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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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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