2017 was a whirlwind, both personally and globally. I spent the first half going at breakneck speed juggling a Master’s program, several jobs, and bi-weekly commuting between Madrid and San Sebastián. Then I defended my Master’s thesis and time slowed on its own.
The summer was incredible. My sister came to Spain for the first time and I got to spend a month in Hawaii with Miguel. I saw the solar eclipse in all its goosebump inducing totality, something my father had been looking forward to for the last 50 years.
Then summer ended, the weather got cold and reality hit again.
Uncertainty with the PhD coupled with residency related bureaucratic headaches put a dampener on the last few months of the year. I felt despondent; unsure of myself personally, professionally and academically. I kept telling myself that I would feel better about everything in 2018, as if January 1 had magical healing powers. Rationally, I knew that the date itself meant nothing. It was all a matter of having a deadline to kick myself into gear and change my mindset.
I’m not someone who does resolutions in the traditional sense. I don’t pledge that this will be the year in which I finally get fit or learn a new language, though I wouldn’t complain if I suddenly woke up with toned arms and a knowledge of German grammar.
Instead, over Christmas I gave myself time to reflect on what habits I needed to work on in order to live my best academic life. I identified things that didn’t work so well during the last few months of 2017 and thought about the best ways to go about implementing them in 2018 in order to cultivate positive habits. My non-resolution resolutions, if you will.
Get outside my comfort zone
I always need to remind myself that a PhD is not just sitting in front of my computer, waiting for a great research paper idea to strike. In order to make the most of the three years I’ve signed over to this project, I need to develop myself in other ways.
Since there are no more classes to attend, no more exams to study for, this means taking the initiative to determine what skills I need to learn in order to continue growing as a researcher. Coming to this realization was not easy. I had contentedly spent the last 15+ years at school learning what the syllabus and curriculum demanded of me. Now it is time to make my own curriculum and take the necessary steps to ensure that I follow through.
This means leaving my academic comfort zone and pushing myself to grasp statistics and quantitative methods of data analysis. Given the importance of statistical analysis in research, particularly education and other social sciences, it’s really about time that I put aside my qualms of having to do “math.”
I’m designing my own curriculum using:
• massive open online courses (MOOCs).
They are great tools for self-directed learning, especially for the self-directed learner who needs an external push to direct their learning (ahem, me). Although most MOOC platforms are free in theory, if you want a certificate you’ll need to pay up. Content can still be accessed for free, which is what I’m doing.
Statistics: Unlocking the World of Data from the University of Edinburgh
Measuring Causal Effects for the Social Sciences from the University of Copenhagen
Probability and Statistics from Stanford University
There will undoubtedly be content overlap between the three courses, which for my purposes is a good thing. Knowing myself, I will need to go over the material several times, preferably in different iterations, in order for it to really stick.
Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys from the University of Michigan
Foundations of Teaching for Learning: Curriculum from the Commonwealth Education Trust
These courses are less about learning new skills and more about reinforcing and reflecting on the knowledge I already have.
• familiarizing myself even more with educational research methods.
Though I got my feet wet while conducting research for my Master’s thesis, I need to know the tricks of the trade as well as possible. Research Methods in Second Language Acquisition and The Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in Bilingualism and Multilingualism will now be kept within easy reach.
My research interests lie within the realm of content teaching and language use at school, so it is important for me to be informed of what topics the Madrid government says needs to be taught, and at what age.
Write more often
I enjoy writing. As a kid, I filled notebook upon notebook with bits of creative writing. As I got older and progressed through school, it shifted to academic writing by necessity. I take pleasure in the process; reading research papers, doing the literature review, sitting down and transforming unintelligible thoughts into readable words.
After submitting my Master’s thesis in June, I barely wrote a word beyond those required to fill out the PhD application in September. This was not a great habit to be in.
So, I started a blog. I am looking to incorporate as much writing as possible into daily life, and having Scholar Escolar has increased my writing ten-fold. Of course, my writing odometer was previously at 0 but…baby steps.
I’m going to incorporate more writing into daily life by:
• drafting (and editing, and publishing) blog posts.
• working on the Case Studies series.
• typing up short summaries of papers I read (one-liners count).
Widen my circles
Spanish enchufes elevate the concept of networking to an art form. While I understand the importance of networking as a PhD, I’m interested in making personal as well as professional contacts in 2018. Part of the reason I was feeling unmoored toward the end of 2017 was that I felt as if I was doing it on my own, without someone in a similar situation to sound off on. Turns out that this not an uncommon theme among PhD-ers.
I’m going to connect with others by:
Luckily, the TESOL Spain 2018 Convention is being held at UCM. I intend to take advantage and volunteer at it. I’m not the most sociable at these types of events as an attendee, but I am hoping that volunteering will force me to open up and start talking to people. Who knows where that could lead.
• reaching out via Scholar Escolar.
Reading the experiences people have been sending in for the Case Studies series has been extremely helpful in reminding me that I am not the only crazy foreigner who decided to go to graduate school in Spain.
This was probably what I struggled with the most during the first few months of the PhD. Sure, I read a bunch of papers and researched top journals in my field. But once I finished, I didn’t know where to go from there. Step one was figuring out what I needed to learn. Step two was understanding how to keep myself on track.
I’m going to encourage productivity by:
• keeping a(n organized) work journal.
As soon as I decided on a curriculum for myself, I started two documents. One was a Word file and the other a 2018 calendar in Excel. I have a running list of everything I need to get done on a separate sheet of physical paper: the MOOC assignments, papers to read, library books to request. I like the analog/digital combination because of the satisfaction that comes with crossing something off of a TO DO list.
In the Word file, I write down everything that I have done related to the PhD for a particular day, no matter how small and insignificant. Then on the Excel calendar, I write a brief blurb to show that I did something doctorate related on that date.
This three tiered system might seem unwieldy, but it has managed to keep me on track (so far). I enjoy reading the detailed list of everything I’ve done to work toward the PhD in the Word doc and the at-a-glance monthly Excel sheet shows which dates I’ve worked.
• remembering to do a little bit each day.
The work journal(s) are physical evidence that I am actively moving toward something and that has been a game changer. The sin prisa pero sin pausa mentality helps keep me from feeling stuck and frustrated that nothing is being done.
Since beginning Scholar Escolar, I have thought more actively about and reflected upon the PhD more often than in the previous few months. So far the project has a been a great positive feedback loop. We’ll see what the rest of 2018 holds.