The study habits of a full-time educator, part-time EdD student

Nathan Douglas ( @Nathan_DHT_EdD) is a full-time Deputy Headteacher at a large, multicultural primary school in Birmingham. He has over twelve years’ experience in primary education, and currently leads on curriculum design and implementation, teaching and learning, the spending of the pupil premium grant and attendance. Nathan is a part-time EdD student at Birmingham City University, where he is researching professional identity in a teacher retention context.

Study habits come naturally, don’t they?

Study habits are what I see as the important tools and processes that I use to read, make notes and write-up my thinking. Whether that is for reading and notetaking, ongoing writing for personal reflection, or something for my Thesis, my study habits allow me to ‘get there’ (Or, as close to ‘there’ that I can be)! Having study habits and knowing what yours are, in order to get the best from them, are important on the doctoral journey.

Study habits come naturally, don’t they? The academic ‘jump’ from Masters-level to Doctorate-level is vast; and, despite enjoying successes at previous-level studies, my study behaviours did not simply appear to me as fully-formed habits that were good-to-go. I have just started my fifth year as a part-time EdD student, and this something I have become acutely aware of.

Study habits as ‘a journey’

I have come to understand everything on my EdD course as ‘a journey’. This sounds a little clichéd – and I am aware of that – but it is genuinely true. When reflecting on my studies, everything, including my study habits, are a journey of sorts. My supervisors were constantly reminding me to accept change, prepare for the unexpected, acknowledge there will be setbacks. This was – and is! – hard for me, so, try I had to.

Yet, there actually does come a point in your studies where, all of a sudden, like the proverbial lightbulb moment, things slot into place and suddenly make sense. Maybe it’s an article that provides the missing jigsaw puzzle piece or the supervision you needed to put you back on the straight and narrow (rather than the rabbit hole you were in ten minutes prior). Very recently, I have found myself developing more effective study habits, which manifests in the outcome of better writing…all because I’ve gone on a journey!

What are my study habits?

When I do the following, my writing is slower than it used to be, but its quality improves significantly.

  1. Ringfencing my doctoral study time and promise myself that I will keep to it: So many people say ‘turn off your phone’ and ‘shut down Twitter.’ I say: ‘do what works for you.’ I love tweeting about what I’m doing when I’m working; it helps my motivation (something else that’s really important). I enjoy a quick nosey scroll through Facebook for 2 mins. But, a few ‘likes’ here and there, and I’m back to it.
  2. Finding the most effective time for my own situation: I used to put whole days (6hrs+) to one side to accomplish one big job. Now, I sometimes study for an hour, or even less, breaking down the task. Less, but more often, has proven to be better at times, for me.
  3. Reading widely, reading little and often, and re-reading: This includes returning to the same book but a different chapter. Or, re-reading the same article again a few months later.
  4. Making notes under main themes/headings and sub-themes: I organise my notes/references in tables in MS Word and then categorise major themes in MS Excel. Both together helps me to see micro and macro knowledge. I also keep records of all of my references in an ongoing manner.
  5. Working actively with my notes: I cannot just write from my notes; there’s just there’s too many. So, I collate all my notes onto a mindmap, which helps to gather my thoughts, including things I’ve forgotten, and structure my thinking. In turn, this structures my writing.
  6. Accepting change to my motivation, habits and processes: Being flexible! I used to get easily frustrated when something did not go to plan or get ‘done’ on my first attempt. For example, now, I readily accept big obstacles and my judicious editing of ‘good writing’ as part of the thinking process.

What’s the point?

When people ask me, “Why are you doing a doctorate?”, my answer is, “Because I enjoy it.” In all of the study habits I’ve listed above, I forgot the most important one:

  1. Enjoy studying: If I am not enjoying what I am working on, I think reflectively about how I’m studying, when, where, how often, my methods and sources of motivation. When I find that something is a grind, I switch my focus to another area of my Thesis or simply get away from the screen. Some of my best thinking occurs when I am away from Word or Excel!

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