Setting up an academic conference

Today I’m at the School of GeoScience Postgraduate Research Conference and it occured to me that some of you might be either attending or organising conferences over the summer.

If you’re organising a conference there are some things which it will help you to keep in mind:

  • Advertise the event well in advance to ensure that people can attend.
  • Be aware of your budget from the start, and throughout the planning stages, to avoid a huge over spend.
  • If you are asking people to submit papers or posters in advance give them plenty of notice of the deadline and don’t be afraid to chase people for their submissions. Make this process as easy as possible for people to complete, use an electronic form for example.
  • If you are printing anything in advance ask your printing service what their lead times are and give yourself enough time to collate and proof read everything before sending it to the printers.
  • Try to choose a venue which is easy to get to and which has parking available.
  • If your venue doesn’t supply one, make up an information pack which includes maps and transport information.
  • If you are catering the event it makes sense to ask your delegates to register in advance so that you can confirm the numbers with your venue and caterers to avoid wastage. You can also use this to create name badges.
  • If the conference is being held locally, there will always be some people who will not register but will turn up on the day and expect you to have a name badge for them…so take spares.
  • If you are supplying your own A/V you should always take a spare of everything as something always breaks at the least convenient moment.
  • Make a good connection with the staff at the venue where you are running the event. They can be really helpful in the event of a problem.
  • Arrange with your venue for you to have a spare room which you can use as an office type space. This means that you have somewhere to escape to, discuss any problems which you may be having, keep your bags and store spare stationery etc.
  • Find out from the venue if there are any fire drill expected and what facilities are availalble. Someone will always ask if there is wifi.
  • If people have helped you to run the event, remember to thank them afterwards.
  • Ask for feedback so that you can learn and improve for next time.
  • Finally, enjoy it!

The PhD Cycle

So, if the PhD is a process made up of initiating and ‘hopefully’ completing smaller tasks then it is reasonable to expect that this process will have an emotional impact depending on which stage you are at and the outcome of your current task. And this is perfectly normal.

PhD Cycles

The diagram tries to show that everything in the PhD cycle involves thinking and writing about your PhD and within that overall cycle there is a smaller process of initiating, scoping, focus forming, implementing, completing and reviewing tasks. At each of these stages there may be a vast variety of emotions involved.

There are some things which you can do to try to minimise the negative impacts and maximise the positive.

  • Use SMART goals to help you to manage your work load. These are goals which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based. If you put goals in place which follow this formula then you are more likely to succeed and feel less afraid of the marathon task ahead of you.
  • Remember to review outcomes of different tasks. It is all too easy to rush from task to tasks without taking the time to review. The value of this is in seeing what you can learn for next time and celebrating success.
  • Read my previous post about time management

Procrastination and getting yourself un-stuck

The feeling of not wanting to do what you’re supposed to be doing can be an overwhelming thing and I can’t help but be struck by the irony of writing this post to help myself move past my current bout of procrastination.

But do not fear, there are always things that you can do. One that I recently discovered was the pomodoro technique. What you do is set a timer for 25 minutes and do focused work while the timer counts down. At the end of the 25 minutes you take a 5 minute break. Then after 4 segments take a 15 minute break. I used it while studying at the weekend and powered throug 2 hours with no problem at all.

Something else I have come across recently but I’m a teeny bit afraid to try is Write or Die which gives you consequences when you stop writing. This one I think would be particularly useful for bashing out ideas in a first draft. You download an app, set a word or time goal and the start typing. If you stop typing for a certain length of time the app will enforce the consequence, for example, start to delete your work  line by line…eeek!

When I was an undergraduate I attended a procrastination workshop and the most important message that I took away from that is that if you can identify what it is about a task that causes you to procrastinate then the easier it is to move past. For me its reading. I would much rather be doing pretty much anything but reading so over the past few years I have developed some small techniques to help me to get through that stage and onto the bits that I like. So I take notes while I’m reading – that tricks me into thinking that I’m writing rather than reading. And I read in small chunks of time so that I know it will be over soon.

And as this post demonstrates, you can always overcome procrastination by doing something related to your work that you enjoy and which will give you another way of thinking about things, be that writing a blog post, looking for relevant material on twitter, reading something in your field or whatever.

Time Management tips for new PhD students

Starting a PhD can be a daunting prospect. Get off to a good start by putting some simple processes in place to help you manage your time. Here are our top tips:

  1. Attend an IAD Time Management workshop (and make sure you actually make time to attend).  Look out for the workshop which is open to your college HSS or MVM&SCE
  2. Set yourself small/managable goals to work towards so you don’t get overwhelmed with the size of your task
  3. Get your bibliography organised…if you get your references organised at the beginning it will save you time when it comes to writing up. Endnote is free to use within the university
  4. Make lists or mindmaps to help you to organise your thoughts. Most university PCs have Inspiration installed on them and the handbook is available to download
  5. Get into a good routine
  6. Find out what type of worker you are (do you work best in the morning or evening?) and don’t worry if that’s different than your colleagues
  7. Find out how you procrastinate and have a strategy in place to manage that
  8. Have designated time set aside in the day for things like Facebook, personal emails etc…
  9. Plan for meetings with your supervisor – there will be a future post about this soon…watch this space
  10. If you are going to procrastinate, do something useful: read a blog related to your field, or look at the IAD webpage for new courses that you might be interested in attending

Next post: Working with your supervisor…coming soon!

Watch this space for details of our twitter account.

Fiona (Doctoral Training Manager, IAD)