Monthly Archives: November 2012

‘Fessing up – my #acwrimo experience

Last year I didn’t take part in the first #acbowrimo because I was moving house in the first week of November and so knew I’d struggle with existing work commitments never mind take on any more, all whilst surrounded by boxes and chaos! I was though inspired by all the tweets about productivity, top tips, finished (or at least substantially progressed) work and overall enthusiasm for academic writing. I vowed that I would take part in the next one, and as the blog post before last shows I certainly thought about what might be attainable and had ambitious but not (I thought) impossible plans. My experience though has been somewhat different to what I expected, and so I wanted to try and tease out why that might have been.

I always knew that the bulk of any extra work would be at weekends, and that the first two weekends in November were basically out due to essay marking commitments. However I did have a bit of preparatory work planned just prior to November starting, in my week off at the end of October/beginning of November, and I was reasonably optimistic. There were one or two setbacks which I couldn’t do much about, but initially I was still optimistic. My plan to spend my week off doing some work in NVivo via remote working on my work computer was thoroughly scuppered by a software upgrade at work which knocked off my ability to log in remotely, but undeterred I scoured my transcripts and media articles manually using Word’s Edit-Find facility, which (as you might imagine) took a lot longer and ate into all my planned writing time for the first week. Another (not entirely unforeseen) spanner in the works came in the form of essay extensions – students for very good reasons required extra time, but rather more than usual did this time which meant that as well as the first two weekends being taken up with marking, so was quite a bit of the third and I still have a couple to do.

By this point I knew that I was spectacularly behind on my plan and was wondering how to salvage it. I decided to put the new articles originally planned for this month on hold for a few weeks to finish some already started work (a conference paper which I have recently decided to turn into two papers) – this is probably cheating a bit, but does mean that those two article drafts that I had pledged may still be possible (or at least one of them). So I finished last weekend with that decision and was happy enough with it, and started to sketch out a plan for future papers over the coming months.

Then the curveball came, and given the computer woes and longer-than-planned essay marking this might seem a bit strange. Having checked the #acwrimo feed regularly on twitter up till now and cheered everyone on, the last few days I have found it really irritating, and that really troubled me. Of course I am still cheering everyone on, it is great to see so much progress, but so many people sounded so cheerful when I just felt so tired that it made me just feel immature, petulant and a bit of a failure. Then I had the idea a few days ago to write a moaning and slightly self-pitying (but also incisive and insightful, of course!) blog post about why #acwrimo just wasn’t working for me, and in all honesty it was the most enthusiastic and energised about writing I have felt all month! Luckily, I read this blog post a couple of days ago which made me feel tons better that it wasn’t just me, but which also was realistic rather than the self-pitying moan I would probably have come up with! I know exactly how the blog author feels and really sympathise! You can also be grateful that reading that knocked the worst of the moaning out of me so at least you’ve been spared that!

That said, I did want to think about why #acwrimo hasn’t worked for me as I’d hoped (and even if I do get those two papers written I still won’t feel like it’s worked for me). Firstly, and most superficially, it turns out November is a rubbish month for me to do this! My OU teaching starts in October and the beginning of November is when the first essays come in (for two courses), and they took a huge amount of time, work and energy which simply couldn’t be displaced (either by handing to someone else or put off till December). Next year if I do something like #acwrimo I will choose one of the summer months between courses (they run for 9 months), so I can write without guilt that I’m not selling my students short, and in November I can mark without guilt that I’m not writing.

Secondly, I have to face the fact that I need time off to wind down. I have a long daily commute and am out of the house for 12 hours a day, and when I’m home in those 3 or 4 hours between getting home and going to bed, most days at least some of that time is spent sorting out stuff for my OU students online. I simply cannot sustain doing more on top of that, and it also means I’m more reluctant that I wanted to admit to spend weekends writing. The writing I’m wanting to do (and had planned for this month) is not related to my work research, so at the minute I don’t feel like I can spend lots of work time on it, as I need to prioritise my work project there.

Thirdly, like the other blogger linked to above, I really don’t think I’ve established the best pattern for how I write, but I do think that mad intensity in an already intense month isn’t it! (and this is why I said above that even if I do get an article or two written I still won’t feel like #acwrimo has worked for me). And the longer the month has gone on the more guilty and a failure I’ve felt, which has just added to the overall negativity.

However, I don’t want to end with ‘poor me’ or being negative. Having established that #acwrimo, at least in November, isn’t for me, what it has done is helped me think about what might be best for me instead. To that end I have identified a number of papers I’d like to write from my PhD thesis, and plan when over the next year (up to the end of 2013) I might write them, at a rate of around one every 2 months. That’s still pretty ambitious, but I suspect much more realistic for me and means that I’ve been able to incorporate marking time, holidays, other commitments, leisure, and revision time for articles within that. If that works out then I would have several papers written by the end of 2013, before I even think about work-related papers as well – but, I believe, without the unexpected and unproductive angst that #acwrimo has wrought this year.

And with any luck I’ll still have a paper to show by next week as well!

Recent conference reflections (FIAPAC/QUART)

I’ve attended a couple of conferences recently, very different from each other but both giving me plenty of food for thought.

First up was FIAPAC in Edinburgh, where it was arranged for me to be a volunteer (which mostly meant dealing with the scrum for delegate packs on the first morning), but where I also got to see plenty of plenary and workshop sessions. My PhD looked at sexual and reproductive health, and I am hopeful that I can do further research in that area in future, so this was a good chance for me to have some exposure to current debates in abortion practice and care. Most of the delegates were practitioners and activists, so as a qualitative researcher I felt a bit ‘on the edge’ of things, but it was great to step back and look at what is going on in abortion care and services and hear some very inspiring (and some very depressing) accounts. Highlights for me were meeting again one of my PhD research respondents and hearing about the situation in central and eastern Europe/former Soviet Union both in plenary and workshop sessions; and also the plenary talk on the first day by Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, the UK’s largest single abortion provider. Her talk about staking a moral claim and reclaiming the moral high ground very much resonated with the findings from my PhD, where I suggest that health services positing themselves as values-free and morally neutral is counterproductive and does not necessarily engage with the moral concerns of society – both opposition and potential service users. I was also really impressed with the questions she asked in some of the other sessions; she wasn’t afraid to challenge people she’s in agreement with generally and I thought that she came across as warm, open and very very impressive.

Then yesterday I attended a one-day conference in Sheffield around qualitative research as part of clinical trials. My current research project is exactly that, qualitative work with people participating in a randomised controlled trial (RCT), and I must admit that working in this context has been quite a culture shock! In one sense I’ve felt a bit like qualitative research is considered a bit of a ‘poor relation’ and is largely undervalued, and on the other I have felt like I’m a bit of a rarity to be working in this context. It was a really pleasant surprise therefore to find the room packed out with researchers involved in qualitative work with trials and to talk not only about each others’ work but also to start really getting to grips with those knotty questions of the relationship between the two and more theoretical and methodological issues. They presented the findings of the QUART study (including a systematic review of qualitative trial-based studies and interviews with qualitative researchers working alongside trials) which was fascinating and gave lots of food for thought.

In my feedback one of the things I suggested was to do a similar day but include the clinicians who are working on the trials which have qualitative components. In a sense the day was ‘preaching to the converted’, but the reality is that some triallists are more committed to and convinced by the qualitative work than others. I think that for triallists to see this ‘critical mass’ of diverse qualitative trial work would be a really helpful way of bridging the gap somewhat.