PhD #WeekInTheLife – June 2018

Reading/watching other PhD students’ week in the life posts & videos usually gives me a kick up the butt to get moving and/or makes me feel less like I’m the worst PhD student in the world and more like I’m feeling normal things. And it seemed like a good way to start changing this blog from being purely about books to more about research.

I’ll update this at the end of every day this week with what I’ve been doing & some more interesting photos when I’m at the museum. I don’t have much booked in at the beginning of this week (but work to do), and then I’m at the museum all day Thursday and Friday morning. I’m about 7 months into my PhD, and you can find out a little about my project here. (I’ll do a full post about what I’m doing soon).

Let’s see if the observation of a thing really changes that thing and I procrastinate less than usual just because I know I’m going to write about it…


Today’s about catching up on a few emails, then getting stuck into some literature.

I’m coming towards the end of my realist review (hopefully!). I’ll write a post at some point about my experience of doing a realist review as compared to a standard systematic one, but the main thing to understand for today’s work is that it has less clearly defined boundaries around what to include, so it can be hard to know when enough is enough. Or at least that’s where my anxiety lies. At the moment I’m deciding whether to include an area of literature as a formal part of the review or as a discussion point. I think it will be a (key) discussion point, and something I think about for my evaluation, but I just want to read around a little more.

It’s actually really interesting how little there is about the dynamics of caring relationships in dementia, both for professional and family carers, and how those dynamics can have an impact on, or be a context for, how psychosocial or creative interventions work. There is some research there, but not enough. (I got some really useful signposting from a researcher here in Exeter and someone I met on training last week. I’m definitely getting better at asking for pointers when I’m stuck, instead of just trying to wade through treacle by myself.)

nopeSpeaking of wading through treacle, I’m really tired today, so haven’t been the most productive. My health shenanigans include severe fatigue, and I haven’t been resting properly the past few weeks so it’s catching up with me a bit. I actually napped during the day at the weekend (which as a person who can’t sleep if there’s any light/noise is basically unheard of) after a week of headaches, nausea, etc, so I know the warning flags are out. I’ll be fine; I just need to pull back a little & reconfigure how I’m living before the warning flags become a proper flare-up that takes a lot longer to crawl back from. There’s always that tension, for everyone, between what you want to do and what your body can do, it’s just that my Threshold of Nope is much lower than other people’s. Early finish, then trash TV & a pizza for me tonight!


Another office day today, but thankfully not feeling quite so dead so actually getting some stuff done!

Got to the office at 9.45am, pratted about on Twitter a bit, then got started about 10ish. I’m definitely not including caring relationship dynamics as a formal part of the review, so, even though there’s more to read, I’m putting it to one side until I write the discussion.

This morning I refined and added to my programme theories (the theories I’ve developed as a result of the review, and will test in my evaluation). I’m not 100% happy with them but they’re almost there. Then I skimmed back through my research diary to check for notes I’d made myself to add into the theories or the discussion. (If you don’t keep a research diary I really recommend it – it means I don’t forget random thoughts or my thinking process, which is helpful when I can’t remember why I decided to do something a particular way).

Then it was all about starting the results section. Some of that was just figuring out how to write it by reading a few review papers & example PhDs – I’ve never done a realist review before & it’s a little less structured than I’m used to. But at 2K words today I’m around a third done with the results section draft! (Thank you past me for the clear notes on where the specific evidence for each theory is, except that one section where you didn’t)

In between those things I did small admin jobs – a few emails for the conference I’m helping to organise, and for the museum group on Thursday. (Also Twitter scrolling & a game of HQ Trivia).

A much better PhD day! (PhDay?). My body really needed to leave by 4pm, but I had to wait for someone, so left the office at 5, ready for another evening of pyjamas & trash to stay on top of health shenanigans.


Final office day of the week. Got in about 10am and did some admin/emails until supervision with my main supervisor at 11am.

The rest of the day was writing the results section, interspersed with a few emails and Twitter scrolling. Finally have a draft of this bit (and a shiny 6K words of the thesis done). I mean, it’s rubbish, some of the writing is truly awful & it needs some structural tweaking, but it’s so much easier to write from something than a blank page. Many of my shiny new words will be deleted and replaced, but it’s a start.

I’m at the museum tomorrow which is a bit more exciting, but I’m very aware I have no academic extra-curriculars this week, like teaching or exciting meetings, so I’m “not busy”. I also have this anxiety, writing what I’m doing here, that I’m also not doing enough work & it shows. Everyone in academia is extremely qualified, and there’s a pressure to be doing more, getting involved more, to show your worth to future employers and make sure you are extra-ordinarily qualified to have a chance. I hate competitive busyness and I generally do my best not to play, but, even so, I’ve clearly still internalised that pressure. Not just to play, but to show here how much I do, how well I do, how effortlessly I do. Having been a “disabled scrounger”, I know it’s not an issue just in academia, but in our culture more widely, but even knowing all that it’s hard to resist that internalised link between productivity and self-worth, and the anxiety that comes with that, particularly when you have additional limitations which mean you couldn’t keep up even if you wanted to. (Despite this ramble/rant, I am in a good mood today).

Had my dinner at my desk and left at 5.30 for a book club in town tonight – “Women & Power” by Mary Beard.

one cameraThursday

Thursday is museum day! I always work from the museum offices on a Thursday, either working on the dementia programme or just doing my usual PhD stuff but from there. Even though it’s not all directly relevant, it means I get to know the museum & the staff (& vice versa), understand these programmes better, how all the behind-the-scenes organising works, and just work in a non-academic environment. I love working on the programme itself. I volunteer at the sessions, so get to hang out & chat art with people and see the actual impact of the PhD with actual humans.  It’s so great.

The dementia sessions here run once a month, and are either object handling, art-making, or a tour of one of the exhibitions. People with dementia generally attend with a carer, spouse, or friend, and the way the sessions are facilitated mean they’re not based on reminiscence or memory, and everyone can enjoy and contribute on an equal basis. It’s about an ‘in the moment’ wellbeing and enjoyment, as well as intellectual stimulation and meeting other people.

lots cameraToday was a photography session, based around portraiture. After the usual tea & biscuits, we looked at old cameras (they’re such lovely objects), and at different examples of portraiture in photography art-books. We then went up to one of the museum galleries and had a quick look around a current exhibition of paintings about childhood, which mainly includes painted portraits of children. We talked a bit about the difference between a more typical “say cheese” photo we might have taken of others, and the various poses/framing/etc of people in the photos and paintings we looked at. Then, in pairs, people chose photos from the books, recreated the poses, and took photos using digital cameras. At the end of the session we had another cuppa and looked at everyone’s photos projected on the big screen. It was a fun session, and people really made it their own by changing up the poses and doing things like taking close-up pictures of hands. This is my favourite part of the PhD.

Back in the museum office, as part of helping to update their in-house evaluation of the programme, I inputted old (and today’s) evaluation forms, and worked on updating the registration forms. Next time I’ll start analysing past years’ data and finalising the new forms.

I left a little early to head back to the office as I had a follow-up webinar on the philosophical foundations of realist evaluation training I went on last month. Really helpful to talk through sticky issues of ontology, and especially being able to listen in on other people’s questions & answers. My head is full of nerding. That finished about 5.30pm, and I left the office at 6pm.

It’s been a good, thought-provoking, day.


Even though I’ve been at the museum a while, I hadn’t had an official induction, so this morning I joined a volunteer induction session.

When that finished at 1pm, I had a sunny lunch outside on the cathedral green, then headed to the office.

Following yesterday’s webinar, there are some conceptual things I want to tweak in my programme theories, and I want start my ethics form / evaluation planning (the data stuff I was doing yesterday is for the museum, not my PhD). But, I was really exhausted again and I knew I’d get frustrated with myself (like on Monday) if I tried to do something that required much concentration. So I spent the afternoon making notes so that I could still make progress today in a less taxing way and get into my thinking more quickly on Monday, and doing some admin like booking a hotel for a course next month. I also had a quick look through the prep tasks for a visual methods day I’m doing next week and holy hell the questions for discussion are so interesting. Ending the week feeling like I haven’t done nearly enough, but definitely happily motivated for the next.


I don’t work on weekends. Inevitably, that will change at some point, but I’m trying to go as long as I can without any evening or weekend work. On Saturday I have a recovery day which will be pure pyjamas (with a little tweaking of my D&D character before a new game starts next week), and on Sunday I’m officiating a roller derby game as my other alter ego, Dame of Thrones.

Typical week?

I picked this week mostly at random, but it’s turned out fairly typical. What I’m working on changes, and I sometimes have other meetings/extra-curriculars, but otherwise this is it – some feeling like I make no progress, some feeling like I make good progress, some museum, some reading, some writing. I was way less productive this week than I could have been (and would have liked) if I’d been looking after myself better recently (the contrast between high & low fatigue days is massive). So I’m going to get back on track with that & then I should feel a little more consistent across the whole week (and get more done overall without feeling ill as an extra bonus).

I really like reading about what other people actually do, so give me shout if you do your own PhD-InTheLife!

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