Viktoria Rother is an online student completing a Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability. This article was originally published in our newsletter on March 10, 2017; the full title was ‘On University Studies, or, How to be an Organised Postgraduate: A Practical Approach’. On this title, Viktoria remarks, ‘With humble apologies to Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), essayist par excellence.’
Dedication maketh a good student, persistence a better student, and organisation a superlative student. For without this last quality, thy efforts shall be as nothing, and thou shalt be disappointed in thy results.
Enough of my feeble pretense of writing in the style of a cultured Elizabethan courtier. Should you have the time, you may squeeze into your schedule a pleasurable few hours reading the real thing by Sir Francis Bacon. Which is highly recommended if you wish to improve your own writing and exercise your mind. Immeasurably more useful than poring over yet another set of injunctions by some authority on writing well. Who usually does not.
Standing at these shelves in either a library or bookshop, I am perplexed by so many volumes about this subject. To write well, one must first know what one thinks. Then one must find one’s own voice, by which I mean how one expresses one’s thoughts in words.
Clearly, it would be far more helpful if I were to spend a few days alone – or for those of you who shudder at that, try an hour, or ten minutes if you can avert your gaze from your little device (mobile phone, tablet) – just sitting, somewhere quiet, letting my mind dream, or roam. Preferably in a space of my own. Or what a certain Ms V Woolf called ‘a room of one’s own’.
So, Practical Suggestion One: find a space that you can call your own. For at least an hour every day during the academic year. If it is at home, good. If not, and this isn’t practical for all of us, then what about your local public library? One of the university libraries? A botanical garden? A local park? The beach? In a forest? In the bush? Next to a creek or a river or a lake?
An enchanted glade is particularly effective.
Whichever you choose, you must be able to access it readily and it must be quiet. Or as quiet as possible in this noisy world. Lucky me: as I own my flat here on SKR (St Kilda Road, Melbourne, next to Fawkner Park and near the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens), I prefer to stay at home. As I also live solo, I can work wherever I please in this space, preferring, however, to stand at my kitchen bench, hunched over my laptop.
Ah, mention of my beloved BF (best friend), Mr HP (Hewlett Packard), leads to Practical Suggestion Two: good light/lighting. You younger folk may scoff, having the vision of a wedge-tailed eagle, but I, myopic and 54, need good light to read, offline and online. Invest some of your Austudy in a good lamp. Your eyes will thank you when you are 54.
Now, as to whether to sit or stand when working, this is entirely up to you. This is our Practical Suggestion Three. I stand, because I am tall and the height of my kitchen bench matches this. I perch. Sometimes. Resist the desire to slouch. Invest in a good chair/seat/stool. Your back will thank you when you are 54 too.
Slouching means your mind slouches too. Not what we need when we are studying, which may be reading, learning, writing, cogitating, arguing, rebutting, concurring, researching. You may slouch if you must after you have finished your daily quota of study. Far better to retire to bed for a thirty minute nap and completely relax your entire self, body and mind.
To Practical Suggestion Four: the question of when? I confess that in my salad days, when I was young and beautiful (ie. seventeen, in my first year at Monash), I was an owl, relishing nothing as much as a good long study session after a late dinner, late into every night, seven days a week. Now, as a mature woman, I prefer the life of the lark, waking at sparrow-fart, eating breakfast while contributing to Blackboard discussions abstruse and banal.
I then arm myself to do battle with my fellow Melburnians by hunting for food and drink before noon, then rushing home to my little atelier to study. Because Viktoria abhors a crowd. Whatever works for you, my dearest fellow PGs, whatever works for you.
And on to Practical Suggestion Five. Thou shalt not eat non-food. Please, do not demur! You know exactly what I mean. Prepare and cook as many of your meals at home as you can. Your brain (and body) shall worship you. Resist the allure of the fast, the food of the empty kilojoule. (Except the glory that is alcohol. Quaff while eating your evening meal. A most convivial habit.) It ain’t worth it. Nothing better, btw, than dull research for a thesis combined with the smell of chicken stock!
To print or not to print? That is the quintessential question… Again, whatever floats your boat. I do both. Although I recommend printing articles and papers, as the human brain just seems to absorb printed matter more readily than that appearing on a screen. As for essays, reports, major projects and similar – although I write online, I review offline. My mind’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, sees more errors doing so.
Final Practical Suggestion, Number Six: when is what due and when? Much as I adore all of my funny little digital, electronic devices, my current annual A4 Diary rules! Why?
1. Because I use it to record my passwords;
2. It lists all public holidays nationally and by state;
3. I use the 2017 Planner to note when my assessment tasks are due;
4. I can record when I’m working;
5. I can use its A4 format to take a sufficiency of notes for meetings and/or reviews of academic papers which are readily scanned;
6. Most importantly, I record the birthdays of all of those nearest and dearest to me;
7. By using coloured flags and highlighters which correspond to my personal, professional and university lives, I organise all three with ease. (Marvellous tool for noting when all those pesky bills are due!)
That’s all, folks!
Questions? Flick me an email via Viktoria.Rother@uon.edu.au.