It's that time of year that feels like another 'new year', and this year I feel like I've had a succession of them. Back to a full teaching timetable after a quieter summer - some new flute students, some new online theory students. Hearing about my students' new schools. And then the University students descended on Sheffield for the start of the academic year and the place was busy and buzzing again. And finally, this week, I started my PhD. That is, I've spent one day so far at Lancaster University, where I'll be studying part-time/ distance learning. The first week is mainly taken up with induction and registration events, and I've been impressed so far by the care that's gone into making sure we know where we need to be, what we need to do, and how to find out things. But more than that, by the emphasis on making sure we're OK - how to look after ourselves in the process of doing a PhD, and where to get help if we need it.
There's a lot of crossover between things that are useful in musical training and work, and those that help you on the way with a PhD. The concept of little and often - whether that's reading and writing (I'm taking the advice to write frequently and writing this blog post!), or practising your instrument. Making use of small stretches of time - I can practise a tricky phrase for ten minutes while my lunch cooks (obviously making sure it doesn't burn!), I can read a quick article on the train. Making notes to refer back to about what you're working towards. Planning - your aims for your research, or for a practice session - but equally being aware and prepared that things won't always go to plan, and being adaptable. Realising that there will be times when nothing seems to be going right and you want to pack it all in!
Of course these are useful in many aspects of life. As is stationery. One of the joys of a new school year was always shopping for a new pencil case, rulers, a protractor. I haven't bought any of those this time (and can't actually foresee any use for a protractor any time soon), but after much quizzing of other people about their PhD note-taking and filing systems, I have invested in some hopefully useful equipment. I bought some nice pens, which are comfortable to write with. I've tried making notes electronically, but it doesn't seem to work as well for me for processing information - so apart from using Evernote on my phone for quick reminders to myself, handwriting seems to be the way ahead. I have a lot of post-it notes of assorted sizes, for both PhD and musical projects, small ones for quickly tagging things and larger ones for more extensive notes on books and articles (and yes, they have small animals on them, thank you Paperchase):
I spent a while pondering what the ideal notebook would consist of. A few friends mentioned that they'd had notes all over the place when doing their research, and this was something I found I was already suffering from. At the same time, I was reading about different organisational systems, and came across Bullet Journals. The short explanation of these is that you use one notebook for everything, generally just using the next blank spread of pages for whatever you want to write next, and indexing these in the front so you can find everything. This sounded pretty ideal for note-taking where I'm likely to be writing about different aspects of my project, but want to be able to group themes together at some point. So my plan is to use these A4 notebooks with punched holes and perforations:
To start with I'll be using the next blank spread for whatever I make notes on next, and indexing it Bullet Journal style. However, as my work progresses, the perforations and punched holes allow me to detach sheets and file them in ring binders in the appropriate category, to refer back to. That's the plan anyway - I'll report back on whether that actually works!
I realise this is not exactly a 'research' blog post - but organisation is possibly one of the biggest challenges of a PhD (and also of freelance music-making and self-employed teaching, which I'm doing at the same time). As far as actual research goes, I'm currently reading about theories of adult learning, and making notes for a summary of how each of these relates to music education. And trying to get plenty of sleep!
Flute player and teacher blogging about playing, learning, teaching and researching music.
The Reliable Musician - a series of blog posts on the skills that make the sort of musician people want to work with!