Week 41: My 38th Birthday

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The new academic year started a few weeks ago. I work in the shared office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and work at home for the rest of the week.

I met some PhD colleagues around my desk for the first time since I moved into the office in April. Talking with colleagues and having lunch or coffee with someone on campus is mentally healthy for us, because we tend to work alone for long hours, and our way of life tends to be isolating and in total darkness sometimes.

In the shared office, a neighbour spoke to me and we introduced ourselves. It was the first time I had ever seen him, and I asked if he was in his first year. He said that he had just submitted his doctoral thesis! He looked completely relaxed and refreshed. I felt happy to know that this actually happens! and I hope it will happen to me, three years from now.

I organised all the feedback I received through the probation review, and made a summary of what I should do for the rest of the year and sent it to my supervisors. It is important to share summaries of meetings and my proposed next actions with them.

My goals for Week 42:

  • Finish analysing the pilot data
  • Submit the analysis and associated documents to my supervisors

On Saturday, I turned 38. Luca bought a lot of flowers from a market, and we spent the morning arranging them and having pain au chocolat and tea. We had a relaxing time in the afternoon (speaking to my parents, replying to my friends’ messages, having champagne) and went to our favourite Italian restaurant for dinner. It was a really nice birthday with the feeling of love from my family and friends!

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Week 40: I Passed My Probation

This week, I passed my probation review! I am now feeling a bit more relaxed. It was so nice that my supervisor announced that I had passed, and my colleagues congratulated me!

The review meeting was more like a discussion from various perspectives, including the views of the external examiner. I mainly discussed my research with the panel, and he asked a few general questions (they were similar to some that were on my list of possible questions) and many specific questions which I had not thought about.

Overall, all the topics in the discussion we had were very helpful, and it was not a problem that I was not able to answer straight away some technical questions which I had not looked at. The panel gave me many suggestions on references and other important aspects of data analysis.

I really thank my partner Luca, because for the last eight days we rehearsed for this meeting, and I was able to be confident on the day!

Now, my advice to any PhD student facing a first-year probation review is very simple.

  1. Print all your probation documents and read them very carefully, until you know them very well. My eight-month work became a 100-page paper, including a full version of ethics applications. Having the result of your work on paper will definitely give you confidence!
  2. Make sure that you can explain the methodological frameworks you use.
  3. Bring water, pens and a notepad, and during the meeting be ready to receive any feedback from the examiner.

I went to a sushi restaurant to celebrate my completion of the probation period and started thinking about my next tasks: fixing and reinforcing the points that the panel emphasised, writing Chapter 2, and completing some training sessions on methodologies. I have also started taking an Italian language course, as a pastime. And my birthday is coming in a week!

My goals for Week 41:

  • Map out the prospective participants and the amount of data
  • Expand the outline description of Chapter 2
  • Enjoy my birthday!

 

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Sushi and Prosecco

 

I have just realised that I have published 150 posts on this blog. Having a three-year record of life or studies can be something that makes you energetic, as I’m sure you can well understand yourself. As readers may easily realise, English is not my native language. I started posting my records of local life and studies on my blog in English when I moved to Europe three years ago. Expressing my feelings in my second language is sometimes difficult because of a lack of knowledge of the multiple connotations behind the vocabulary. My writing identity would be closer to my first language. But I really enjoy learning and absorbing all aspects of the life here, and the use of language as well.

 

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Shopping for Italian biscuits

 


Week 39

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I have rehearsed for my probation review every day, asking Luca to act as an examiner. I listed 20 questions that would probably be asked, and his prompt questions have also been very useful.

A psychiatrist said that the most reliable way of preparing to answer a question immediately in a meeting is to make a list of questions and answers by yourself, with at least 30 questions that are likely to be asked (50 is perfect). This is because you can easily predict possible questions from the context, and most interviewers are likely to ask similar ones, meaning that you can cover most of the questions. Recently, I have enjoyed watching YouTube videos of psychology sessions, which gives me a positive mind and a lot of confidence for studying and life.

Luca and I had dinner at our favourite restaurant on Wednesday to celebrate being together for two years. Although we go to that restaurant for dinner a few times a year, for the first time I realised that the building was 800 years old. This time, I noticed that many detailed decorations still remained from that period on the ceiling and walls. The dining tables, plates and cutlery are modern and casual. I liked the combination, and it is always wonderful to be able to appreciate the cultural heritage and feeling it close to us in a life event.

My achievement in Week 39:

  • Finished the translation of my field notes

Goals for Week 40:

  • Do my best for the probation review
  • Complete analysis of pilot data
  • Start writing Chapter 2

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Week 38

Continuing my preparation for the review meeting (coming in 10 days), I have read some crucial books for writing Chapter 2 and kept records of the summaries.

I am so stupid. I spent the whole week thinking about and trying out whether to keep a notebook (of the summaries) as handwritten materials or digitise all of them. Since I started my PhD programme, I have used Evernote to keep and manage my records of everything including papers, a reading diary, my drafts, session notes, summaries of meetings, important links, documents, cooking recipes, and whatever. At the same time, I have been using my Moleskin notebook and diary to physically write some summaries of my reading and referring to some websites to find useful formats and examples to organise information for a literature review. I was obsessed with finding a new format for five days and eventually found that the digital tool, adding a piece of note in Evernote, is the most suitable for me. This feels like I have wasted a week!

Luca’s work contract finished last week, so he has been staying at home to apply for new jobs. I am not sure if this is because he is staying at home, but I baked buttermilk scones and lemon drizzle cake this week. On Friday, I took him to a Chinese buffet restaurant for lunch and an Italian ice cream shop for dessert, and we eventually spent the afternoon eating, walking and shopping. That was a nice weekday date, for a change. We ordered from Pizza Hut for Saturday dinner, like we did during our MA programmes. I understand that thinking about the future and what you want to do for a profession while being under undue pressure from family is one of the toughest situations to be in.

Goals for Week 39:

  • Continue my preparation and practice
  • Finish some translations of my field notes
  • Celebrate a memorable date!

Week 37

My probation review was postponed to October because the panel is too busy this month (which is painful for me)! This means that I have more time to prepare for it, but my nervousness never slackens and has rather grown. My preparation includes

  • reading my documents thoroughly (research protocol, one chapter, ethics application and field notes);
  • creating a summary of my research and preliminary findings which I will give to the panel orally; and
  • preparing responses to questions ranging from general to specific questions.

I have also started reading a pile of books to write Chapter 2. My first summary of it will be due around 17th October.

My goals for Week 38:

  • Continue my preparation and practice!
  • Share transcribed conversation notes from my fieldwork with my supervisors