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When workshops and lectures give you a fixed schedule

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Samar Almossa who shares her academic schedule with us. Samar is a second year PhD student at King’s College London, Department of Education and Professional study. She works as a lecturer at Umm Alqura University in Saudi Arabia and she holds MA in Teaching English as a foreign Language from University of Essex. Her PhD explores formative assessment practises in English language courses in Saudi Higher Education. She blogs and tweets about her academic experience to Arabic audience @Ssssamar

I have just started my second year and I have just passed my upgrade from MPhil to PhD which is such a huge step. I recall all the days and nights I spent working toward passing my upgrade and starting my field work. I am not the kind of person who is an organising freak or has one fixed routine. I love change and I do like to change my routine and try different ways of getting my work done. I read quite a lot of blogs and books and have attended workshops about the PhD experience, academic writing and time management. I found time management is always an important topic and the key secret in the PhD journey. In addition, I learned the concept of working smarter rather than harder.

My first year schedule was almost fixed as there were training courses to attend, from how to use Endnote to how to pass your upgrade. There were too many classes and workshops, so I used Google Calendar to keep a record of all of my ‘must do’ academic commitments, along with supervision meetings, weekly department seminars and other personal commitments. After organizing my calendar using colour codes to mark each type of task, I filled in the gaps in my schedule. I fitted reading and writing in the empty spaces. Accordingly, I sometimes used to have a very busy day and I could not get my head together between workshops, etc. Consequently, I studied two or three hours in the evenings. I did not fit any academic tasks into the weekends unless a deadline was coming soon or, in particular, due on Monday! Obviously, the weekend was important ‘me time’ to allow me to relax, to manage cleaning, and to go shopping.

My academic schedule worked very well for the first year. One important element that helped me in having an organized schedule was attending workshops and having regular meetings with my supervisor. Having very regular meetings helped me a lot in terms of being committed to my work and having clear plans and goals to ensure that I made consistent progress. After each meeting, I knew exactly what I was doing, what I had to read, and what resources I had to consult. I also had a clear timeline with my supervisor. So I knew the kind of work expected of me, and the sources to use, the time available and the submission date!

When I first started, it was very difficult to find the perfect place in which to study where I felt comfortable. I love my flat, but was afraid of doing everything other than studying. I tried to study in the PhD students’ shared office and in the library. I did 60% of year one work in my flat, 30% in the PhD office and 10% in the library. I change my work space when I feel less motivated and find that I can increase my motivation by moving to a different place. As I mentioned earlier I had regular meetings with my supervisor. I also had a very fixed routine, and I started writing very early. After each meeting, I counted how many days I had got ‘till the next meeting. For example, if I have 14 days until the next meeting, I always allow 10 days for reading and writing. I also set a deadline that allows three days before the meeting to send off my work, so that my supervisor has a chance to read my work and I have two days for myself to enjoy ‘Phew’!. Then, after the meeting, I take on board my supervisor’s comments, and work within the block of the number of days I have until the next submission and meeting. Working with a deadline in mind helps me to stay focused, take it seriously, and work hard toward the small goals. In the back of my mind I know that if I have achieved this goal, I have moved a step towards my goal.

My motto in order to stay sane during this journey is ‘Kill the stress and bad habits before they get the best of you’. Developing a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy food and hitting the gym, having some time to relax and to enjoy and rewarding myself, do what I love to do, really helped me to be satisfied with my life in general. From PhD day one, I reminded myself that I did not want this PhD to prevent me from enjoying my life. I tried to block all bad ideas and worries. I stopped working when I was tired and changed where I studied when I was bored (e.g. studying in the park). Also, had some good times by going out with friends, playing games. Never in my life have I been a gamer, but I found myself playing games with passion. I felt like my brain was being activated and that really helped me boost my confidence and increase my focus!

I am not a big fan of coffee but I tried to have coffee every evening to boost my energy, but it was a bad idea – insomnia got the best of me. Also, I used to have my desk in my bedroom and that was another reason for my sleeping problems because I turned my relaxing and sleeping zone into a work station. Three months after starting the PhD, I quit my massive coffee consumption, moved my desk to the living room, and switched off the Wifi. For the first time, I had a really good night’s sleep, and never had insomnia gain.

For the second year, there are fewer workshops, so I have more time to schedule my studies. I have joined a writing group where people who write novels, stories, scenarios and PhDs meet every week and accomplish a piece of writing. I prepare my notes and reading beforehand and I go to the café where we meet to get some work done with the group! I find that working with a group and attending writing retreats are motivational. As this helps me to stay focused, which is exactly what I need. I will be off for field work shortly. I am planning to write 500 words a day and keep on planning my routine in order to achieve my second year goals, which will be the second step towards the big goal of gaining my ‘PhD’. All the best to my fellow PhDers.

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