Monday, 12 June 2017

Researching - How to find the time!

Two years into a full academic post, and with a good number of study days, I still find it difficult to manage my time effectively to fit in actual academic research. It's not unusual - study leave can only really be taken after the terms have ended, but teaching gives way to marking, assessment boards, planning for the next term, and all manner of meetings that get put off until the end of term. So how to make time for actual research? I went back to basics with my original Time Management blog post, but I realised that this is only the beginning.


There are a number of good resources out there to help busy academics manage their time. Dr Helen Kara's  Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners is a great tool for a range of sectors. The Times Higher Education has a good article, Workload Survival Guide, full of advice from other academics. And Jobs.ac.uk even has a section on Tips for Time Management. For me, these offer some great advice, but I am generally pretty poor at sticking to all their wisdom. I make an effort for maybe one day or week, then by the next time I have study leave, it all gets forgotten, and I fall into the same ruts as before.

If you're luck enough to get study leave, or find yourself with a day - or even half day - to do something verging on 'scholarly', you need to develop your own tips and tricks to get things done. I've found that these are some of the best pieces of advice I've found to maintain some level of productivity, and reduce the guilt:

Block out space in your diary. At the start of term, once classes and important meetings have been established, block out a reasonable amount of time in your diary, and protect it at all costs (even if that means saying 'no' to things). It might only be half a day every couple of weeks, but it will be something and it will be yours.

Turn on your out-of-office, then turn off your emails (close the browser, block incoming emails to phones and tablets). Don't answer until you've said you would.

Pick one thing. It might only be a little thing - read an article. Write 100 words. Scope a new research project. But pick one thing, and get it done. It's important not to overload your 'to-do' list, else it will seem never-ending and achievable.

Clock off at 5pm. Or 6pm. Or whatever time you choose, really, but the important thing to do is clock off. Check out. Stop working. Research, academia, administration - it's all never ending. Once one paper is finished, the next beckons. Don't give in. Put work down, and leave it alone, and try not to think about it. Your evenings and weekends (or mornings and Friday's -whatever suits you) is yours to step back. Helen Russel discusses the concept of being more productive by working less hours in her book, The Year of Living Danishly.

Restrict Social Media use. Everyone says it. We rarely do it. But if I start the day checking Twitter, I'll check it several times throughout the day without thinking. Start as you mean to go on. Don't bother until you've achieved what you set out to do that day. Even then, only check it at lunchtime or after you've finished. The same goes with the news. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Creating An Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is more than just a list of your references - it contains a researchers' notes and thoughts on the different sources of information. It it much deeper than just a list. It can act as a quick-start guide to your research, to help act as a first point of reference without having to re-read books, chapters and articles at every stage of your research.

Writing an annotated bibliography should start as soon as you start reading. Once you have chosen a way of recording your readings using bibliographic software, you will need to start writing. Most bibliographic software packages will have a 'notes' function. Here, you will jot down your own thoughts and impressions of a source - good and bad - and the key themes. If there is a 'key words' function, it is useful to add a few categories for your reference (not just those that appear on the citation).

Writing an annotated bibliography is a precursor to the literature review, and will help you to start developing your academic writing skills. You will be better able to keep track of your reading, and then start thinking about how it all links together. Making notes such as 'disagrees with Smith et al (2017)', or 'might contrast well with Jones & Brown (2015)', are good ways to start organising your thinking.

What to write...

An annotated bibliography should only contain 100-200 words; short and succinct. Other than the full reference, you should include:

  • A brief summary of the main arguments/conclusions
  • A brief background of the author(s)
  • Subjects/topics covered (key words)
  • Points of interest - is there anything unique? Is there another source that supports/contradicts this one?
  • What do you think - is it any good? This isn't just about how useful it is to you - this is also about how well written or how reliable and rigorous you think it is. Remember: your opinions matter a great deal, when you can back them up. 
For example:

Trede F. & C. McEwan (2015) 'Early workplace learning experiences: what are the pedagogical possibilities beyond retention and employability?' Higher Education 69, pp. 19-32

Key words: Workplace learning, student experience, pedagogy, student retention

Authors: The Education For Practice Institute and independent researcher (Australia)

Work-based learning at level 4 and beyond helps to better prepare students for academic life, and helps to improve outcomes and retention, as well as assisting with transition into HE, and aiding in the development of professional identities. 
This is an interesting, is small-scale study. Early WBL helps students develop curiosity in academic and professional learning, so particularly useful for business studies and related topics. This might also be useful to feed back to the Careers & Employability team - at the moment, WBL appears at level 6 in most programme areas. 

As you can see, this is not particularly complex, not comprehensive, but the annotation provides a summary, some points of interest, and further development that could be used.

Some additional resources:

BCC-UCF Writing Center - Annotated Bibliography
University of New England - Writing an annotated bibliography