss Leuphana University, I really do. But LSE is great, too – seeing new faces, getting new perspectives on my PhD topic. This is why I would recommend visiting another university for a few months during the PhD – and most universities do welcome visitors. Of course going abroad has to make sense somehow in the light of one’s own research.

In sum, week 10 of term is over – and it’s Christmas time! Almost, that is. Anyway, I wish everyone a great time with lots of mulled wine and mince pies (for the Brits)!

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