Sometimes we all need a perspective check in life. I recently found myself needing one, facing all the pressure of finishing, I was experiencing paralysis and unable to accomplish anything.  I have read articles like this one  and another here ( there is a lot more you can a find with a google search on PhD and perfectionism). I have even  parroted to my colleagues “nobody is ever going to read your thesis. It is probably just your examiners  and maybe, a tiny maybe, just your friends and family will read it too.  So don’t aim for perfection just write”  but I found myself caught in perfectionism. Then I remembered The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.  Matt Might, a professor in Computer Science at the University of Utah, created The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D. to explain what a Ph.D. is to new and aspiring graduate students.

I am going to show a summary of it here check out his site for the whole guide. Starting out  with a circle representing all knowledge, the guide brings perspective to what the PhD impact will be.

This is the circle that contains all human knowledge that I imagine my work will to contribute to.

This is the tiny dent my revolutionary work is making to that big circle of human knowledge

BUT this is how the world looks from where I stand

Its always important to remember the bigger picture

[Matt has licensed the guide for sharing with special terms under the Creative Commons license.]


If anything is to bring perspective to PhDing, Matt Might hit it on the head. But of cause it is my life’s work and it pushes at the limits of knowledge.  In a way this is true of all of life. It is not in giant leaps that the world changes but in the small daring steps that may seem inconsequential today, that make tomorrow a better place

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I just signed up for #acwrimo2015

Its that time of the year again, before the year ends and academics try to push themselves to greater productivity. I must say I haven’t had the best experience with acwrimo in previous years and have been dismally embarrassed at my failure to follow through with my publicly declared goals. As they say however you do not throw away the baby with the bathwater. So here I am signing up for #acwrimo2015.  Why would I try this again after failing previously? Well I love the idea of being part of a larger community all working towards similar goals. I also hope I will make some friends along the way, you never know what may come out of it.

To learn more about  the initiative you can read about it at Phd2published. Here is my summary of the rules of the #acwrimo game below:

  1. Decide on your academic writing goal
  2. Declare your goal by signing up here
  3. Define your strategy
  4. Discuss your progress
  5. Don’t slack off
  6. Declare your achievements

If I have learnt anything from previous attempts at acwrimo it is that I should not get stuck on my defined strategy but be flexible and to do what works and gets results. Secondly it is easy to slack off when the going gets tough. In previous years failing to declare my progress weighed heavily on me and hampered any further progress. So I am on the lookout for the pitfalls and here is to happy writing this November.  Overall I am looking at that due date phdbaby0a28gingerbreadman290aexpected0adateofarrival0a0amarch20160a28baloons29-default-3

    1. My goal for #acwrimo2015 is to finish off three thesis chapters that are currently at 50% done
    2. I have declared this goal by signing up through PhD2Published, and I am declaring my goals again with this post.
    3. I intend to work a minimum of five hours each day except for weekends, that is my overall strategy, the rest is to just write. I have already created folders with literature for each chapter. I have feedback on the work that I will be incorporating and the work is 50% done so it should be smooth sailing. All I need to do is to just sit down and write and read and write and write and write till I get to 100% and send off to the supervisor who hopefully will think it is good enough.
    4. I may declare my progress daily on social media but that is probably going to be on good days like this past Wednesday when I hit 3000 words in one sitting.

      I definitely celebrate those days, they are hard to come by and by taking the moment in you fill up your motivation bank. It will be useful on the not so good days to remember that it is possible.

      Expect some weekly reflections on my #acwrimo2015 on this blog. I will also probably link those reflections to my #hdrblog15 challenge. More about that challenge in another post.

    5. In my previous experience slacking off has been a result of getting bogged down with results over process. While the idea of #acwrimo is productivity the journey is equally worthwhile as the destination. I aim to be aware of the process of writing. I am measuring my progress in terms of the amount of time I spend on writing and not necessarily the number of words because the number of words doesn’t always reflect the work that has gone into producing them.
    6. I look forward to ending the month with some good news and reasons to #PhDance. phdance212121210a0a28note29-default
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One of the things I have not been good with in my PhD is my PDF library. I have folders with a lot of  journal articles and books all properly named and sorted however I haven’t figured out how to keep track of what I have read and what I haven’t. Patter speaks about  PDF alibi syndrome  here, a problem I confess to having. I think I have found a way to organise my ever-growing list of PDFs so I at least know what I have read and found useful and what I haven’t read.

I found this through one of my literature searches and thought there was no harm in trying it out. As always I love it when it’s a free application since I don’t lose anything in trying it out. The application has no steep learning curve and I got the hang of it really super fast. There is a series of videos that take you through the different functions. I didn’t use these as I found my way using the app pretty straight forward. So it’s a free, very easy to learn to use application, that makes for a happy me. It is available on both the iOS and Android platforms. I have downloaded the application on my macbook, iphone 6 plus and Samsung note 10,1 tablet. So far I have not experienced any changes in how it works across the platforms, which is a great thing.

I have been glad I have ReadCube on my phone when sitting at my son’s swimming class and I can do some reading without needing to carry my tablet with me. I can only anticipate how much more I would love this app if I had the ability to sync my reading and annotations across my three devices. The sync function is available on ReadCube Pro with a price tag of US$55/year. My student budget mind thinks that’s a steep offer but from the look of things it is probably worthwhile. I can see how I would pick up on my phone, which is usually within reach, from where I left off on my macbook in those stolen moments when watching the kids. In addition to Syncing the Library Across Devices, ReadCube Pro offers Unlimited Cloud Storage, Advanced Article Metrics, Advanced File Management, #Tagging, Watch Folders (Easily set up automatic imports of all PDFs saved across designated folders to ensure your ReadCube library is always up to date.)

Screenshot 2015-10-21 10.21.09

What are the handy features I love about the free app: you can do your literature search within the application using Google Scholar or PubMed for your search or you can add PDFs from your folders to the app. The application will keep the filepath and you can view the folder containing your PDF. I am sure this is a good thing I just cannot think how at this present moment. You can also export citations from the app to Endnote, Bibtex and Refman. I use Zotero and it is currently not supported which is my one complaint. Please add Zotero! Lastly ReadCube has a citation tool called Smartcite, which is currently in beta mode. I can see how this would be useful although I haven’t as yet used it. There have been times when reading that I have wanted to write or add what I’m reading to my writing and in that spur of the moment it would be good to add a citation to it.

 I wonder how many people are using this application? I must add this is designed for reading journal articles although I have also used it to read my PDF books. The only glitch when using it with books is that you cannot add the metadata, which you then use with the citation functions. Overall it works for reading and keeping track of what I am reading. I want the Pro capabilities although I cannot justify its cost. I will probably have more to say about this app as I use more and more in the upcoming months.

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It’s a lonely place but thank you!

They say doing a PhD is a lonely journey. It’s the work you do that defines who you are as a scholar. It’s this big project that consumes your life for three whole years, but if you are like me it takes you five years. How do you survive the loneliness? Well, beginning of this month I was at a writing retreat and though it is said the PhD is a lonely process many surrounded me. Kind souls who read my work and steered me forward in my writing, motivating me to slay this dragon as I run towards the finish line.


Talking about being surrounded I want to thank you, yes you. For coming alongside and reading this blog. I began blogging because I thought I had something to say. Along the way I lost the plot and focused on how many were reading my posts and how good my blog stats were. Recently I have realised that this blog is about me. Giving voice to my experience, like so many others whose blogs I have followed and taken inspiration from as they complete their PhDs.

I have enjoyed Emma’s Blog for her clear documenting of her processes in her journey of research fieldwork and writing her thesis.  I have most enjoyed celebrating the triumphs along the way; the submission, in some cases the viva, the corrections and the graduation. I have also drawn comfort from identifying with the struggles and knowing I am not exceptional in my falling and rising. Jessplainsong’s deeply reflective writing about her PhD journey and its intertwining with her professional and personal life as a mother has helped me make sense of the human story to PhDing. I am grateful I could share in these and many other stories.

Screenshot 2015-10-21 10.44.21

So thank you for surrounding me with great energy and motivation. I recently checked my statistics, this time just for fun and not as a measure of how well I am doing as a blogger. In 2015, Candidphdtalk has had 540 views across 31 countries. It sounds pretty much unimpressive but I am honoured my musings have been viewed so widely. And can only hope they are helping someone somehow.

Once again thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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Half the battle is knowing who your enemy is! 

I’m no expect at warfare but I do know what it means to try and write a PhD thesis and mother a newborn or toddlers. So what am I doing talking about enemies and battles. Well sometimes it feels like my life is a battle. It’s a battle to get your mind to focus and get on with the thinking. It’s a battle  to get out of bed shower and get on with it.
 I have been very careful of the metaphors I use when talking about this process. You can check out this blog post here  if you want to know why. What you think matters more than you realize. I have found the words I say paint pictures in my head. The pictures in your head about what you are doing are important. I would much rather think of PhDing as a dance, the PhDance and its so much fun but sometimes it is a battle.
 So today I am talking about PhDing using the battle metaphor. I find on those days when everything seems to be a battle and I would rather spend the day scrolling through Pinterest. Knowing who my enemy is, is half the battle won. Best yet knowing WHY I am in the war-zone gives me the sharp focus I need to aim at the right target.
 28star2928star2928star290ayouarethestar0a28star290aofthisshow0a0a28star2928star2928star29-default-2WHY am I doing the PhD? This is about the dream. It’s about passion and never wanting to look back and wonder what could have been. Lately it’s also become about my children. Having recently said goodbye to my father. I am so aware of how much his life has made me who I am today. He was a teacher and lover of knowledge. He passed on his love for education to me. Better yet he made it possible for me to get an education. He lived his life well and was a good example to me.
I want to become the best I can ever be because I know someone else will reap the rewards in the future. I am selfishly pursuing my dream, loving and living my dream because everything I do matters. In ways that I cannot see today it matters. I am the star in this show and I want to make it count.
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Don’t give up!

Don’t give up

Don’t allow the dream to die

Don’t lift your hands up in surrender

The vision is for an appointed time

It will speak and not lie

Lift up your eyes

Take a step back

Look at how far you have come

Count the steps you have walked

The miles you have run

See the fields ready for harvest

Open your ears

Hear the dream whisper

It’s all worth the toil

Hear the birds chirp in ululation

The crowds clap the end is near

The trees dance all in your honour

Close your eyes

Take a deep breath

See the finish line

It’s closer than you think

You made it through

Celebrate your achievement

Never give up

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What does PhDing and baking a cake have in common?

Many people ask me what it’s like to have little ones and pursue a PhD at the same time. I think today’s post answers that, it makes you find the unlikely similarity between PhDing and baking birthday cakes. Being a mommy to toddlers and PhDing for me currently feels like living in two different planets. One moment you are trying to figure out how to write about identity and the next you are planning a first birthday party. I am criss crossing between treating nappy rash and figuring out how to link Scrivener to Zotero. Its a great accomplishment that I am sane and smiling.

So what does baking and PhDing have in common? Here is my attempt at creating some semblance between the two processes. Forgive the unlikely and forced similarly I needed an excuse to once again share my baking because I just love how this cake looked and tasted and my hope is the PhD turns out half as good.


Happy birthday Qhawe! I don’t know where the year has gone you have been a great, the best, most awesome companion to the PhD baby!

Let me start with cake making, the process of making a cake is called baking. Many people, myself included start off with a recipe. There are baking gurus who have mastered the art and don’t use recipes. The rest of us mortals the recipe tells you how much of each ingredient you need. The order in which to mix and how to mix them and the temperature and length of time the mixture should be in the oven for the ingredients to melt into each other and change into the perfect sponge that tastes like heaven is dancing on your tongue.

Try tasting the ingredients individually and you won’t have much joy. Well sugar will always be sweet but vanilla essence will leave a bitter taste albeit with a nice scent. I could never try to eat raw eggs and only my one year old is curious enough to taste flour. You get my point the individual ingredients are nowhere near the magic of the cake after it’s been through the heat of the oven.

I think a PhD is in many ways similar to baking a cake because there is a recipe. When I began my PhD journey I received guidelines of what exactly the university expected from me in order for my activities as a student to be recognized and they confer me with a doctorate. Unlike baking however I have gotten lost in the PhD maze one too many times. I was at the stage of identifying the individual ingredients for my PhD cake and the excitement and enthusiasm carried me through but after mixing them up together, I expected to see a beautiful cake that tasted divine. Instead I found myself deep in a muddy messy wet mix that did not resemble a cake one tiny bit. I had forgotten that the mix needs to go through the hot incubator oven. I would say writing is the hot oven. I somehow have to translate the many ideas coming through my research weave them together into a coherent story in my thesis report.

Does baking have anything in common with PhDing? I think it does, do you agree or have I taken this too far?

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The magic finish line called PhD Submission!

I feel like I have been at this PhD thing for too long. Like a pregnancy after thirty-six weeks, looking forward to meeting your baby, but hating feeling like a beached whale. I love the idea of contributing to knowledge but I am currently in the valley of shit when it come to the process this entails. I hate the writing. I actually love writing when I get into the rhythm of it. Q(1)

 Ask any thirty-six weeks plus pregnant woman and they want the baby out of their stomach by whatever means necessary. You can barely see your toes, let alone touch them. You can never find a comfortable position to sleep in and when you finally do, nature calls for a bathroom break, which produces a small quantity of liquid you wonder why it felt so urgent. I make it sound like pregnancy is a terrible thing but I think the discomfort that comes towards the end is one of nature’s way of tricking women into willing labor to come despite the pain accompanying.

I feel like my PhD pregnancy is long overdue and this baby seems to be way too comfortable in my tummy. I know part of the delay is from genuine disruptions that are just part of life. I however hope that I can pick up from where I left off and do the PhDance. I can see that magic finish line called submission is not so distant anymore.phdbaby0a28gingerbreadman290aexpected0adateofarrival0a0amarch20160a28baloons29-default-3

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Why doesn’t everyone drive on the left side of the road?

I have been in Roskilde for almost two weeks now. The initial euphoria of coming here has faded leaving me with lots of questions. I wonder whose idea it was to have visiting scholars. Why do people drive on the right side of the road? I probably could find out from Wikipedia and Google. Being away from home can be one of the most uncomfortable things to do. I hear people miss their bed, for me when it has rained I have missed the comfort of driving to wherever I want to go. Don’t get me wrong the public transport system here is great, buses are on time and so is the train but who wants to wait for a bus in the rain. Add onto that the disappointment of a 13 degree Celsius ‘summer’ which feels more like winter to this sub-Saharan human being.

Basically my life has been feeling like that 1967 Swedish morning when they switched from driving on the left to the right. Thankfully that traffic jam did not last long. I realised that I have a short time in this place and despite the discomfort of life going in the opposite direction to what I am used to, life is happening and I could miss out if I didn’t get on with the program. I also realise what is possible, Sweden decided to turn around their flow of traffic forever. I can turn around the flow of traffic in my life forever.

I find good answers to some of my questions come from the activities I have been a part of this week at Roskilde University. Monday began with a work in progress seminar (WIP). This is a space where PhDs provide writing support for each other in the form of reading and commenting on drafts of papers for conference or thesis chapters. So one person submits a paper a week before the meeting for everyone to read and during the meeting the paper is discussed, and feedback is given. I was glad that the paper we discussed on Monday was in an area I am working in, migration however from a different context. So I could relate it to my work but I also had a lot of things to learn. Also this was a conference paper that the author now wants to convert to a thesis chapter. Since I began my PhD I have written conference papers and a question in my mind as I begin to pull these together for my thesis has been what is the difference between a conference paper, journal article and a thesis chapter? So I enjoyed the discussions on the paper and especially on incorporating it into a thesis chapter. I also like this blog by Patter although it is talking about the difference between a book chapter and a thesis chapter it gives a very good idea about what a thesis chapter should look like.

So that was the great start to my week. I also enjoyed that the meeting did not drag on for long. Everyone was on point with their feedback on the paper, the discussions were all purposeful and aware of time. This was the last meeting for the semester so each person also briefly reflected on the seminars. One of the key reflections was on attendance, which dwindled as the semester progressed. A suggestion I intend to take back home with me, we have a similar set up fortnightly in my department, is for those who cannot be present to send in written comments. Another key takeaway is the commitment to keep the space as a work in progress, so that there is no pressure to submit polished work, which would also guard against the space becoming competitive.

Wednesday afternoon I attended a research meeting where I was given feedback on my work. I submitted a paper when I arrived here. It could be very intimidating to sit in a room with nine people taking apart your work but I must say that it was nothing like standing before a firing squad. I enjoyed hearing my work being read from a different standpoint. It was interesting to see how concepts have different meanings in different places. In the paper I submitted I talk about artists, participants in my study that create artworks such as music and poetry. For my readers artist meant a person formally trained in art, which is far from what the people I was referring to are. Anyway like I reflected on conferences here a while ago, the meeting was very useful and I only wish I could have more opportunities as this one. However this is the end of the semester and that was again the last meeting. So this has been a good week of meeting people and some writing although not as consistently as I would have loved.

When all is said and done being in a new place, navigating life in a foreign language has its perks. If not for the discomfort that makes you realise what great comforts your home holds for you, it has great opportunities to learn and see from a different point of view. I just have to remember to look left and then right before I cross the road. Such a small change but I keep getting it wrong because for more than three decades I have always looked right then left before I cross the road. Till next Friday then!

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What am I doing blogging?

I really should be using this time to write my PhD after all I don’t have much time before my deadline. I also have a life full of little boys I call sons that I love and want to spend some of this little time I have with. When I began blogging I had read all the other blogs and thought I want to blog just like they are. Present these well thought out ideas on how to do the PhD. I haven’t been successful in producing that kind of blog. I have broken the rules, messed up and put bluntly, failed dismally. At times I have been too ashamed to even show my face here, but I am still here, why? I have finally figured out what it takes, not to have a huge following, no I don’t have that. I have figured out what it takes to find benefit from blogging and dare I add, to enjoy it too. If its not enjoyable then what is the point? I know life isn’t about self -indulgence but why or why would I seek out pain. ifitsnotenjoyable0athenwhatisthepoint0a28unicorn29-default

So here it is my discovery is that its not about measuring up to the next or becoming a clone. We each have a niche, a place in this life and mine it turns out is to write this blog for myself. What am I doing blogging? I am taking care of the heart, reflecting, thinking out loud and baring my soul. I am finding relief in pondering on this little corner and maybe someone will read, may be not but blogging is not taking time away from my PhD writing, it is adding!

Take care of the heart

Take care of the heart

The centre that holds

 The ebbs and the peaks

It’s motion carries the life

It holds the wealth in the land

The wind to the sail of the dream

Take care of the heart

Its thud felt in every part

To the head pearls of sanity

The wisdom in the thought

Take care of the heart

It is oil to the wheels that screech

When life’s winds and punches blow

Take care of the heart

The life of the hand

The hand is the strength

The heart holds in the thump

It spreads in the flow

Of the blood in the vein

To the hand with the pen

The pen in the hand

Maps the treasure in the head

That maps the wisdom on the paper

So take care of the heart

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