The Seven Secrets
A few years into my PhD I attended one of Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner’s seminars and heard Hugh speak about the Secrets of successful research students. I was pregnant at the time and couldn’t fit properly into the chairs in the lecture theatre.
Coupled with being a left-hander I couldn’t actually use the desk that was attached to my chair *annoying, someone make fitted desk chairs for left-handers, we can’t always use the one next to us or twist into position with a baby bump* and I was coughing which caused the two women sitting next to me to declare loudly “She will make us sick let’s move” (but I scored the writing desk on their side so that was a win).
So, there I was hopefully waiting (in left-handed isolation) to hear the Seven Secrets that would make my PhD write itself. If you haven’t attended one of their seminars or got your hands on their booklet I recommend you do. Hugh was a brilliant speaker and really motivated the crowd.
Through their work with postgraduate and research students, Hugh and Maria identified what they call the Seven Key Characteristics of students who are most successful. While I know everyone’s definition of success will differ, they point out two components that most people would be content with: a completed thesis and a bit more happiness along the way.
The Seven Secrets Revealed are…
1) Care and maintenance of your supervisor
2) Write and show as you go
3) Be realistic
4) Say no to distractions
5) It’s a job
6) Get help
7) You can do it!
You can read more about these secrets . But what I want to tell you about in this post was the woman who was sitting in the audience. She put her hand up and said to Hugh:
I work full-time, I have children and I plan to get this thesis done
by working on it solidly for two hours a day.
I was inspired to say the least as she explained how she woke up each and every morning two hours before she needed to do anything else and worked on the thesis.
The only problem I would have with trying to follow this strategy is:
1) My kids wake up at 5:30am
2) I don’t get regular blocks of sleep that would allow me to actually plan when to wake up
3) If I was awake working on the computer I can guarantee you the kids would wake up and be at my side before the documents could load.
Her strategy might work better for women with older children than for mothers with babies or toddlers. But it was a great strategy and more importantly, it was something that worked for her.
During my research I came across the different strategies mothers were using to get things done. Here are just a taste of some of them:
Organisation. Every participant spoke about using their time carefully and meticulously planning their day. The women in this study all worked to a strict routine, so they knew when they could focus on their studies and when they were available to their families. Being organised is not something that comes naturally to me but when you think of the time spent planning as an investment that will actually give you more time with your kids it becomes a no-brainer. For me, the strategy itself then was reframing personal organisation as a positive thing rather than something that I generally find a bit of a drag…
“ It is very important from a study perspective to have a routine for myself, so I know
when I can completely give myself to my studies.” (Lucy, mum of two)
“I am organised but it’s a bit full-on just trying to tee up your classes with picking the kids
up from school and daycare.” (Anna, mum of two)
“I finish work around lunch time and drive to university. Lunch time is my driving
time so I drive and eat.” (Claire, mum of three)
Being strict with getting enough sleep was another one (though if you have a baby or young children, just skip this part!)
It was often at the stage where I would have to say to myself ‘you actually have to go to bed now’. I have been known to study all night and go two days with no sleep. I’ve been much more mindful of the hazards
now this year and I’ve been much more particular about
making sure I get enough sleep. (Diana, mum of two)
Make sure you plan time for exercise. This is crucial for your spinal health and mental well-being but all too often comes last on the to-do list.
Exercise is really important when you are sitting at a computer for so long.
You get really tired and really stressed and exercise helps you to stop obsessing,
because when you are reading there are a lot of ideas going on. (Hannah, mum of three)
These are just some of the many strategies used by mums who study. I will add to this as I go but one last thing I wanted to tell you about from that seminar was something Hugh said about keeping realistic. He explained that for the most part, this important document we invest so much time in, and effort on, might just end up on shelf somewhere gathering dust and that it is just one small step towards advancing existing knowledge. I agree with that part but what I won’t accept is that my findings will sit idle while mothers continue to battle it out in academia.
There are some wonderful, rich and inspiring stories encased in my research and to save you from having to go to the dusty (metaphorical) bookshelf to read them I will present them here!
The power of stories is such that nearly five years later I still remember the woman who told Hugh her two-hour-thesis story.