What type of writer are you?

We are all aware that we do things differently. I have this odd habit of procrastinating my research work for most of the morning and then working till late at night. No matter how much I want to break out of this habit…it’s difficult. I generally settle into this routine at the end of all my trying. There are those who start work early because they can’t stay sharp till late. I am not sure why we develop these different habits… is it something ingrained in us or is it something we learn… everything circles around that eternal conundrum, I guess.

But I’m digressing. I thought I had a rather unique way of going about my writing. The procrastinator that I am, I keep reading and reading reams and reams of literature till I see the deadline looming really close and I have no choice but to start writing. I thought this was a fallout of my laziness (which it might be) because reading is far more relaxing and exciting for me than writing…don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing more than most people, but I can’t deny that writing requires me to give more of myself in terms of effort than reading does. So, I generally tend to read till the cows come home and then I start writing. The wonderful thing that happens is because I have read so much the words flow a lot more easily, I have more connections to make, I have more thoughts to bring to the table…and somehow I seem to know what I am writing though I am not conscious of having deliberated about it. I never really thought much about this as a ‘writing style’ or a ‘writing type’ because I had no way of knowing that someone else in the world might be following this rather circuitous path to writing…

So imagine my amazement when I was lately introduced (as part of my training to be a Student Writing Mentor in the Academic Writing Zone at LUMS) to the different ‘Types of Writers’ (Crème and Lea, 1997)…and there was one that resonated very well with me.

The Diver: The Diver as the name suggests simply dives into the piece of writing without any plan in mind. The Diver will slowly build up from there, writing bits and pieces that may end up in different places.

The Patchwork Writer: The Patchwork Writer starts with rough headings or section titles that seem relevant to the essay, and then works with these sections to build an argument. The Patchwork Writer may move around sections or drop them linking them all in the end.

The Architect: The Architect is the supreme planner. The Architect will make a clear plan or outline of the essay, maybe even using a diagram to help with the process. The Architect will also make notes about what would go into each section before actually starting to write the piece.

The Grand Plan Writer: And finally…The Grand Plan Writer spends a lot of time reading…and need to read a lot more before they can write. The Grand Plan Writer may be thinking about all the material at the back of their mind because when they finally get down to writing, the ideas seem to flow naturally and fall in place.

As you can see, I was quite surprised to find that though I thought my way of writing to be idiosyncratic, I very much belonged to a ‘type’. I must say I am not particularly unhappy to see my style captured so because it makes me a little less guilty of what I thought was simply a symptom of laziness and a tendency to procrastinate!

Do you recognise your type among the four? It’s quite possible to be an amalgam of more than one type, I would think!

For more about the types, and writing in general:

*Creme, P. & Lea, M. 1997. Writing at University: A Guide for Students, Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Why become an exam invigilator?

As a PhD student, I usually take up non-demanding temporary or part-time jobs to augment my income and to keep financial stress at bay. My favourite place to look for these jobs is Lancaster University’s Employment and Recruitment Service page. One of the work roles that I personally find appealing is that of an ‘exam invigilator’. What better time to share some of the things I enjoy about this role than the exam season…which is well and truly underway.

  • To start with, an exam invigilator role is only available to postgraduate research students. As a large pool of invigilators is required to support the huge number of exams being administered at the university, you are almost always guaranteed a spot.
  • You have complete flexibility over what days of the week and hours (morning/evening) you would like to invigilate. This means that you can schedule the work when you’re least expecting to be busy and not have to worry about juggling tasks.
  • I personally find it relaxing to be mentally unoccupied for some periods of time which is usually what one is while invigilating. Sure, you’re vigilant to your surroundings and to any irregular goings-on (hopefully not) but for the most part you’re also free to think your own thoughts. I notice that it is when my mind is thus free that I am struck with ideas. In fact, the thought of writing about invigilating for my next blog struck me in one of these mental meanderings!
  • As a PhD student, it is easy to get stuck in your own hole for days and weeks on end without meeting a single soul. Invigilation presents an opportunity to meet new people and hear new stories—almost climb out of your everyday life for a brief while and see the world from a different perspective. In the past few weeks alone, I have met a girl from the Physics department doing a PhD for the second time…we got talking about what made her venture onto this path a second time when many can’t handle it the first time around, and she said she must have forgotten what it was like! We got chatting a bit more and I felt like we were kindred spirits. Then I met this person who was into theatre, then into academia, now again into theatre…and he spoke of how Manchester was turning into a mini London, and how theatre people and actors were finding it unaffordable now just like London. In his view, when a place becomes too sanitised, it leaves no room for people who are a bit ‘rough around the edges’ and for their art. Apparently that was his research topic back in the day. I argued that such cities might actually draw the kind of audience that appreciate art and have the money to spend toward art. It was an interesting discussion that got cut short too soon in my opinion.
  • Being amongst eager fresh-faced students all nervous and anxious but also hoping to give their best might make for something refreshing in your otherwise routine day. I am usually reminded of a younger version of me and for a moment I am transported in time. Today I happened to notice that a student had kept a small transparent pouch full of sea shells on his exam table. Apparently it was for ‘good luck’. I remembered how I used to have a blue coloured ‘lucky top’ that I reserved for maths exams. I don’t know if there was anything to it but I did manage to get good marks.
  • If none of these reasons have convinced you, this last one just might. As an invigilator, you are encouraged to patrol and move around the room to keep tabs on what’s happening and to check if a student needs anything…walking around a room while not the same as a walk or run in the park is still a bit of exercise, which, if you happen to be too lazy to get out of the house like me may be counted as a not-so-bad side-effect (all in all, you gain a few pounds in your wallet and lose some in not so desirable places…).

Well, so next time, when you look up the recruitment page, I would recommend hitting apply on ‘Invigilation’. And if our paths happen to cross in some or the other invigilation session, don’t forget to thank me…and tell me how you’re getting on!

Shifting spaces

I have been in Mumbai for the past two months collecting data for my research. I am living with my family and, knowing I must leave soon once my work is done, I am soaking in every moment of it. All the stuff I took for granted earlier, even the mundane little facts of everyday life, strike me as something worthy of note… such as how do we dispose of the garbage? I find myself reflecting on things that I never gave much thought to before. And I owe that to my life at Lancaster.

One such thing struck me the first time I arrived at Lancaster. The number of choices I had for a place to study. I have a computer-equipped PhD office where I could study and do my research or I could study in my own campus accommodation which was fairly quiet or I could find a spot in the very spacious library or I could go to the Storey building in the city centre where PhD students have a space of their own or I could study in the post graduate space in Graduate College… I might have even missed a few options here. The point is that I could decide where I wanted to study depending on my mood or depending on where I felt most productive. I remember thinking then that I had never given any thought to my choices for a ‘study space’ or lack thereof before Lancaster happened to me.

My home was the only place available to me for study at an undergrad as well as Masters level even though it was frequently noisy, full of interruptions and temptations, and a thousand distractions such as something interesting going on on the television. I never thought about it as a ‘study space’ because I didn’t really have any other. It was only upon arriving at Lancaster and being exposed to the world of university in the UK that I realised the difference the space made to the quality of learning and output. At first I wondered why there was so much emphasis on the varieties of study spaces but then it occurred to me that by providing the right space the university was simply showing me a commitment to my learning, intellectual development, and growth. It wasn’t investing in space so much as investing in me and investing in wherever my potential may be best realised.

Now that I am at home in Mumbai, I am missing the ‘space’ I have at Lancaster that both physically and mentally puts me in the mood for study. I almost catch myself thinking that I need to ‘go somewhere’ to reflect on my observations on the research interviews but then recall that I don’t have anywhere to go to to get my mental juices flowing. For now, I am resigning myself to playing with my niece when she pops into the room. I smile at her fondly when she pushes down my laptop cover announcing ‘Over’ in that cute little voice of hers. Of course, I would like to finish whatever train of thought I am pursuing at that moment while typing out notes from the day’s field work but it will have to wait a bit. Till I am back at Lancaster…my makeshift spaces will have to do. I am not complaining as they sure have joys of their own!

Study hard, play hard

Academic life has many tough tests for students, but as challenging as it may be, it also holds rewarding outcomes and fun experiences. Some of the toughest times in my life as a postgraduate LUMS student were writing-up my Masters dissertation and my current PhD journey. While I usually rely on my intuitive gut feeling to pace my studying, the settings and modes of study played a large role in keeping me sane and on track throughout my academic journey. Making sure that I had enough leisure and fun helped me to recharge my energy and enjoy my time. I tend to yo-yo study where I binge on reading for a few weeks and then I relax, and so on. Even though this pattern worked more-or-less for my Masters degree, I find it hard to follow for my PhD where time management is key, and where self-management is even more critical. A piece of advice that I heard in one of the LUMS study skills development sessions was that there are only two things that will go against you, they are time and yourself. This advice was an eye-opener to me because it made me think that there is something other than making the most of my time and achieving the highest grades that I can, I also need to take care of myself during this process. In this blog post, I will describe a typical week as a PhD student, starting with the dreadful Mondays and ending with the day-out Sundays.

Monday:
I am usually a morning person, but not so much on a Monday. After a strong cup of coffee, I open my weekly agenda to see what the rest of the week will look like, which also motivates me to start the day. My place to go for studying on Monday is the graduate social hub. It’s a cozy and relaxed place, and it helps me transition from the lazy weekend. I usually attend one lecture in the late afternoon before calling it a day.

Tuesday:
On Tuesdays the pace gets faster. I spend most of the day in the library. I choose a moderately quiet area where I can sit on a couch with access to an electricity socket for my laptop, and easy access to the water fountain to stay hydrated. While some people might prefer the quiet areas, to me, a little bit a noise helps me concentrate. The library is also near a few of my favourite bakeries and coffee shops on campus, which makes it convenient if I plan to meet up with a friend for lunch or a cup of coffee.

Wednesday:
Wednesday is the market day in the city centre, so I do my shopping before noon. Unless I have other errands, I head to my desk space in my department. Most of the time I run into my colleagues and we discuss our work progress, thoughts and lives, which is helpful given how isolating studying a PhD can be.

Thursday:
Thursdays are quite similar to Tuesdays, except that they’re closer to the weekend. Although half of my brain is already thinking of what to do during the weekend, the other half is engaged in productive reading. I usually try to stick to the same study area at the library.

Friday:
On Fridays, I try to do an energising physical activity early in the morning by going out for a brisk walk or a jog in the park. I spend the rest of the day at my own desk at home, unless there is an event or that I have agreed to meet up with friends on campus. My desk is not the most organised study space, but I made sure to set it up as soon as I started my PhD. I also try to separate my studying space from spaces where I carry out other activities such as leisure reading, eating or sleeping.

Saturday:
The weekend is finally here. I start my Saturdays with shopping and often go out for a meal afterwards. In the evening, I usually organise a games’ night which sometimes ends up being a long conversation about everything and nothing. I also occasionally go to a local pub.

Sunday:
One of my favourite hobbies is hiking or taking long walks, and I often dedicate my Sundays to it, if the weather permits. I find that this activity clears my mind and is a good exercise. Also, the nature around Lancaster is fascinating. I have been to a few breathtaking nature reserves on the coastal line north of Lancaster and in the Lake District.

I find that having a good study-life structure is better than having none. This is especially true when my PhD journey feels like a rollercoaster. The nature of studying is quite different to that of other degrees. At the PhD stage, the student is expected to be a knowledge maker. In my PhD, this experience has been deep and personal, thus the need to have a good study environment and enough leisure time.

The Great Indian Breakfast

“What should I have for breakfast?” I don’t know about the last thoughts people have before going to bed, but this is fairly commonly the one that I tend to sleep on. You might think as a PhD student I would have far more serious thoughts whirling in my mind as I finally lay it to rest after a long day, but… no, this one overrides them all.

Breakfasts in India, where I come from, tend to be elaborate. I love the simplicity and lack of fuss demanded by bread, butter, jam, eggs—I can quite see why it’s so popular everywhere and I won’t deny that I fall back on this option time and again when I wake up not having made any clear decisions. But being away from home, there is nothing that offers the soothing comfort and smell and feel of home as a warm breakfast made as it would be made at home.

For many of you wondering what these breakfast options might look like, here is a sample:

  1. Idli Chutney/Sambar: This counts as a number 1 on my list and it also probably takes the most time and effort. Steamed rice cakes with a flavourful and spicy coconut chutney and something like a tangy lentil gravy to go along. (recipe: https://indianhealthyrecipes.com/idli-sambar-recipe-tiffin-sambar/)
  2. Poha: Beaten or flattened rice mixed with potatoes, peanuts, and some spices (recipe: http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/kanda-poha-or-onion-poha/)
  3. Upma: Much simpler and quicker to make. Semolina cooked almost like porridge with or without vegetables such as peas, carrots, and so on. (recipe: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/05/sooji-upma-indian-semolina-breakfast-recipe.html)
  4. Aloo Paratha: May be enjoyed for lunch as well as dinner but it makes for a rather scrumptious breakfast option in my opinion. Spicy mashed potatoes stuffed inside a whole wheat flat bread best had with curd or pickle (recipe: http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/aloo-paratha-indian-bread-stuffed-with-potato-filling/)

These are just the tip of the Indian breakfast menu iceberg, if I may use the expression. The one thing that is needed to make the effort of making these delicacies worth it would be some good company. I can’t say I have that on most days unless I count my articles and books in that category, but there is always the second best thing that never fails me: a hot cup of tea!